The Whole Truth About Domestic Violence

posted in: Editorials & Essays | 0

By Philip W. Cook
Copyright 2001

“Things started out pretty good the first couple of years.  Then, she slowly changed.  She always had a temper, but then we got into some money problems, and it got worse.  She would get mad, and it would escalate all out of proportion.  She’d start hitting.  She’d slap at my face, and then keep slapping and try to scratch me.  I’d put up my arms, or just grab and hold her hands.  I never hit her back.  I was just taught that you never hit a woman.”

Joe S. is one of forty male victims of domestic violence that I interviewed over a two-year period.  Canadian researcher Lesley Gregorash and Dr. Malcolm George in England have interviewed a similar number of such men. This apparently represents the sum total of all such men who have been the subject of in-depth published interviews.  Some common patterns of behavior by victims and abusers have emerged; perhaps the most striking is the similarity between female and male victims and their abusers. Of the differences, the biggest is one of public and personal perception.  In most cases, male victims are stuck in a time warp; they find themselves in the same position women were in twenty years ago.  Despite the overwhelming numbers of male victims of domestic abuse, their problem is viewed as of little consequence, or they are somehow seen to be at blame for it.

There are however, as you will discover, more disturbing reasons why the whole truth about domestic violence has been hidden than gender bias or the need for more consciousness raising.

With support from the National Institute of Mental Health, Murray Straus Ph.D., and Richard Gelles Ph.D. conducted a nationally representative survey from the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, of married and cohabiting couples regarding domestic violence.  The results were first published in 1977 as was a book with co-author Suzanne Stienmetz Ph.D., in 1980.  Straus & Gelles followed up the initial survey of more than two thousand couples, with a larger six-thousand-couple group in 1985.[1]  In minor violence (slap, spank, throw something, push, grab or shove) the incident rates were equal for men and women.  In severe violence (kick, bite, hit with a fist, hit or try to hit with something, beat up the other, threaten with a knife or gun, use a knife or gun) more men were victimized than women.  Projecting the surveys onto the national population of married couples, the results showed more than eight million couples a year engaging in some form of domestic violence, 1.8 million women victims of severe violence, and two million male victims of severe violence.

The figures for abused women are the most often quoted figures regarding domestic violence in support of funding and attention for the problem.  Most often, the equal or greater number of male victims are simply ignored.  If couples not currently living together were included, the figure would likely be higher. These totals come with a qualification that is rarely mentioned, however; the surveys asked only if a particular type of violence occurred at least once in the past year.  Other studies indicate severe repeated “battering” attacks to be much less common. The familiar statement that a woman is beaten every 18 seconds comes from the Family Research Laboratory surveys, using 1.8 million severe attacks as a basis. To accept the Family Research Laboratory results for women should mean having to accept the same sources for male victimization. Both men and women experience an equal level of domestic violence victimization, but in the most severe category the number of women being assaulted has declined, from two million to 1.8 million while the number of men assaulted has stayed at two million.  This means that a woman is severely assaulted every 18 seconds by her mate, and a man is similarly assaulted every 15 seconds.

The U.S. Justice Department in their National Crime Survey reports a rate half that of the academic results. The Family Research Laboratory surveys are recognized, however, as being more accurate since they are based on a nationally representative sample, are not labeled a “crime” survey and cover a range of violent actions that Justice Department surveys neglects. The Family Research Laboratory results have been upheld by other studies in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. In Fact, a review of published academic literature by Martin Fiebert, Ph.D. at the University of California Long Beach found 70 empirical studies, 15 review and/or analyses and 85 scholarly investigations which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. [2]

Most domestic violence is mutual, and most wouldn’t happen if there was not a history of such violence in the family of origin.

By their own admission in the sociological surveys, Women hit first at about the same rate as men do.  About half of all incidents of violence are one-sided: the rest is mutual combat.  The woman who slaps or throws things greatly increases her chances of being hit in return.  More importantly, the sons of violent parents have a rate of wife-beating 1000 per cent greater than those of non-violent parents.  The daughters of violent parents have a husband-beating rate 600 per cent greater.  Only about 10% of violent couples have a family history that was non-violent.  Ignoring violent women, and concentrating solely on  inhibiting violent men contributes to the cycle of violence for the next generation.

Certainly, a man slapping or shoving a woman is much more likely to inflict injury than a woman slapping or shoving a man.  Since much more domestic violence falls into the “general violence” category there would be more injuries for women.  An examination of 6,200 police and hospital reports by social scientist Maureen Mcleod, however, found that men suffered severe injuries more often than women did in domestic encounters.  Seventy-four percent of the men reported some injury, while injuries among women average 57 percent.[3]  When domestic violence falls into the “severe” category, women are more likely to use a weapon than men.  In Dr. McLeod’s study, 63 percent of the men faced a deadly weapon, while only 15 percent of the women did. A report published in the “Annals of Emergency Medicine” at one inner-city ER found a slightly higher number of males than females seeking treatment for domestic violence injuries.[4] It may seem surprising, but accurate data about domestic violence injuries is actually hard to come by.  There is in fact, only one nationally representative survey of actual injuries from domestic violence in which emergency room personnel were specifically asked to denote the cause of injury from assaults. (Other surveys depend on respondents to say what happened to themselves). This 1994 Justice Department report found that out of all injury assaults being treated in the ER (including partner rape), 17 percent were due to domestic violence, the injuries were sustained by 14 percent of the women domestic violence victims and three percent of the men.[5]  Even this large scale hospital survey however, has deficiencies.  The relationship to the assailant was unknown for one-fifth of the cases involving women, and fully one-third of the cases involving men.  Thus, under reporting of possible domestic violence injuries in the ER even when hospital personnel are trained and instructed to note them is significant for women victims and substantial for male victims.

As with any significant social problem it is important to look at a large body of research in order to determine the extent of the issue. When it comes to domestic violence research however, particularly when dealing with injury rates it is critical that advocacy based statements be noted.  I can think of no other significant social issue in which advocates statements and research is so frequently taken at face value without question by the news media and government officials, then repeated and accepted as gospel.

Here are just a few examples. Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala told the American Medical Associations National Conference on Family Violence “We do know that 20 to 30 percent of the injuries that send women to the emergency room stem from physical abuse by their partners.”[6]  The high figure of 30 percent is not supported by the research. That 30 percent figure comes from the same source that proclaims that domestic violence is a more frequent cause of injury to women than heart attacks, muggings, rape or car accidents.  The source is Evan Stark and Anne Flitcraft who examined ER records and then classified any injury caused by another person (stranger or not) as a case of domestic violence.[7]  Stark finally admitted in questioning from one reporter, “Maybe domestic violence is the leading cause of injury and maybe it isn’t.”[8] Nevertheless, the ‘one-third of all injuries in the ER and more injuries to women from domestic violence than car accidents, muggings and heart attacks’ myth is not only frequently repeated in domestic violence advocates literature and accepted uncritically by the press, even the AMA not only accepted Shalala’s remarks as factual but have repeated the Stark/Flitcraft findings as valid research in frequent publications, despite Starks’s public non-defense.  Even if we assume that all of the unknown relationship assaults in the Justice Department ER survey were due to domestic violence, that still would not approach 30 percent of all ER admissions for women, or even 20 percent. Remember, the 14 percent of female DV injuries were out of all assaults in the ER, not out of total ER treatments for all causes as Shalala and other advocates want the public to believe.[9] In any case, it is irresponsible, and a good example of ‘half the truth being as good as whole lie’ for Shalala, Congress, the news media, the AMA, and others to fail to mention male victims of domestic violence when their numbers are also represented in government and other research reports.  I devoted most of a chapter to the many examples of this ‘selective inattention’ in my book, Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, so I can’t do it the justice it deserves in this essay. Suffice to say, there are many many examples. I’ll mention a few  more here because they come after publication of that book and because of the notable sources.

“Every 12 seconds another woman is beaten.  That’s nearly 900,000

victims every year.”[10] When President Clinton made this statement, I guess the calculators were already packed. Nine hundred thousand victims a year does not equal one every 12 seconds. What’s really hilarious is that the figure of 900,000 is closer to the number of male victims each year. Clinton was noting in his address to the nation the signing into law of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (nearly five billion dollars over five years).  That survey found 1.5 million female victims each year, and 835,000 male victims.  To put it another way, nearly 40% of the victims in the Violence Against

Women Act survey were male.[11]

The authors of this report went to great pains in justifying a greater attention to female victims rather than male due to their findings regarding injuries.  They found that women were twice as likely to report being injured in the most recent result compared to men (41.5% vs 19.9%). However, the lead researcher in an interview with me, stated the obvious: “Clearly there are a significant number of male victims.  The study should not be taken to mean there should be no concern or resources for them.”[12]

Apparently, when it comes to inflicting injury it’s just a matter of style.  Women probably suffer a greater amount of total injuries ranging from mild to serious because they are struck with the most ready instrument, the human hand, which will cause greater damage coming from a man than from a woman, but when it comes to serious injuries where weapons and object use come into play, the injury rate is about the same or perhaps greater for men.  Stylistic differences aside, the result comes out about the same for their partners:  injury and intimidation.

A discussion of domestic violence and injury however, would not be complete without examining the ultimate form of injury-murder.

The numbers show that a woman is nearly twenty-five percent more likely to be killed by her mate than a husband killed by his wife, the rate is virtually equal for black couples.[13] Murder rates show yearly fluctuations, which is why it is important to examine Justice Department reports that combine and average periods over five years. In the last fifteen years, there has been a remarkable stability which first came to light in the  80’s. In other words, the difference of about twenty to twenty-five percent (except among black couples) has remained fairly constant. What is important to note however, is that prior to this period, there was no difference.  Wives killed husbands at about the same rate as husbands killed wives. Why the change? “What people need to realize is that women’s shelters are saving the lives of more men than women. Read my analysis of the government statistics from the US and Canada to see why this is so.(See Counseling Female Offenders and Victims,2001) Women are not murdering men like they were due to the fact that they were killing out of fear. Now they have the shelter option.” Katherine Van Wormer from the University of Northern Iowa writing in a review of my book on, (she said because of this and another factor which I will address later, the book has “mis-leading conclusions”).[14]  The mis-leading conclusion however, may be Van Wormer’s.  First, why women murder their husbands is not always due to fear.  In fact, a comprehensive examination (explored in detail in the book, which I guess Van Wormer chose to ignore) by Coramae Mann in “Justice Quarterly” found that the majority of female spouse killers do not murder out of fear or self-defense.[15]  Some murder out of greed, others because they’ve taken a new lover and find murder a way to get rid of the old one, and for a variety of other reasons.  There are many such cases in the anecdotal newspaper record.  They are pretty easy to find if one takes the time to look. There’s Donyea Jones of Seattle for example, who was shot by his wife in the back of the head (not a case of imminent fear) in front of the children and then was dragged out of the house and set on fire. (Coincidentally this Seattle murder occurred during October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but of course, neither Seattle newspaper or any domestic violence advocates in Seattle pointed to this case as an example The murder of famous comedian Phil Hartman by his wife is another case of when it happens to man, it is not even labeled as an example of domestic violence by the news media).

Regardless of the anecdotal evidence, Dr. Mann’s analysis and others show that an different conclusion can be drawn from the same set of data that Van Wormer cites. The resources for women (shelters and crisis lines) do seem to be saving men’s lives.  Which should only lead us to establish the same types of resources for men, so more women’s lives can be saved. To put it another way, shelters and crisis lines offer an opportunity (along with filling other needs) for someone to ‘cool off.’ There’s a place to go, and someone neutral (non family or friend) to talk to. Crisis lines and shelters, legal system advocates and other helping systems provide an essential mechanism that aid in defusing a family violence situation.  Anger management courses available to men (but not very often to women) may also be helpful. (Their effectiveness or lack of effectiveness has not been adequately examined). Thus, it is little wonder that the rate of women murdering their spouses has fallen, while the rate of men doing the same to women has remained constant.

Van Wormer’s analysis of the change in crime statistics is not unique (Dr. Nagin at the University of Philadelphia among others has noted the same changes). In her critique however, she cites another factor which leads her and many others to downplay the amount of domestic violence against men:  “Also on the battering statistics these figures include a lot of women slapping men who get fresh with them. Or self defense assaults. So the facts revealed in this book and carried by the media are false.”

I’ll leave the reader to their own conclusions as to whether a woman should always be given the liberty to slap a man for ‘getting fresh.’ For myself, I tend to be an absolutist about violence and don’t think it’s acceptable.  Besides, a woman who slaps a man for any reason (except in self defense) only increases her chances of getting hit in return…it ultimately doesn’t make her feel very good either. Be that as it may, had Van Wormer and other apologists for violent women actually taken the time to look at the data in my book and from many other sources they would find that self-defense as an explanation for domestic violence has been studied by a number of researchers. Indeed, it is this aspect of such situations that gives us the clearest picture of whole truth about domestic violence.  The research also squares with the anecdotal experience of veteran police officers.  Half of domestic violence involves mutual combat. People involved can’t even remember very well who started it, but when they do (even when accepting only the woman’s viewpoint) there is agreement; a quarter of the time only the woman was violent, a quarter of the time only the man was violent, women struck the first blow or threw something etc.,  nearly half the time, the other half of the time the man did.[16]

Looking at the admittedly much smaller number of studies that examine the reasons people give for being violent, the number one reason seems to be “to get them to do something” or “to make them pay attention.” In other words, the research mirrors the reality of domestic violence, and the life of couples in general.[17]  It’s messy and complex.

A case in point of involves a well know example of just how complex domestic violence is. A very prominent public figure has several sexual encounters with a young woman in his office. He denies the affair publicly and to his wife. Upon discovery of his lie, his wife throws a lamp at him and hits him on the side of head. He appears the next day on television with a visible mark on the left side of his head.[18] I conducted a series of person on the street interviews, told them of this alleged incident involving Bill and Hilary Clinton and asked people what reaction they had. The overwhelming majority of people did not seem surprised, they laughed and said, “Well, he deserved it.” or, “He should expect that kind of reaction.”  I then asked, if would have been OK if a man found out that his wife was having an affair and if the woman then would deserve to be hit or have an ashtray thrown at her.  As you can imagine, the reaction was quite different. The last question I put to people goes to the heart of the messy issues surrounding domestic violence. “Most states have mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence, regardless of how severe the injury, someone would have to be arrested. Do you think Hillary Clinton should have been arrested?”  The overwhelming response was “no.” Most people thought it was a minor onetime thing, a simple case of a couple fighting and not a case of ‘real’ abuse.

The general public then is perhaps smarter than many domestic violence advocates. They sense what the majority of the research does in fact show, that about five percent (being generous to the high end of things) of all couples experience an incident of minor or severe domestic violence, at least once in a year. Repeated attacks or what we most commonly think of as “battering” are rarer.  My best estimate given the scanty research involving frequency is that battering occurs in less than five percent of all couples. This is not to say of course, that domestic violence is not a significant social problem. The psychological as well as the physical damage can be severe to be both men and women, and as we already discussed the effects on children are devastating and demonstrably lead to a similar pattern of behavior in their adult lives, either as victim or perpetrator.

What I find amazing is the disingenuous use of children to focus only on women as victims. President Clinton in his radio address with the wrong data gives as good example of this as any: “And statistics tell us that in half the families where a spouse is beaten, the children are beaten too.”  Remember, this is a presidential address on signing the Violence Against Women Act and the entire speech focuses only on women being the victims of domestic violence. The clear implication is that only men beat children, or at least they are doing the majority of such deeds. The reality of course, is quite different.  Mothers abuse their children more often than fathers do (no, that isn’t gender specific either-they are more often the primary caretakers-hence more likely to experience the frustration, tiredness, etc., that contributes to child abuse), and the second most frequent perpetrators are live-in boyfriends. Former President Clinton is not to be singled out in this regard, as most literature from domestic violence coalitions and shelters make similar statements.  The question that should be asked is this one: If mothers can abuse their own children, why in the world is it so hard to believe that women can also physically attack someone else they purport to love-their husband?

Another argument for ignoring the true nature of most domestic violence is to claim that women have a much more difficult time than men do in leaving an abusive relationship.  This doesn’t hold up to scrutiny either; in fact, low-income women are more likely, not less likely to leave an abusive relationship than are affluent women.[19]

Indeed, if there are children men may be more likely to be inhibited against leaving an abusive relationship than women.  Men do know one thing: their chances of getting custody of the children are not very good. Their chances of unblocked visitation with the children from a possibly vindictive and abusive spouse aren’t very good either.  Losing a relationship with one’s own children, possibly forever, can certainly be considered as a big factor in a man staying in an abusive relationship.

Men also face another factor that abused women today don’t face as much–ridicule and isolation.  Who can they talk to about their problem?

“The cops show up, and they think it’s a big joke,”  Tim S. explained after his live-in girlfriend hit him in the head with a frying pan, which resulted in severe bleeding and a deep cut.  “I never did tell anyone [of my friends and family] about all this while it was going on, because they would assume that I had done something to her, or that I deserved it.  If there had been a crisis line for men in this situation I would have called it, to find out what to do, what the options were, how to stop it.”

Not having any resources to turn to for help with their situation, no victim’s advocates, no crisis lines, no support groups, no media recognition, no shelters, and a pervasive attitude that supports a macho “I can handle it…I must be the strong and responsible one” kind of response, further inhibits a man from leaving an abusive relationship, or even acknowledging it.

Even if a man seeks out a therapist for help, he is likely to find none, contends counselor Michael Thomas of Seattle, Washington. “In talking with other therapists, I find that they rarely even ask questions of their male clients about the possibility of the client being abused.  I think a great many clinicians are still resistant to seeing certain types of female behavior as abusive.  If the client can’t talk about it, it becomes internalized, and it increases the danger of the men exploding in rage themselves, getting depressed or suicidal, withdrawing from relationships, and other kinds of effects.  I have also heard from female abusers who can’t get help.  There are very few resources out there, for either victim or abuser.”[20]

It should come as no surprise that national surveys show a significant drop in public approval of a man slapping his wife under any circumstances, but no change at all in approval for a woman slapping her husband.[21]

Still, the apologists for women who are violent in the home are legion, despite the overwhelming amount of data.  When all else fails, they fall back on patriarchy as an excuse. In other words, this is the ‘prime mover.’ It’s the historical subjugation of women by men, societal and economic acceptance of this subjugation that leads to domestic violence.  Men do not have to face the patriarchy and in fact this patriarchy gives them the power and excuse to perpetrate domestic violence. Unfortunately for patriarchy fans there are methods by which we can test the theory, and it doesn’t hold up.

First, traditional conservative (patriarchal) regular church going Christian men do not have a greater incidence of domestic violence than other groups.[22] What is remarkable however, is that the researchers did find that women who subscribe to traditional very conservative Christian theology do have a higher rate of domestic violence. The researchers don’t say why this is so, but based on my interviews with abused men, I think I know the answer. Women who strongly subscribe to the idea that men must be ‘macho’ to the people the couple come in contact with, (taking charge for example in dealing with a sales or trade person, particularly another male), then may become violent when the couple is behind closed doors because the man was not being macho enough within the public face the couple puts on, where she puts on the ‘mask’ of subservience.

Secondly, the armed forces can be seen as hierarchical macho patriarchy machine.  Despite several erroneous press reports, most notably “60 Minutes”, the U.S. Army in a huge comprehensive survey found that their rate of domestic violence is not significantly higher than that of the general population.[23]

Lastly, patriarchy and the economic and social forces that support it according to this Marxist-type theory, falls down as a causative factor for domestic violence when we consider that lesbians assault their lesbian partners.  There’s no man around or involved, so where’s the patriarchy? What the actual rate is compared to the heterosexual population is debatable, as more research needs to be done. The Violence Against Women Act Survey for example, found a slightly lower rate of lesbian versus lesbian domestic violence than in the heterosexual population.  Other studies show a more equal or higher rate.[24]  In an essay in Naming the Violence: Speaking Out About Lesbian Battering, the female authors comment about what this means: “Many women in the broader battered women’s movement are affected by the public acknowledgment of lesbian violence.  This acknowledgment forces a deepening of the analysis of sexism and male/female roles as contributors to violence in relationships. To understand violence in lesbian relationships is to challenge and perhaps rework some of these beliefs.”[25] Indeed! Unfortunately, because many in the domestic violence movement are wedded to the social construction Marxist-type patriarchy theory of domestic violence and it’s usefulness in establishing a powerful exclusive victim hood, that outreach to lesbian victims is limited.  In other words, have you ever seen a billboard or public service announcement targeting lesbian victims? Even simple brochures aimed at helping lesbian victims are rare. Thus, women end up not helping other women because they don’t want to publicly admit that women can be violent. By doing so, they stand to lose power and control.  Exclusive victim status translates into control both politically, and in funding. Many in the domestic violence movement fear that if the messy reality of domestic violence gets out in to the public consciousness they will lose the power to set the agenda of men as always being potentially evil and women as nearly always being good.  Even when women are bad this philosophy goes, there’s an excuse or reason that makes their violence more understandable and sympathetic.

If your agenda is to gain power and points for ‘your side’ in the gender wars, then such an approach makes perfect sense.  It pays off too, witness the Violence Against Women Act itself, written in such a way that there’s no hope at all for any programs for male victims to get funds. Even by Washington D.C. standards, five billion dollars is a significant amount of taxpayer funds. This construction has many other practical side effects as well.  For example, women serve less prison time than do men for every type of offense, and the more violent the crime, the greater the disparity.[26]  The irony of course, is that many in the domestic violence movement use power, control and intimidation (let alone mis-stating or leaving out qualifying facts) to a remarkable degree in making sure that their agenda is the only acceptable agenda. The very tactics that domestic violence abusers use. I don’t have the space to go into all the many examples of this here, but there are several in my book Abused Men.  To put this another way, I do not know of a single published researcher, or former member of the established domestic violence movement, who has taken it upon themselves to publicly point out the large numbers of abused men, who has not been the subject of physical threats against them. I’ve seen it myself in several public forums. The most remarkable example of this is Erin Pizzey, the founder of the battered woman’s movement.  Her open letter to those in the movement (printed in part for the first time here) is worth sharing:


“When I first tried to open the refuge, the police, the charities, the social service agencies, the newspapers, all said it would stand empty. They said it wasn’t a significant problem, that it happened only rarely, and when it did it was already being handled effectively by the existing agencies. Domestic violence against women was only a minor problem, and very few women were getting seriously hurt anyway. Of course, when we finally did open, and got a little support at last to make women aware of our existence, we were filled to overflowing and the phone was ringing off the hook.

It’s the same exact thing now with attempts to have domestic violence resources for men. However, it’s even more difficult now to open something for men, or raise awareness, than it was when I opened the first shelter for women.

There is now an established domestic violence industry which fears any acknowledgment of the well established scientific fact that women can be as violent as men with their intimate partners and are not always the victim or acting only in self-defense. This fear is based on a false premise, that acknowledging this fact or speaking publicly about it, or offering services, will take away funding and hurt the established resources for women. That’s nonsense. I proved and others can too, that offering help for abused men can be done within an existing system set up originally to help women, that is willing to deal with the totality and reality of domestic violence.

The charities and the social service system and government told me when I opened the first refuge for women that there wasn’t enough money, that resources were stretched too thin, that police have to focus on where the majority of the crime is, and so on. Nonsense. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The trouble is, there’s no will. But there should be, and women should take the lead, not men. After all, not only is it our brothers, fathers, and friends who are being abused, by not helping men, we’re not helping women who are having trouble dealing with their own violence against their partners and against their children.

Women have the power in the established domestic violence movement now. We should take the lead in taking the movement to the next step. Economic circumstances for many women have changed, so that while it was important to focus first on women when I started things more than twenty years ago, women now have more economic opportunities and more government support as well as refuge resources to get help. As women, we can not claim perfection and ask to be put on a pedestal any longer, and most women no longer desire that, but to make that change, we must also accept responsibility for our own actions or lack of action.

Because of these views, and daring to speak out, I’ve been vilified, and physically threatened many times by women in the domestic violence movement. Don’t tell me that women can’t be violent! Now a days, you won’t even find my name or my domestic violence books mentioned in the established domestic violence literature…I’ve been erased because of heresy, or daring to speak to the truth. But when I can, I still take the opportunity to speak out, because we’ll never break the chain of domestic violence until we accept the truth, domestic violence is a complex issue, there are many elements involved in intimate partner relationships, it takes hard work and investigation to deal with it in a truly effective manner, and finally, no one sex, just because of their sex, is less capable of it. ”

Founder of the world’s first shelter and crisis line for battered women, Chiswick Women’s Refuge from an Interview (2000) with journalist Philip W. Cook author of Abused Men-The Hidden    Side of Domestic Violence

Pizzey’s point and mine is not to excuse violence.  It should not matter who started it, or what the provocation was.  True self-defense is one matter; however, research clearly shows that in the overwhelming majority of domestic violence incidents, a direct threat to one’s life is not involved.  If we excuse violent acts by women by saying that they must have been provoked or were in response to violent acts by men, then that would put us in the position of accepting violent acts by men under the same circumstances.

As Pizzey has pointed out, the solution for dealing with domestic violence on a realistic and factual basis does not necessarily mean a threat to funding for shelters or crisis lines as they currently exist.  I don’t believe we need a second set of funding for men’s shelters.  Rather, a change in attitude can accomplish the same goals.  The Valley Oasis Shelter of Lancaster, California, for example, treats each call from those seeking help with dignity and respect, man or woman.  It has a separate facility for men with children in need of shelter.  The Kelso, Washington Emergency Shelter also handles crisis calls from men, and has a male support worker, and victims advocate for the legal system.  There is no reason current crisis lines cannot serve both genders. A small but growing number of domestic violence crisis lines have obtained a newly available male victim brochure in an attempt to reach out to this under served population.  A little creative thinking and configuration could provide actual shelter services for males and their children in many circumstances, or hotel vouchers at the very least. Professional training’s are needed to start with.  When we train the professionals, those in the domestic violence movement as well as those in health care, law enforcement, legal professions, and social services in how to help and reach out to all victims of domestic violence, then real progress will have been made.  Stop Abuse for Everyone ( has a distinguished list of trainers that are available for such presentations, the problem is, they are not being called upon nearly enough. The messy problems of how to identify primary perpetrators, single victims, and mutual combat situations and how to effectively provide help on a case by case basis can be dealt with if effective and gender/sexual orientation inclusive professional training’s and education is widespread.

No program to combat domestic violence will be very effective, unless the true nature of such violence is recognized.

Unless all the factors for domestic violence are recognized, women seeking help for their anger problem, lesbians and gay men with partner problems, and heterosexual men who are being abused will continue to be discriminated against and told that their problem isn’t real.  The facts show otherwise; their problem is real and it affects millions of people.

For more than twenty years, we have been presented with only one part of the equation.  Given the legal and societal history of discrimination and oppression against women in many areas, this was appropriate:  it is not appropriate today. It has become an “us” against “them” battle.  The reality of domestic violence, however, tells us that it is more complex than that.  Some cases can be attributed to mental illness, but most are due to family upbringing, poor self-esteem, alcohol abuse, and/or uncertain employment combined with low anger management and communication skills.  Domestic violence is a human problem, not a gender problem.

If we fail to put resources and effort into dealing with the total reality of domestic violence instead of just one part of this phenomena, we only encourage a group-against-group effect which is a disservice to everyone.  The sociologists tell us that domestic violence at some level affects a significant minority of British, Canadian, and US couples.  It is a criminal tragedy that must be dealt with on an economic, social, legal and spiritual level, but evidence of these human events should not encourage us to declare that the family is a bankrupt construct.  If we can move forward to a better understanding of the benevolent and malevolent nature of each gender, we increase the opportunity for constructive rather than destructive relationships.


(This essay was originally published in the anthology book Everything You Know is Wrong –Disinformation Press-2002. It is a copyrighted article. Not to be re-printed without permission. If you would like permission to re-print contact:

State purpose, how many copies will be made, who you are, etc.

For other articles, see: Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment Vol.4, No. 4 2001 Haworth Social Work Press. McNeely, Cook, Torres. Violence as Seen Through the Prism of Color-“Is Domestic Violence a Human Issue or a Gender Issue”.  Also, Domestic Violence Opposing Viewpoints-Greenhaven Press 2000 “Female Violence Against Men is a Serious Problem”)

Copyright Ó 2001, by Philip W. Cook[1] M. Straus and R. Gelles. “Societal Change and Change in Family Violence from 1975 to 1985 as Revealed by Two National Surveys,”Jouranal of Marriage and the Family 48 (August 1986)[2] “References Examining Assaults by Women on Their Spouses/Partners: An Annotated Bibliography” Fiebert, Martin, Ph.D. Department of Psychology, CSULB, Long Beach, CA 90840.[3] M. McLeod “Women Against Men: An Examination of Domestic Violence based on an Analysis of Official Data and National Victimization Data,” Justice Quarterly 1 (1984):171-193.[4] Amy Ernst, MD, Todd G. Nick, PhD, Steven Weiss, MD, Debra Hours, Trevor Mills, MD. “Annals of Emergency Medicine,” Vol 20, No. 2 (1997).[5] “Violence-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments.” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.  (1997) NCJ-156921.[6] Shalala, Donna E., March 11, 1994. Oral remarks, Washington D.C. American Medical Association-National Conference on Family Violence.[7] E. Stark and A. Flitcraft, “Spouse Abuse, “ in SurgeonGeneral’s Workshop on Violence and Public HealthSource Book (Leesburg, VA, and Atlanta, GA:GPO 1985). Also see, “Journal of the American Medical Association” 267, NO. 23 (june 17, 1992):3190.[8] J. Hallinan, Newhouse News Service, July 7, 1994.[9] See also,National Center for Health Statistics, National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 1992 Emergency Department Summary , Hyattsville, Maryland, March 1997.[10] Radio address of the president to the nation on Signing Victims Of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, November 2000.[11] “Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” National Institute of Justice, Centers for Disease Control, , Patricia Tjaden, Nancy Thoennes, (July, 2000) NCJ 181867.[12] Interview with author, (Oct,2000).[13] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, “Murder in Families”, (July 1984), NCJ-143498.[14] customer review, June 16, 2001.[15] C. Mann, “Getting Even? Women Who Kill in Domestic Encounters, “Justice Quarterly 5, No. 1. (1988):33-50.[16] M.Straus, “Physical Assaults by Wives: A Major Social Problem,” in Current Controversies on Family Violence, ed R.J. Gelles and D.R. Loseke (Newbury Park, CA:Sage 1993). Also, see Irish Times, June 14, 2001. “Women are more likely than men to perpetrate domestic violence, according to new research on Irish couples who seek marriage counselling.

The report, published yesterday, also found that domestic violence was one of the less important factors in marriage breakdown in the largely middleclass group studied.

It was produced by a team led by Dr Kieran McKeown, who has a distinguished reputation in social research and was commissioned by Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services, one of the main counselling organisations in the country.

In a survey of 530 clients of MRCS, the researchers found domestic violence occurs in almost half (48 per cent) of all relationships which are sufficiently troubled for one or both partners to seek counselling.

Where there is violence, about one-third (33 per cent) inflict violence on each other, “while female-perpetrated violence occurs in about four out of 10 couples (41 per cent) and male-perpetrated violence in a quarter of couples (26 per cent) leading us to conclude that women are more likely than men to be the perpetrators of domestic violence”, the report’s authors say.

They cite research from the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand which, they say, shows that the “prevalence of domestic violence among men and women, both as victims and as perpetrators, is broadly similar for all types of violence, both psychological and physical, minor and severe. In addition, both men and women are about equally likely to initiate domestic violence and seem to give broadly similar reasons for doing so.”[17] 93% of all husbands and wives employed verbal aggression against each other, at least once in the prior year.  The verbal aggression was defined as: arguing, yelling, screaming and insulting each other, sulking, stomping out of the room.  The subjects were members of intact families with at least two children between the ages of three and eighteen using a random selection process representative of the general U.S. population.

-Steinmetz, Suzanne K., Ph.D., The Cycle of Violence: Assertive, Aggressiveand Abusive Family Interaction, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977.

At least once in a prior year, 74% of men, and 75% of the women, engaged in verbal/symbolic aggression.  Defined in the survey of 5, 232 American couples as: insulting, swearing at, sulking, refusing to talk, stomping out of the room or yard, saying things to spite a partner, threatening to strike a partner, threatening to throw something at a partner, and actually throwing, hitting, kicking or smashing something. -Straus, Murray Ph.D., Stephen Sweet, Ph.D., “Verbal/symbolic Aggression in Couples: Incidence Rates and Relationships to Personal Characteriscs.”

Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54 (May) 1992:346-357[18] Drudge Report: WHITE HOUSE FIGHT! The NATIONAL ENQUIRER is set to report in its January 5, 1999 edition: The First Lady has physically attacked the President, hitting him so hard she left a visible mark on his face — and Secret Service agents had to separate them. The DRUDGE REPORT trusts the account to be accurate and non-libelous because the NATIONAL ENQUIRER and President Bill Clinton use the same law firm, Williams & Connolly! In fact, Clinton’s private lawyer, David Kendall, has directly done work for the tabloid through the years. “Keep that bitch away from me!” Bill Clinton told one Secret Service agent. One inside source tells the ENQUIRER that the White House became a battleground after the impeachment controversy moved into overdrive. “The verbal fights between Bill and Hillary have been escalating and now the President has been physically assaulted.” “Hillary just snapped. She lost it and smacked the President upside the head. He was stunned. The hit was so hard it left a visible bruise, and he put on makeup for several days to cover the red spot.”  The ENQUIRER reveals that just hours before the couple walked out of the White House holding hands after the impeachment vote on December 19, there was an explosion in the Presidential quarters — the First Lady was doing most of the screaming.” Drudge Report.

P. Cook Note: I called the office of press secretary of the First lady twice asking them to confirm or deny this report and other reports of her throwing ashtrays at the President.  The office failed to deny this report.[19] R.L. McNeely, G. Robinson-Simpson, “The Truth about Domestic Violence: A Falsely Framed Issue.”, Social Work (Nov-Dec. 1987):485-490.  See also, “Is Domestic Violence a Human Issue?”

(forthcoming Journal for Human Development) McNeely, R.L. McNeely,P. Cook, J. Torres.[20] Interview with author (1987).[21] M. Straus, G. Kaufman-Kantor, “Cultural Norms Approving Marital Violence: Changes from 1968 to 1992 in Relation to Gender, Class, Cohort and other Social Characteristics,” Report available from the Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire.[22] M. Brinkerhof, E. Grandine, E. Lupri, “Religious Involvement and Spousal Violence,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 31, No. 1 (1992):15-31.[23] R. Heyman, P. Neidig, “A comparison of Spousal Aggression Prevlance Rates in U.S. Army and Civilian Representative Samples, “ Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (forthcoming).  Also, see; Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, P. Cook, (Praeger, 1997): P. 5. Freedom of Information Act release of similar data.[24] Claire Renzettie,  Violent Betrayal:Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Press, 1992). Also see, Lie and Gentlewarrior, Intimate Violence in Lesbian Relationships,” Journal of Social Science Research 15, (1987):41-59; and C. Card, “Lesbian Battering,” Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy (Nov. 1988):3[25] K. Lobel, ed., Naming the Violence: Speaking Out about Lesbian Battering (Seattle, WA, Seal Press, 1986): 98-102.[26] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Survey of State Prison Inmates, Women in prison, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report NCJ-145321.