How Many Domestic Violence Awareness Advocates Discriminate Against Women

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By Philip W. Cook
Copyright 1998

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month but despite more than twenty years of consciousness raising and programs, in some key areas women are still being discriminated against. What is unusual, is that the discrimination is being supported by many awareness advocates.

Twenty years ago, men and women killed their partners in roughly equal numbers, but now far fewer women are killing their male domestic partners. According to a comparison study by Dr. Daniel Nagin a public policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, there is a “substantial” difference in the rate of decline. He links this to improved economic circumstances and as importantly, legal advocacy programs for female domestic violence victims. Dr. Nagin told the New York Times (July 28, 1998): “The resources for women seem to be saving the men’s lives.”

Shouldn’t we at least try to put in place such programs for men, to see if they can be effective in preventing murders of women? Many domestic violence advocates resist this notion. Indeed, most reject any recognition at all for the fact that some women can be violent and controlling in their intimate relationships. The lowest official estimate puts it at 148,000 male victims a year and 838,000 female (National Criminal Victimization Survey-U.S. Justice Dept), while the highest, the National Family Violence Survey-funded by The National Institute of Mental Health-shows 1.8 million female victims and two million male.

Advocates however, often mix the results by quoting the low figure for males in the first survey and the higher figure for females in the latter.

They fear that attention to domestic violence against men will de-emphasize the importance of services for women.

In direct response to this view, researchers, reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Association (August-97) found gender-equal rates of emergency room treatment. They declared: “Recognition of the global nature of violence may be more realistic than assuming that only women are victims.”

The advocate’s assumptions hurt women in another way besides perhaps increasing their chances of being murdered or injured. When women call a shelter or domestic violence crisis line expressing concern about their own anger and violence, they are often told, “Oh, he must have done something to provoke you.”

Pioneering sociologist Dr. Suzanne Steinmetz (Co-author of Behind Closed Doors-Violence in the American Family-1980) says, “We are in essence denying women services.”

” When a man beats up a woman, right away he’s put in a program for batterers. He’s helped to deal with his problems. He’s also sometimes sent to jail. But when a woman does it, it’s passed off as no big deal. No one says, ‘Gosh if you’re acting this way, you might be troubled.’ ”

Dr. Steinmetz also points out that it took a long time for shelters to help lesbian women. Lesbian partner battering contradicts gender-feminist patriarchal theories about the causes of domestic violence. Public acknowledgment of the problem is kept quiet for political reasons.

The modern era battered women’s movement began in 1972 when Erin Pizzey opened the world’s first shelter. In 1974, she wrote the first book on the subject, Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear. She recalls how the problem was ridiculed and ignored, there was no news media attention, social service providers and law enforcement said there was no need for shelters and crisis lines, and funding didn’t exist.

She says It is very similar to what is happening now for male victims and female perpetrators. Pizzey adds however, that there is one new factor: “There are as many violent women as men, but there’s a lot of money (now) in hating men. The activists (at the shelters) aren’t there to help women come to terms with what’s happening with their lives. They’re there to fund their budgets, their conferences, and their statements against men.”

The fact that her publisher was threatened and her home shot at by some activists may provide some understanding for Pizzey’s broad brush statements about the movement she founded.

There are in fact, many within the movement who are selfless, dedicated and non-sexist. There are also about a dozen domestic violence crisis lines who provide advocacy to both male and female victims while effectively identifying perpetrators for appropriate action.

Despite these islands of non-discrimination however, the greatest impediment to improved understanding about the complex nature of domestic violence-it’s causes, it’s effects, and how best to help men and women-may actually be many of the domestic violence awareness campaign’s most public advocates.


Copyright © 1998, Philip W. Cook

Philip W. Cook is the author of Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (Praeger/Greenwood-Fall 97).