San Francisco Chronicle’s recent series on domestic violence
movingly portrays the tragic murder of Nadine Nunes at the hands
of her ex-husband Todd Vernon, who also killed his three children.
However, there is no credible evidence to support the series' principal
contention that "men are murdering their partners in increasing
numbers." The only evidence offered is the vague assertion
of a local domestic violence advocate. In place of facts and research
the series substitutes emotion, ominous references to firearms,
and the implication that any normal guy becomes a homicidal maniac
the moment he can't find a job.
to alarmist claims, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer reports
that the number of domestic violence-related calls for assistance
statewide dropped almost 20% from 1993 to 2003. Similarly, U.S.
Department of Justice statistics show that the number of violent
crimes by intimate partners against females nationwide declined
from 1993 to 2001, the last year for which statistics are available.
According to Emergency Room data collected by the Centers for Disease
Control and the DOJ, domestic violence accounts for only 1% of women’s
injuries, well behind accidental falls, motor vehicle accidents,
and even animal bites.
statistics show that roughly 1,300 women are murdered by intimates
each year. Yet domestic homicide is hardly a one-way street. There
are 500 men murdered each year by female intimates, excluding those
killings deemed to be in self-defense. Moreover, evidence suggests
that there are actually as many wives and girlfriends who murder
their male partners as vice versa.
Farrell, a high profile expert witness in domestic violence cases,
has delineated a number of "blinders" which have served
to disguise the murder of male intimates.
one, women generally use less detectable methods to murder intimates
than men do, including poisonings, which are often mistakenly recorded
as “heart attacks” or “accidents.”
women are much more likely than men to convince their extramarital
intimates to do the killing, or to use contract killers, who often
disguise murders as accidents or suicides. If the surrogate killer
is caught the murder is categorized as a "multiple offender"
killing. For example, the murder of Wayne Pearce of Escondido, California,
which a jury determined was committed at the behest of his estranged
wife, is not categorized as an intimate partner homicide in official
statistics because she hired two 15 year-olds to do the killing
addition, there are five times as many unsolved murders of men as
there are of women. If only a small percentage of these murders
are really intimate partner homicides, men would comprise over 40%
of all intimate murder victims. This is consistent with the DOJ’s
survey Murder in Families, which analyzed 10,000 cases and
found that women make up over 40 percent of those charged in familial
for battered women often claim that women who kill male intimates
usually do so in self-defense. However, in the most comprehensive
study of female homicides ever conducted, criminologist Coramae
Richey Mann found that 60% of female murders of male intimates were
preplanned, and 70% of the killings were done while the victim was
asleep, bound, helpless or inebriated.
is no shortage of female Todd Vernons, if only we chose to see them.
Socorro Caro abused her husband Xavier, a prominent Northridge,
California rheumatologist, for years, once assaulting him so badly
he had to have surgery to regain his sight in one eye. Later Socorro
shot and killed three of their four children, the murder spree ending
only because she ran out of bullets. The judge in the case said
that the children had been used by Socorro against her husband as
"sacrificial symbolic pawns of a failed marital relationship."
Texas murderess Susan Wright stabbed her husband 193 times while
he was bound at the hands and legs. Michigan educator Nancy Seaman
ambushed and killed her husband with a hatchet and then claimed
to be an abused wife, a claim the jury rejected, convicting her
of first degree premeditated murder. Convicted Texas killer Clara
Harris ran her husband down in her Mercedes as the fallen man’s
daughter begged her not to kill her father. Does the fact that the
perpetrators were female mean these murders are any less tragic
than the ones committed by Todd Vernon?
decades of studies clearly establish that the violence in abusive
relationships is often initiated by women, and that women are responsible
for a substantial portion of domestic violence at all levels of
severity. Pretending that only men abuse gives women license to
abuse and creates more violent relationships.
considering the federal Violence Against Women Act, which is up
for five-year renewal this year, as well as in law-enforcement policies
and the way batterers’ treatment and couples counseling are conducted,
alarmist, anti-male politics must be replaced by real-world approaches
based on the totality of intimate-partner violence.
column was first published in the San Francisco Chronicle
(4/8/05). It was written in response to the series Traces
of Danger Beneath the Calm and Deadly
Warning, (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/13/05).
Sacks [send him mail]
serves on the advisory board of Stop Abuse for Everyone, an international
domestic violence organization. Glenn Sacks is a men’s and fathers’
issues columnist and a nationally-syndicated
radio talk show host. His columns have appeared in dozens
of America’s largest newspapers. Visit his