An all-too-typical article in my local paper Eliott McLaughlin's editorial "Valentine's for loving, not bludgeoning" (Opelika-Auburn News, Feb. 12, 2000) was a socially irresponsible, sensational, and gender biased distortion of the reality of domestic violence.
To honor Valentine's Day a time for expressing love and kindness Mr. McLaughlin could have chosen to praise Auburn's exemplary Valentine's Father-Daughter Date Night (which I attended with both my daughters). Instead, he cheapened Valentine's by sensationalizing domestic violence, perpetuating the destructive albeit politically correct myth that men are the main culprits. Whose agenda is Mr. McLaughlin following?
I have previously written an editorial and a detailed letter in this newspaper with valid references that show domestic violence is an equal-opportunity problem. Has Mr. McLaughlin even bothered to read the government statistics I referenced and the results of government-sponsored research that show women batter men as frequently or more than they are battered, or is he just parroting the party line of feminist organizations?
Notably, author Barry Yeoman indicates violence by women has "skyrocketed" in the latter part of this century ("Bad girls," Psychology Today, December 1999).
The first nationwide study of partner assault in the United States, done in 1975, found that 4.6% of husbands were victims of severe domestic violence each year, while only 3.8% of wives were partner assault victims. Since then, annual assault rates against wives have fallen to 1.9%, while assaults on husbands remain high 4.5% in 1992 (Murray Straus and Glenda Kantor. Change in Spouse Assault Rates from 1975 to 1992. Presented at the 13th World Congress of Sociology, July 19, 1994).
Since 1975, over 100 scientific studies of partner assault have shown that women are as physically aggressive or more aggressive than men in their relationships with their male partners (Fiebert M. References examining Assaults by Women on Their Spouses or Male Partners: An Annotated Bibliography. 1998).
When it comes to partner abuse, women have become fully the equal of men.
Feminist organizations typically over-represent the proportion of male assaults often quoting that women represent 90% of abuse victims. These distortions are broadcast mostly for political advantage and for increased funding opportunities.
The fact is these numbers, like those in McLaughlin's OA News article, come from battered women shelters and from crime statistics, like the National Crime Victimization Survey. Most cases of partner assault, however, are not considered a crime. So they don't show up in crime statistics. And most assaults against men, in particular, go unreported.
Some may argue that domestic violence by women is usually done in self-defense. No. Even when researchers ask women themselves, women admit they initiate the partner assault at least half the time. One study of dating relationships asked, "Who struck the first blow without retaliation?" Answer: Women in 26% of the cases, men in just 13% (O'Leary DK et al. Prevalence and stability of physical aggression between spouses. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1989; 57:263-265).
And, what about the most severe forms of partner battering? One study examined FBI statistics on 16,595 spousal homicides committed in the United States over a 10-year period. They found that 56.6% (9,393) of the murder victims were wives, and 43.4% (7,202) were husbands. Black males were at greatest risk of being killed by their partner (Mercy JA, Saltzman LE. Fatal violence among spouses in the United States, 1975-85. American Journal of Public Health 1989; 79:595-599).
The real danger of domestic violence bias targeted at men, irresponsibly reinforced by the media, is that it is has now become all too easy to vilify men. Already, many innocent men have been issued restraining orders, barred from seeing their children, kicked out of their homes and even imprisoned, all on allegations of abuse later proven to be false. This is a flagrant violation of due process and our constitutional rights.
The destructive myth that domestic violence is perpetrated predominantly by men against women has to stop. Domestic violence is a tragic social problem equally of men and women. The agenda of the local battered women's task force is obvious. The OA News, however, has a public responsibility to report facts without bias. Responsible journalism demands it.
Dr. Richard C. Weiss is president of the Children's Rights Council of Alabama.