Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Gender Bias: No Cure for Domestic Violence
   By Lisa Scott

This article originally appeared in The Seattle Times © 2002*


October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Most articles and public-service announcements focused exclusively on female victims, while at the same time stereotyping all abusers as male. Federal laws such as the Violence Against Women Act codify gender discrimination and gender profiling.

Women's advocates claim that virtually all domestic-violence victims are women, therefore discrimination is justified. They repeat often-cited claims such as "the number one reason women age 16 to 40 end up in the emergency room is violence," "95 percent of domestic violence is committed by men" and "the chance of being victimized by an intimate partner is 10 times greater for a woman than a man."

Yet, these "statistics" cannot be verified and are repeatedly contradicted by both government and private studies. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report found the leading causes of women's injury-related emergency room visits are accidental falls, motor-vehicle accidents and accidental cuts. Homicide or injury purposely inflicted by others (including strangers and intimates) was the least likely cause, exceeded even by injuries due to animal bites and venomous plants (National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 1992 Emergency Department Summary).

Proof that women are not the only victims of domestic violence appears in the 1998 Justice Department report "Intimate Partner Violence." Of 1,830 domestic-violence murders, 510, or almost one-third of the victims, were men. The study also indicated that males are 13 percent less likely to report being a victim of intimate violence than females.

Another 1998 Justice Department report, "Violence Against Women Survey,"Extensive research concludes that men and women are almost equally likely to initiate domestic violence. While women may be more severely injured when domestic violence escalates, they can and do commit serious crimes of violence against men. Women's advocates continually downplay the existence of female violence. This obscures the fact that men are at risk of being victimized, and leaves them less prepared for the potential for violence against them.

Should an important public policy debate be about which sex is the most important victim? Should a female victim be more important than a male victim? Was Melanie Edwards (murdered by her husband in a divorce/custody battle) more important than Chuck Leonard (murdered by his wife in a divorce/custody battle)? Was Gertrudes Lamson (shot and killed by her husband) more important than Donyea Jones (doused with gasoline, set afire, and burned to death by his wife)?

Many male victims are ignored or ridiculed by a system that seems to recognize only female victims. When women are the abusers, they are more often than not given a pass. Recent cases with which I have personal experience involve men who have been hit, punched, gouged, choked and threatened with weapons by their spouses. Despite reports to police, none of the women were charged with crimes.

These local cases, and their numerous national counterparts, demonstrate that domestic violence is not the sole province of male perpetrators and female victims. Yet, we are constantly told that women are the only ones at risk. Had there been more education about the potential for violence by both men and women, men like Chuck Leonard and Donyea Jones may have been able to take precautions and avoid a deadly risk.

Myths and distortions about male and female violence have no place in the debate about stopping domestic violence. Despite a continual barrage of reports about how epidemic domestic violence has become, the truth is that most men and women are law-abiding citizens, loving spouses and caring parents. The 1998 "Intimate Partner Violence" report indicates steep declines in domestic violence against both men and women. The Justice Department numbers cited above indicate that only 1.3 percent of women (and .9 percent of men) are actually victimized each year.

Yet, domestic-violence advocates promote the myth that American women live in constant terror of violence from husbands or boyfriends. It is simply irresponsible to falsely demonize fully 50 percent of the population, further fanning the flames of gender warfare.

During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let's not let the zeal to protect one class of victims perpetuate a bias that unfairly stereotypes an entire gender. It is noble and well-meaning to advocate for female victims. Yet, denying the existence of male victims of female violence demeans and ignores these victims, puts them at further risk and reduces the likelihood that female abusers will be held accountable for their crimes.

Lisa Scott is a Bellevue, WA attorney focusing primarily on family law, divorce and domestic violence. She is also a founding member of TABS, Taking Action against Bias in the System.




*This article originally appeared in The Seattle Times and is reprinted here with permission of the author. The links are added for this post and are as applicable as possible. More recent reports are used as links where the original reference is not available.

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