Husband Battering: A Serious Problem
Billboards, radio, and TVads across the country proclaim that "every fifteen seconds a women is beatenby a man." Violence against women is clearly a problem of national importance,but has anyone ever asked how often men are beaten by women? The unfortunatefact is that men are the victims of domestic violence at least as often aswomen are. While the very idea of men being beaten by their wives runs contraryto many of our deeply ingrained beliefs about men and women, female violenceagainst men is a well-documented phenomenon almost completely ignored by boththe media and society.
The first reaction uponhearing about the topic of battered men, for many people, is that of incredulity.Battered husbands are almost a topic for jokes - such as the cartoon image of awoman chasing her husband with a rolling pin. One researcher noted that wiveswere the perpetrators in 73% of the depiction of domestic violence in newspapercomics (Gelles 1974).
Battered husbands have historically been eitherignored or subjected to ridicule and abuse. In 18th-century France, a batteredhusband "was made to wear an outlandish outfit and ride backwards aroundthe village on a donkey" (Langley & Levy 1977). Even those of us wholike to consider ourselves liberated and open-minded often have a difficulttime even imagining that husband battering could take place. Although feminismhas opened many of our eyes about the existence of domestic violence, and newspaperreports often include incidents of abuse of wives, the abuse of husbands is ararely discussed phenomenon.
One reason researchers andothers had not chosen to investigate husband battering is because it wasthought to be a fairly rare occurrence. Police reports seemed to bear this out,with in some cases a ratio of 12 to 14.5 female victims to every one malevictim. But another reason is that because women were seen as weaker and morehelpless than men due to sex roles, and men on the other hand were seen as moresturdy and self-reliant, the study of abused husbands seemed relativelyunimportant (Steinmetz 1978).
In 1974, a study was done which compared male andfemale domestic violence. In that study, it was found that 47% of husbands hadused physical violence on their wives, and 33% of wives had used violence ontheir husbands (Gelles 1974). Half of the respondents in this study wereselected from either cases of domestic violence reported to the police, orthose identified by the social service agency.
Also in 1974, a study wasreleased showing that the number of murders of women by men (17.5% of totalhomicides) was about the same as the number of murders of men by women (16.4%of total homicides). This study, however, showed that men were three times aslikely to assault women as vice-versa. These statistics came from policerecords (Gelles 1974).
The murder statistic was no big news, by the way. In1958, an investigation of spousal homicide between 1948 and 1952 found that7.8% of murder victims were husbands murdered by wives, and 8% were wivesmurdered by husbands. More recently, in a study of spousal homicide in theperiod from 1976 to 1985, it was found that there was an overall ratio of1.3:1.0 of murdered wives to murdered husbands, and that "black husbandswere at greater risk of spouse homicide victimization than black wives or whitespouses of either sex" (Mercy & Saltzman 1989).
The subject of husbandbattering had finally been addressed, but not to the great satisfaction ofanyone. Although it had finally been shown that there was violence beingperpetrated both by wives and husbands, there was no information about relativefrequency or severity, or who initiated the abuse and who was acting inself-defense. Furthermore, some researchers became concerned that the use ofpolice or social services references in choosing subjects to study might bebiasing the results. In short, they recognized that battered...
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