Self Defense Or Violence By Women? — by David Fontes, Psy.D.

© David L. Fontes

Used with permission of the author


 

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A critique of Melissa Hopper's article: "When domestic violence diversion is no longer an option: What to do with the female offender."

September 18, 1999 (Revised) Melissa Hopper explores the fairly recently amended California law regarding diversion programs for domestic violence offenders, and shows how this new law affects women offenders. She writes that before January 1, 1996, domestic violence offenders guilty of § 273.5 of the California Penal Code, for their first offense, could be sent to diversion treatment programs instead of going before the court on charges of domestic violence if they met certain criteria.

The criteria were:

1. The person must not have been convicted of a violent offense within the last 10 years.

2. The person must never have had probation or parole revoked.

3. The person must not have been diverted for another domestic violence offense within the last 10 years.

If these offenders satisfactorily completed the diversion program their arrest record could be "expunged." Although it appears that this may have been a reasonable approach for first time offenders, Hopper suggests that there could be a problem in having the arrest expunged from the record. She writes, "...if questioned about the charge, the defendant could respond that he had never been arrested in the incident." (p. 169) Some individuals felt that this may not instill in the offender the message that what he did was wrong. Hopper also felt that allowing diversion for offenders without going to trial made domestic violence seem like a "lesser crime."

As a result of these arguments, new legislation (Senate Bill 169) amended the Penal Code § 1203.097 to eliminate diversion before actual conviction by the court. Treatment programs could still be given to the offender, but now only as part of their probation plan. It should be noted that under the old law those offenders who went through a diversion program had this recorded, and if they were arrested again within 10 years they could not be sent to diversion in lieu of going to court.

Hopper suggests that being sent to a diversion program by court order without going first to trial allowed the offender to avoid any accountability for "his" violence against a "female partner." She refers to a 1990 report by the Auditor General's office of California that did raise several concerns about the way the diversion programs were run at that time. Yet since January 1, 1994, changes were made to these diversion programs which sent a strong message that violence against one's partner is wrong, and endeavored to make offenders take responsibility for their actions. All county programs were now required to be "standardized in the number of hours required, the topics covered," and "the definition of a successful completion of the program." (p. 170)

Despite this, Hopper writes that the campaign for California SB 169 focused on the need to hold male batterers accountable for their violence against their female partners. Apparently these advocates of SB 169 failed to consider the fact that the bill would also be applied to female batterers. After that new law was passed more women were sent to diversion programs after they were convicted of domestic violence. Hopper suggests that women should be able to go to diversion programs without going to court because most female offenders assault their partners for reasons of self-defense, or in response to other social issues that may cause them frustration. But is this true? Are most of the women who are arrested for domestic violence against their male partners assaulting men for reasons of self-defense? And what are these social issues that may lead women to strike out at a male partner that couldn't also be applied to male offenders?

To begin, I found it interesting that Hopper seemed to ignore several realities. First, although there is always room for improvement, today's law enforcement officers receive more mandatory training in domestic violence arrest procedures and investigation methods than ever before in California. When officers are called to a domestic disturbance, they do conduct an investigation to determine who is the "primary aggressor." They conduct an investigation before they ever arrest a citizen, male or female. Second, all domestic violence cases in California are handled by the District Attorney's (DA) office. The DA conducts its own investigation after an arrest has been made before deciding to take the offending woman to trial. The DA will contact the defendant's private attorney or public defender. Only when the DA's office concludes that the defendant is guilty of the crime of domestic violence will it go to court for trial. Finally, the judge and/or jury will go over the evidence that both the DA's office and the defendant's attorney present before reaching a verdict. As Hopper reminded us in her article, since January 1, 1996 the DA's office cannot offer a diversion program to a defendant until after a conviction of the crime of domestic violence is made. Only after the defendant is convicted of this crime will he/she be sent to a treatment program.

What Hopper seems to be suggesting is that in most cases when a woman assaults her husband or boyfriend, the arresting officer(s) who initially investigated the incident and arrested the woman for felony domestic violence, the DA's office which conducted its own investigation of the crime and found the woman culpable of domestic violence, and finally the judge and/or jury who convicted the woman of the crime of domestic violence all made a terrible mistake.

Hopper implies that when a woman is arrested for domestic violence the DA should have the option of sending her to a diversion program without having her go to court, because in the vast majority of these cases the women assault their male partners purely for reasons of self-defense. Yet, don't their attorneys have the opportunity to present a self-defense case on behalf of their clients before the DA, and later before a judge and jury? No system works correctly all the time, and I am sure there may be some cases where an innocent woman or man is convicted for domestic violence when in fact the assault was truly for reasons of self-defense. Yet under our current legal system there are three levels in which the question of self-defense is examined before a woman or man is convicted of domestic violence.

Nevertheless Hopper still tries to support her claim that women assault their partners for reasons of self-defense. She does this from interviews she has conducted with a handful of treatment providers or authors who are speaking primarily about self-defense cases in which women kill their partners, not about domestic violence in general. In recent years it has become harder to deny that an increasing number of men in our society are being assaulted by their female partners. Ten years ago the California Attorney General's office wrote, "...it should be noted that there is an increasing incidence of domestic violence against men." (Office of the Attorney General, 1988) Today more women are being arrested for domestic violence than ever before. The arrest rate for female domestic violence offenders has steadily increased from about 7% five years ago to close to 15% today (Bennett, 1997; California D.O.J., 1997; Beaupru, 1997; Brown, 1997).

In a Sacramento Bee article dated December 7, 1997, the author entitled "Arrests of Women Soar in Domestic Abuse Cases", Mareva Brown reported that, while the arrest rate for male batterers has decreased from 3,147 arrest in 1991 to 2,922 arrests in 1996, it has actually increased for female offenders from 245 in 1991 to 469 in 1996. In 1991 7% of the arrests for domestic violence were of women and in 1996 this figure rose to 14%. Brown writes that Sacramento's lead domestic abuse prosecutor, Kate Killeen, says that "few women are arrested in error." She also is quoted as saying "...that mutual arrests for domestic abuse have been dropping since the new law was enacted in January 1996. Still there is evidence that women are abusing their mates." In the same article Sgt. Nick Calnon, one of the two domestic violence detectives in the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department is quoted as saying, "Just because the kids will be motherless is not enough reason not to arrest her." (Brown, Dec. 7, 1997) The U.S. Dept. of Justice figures also suggest that there has been a greater percentage increase of violence by women in overall criminal behavior than for men from 1991 to 1995 in a number of categories as shown in Table 5.


 
    Table 5: The Uniform Crime Reports: Percentage Increase From 1991 to 1995 (Source: (FBI: Uniform Crime Reports, 1995, Table 35

Offense Charged

Total

Under 18

 

Percentage Increase

Percentage Increase

Male

Female

Male

Female

Arson

3%

27%

15%

70%

Aggravated Assault

4%

37%

6%

39%

Weapons, carrying, possessing, etc.

2%

13%

11%

42%

Offenses against family and children

35%

62%

54%

77%

Top


 

The U.S. Dept. of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) showed that in 1996 about 840,000 women in the country are assaulted by their male partners and that 1,414 women were killed in 1992 (0.02% of all women who are assaulted by their male partners). The report also shows that about 150,000 men in the country are assaulted by their female partners, and that 637 men were killed in 1992 (0.04% of men who are assaulted by their female partners). (Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ-154348 and NCJ-167237)

I would agree with Hopper's general position that law enforcement should investigate for possible self-defense, as long as fairness is given to both parties. Yet she doesn't provide any evidence that officers aren't already doing this. What I find disturbing about Hopper's article is that she gives the reader the impression that investigation of self-defense is only to be considered for female arrests and not for male arrests. She writes, "An effective response will still require a determination of whether a woman is acting in self-defense. Though this inquiry is not part of a standard procedure where the perpetrator is male, the added inquiry is necessary if a female perpetrator is to be treated fairly, and not held to an inapplicable standard of male violence." (p.174)

I'm not sure how Hopper defines the word "fairly" when she says that an officer should investigate for self-defense if the assault is by a woman, but makes no similar statement that the officer should also investigate for self-defense if the assault is by a man. She later writes that, "Criminal justice personnel must internalize an awareness of the sexism and racism that has traditionally affected the cases of women who are violent." (p. 180) I wonder if she would also apply this same standard to male victims of domestic violence. Perhaps she would. In the same way that racism can be found in all races, sexism can also be found in both genders, women and men. Women will never find a place of equality in our society as long as we have double standards for men and women.

I do not find Hopper's argument for "self-defense" by women particularly strong or well-documented when one considers that today's female offender will be sent to treatment programs only after a police investigation has been conducted, the DA's office has made its own investigation and brought her to court, and she is finally convicted of domestic violence by the judge and jury for her crime. Hopper also does not address those cases of woman-on-woman domestic violence in lesbian relationships. So what empirical evidence does Hopper present for her suggestion that the overwhelming number of women who assault their male partners are doing so for reasons of self-defense?

It appears that most of her "evidence" comes from individual opinions, small case studies, and telephone conversations with a few individuals. Some of her references are even misleading. For example, she writes that women commit violence for different reasons than men. She goes on to say that "...women, unlike men, usually are not violent in order to exert power or control over their partners." (Hopper, p. 177) She supports this statement from Evelyn K. Sommer's book, Voices from Within: Women Who Have Broken the Law, (1995). What Hopper doesn't share in her article is that Sommers' book consisted of a very small case study of only "seven" female law breakers. Sommers writes, "The lawbreaking actions of four of the women were directly influenced either by individuals — men — who held power over them or by social structures that were unresponsive to their individual needs, or both." (Sommers, 1996, p. 39) Here she is speaking of four of the seven women she studied. Yet none of these four female law breakers were arrested for domestic violence. One of the four women was arrested for prostitution, charges of resisting arrest and missing court appearances. The other three women were arrested for theft, one for embezzling $40,000.00 from her employer and another for embezzling $2,000.00 from one employer and $42,000.00 from another employer. From these examples Hopper concludes that: "...unlike men who commit violence, women don't use violence in order to exert power or control over their partners." This is really a stretch in reasoning, truly comparing apples and oranges.

When a researcher supports her/his opinion with references, the references should actually support the researcher's statements. Most people who read articles or books do not investigate the references that the author gives, and tend to trust that the author has been accurate. Another example of misleading information in Hopper's article was her opinion that prosecutors must be able to discern the difference between women who assault in self-defense and the "few" cases when the woman is the primary aggressor. She uses the reference of an Auditor General's Report to support this statement. Yet the specific reference in the report discusses that the current law "...does not provide minimum requirements for duration of treatment programs for domestic violence diversion cases." (Office of the Attorney General, 1988) The report raised the concern that county programs vary in the length and nature of treatment. Though a valid concern, it had nothing to do with the issues Hopper raised. One gets the idea that Hopper used this reference from the Auditor General's office to support her opinion, when in fact there is no support to her primary premise in this report. I see this as another example of misleading her reader.

Hopper also writes that women who are convicted of murdering their spouse receive "harsher sentences" then men. Yet the Department of Justice has officially stated that men actually receive longer sentences for murdering their spouses than women, the average prison sentence for murder of a partner in large counties being 17.5 years for males and 6.2 years for females (Bureau of Justice Statistic, NCJ-149259, 1994). This figure refutes Hopper's assertion.

What I find unacceptable in Hopper's article is her constant theme that female violence is primarily dependent on what their male partners say or do to them. It's the argument that "You made me do it." Yet is not this the same argument male batterers have used for years when they are arrested? If we don't hold women responsible for male assaultive behavior why should we now hold men responsible for female assaultive behavior? It appears from the article that Hopper wants men to be held responsible for the woman's violence, something women's advocates would never accept if the situation were reversed. In fact, most of the arguments that Hopper makes for women could also be applied to men. The court should look at all the reasons why men and women assault each other before pronouncing judgment. Hopper asserts that

",,,when women act violently in domestic situations, they are not exercising a traditional prerogative, but rather are acting for other reasons which should be identified if the violent situation is to be fairly understood."

This is an interesting argument, but she provides no empirical research data to support this claim. She claims that women do not use violence to "exert power and control over their partners." (p. 177) To support this claim she uses Sommer's study of four women and a telephone interview with Susan Hanks, Director of the Family Violence Institute at the California School of Professional Psychology (11/26/95). This is hardly conclusive evidence that should be then generalized for the entire population of female batterers, especially when the women in Sommer's study were not even arrested for domestic violence but for other crimes.

Hopper makes the statement that

"Treatment providers in California who run programs for women diverted by the courts have also indicated that only three to five of the hundreds of women who have ever enrolled in their programs have been 'genuinely' violent, that is, have been violent independent of any violence used by their partners." (p. 178)

This is a powerful statement. Yet again her supporting evidence comes from one telephone interview with Susan Hanks. What empirical evidence does she really provide to support these claims, or are they opinions from a few clinicians and clinical samples? National survey studies of heterosexual couples indicate that 50 to 70 percent of domestic violence is mutual assault. (Straus, 1997; Flynn, 1990; Moffitt, 1997) Flynn's study showed that 10% was male abuser only and 22% was female abuser only. Moffitt's survey showed that "12.7 percent of the women and 21.2 percent of the men reported being the victims of severe physical violence by their partners."

There are treatment providers that would disagree with Hopper's statements. Claudia Dias, attorney, therapist, and the Director of Changing Courses conducts six weekly anger management groups for females who are perpetrators of domestic violence, along with sixteen groups for men. Of the seven batterers' treatment programs in Sacramento County, Changing Courses is the only authorized program that works with female abusers. She has stated that it takes about five months before the women in her groups begin to see themselves as perpetrators and take responsibility for their past and present behavior. When asked what she has learned about domestic violence since she started working with both male and female perpetrators, Dias responded by saying that domestic violence is really a "dance and a family system problem more than it is a power and control problem." She went on to say that the primary goal of anger and violent behavior is to "protect the personal and/or emotional integrity of the perpetrator." She feels that the reason many in the domestic violence movement resist the idea of male victims is

"...because it challenges the patriarchal framework that was used to raise social consciousness to the problem of domestic violence. Accepting the more realistic perception requires accepting that this is a family system problem."

Her desire is to remove "gender bias from the entire field of family violence."

Sandra Orozco, founder of the first women's shelter in Sacramento, California, WEAVE (Women Escaping A Violent Environment) feels that violence has no gender. She believes that there is a larger population of male victims, but that many men do not want to admit they are victims. She shares the same understanding of the problem of domestic violence as Dias when she says that "a lot of people who work in the area of domestic violence do not recognize it as a family problem. They look through a narrow tunnel which sees that domestic violence only happens to women."

Although much of the domestic violence literature speaks only of the concept of "power and control," we may also be seeing couples involved in a "dance of violence" where neither of them will stop the violence without outside intervention. The Attorney General's office writes that there are "numerous factors" that can trigger domestic violence, such as stressful situations, frustrations, alcohol and/or other drugs, abuse-prone attitudes and beliefs (patriarchal power and control), sadistic personality, childhood experiences of abuse and/or parental violence, and mental or physical disorders (Office of the Attorney General, 1988).

Hopper writes that women are more likely to fear their male abuser than men are their female abusers. This may be true in a number of cases, although she bases these comments on a telephone interview with Sue Osthoff, Director of the Philadelphia-based National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women. In my own experience, I have heard more women share their fear of serious physical harm by their male partners more than I have heard from male victims. This doesn't mean that some of the men I have interviewed aren't very afraid of the death threats or threats of financial ruin they have received from their ex-wives. One fear expressed by a number of men I interviewed is of losing custody of their children, even though they are the victims of domestic violence by their wives. A number of men have told me this is one of the main reasons they stay in abusive relationships. They are afraid that escaping the violence of their wives will cost them personal time with their children.

It has also been my experience that men and women who are victims of domestic violence have many of the same fears and emotions about the abuse. Dr. Carole Hammond-Saslow has found this to also be generally true. She has interviewed nearly 180 male victims of domestic violence and found that there was a positive relationship between male abuse and depression and self-esteem when the abuse was severe. Her doctoral dissertation was entitled, Domestic Abuse and Levels of Depression, Self-esteem, and Assertiveness in Battered Men (1997). Perhaps under the current court system, the man's fear of losing primary physical custody of his children to the woman who abused him is a realistic fear. There is some talk about new legislation that would make it harder for perpetrators of domestic violence to gain primary custody of their children. If passed, I wonder if this will be fairly applied to husbands who are abused by their wives.

Perhaps one of the reasons Hopper used clinical sources and telephone interviews to try to support her opinions is that there really is not much empirical evidence concerning the reasons men and women assault each other. The National Family Violence Survey (NFVS) developed by the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, and other research which uses the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) do not tell what level of violent acts by wives or husbands were in response to blows initiated by their partners, that is, what level of violent assaults were for reasons of self-defense.

Some writers, like Hopper, have continued to suggest that most wives assault their husbands for reasons of self-defense (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Pagelow, 1984; and Saunders, 1986; Brown, 1987; Campbell, 1992). Yet their research data are typically derived from personal experience and clinical samples, that is, archival data.

Archival research lacks the predictive power to accurately suggest the nature of a phenomenon in the general population.

The problem with data that comes from a treatment program or clinician's office is that the interviewers may have their own biases that influence their judgment, and they tend to collect only data on what has been reported. Lenore Walker, who has written extensively about battered women, shares the limitations of her own studies when she writes, "These women were not randomly selected, and they cannot be considered a legitimate data base from which to make specific generalizations." (Walker, 1979, p. xiii) Although Walker warns against using clinical samples to generalize, few follow her advice, including Hopper. This may be the reason national probability survey research that gathers information from a randomized sample of people in the general population gives a different picture of the reasons that wives assault their husbands. That research does not support the idea of self-defense as the main reason wives assault husbands.

The 1975 NFVS survey discovered that 49.5% of the respondents reported the violence was mutual, that 27.7% of the violence was by the woman only, and 22.7% was by the man only. The 1985 NFVS study, as reported by women, found that 52.7% reported they struck the first blow, and 42.6% reported that their husbands struck the first blow. This suggests that much assaultive behavior by wives may not be for reasons of self-defense. In a U.S. Department of Justice report, a New Zealand study done in 1993 of 961 twenty-one year old young adults found the following:

"Three times more women than men (18.6 percent and 5.7 percent respectively) said they kicked, bit, hit with a fist, or hit with an object. When less severe forms of violence are included — such as throwing something, pushing, grabbing, shoving, and slapping — the rates were 37 percent for women and 22 percent for men." (Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 154277, 1997, p. 1).

One of the arguments in defense of wives who murder their husbands, about 0.8% of men who experience some form of physical abuse by their wives, is that they do so for reasons of self-defense. Murray Straus, one of the top researchers of family violence in the nation, once believed this argument but has changed his view on the subject. He notes several studies that question the biases of this assumption. In a study of twenty-four cases of women who murdered their partners, Jurik (1989) and Jurik and Gregware (1989) they found that only 21% of the women reported there was prior abuse or a threat of abuse or death, which suggests that most of the murders were not based on retaliation to prior abuse which the women may have experienced. They also found that 60% of the women who killed their partners had previous criminal records. This does not paint the picture of an innocent woman who is simply responding in self-defense or retaliation to abuse she has received from her male partner. Another study by Mann (1990) also showed that many of the women were impulsive and violent and had criminal records before the murder. This all suggests possibly other reasons why wives kill husbands that have little to do with self-defense (Straus, 1997, p. 213).

Interestingly, there does not seem to be a U.S. national survey that specifically asks questions about the reasons for the assaults by a partner. One national survey that does is found in a recent study from England by Carrado, George, Loxam, Jones, and Templar (1996). They analyzed data from the largest study ever done on domestic violence in England, 1994. Along with the CTS, used by Straus and others, they also included an index on the reasons for the assaultive behavior by partners as shown in Table 6.


 
    Table 6: Results from the largest study ever done on domestic violence in England, 1994 (Carrado et al., 1996, p. 409).

Reason for Assault

Victimization

Sustained

Victimization

Inflicted

Women%

Men%

Women%

Men%

A.

"Get through to..."

32%

43%

53%

64%

B.

"Something said or threatened..."

32%

44%

52%

53%

C.

"Some physical action..."

12%

8%

21%

27%

D.

"Stop doing something..."

29%

37%

33%

43%

E.

"Make do something..."

51%

43%

26%

26%

F.

"About to use physical action."

10%

7%

17%

21%

G.

"Influence of alcohol, etc..."

45%

31%

13%

35%

H.

"In character..."

44%

31%

16%

27%

I.

"Other"

11%

6%

12%

7%

Percent of 1,978 men and women experiencing or committing assault:

13%

18%

11%

10%

Top


 

The national sample size was 1,978 heterosexual men and women. The study indicated (Table 6) that 53% of the women and 64% of the men reported they assaulted their partners to "get through to them," and 26% of both the wives and husbands used violence to make their partners "do something." This sounds like a need for "power and control" by both the men and women. Item "C" in Table 6 shows that 21% of the women and 27% of the men reported they assaulted their spouses because of a physical action taken against them. Item "F" also shows that 17% of the women and 21% of the men reported they assaulted their partners because their spouses were about to use physical action against them. These two items, "C" and "F" in Table 6, are clearly examples of what would be considered self-defense. What this data suggest is that about 80% of the assaults by wives on their husbands may be for reasons other than self-defense. It also suggests that the reasons men and women give for assaulting their partners are very similar in most areas.

This study challenges the notion that most of the assaultive behavior by women against their men are for reasons that are clearly self-defense. It also challenges the notion that men and women assault for different reasons in general. So why do so many still insist that the vast majority of women assault in self-defense? Perhaps this can be explained by asking this question: of the women who report they assaulted their husbands, who are more likely to seek help from a domestic violence center or law enforcement agency, those who assault their husbands "to get through to him," or those who assault their husbands because they were assaulted first by their husbands? It is likely the latter. Women who assault their husbands "to get through to him" or "to make him do something" are not likely to seek help from a domestic violence center. It stands to reason then that most of the cases that domestic violence centers see in a clinical setting are those in which the women are more likely to be acting in self-defense. This may change in the future because more men are now reporting domestic violence by wives. However, this does not mean that most of the women who assault their husbands do so for reasons of self-defense in the general population, but only those who report it to domestic violence centers or law enforcement agencies.

Carrado and her fellow researchers conclude:

"In so far that reason or contexts tested have attempted to assess a 'self-defense' motive, the results seem to support a Canadian study that the majority of women did not report their aggression against male partners in this context [Sommer, 1994]." (Carrado et al., 1996, p. 413)

In Canada a social scientist, Reena Sommer, (1994) examined a longitudinal study of Winnipeg residents as part of the Winnipeg Health and Drinking Survey (1989). The survey consisted of "married, cohabiting and remarried males and females between the ages of 18 and 65 years." The data were collected at two points in time over a two year period. Both phases of the research were each done face-to-face during a "90 minute session which involved a structured interview and a self-administered questionnaire" (Sommer, 1994, p. iv). She found that of the 452 females and 447 males interviewed, 39% of the women and 26% of the men committed acts of violence against their spouses at some time in their relationship, and that 16% of the women and 8% of the men defined those acts as severe in nature.

In researching the reasons for the assaults Sommer (1992) found that 90% of the women who reported that they were abusive did not strike their male partners in self-defense. She states on the contrary, they hit, kicked, threw something, and bit their male partners when they were furious, jealous, high on drugs or alcohol, frustrated, in need for control or had impulse problems. She reports that 14% of the men who were attacked needed to go to the hospital. Sommer shares how her study underscores "the need to address the issues of husband battering as a 'real' problem and to attempt to rectify the misconception that family violence is a problem of women and children alone," (p. 1321)

These "non-clinical" studies suggest that only 10-20% of women in the general population assaulted their male partners for reasons of self-defense. So why do domestic violence workers suggest the percentage is much greater? Perhaps it is because women who seek help from domestic violence shelters are not the women who assault their husbands and boyfriends to "make them do something" or to "get through to them" but are those who are first assaulted by their male partners.

Based on these studies, a domestic violence presenter may be more accurate saying:

"Of those women who seek help from our center, most assault their husbands for reasons of self-defense, but this does not include the 80-90% of women who assault their husbands for reasons other than self-defense in the general population who never come to our shelter."

Hopper's article is further wanting in several areas. First, there is no convincing empirical evidence that only "...three to five of hundreds of women who have ever enrolled" in diversion programs by court order because they were found guilty of domestic violence against their male partners are genuinely violent, while the hundreds of other women who are sent to these programs are not. Also, the police do investigate the crime before arresting the woman, the DA's office investigates the crime before taking the woman to trial, and the judge and jury can consider the plea of self-defense before convicting the woman of domestic violence. Unless there is a conviction, the woman will not be ordered to a diversion program by the court in California. With no compelling evidence from Hopper, and knowing that there is a legal system that does give a woman or man the opportunity to plead a case of self-defense before the DA and in court, why are there those who continue to bring up this issue of self-defense for only female abusers?

Perhaps it goes to the heart and history of the domestic violence "movement." Very few deny that women were not given equal opportunities in our society years ago. Some would say this is still the case today. Yet in the past hundred years, women have stood up to address this injustice. Many changes have occurred because of their prayers, tears, and strength of character. Feminists began to seek equality in putting an end to sexism in our culture and the double standard between genders. Against this backdrop came the second wave of the feminist movement. Some of these feminists began to use more descriptive language about being victims in a "patriarchal" society. They began to develop a theory that could explain their situation in our culture. Men were more often pictured in the role of "perpetrator" and women in the role of "victim." Men should be punished while offending women should gain treatment. Those who made this their core belief found it easy to come to the aid of those women who were physically and emotionally abused by their male partners and asked for help. It also fit their general theory and belief system about male/female relationships, namely male power and control over women and the victimized women in society. Battered women rarely had the resources to get the help they needed twenty years ago. They found this help in their feminist sisters. Then it was common to hear advocates say that domestic violence existed for thousands of women even though they didn't report it.

Today it seems that these feminists have only one model and theory to explain the phenomenon of domestic violence: namely, that men abuse women to maintain their power and control over them. But is it that simple? It is true that, if a man wants to exercise power and control over his female partner, his physical and maybe his economic strength are likely to give him a greater advantage. But is physical and economic strength the only tool that can be used to gain power and control over a partner? No, power can also be gained by emotional and psychological abuse, by the use of children as a power chip, even by threats of calling the police.

An individual man may not have the same economic power in his family that his father and grandfather had fifty years ago. Also, a number of mothers and fathers have surely abused their physical power and control over their children. It is true that the feminist contribution to this topic has been important to understanding the reason why "some" men assault their female partners.

What some fail to realize, or just refuse to accept, is that women can also use many of the same tools to gain power and control over their husbands.

Anger, like any emotion, comes from how a person perceives the world around them. If one perceives danger, the emotion that will accompany that perception is what we call "fear." If one perceives a loss of some kind (loss of health, loss of reputation, etc.,) one is likely to feel "sadness." If one perceives an injustice, something is not fair, that something is not right, one is likely to feel "anger". Both men and women can feel any of these emotions, although some may be harder to express. Men may express anger when they are fearful of abandonment or sad over some loss. Women may express sadness when they are really angry over some injustice, but find it hard to express. A man may also perceive a valid injustice in his relationship with his wife. These emotions may have little to do with "patriarchal power and control over women."

Dr. Donald Dutton, who has done extensive work with male batterers for the past twenty years in using Oldham's Borderline Personality Self-Report Measure, has found that male batterers have a strong correlation "between borderline scores and the associated features of cyclical abusiveness." (Dutton, 1995, p. 153) Here Dr. Dutton introduces a psychological and character-logical model for domestic violence that does not necessarily include the concept of "power and control," and can be found in either a man or woman.

Also, children may hit another person because it is their way of communicating with the perceived offender the pain they are feeling. Perhaps grown-ups do the same thing?

Some feminists have used the simple argument of patriarchal power and control over women in their appeal to well-meaning legislators and others to fund centers to help women escape the tyranny of male domination and cruelty. This approach has been successful in getting the help these women needed in the beginning. Personally, I am glad that they did get the funding to help thousands of women. This paper is not meant to divert any attention or services from female victims of domestic violence. The problem is not that they received this funding, but that since they based their arguments on this very narrow explanation of why domestic violence against women takes place, when other data or models are presented many of them fear that this information will be used to take money and attention away from female victims of domestic violence. They fear backlash.

How to present this data in a way that will allow male victims to be treated fairly and positively without some considering it "backlash" is a challenge.

A number of domestic violence advocates appear to be stuck with only one model — males are perpetrators and women are victims.

Now that it is harder to ignore the data of domestic violence against men and the increasing violence of women in our society over the past ten years, they may feel a need to find an explanation that is in keeping with their view of women being seen as victims in society, namely that if women do assault their partners it must be for reasons of self-defense. In other words, because women assault in self-defense we can't describe them as perpetrators, nor should they be punished for their assaultive behavior. They remain victims in the minds of society and the feminist model for domestic violence is preserved.


 

Other suggested readings and information on male victims of domestic violence:

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ABC 20/20 video: Battered by Their Wives. September 19, 1997, $29.95

Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence. by Philip Cook, publisher: Praeger, 1997.

When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence. by Patricia Pearson, publisher: Viking, 1997

Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women. by Christina Hoff Sommers, publisher: Simon and Schuster, 1996


 

© David L. Fontes, Psy.D., CEAP

5050 Laguna Blvd., Suite 112, PMB 400

Elk Grove, CA 95758

Telephone: (916) 685-5258, ext. 8

E-mail: maledv@citlink.net

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