Battered Women And Battered Statistics by Richard L. Davis, A.L.M.

© 2001 Richard L. Davis

Used with permission of the author.


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Battered women and battered statistics — Part I

No, this is not an Andy Rooney 60 minutes piece. However, “have you ever wondered” why we are constantly bombarded with dramatically different numbers of women who are being beaten and battered by an intimate partner? Is it 188,000, 876,340, 1.3 million, 1.8 million, 4.8 million, 18 million, 27 million, or 60 million? I'm sure that I am not the only person who has wondered just what the heck is going on here? And, I didn't make these numbers up. These are real numbers presented to us by real people who expect us to believe them.

The 188,000 and 1.8 million numbers are from the 1975 National Family Violence Survey, authored by Murray Straus and Richard Gelles and sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. They estimate that 84 percent of American families are not violent and that 16 percent do engage in some form of physical assault against each other. The 188,000 is the number of women who are injured severely enough to seek medical attention and the 1.8 million are women who suffer through severe violence such as kicking, punching, or using some type of a weapon.

The 876,340 number is by Callie Marie Rennison and Sarah Welchans from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence of May 2000. They get their numbers from a study of the National Crime Victimization Survey of 1998. The survey estimates that about 1 million violent crimes were committed against people by their current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. About 85 percent of the victims were women and 15 percent men. It is worth noting here that often we read that male against female intimate partner violence is reported to be as high as 95 percent. That is a number offered by the [Denver-based] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and almost always used by women's rights groups. They claim that number comes from the U.S. Department of Justice, however, the Rennison and Welchans report is from the Department of Justice and they make no such claim.

Both the 1.3 million and the 4.8 million both come from Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes in the findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey and their numbers vary depending on which of their two reports you read. The Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, November 2000 reports the 1.3 million number. The 4.8 million is from the Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, July 2000.

The 18 million number is attributed to the [Denver-based] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence who estimate that annually more than one third of all married women are being battered. The 27 million is an estimate that more than half of all married women will experience violence during their marriage. These “numbers” are often repeated by domestic violence advocates and printed by the media, although it seems as if they may have pulled out of thin air. Rita Smith of NCADV when asked where these numbers came from stated that they were estimates based on what NCADV “hears” from battered women's shelters and others. I think we would all agree that this type of data collection lacks the validity of an empirical scientific study. However, they may at least be possible, as compared to the mythical number of 60 million.

A Miami talk show host, Pat Stevens, conjured up the 60 million number. Stevens appeared on CNN's “Crossfire” show and made the claim that all of the numbers concerning battered women are incorrect and in fact, Stevens claimed, when the real numbers are adjusted for under reporting, the true number for battered women is 60 million. No single person on the show disputed Mr. Stevens. No one bothered to inform Mr. Stevens that his “guesstimate” is more than all of the women in the United States who are married or living with a man in some form of spousal relationship. I do admit that in all the years I have been involved with the issue of domestic violence, I never once heard anyone, not the most radical of women's rights advocates, anywhere, at any time repeat this inane claim. Never the less, it went undisputed on a respectable, nationally televised show.

The real fact is, that numbers such as those presented by Stevens and those that appear to be pulled out of the air by the NCADV, in the long run hurt and not help the cause of battered women. How or why can we expect men to become involved with domestic violence when they are constantly being painted with a broad brush as demonic males who beat and bash women with impunity? And even more troublesome is the fact that most of those other numbers cited above, despite their radical differences, are numbers that can be substantiated. How can this be? Well, if you want to know, as I used to hear on radio-land as a young child, “Tune in next month.”


Battered women and battered statistics — Part II


Last months column concerned the flawed number of women being reported as “battered women.” The larger numbers of 60 million, 18 million, or in fact any numbers that seem unbelievable, are most often just that, unbelievable. Some of the numbers reported are simply pulled out of a hat for effect. Smaller numbers such as 188,000, 1.3 million, 1.8 million, 4.8 million or other numbers that do seem possible are often based on fact and are real numbers. However, what accounts for the numerical difference in numbers presented by researchers and the women's rights movement is that they do not necessarily report the number of women who are being systematically battered by a man. Agreement concerning just who is a “battered woman” continues to plague researchers and impede proper intervention. Researchers, professionals, and the women's rights movement have been disputing this definition for years. The actual number of women who are “battered” still remain in the eye of the beholder. How can we agree on numbers if we cannot agree on definition?

Most researchers and professionals agree that a “battered woman” suffers from what is often labeled “patriarchal terrorism.” Most researchers and professionals agree that a “battered woman” is a woman whose life is thoroughly, extensively, and completely controlled by a man and her behavior purposely altered to suit a man's desires while they live in a familial-styled relationship. The batterer systematically uses physical violence, economic subordination, threats, isolation, and a variety of other behavioral controlling tactics to ensure she does what he wants her to do. The problem with the numbers documented above, and often reported elsewhere, is that the vast majority of data that purport to demonstrate the number of “battered women” do not document the above type of victim or abuser.

The vast majority of studies used to measure the number of “battered women” employ some form of the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) developed by University of New Hampshire in 1971. CTS is the most common measure of non-sexual family violence. It measures three styles of interpersonal conflict in familial styled relationships. It measures, most often through telephone interviews, the use of rational verbal agreement and disagreement, the use of verbal and nonverbal aggressive behavior, and the use of physical force or violent behavior. It is not designed to measure in any rational context the reason or motivation for the behavior of either abuser or victim.

Almost all of the modified versions of the CTS ask questions such as:

• Did you have something thrown towards you that could hurt if it hit you?

• Were you grabbed, pushed, or shoved?

• Were you slapped, hit, bitten, or kicked?

• Were you hit with an object, choked, or beaten up?

• Were you threatened with a knife, gun, or other weapon?

• Was a knife, gun, or other weapon used against you?

The question begged here is, how many of us have not been guilty of, or a victim of, some form of the behavior described by the CTS scale? How does a single yes answer to any one of the above questions document that a victim of an isolated event is a “battered woman” or that the actor is a “batterer?” And just as important is the fact that the motivational dynamic is rarely asked and, hence, rarely answered. No one, not the most ardent feminist or male chauvinist, can argue with any degree of reason or certainty that some of these self-reported behaviors could not have been motivated by an isolated argument, anger, jealousy or revenge for some perceived prior behavior and/or fueled by an excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

Simple and cursory research concerning the “battered woman model” documents the phenomenon is very real. I believe that most police officers in this nation honestly agree that both the batterer and victim, noted above, exist in their community. None of what I write is an attempt to dispute that fact. My concern is just the opposite. What I proffer is the attempt by many in the women's rights movement to inflate the number of victims and to paint all men as batterers and all women equally at risk of being battered has resulted in driving many men and woman away from the issue. The real victims of battering, the majority of whom are at the lower end of the socioeconomic, educational ladder, become marginalized because of the claim that all women are equally at risk for battering. All studies document quite clearly that women who suffer social, economic, and educational deprivation and lack family support, e.g., single parent mothers, are at a greater risk of severe battering. These victims are the ones who most need our help and their batterers need sure, swift, and just sanctions.

The constant attempt by the women's rights movement to paint all men as batterers has caused many men to minimize, deny or ignore this type of behavior even when they suspect a friend might be a batterer. Many men fear being caught in the women's rights legal dragnet for batterers. After all, many in the women's rights movement continue to profess that these witnesses are men and; hence, they must be guilty of something. The continued drumbeat by many in the women's rights movement and some researchers that all men are demonic batterers and all women angelic victims has resulted in the majority of men and women in America, who are not batterers or victims, to ignore the plight of many battered women that lack resources or family support.

Many women, and African-American women in particular, during the 1800's came to distrust white suffragettes led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton because of their repeated attack on marriage and in particular when both turned their support away from the rights of African-American women in the South to vote. Today, many men and women, who are neither batterer or victim, have come to distrust many in the women's rights movement because of their repeated attack on all men and because they continue to present flawed and dramatically differing numbers of abusers and victims simply to support their position. And once again many very real victims are marginalized in society because of their social, economic, and educational status.



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| Chapter 4 — Domestic Violence Statistics |

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