Realities of Sexual Assault

Realities of Sexual Assault.

Check out what the producers of Law and Order:SVU have to say about VINE.  When Mary Byron was murdered in 1993, her family  knew that she could have been kept safe had she known he was on the street.  Because of this well publicized murder, VINE was invented and put into use first in Louisville, KY – and then it spread to almost every state in the US.

Knowledge and use of this service has saved lives.  Most of the millions of viewers of last night’s episode will never need VINE, but for those who will, NBC has made sure they are aware.  And on behalf of all those victims, we thank them.

Ky Supreme Court v. Ky General Assembly: Who Makes Law in KY?

Remember in high school civics when you learned about “separation of powers?”  You know the drill:   The legislative branch makes the laws, the judiciary interprets the laws, and the executive branch enforces the laws.  Well, in the context of protective orders, it looks like the Kentucky Supreme Court may need to go back to school.

A little background might be useful here.  Protective orders are the legal remedy domestic violence victims use to access the court system and seek protection from their abusers.  The remedy was created by statute – KRS 403.715 et. seq.  In the very first part of the statute, Kentucky’s legislative body, the General Assembly, declared that the intent of the statute is to “[t]o allow persons who are victims of domestic violence and abuse to obtain effective, short-term protection against further violence and abuse in order that their lives will be as secure and as uninterrupted as possible . . . .”

The process of obtaining an order of protection, very simply put, goes something like this:  A victim goes to the courthouse, or intake center, or clerk’s office and completes a petition for an emergency protective order (EPO).  The petition is presented to a judge and, if it establishes the existence of domestic violence and abuse, the EPO is entered.  The order is then served on the batterer, along with a summons ordering the batterer’s appearance at a full hearing.  If, after the hearing, the court again finds the existence of domestic violence, a more permanent order, known as a domestic violence order (DVO), is entered.[1]

But what happens if the court, on reviewing the petition for an emergency order, does not find the existence of domestic violence or abuse?  Does she still get to go forward to a full hearing to try and convince the court of her need for protection?  In KRS 402.745(1), the General Assembly answered this question with an unequivocal yes:

If, upon review of the petition as provided for in KRS 403.735, the court determines that the allegations contained therein do no indicate the presence of an immediate and present danger of domestic violence and abuse, the court shall fix a date, time, and place for a hearing and shall cause a summons to be issued for the adverse party.

Protective orders are akin to civil lawsuits.  In a civil suit, say a trespass case, the process is initiated with the filing of a complaint.  In a trespass case, the complaint may be accompanied by an order seeking an emergency injunction preventing the defendant from entering onto the plaintiff’s property.  Even if the emergency order is not granted, the plaintiff still gets to go forward and prove that he is a victim of trespass.

The General Assembly thought the same should hold true for domestic violence victims.  If the petition for an EPO is denied, the petitioner still gets the opportunity to be heard by the court.  The court still must issue summons to the respondent and hold a hearing with both parties present before dismissing the case.  Like our trespass case, the suit does not end only because petition for emergency relief was not granted.

Makes sense?  To me it does and, apparently, it did to the General Assembly.  Not so much to the Kentucky Supreme Court.  Last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court adopted new rules of criminal and civil procedure, as well as new rules governing Family Courts.  In FCRPP 10 (Family Court Rules of Practice and Procedure), the Court stated, in relevant part:

FCRPP 10 shall read:  If an emergency protective order is not issued . . .for failure to state an act or threat of domestic violence between the parties, the finding of the . . . failure to state an act or threat of domestic violence shall be noted on the petition by the judge, and no summons shall be issued.

What’s a judge to do?  The Kentucky General Assembly has said a judge must issue a summons if the emergency order has been denied.  They made this very clear when they said a court “shall cause a summons to be issued to the adverse party.”  In legal speak, “shall” is a mandatory term that means the judge doesn’t have another option.  The Kentucky Supreme Court, however, says “no summons shall be issued.”  Again, the word shall means a judge doesn’t have a choice – under the rule, they can’t issue a summons.

Here’s where separation of powers problem occurs.  Both the Supreme Court and the General Assembly are legislating – that is, making law.  What the Supreme Court is ignoring is their high school civics lesson – only the state’s legislative body can make the law.  The Supreme Court only gets to interpret it.

The irony here comes in at the end of the process, regardless of what a family court judge chooses to do.[2]  Say a victim seeks an EPO, it’s denied, and a judge issues a summons, holds a hearing, finds domestic violence exists and enters a DVO.  The respondent appeals the DVO, saying, in part, no summons should have been issued pursuant to FCRPP 10.  The case goes first to the Court of Appeals, but for a final resolution, guess where it will end up?  That’s right, the Kentucky Supreme Court!  Are they going to follow the General Assembly’s pronouncement or their own rule?

Sadly, the bigger problem is not what will happen if a case ends up before the Kentucky Supreme Court.  The bigger problem is the countless victims who will essentially be kicked out of court all over the state by judges who choose to follow the erroneous rule of the Supreme Court.  We’ve all heard stories of judges who will do nearly anything to erect barriers to victims seeking protection.  The Kentucky Supreme Court has handed these judges a huge barrier to use at will.


[1] Obviously, this is the way the protective order process is supposed to work in a perfect world.  If anyone knows where that is, let us know; we want to relocate there.

[2] If I were a judge, I would follow the statute because the pronouncement of a legislative body trumps the statement of a Court that is exceeding its constitutional authority.  Incidentally, I aced high school civics.

VINE on NBC:Law and Order:Special Victims Unit

VINE on NBC tonight

The Mary Byron Project, fostering innovations and strategies to end domestic violence, is proud to announce that VINE will have a cameo appearance tonight, November 2, on the popular NBC program, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”.

VINE, victim information and notification everyday, was invented and implemented in Louisville, Kentucky as a result of Mary Byron’s murder in 1993. Mary was murdered by her former boyfriend who, she thought, was safely behind bars as a result of her rape and assault at his hands. He was bailed out, stalked her, and murdered her as she left her workplace on her 21st birthday. Had VINE been a service at that time, she would have known he had been released and would have sought safety and protection.

VINE allows crime victims to check on the status of their offender 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and to register to be notified when the offender is released or has some other change in their custody status (escape, transfer, court appearance, etc.). Registration is free at www.vinelink.com.

Appriss, the provider of the VINE service explained how VINE made it to network TV. “This is quite a thrill for us,” said Michael Davis, Appriss CEO. “The show’s producers approached us and asked permission to use VINE in an episode and we were more than happy to give it to them. It’ll be fantastic exposure and hopefully will lead to more crime victims registering so they can stay informed about the status of their offender, which will bring some peace of mind and help keep them safer.”

In Wednesday’s “Law & Order” episode, a female crime victim receives a call from VINE, notifying her that her offender has been released, giving her the opportunity to take action to protect herself. A link to more information about the VINE service will also be included on the show’s website: www.nbc.com/law-and-order-special-victims-unit, plus there will be an item about the service on the producer’s blog.

The Mary Byron Project hopes that this exposure of a proven, valuable service will save victims who might not have been aware of VINE’s existence.

The Mary Byron Project began in 2000 to look for innovations and strategies, like VINE, that can end the generational cycle of domestic violence. Each year since 2003, organizations throughout the country have been awarded our Celebrating Solutions award for innovations that all communities throughout the country should adopt. It is our hope that we can end this epidemic crime by looking beyond crisis management and reaching for solutions, like VINE, that can make an impact.
Make sure you watch for VINE tonight on NBC. And make sure you have VINE in your community.

The Medical Cost of Domestic Violence

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As health care legislation continues to face challenges in Washington, medical reform is on everyone’s mind. After years of debate, the statistics are well-known: the USA, despite spending nearly $2.5 trillion on health care in 2009, a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country, ranks only 37th out of 191 countries in overall health care. In fact, the only place that we take #1 in terms of health care is spending per capita; we are 39th for infant mortality, 43rd for adult female mortality, 42nd for adult male mortality, and 36th for life expectancy.

Whether or not you believe in “universal” health care, we all have a stake in wanting these numbers to change. Stronger efforts to screen for and address domestic violence in hospitals could provide an unlikely solution, ultimately saving billions of dollars along with lives.

Take infant mortality, for example.

As reported by e! Science News, the United States currently ranks 27th out of 33 developed countries for life expectancy at birth. Domestic violence (dv) has been identified as a major barrier to fetal health in the recently released government health plan, Healthy People 2020, following studies showing that two of the leading causes of infant mortality, namely complications related to pre-term birth or low birth weight-outcomes, are linked with domestic violence. In fact, many adverse pregnancy outcomes, including maternal mortality and infant mortality, are significantly more likely among abused than nonabused mothers. For example, Seattle residents who reported a domestic violence incident to the police during pregnancy were significantly more likely than their peers to have a low birth weight infant, a very low birth weight infant, a preterm birth, a very preterm birth, and a neonatal death.

Furthermore, as the authors of the second study point out, this likely dramatically underestimates the health cost of intimate partner violence (IPV) during pregnancy, since women who were being abused but didn’t report the abuse to the police would have been accidentally included in the non-abused comparison group. The Center for Disease Control reports that three out of four victims don’t report abuse. These rates may go up during pregnancy, when the financial, emotional, and quality of life cost to the victim of leaving is greater. Abusers utilize domestic violence as a means of excerising control, and because pregnant women are trapped in the relationship as well as increasingly focused on the changes they are undergoing, it is unsurprising that victimization studies find that pregnancy is a particularly dangerous time for victims of abuse. Abuse often begins or escalates during pregnancy, and pregnant women are three times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than their peers who are not pregnant. In fact, homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women.

DV is more common than other recognized obstetric complications such as pre-eclampsia, placenta praevia, or gestational diabetes, for which women are routinely screened. The March of Dimes, a politically neutral public health organization that provides information to expectant mothers, reports that 1 in 6 pregnant woman suffer from domestic violence during pregnancy. This increased likelihood of abuse comes at a time of particular vulnerability; both physical and psychological abuse can have massively detrimental effects to mother and child. Physical attacks on pregnant women often center around the stomach area, causing direct injury to the fetus. Psychological abuse causing stress, fear and anxiety during pregnancy is associated with increased pre-term birth, lower birth weight and emotional and mental problems in children. Dv is also associated with alcohol and drug dependence, suicide attempts, depression and post traumatic stress disorder, the effects of which harm both the mother and her future child. Reproductive abuse is also a factor; victims of abuse are significantly less likely to receive adequate prenatal care, and 40% of abuse victims report that their pregnancy is unwanted, as opposed to 8% of the general population.

Screening pregnant women for domestic violence and providing more support for victims during pregnancy are important steps that we must take to ensure the health of women and their future children. Although effective screening for dv is still worryingly infrequent, 70-80% of victims of abuse say that they would like their provider to talk to them about abuse. And there are promising new developments on the horizon; new screening tools such as the one developed by Planned Parenthood of New York capture far more accurately the actual prevalence of dv, and have been utilized to connect expectant mothers with services more effectively.

Stopping Violence in the Next Generation

Ensuring that pregnant women are aware of their resources when it comes to intimate partner violence is particularly necessary because children born into households in which the woman is abused are significantly more likely to be abused themselves. About 50% of men who abuse their wives also abuse their children. Furthermore, merely witnessing domestic violence is so psychologically damaging to a child that it is considered child abuse. In these situations, recognizing that both mother and child are victims—rather than merely removing the child—is crucial to creating a healthier future. Children who grow up in households in which there is any kind of abuse are significantly more likely than their peers to be depressed, anxious, suicidal, truant, and have conduct and physical health problems.

They are also significantly more likely to be abusers themselves; growing up in a household in which abuse occurs is the single greatest risk factor for being abusive yourself; a boy’s likelihood of being an abuser jumps 157%.

Which, of course, only perpetuates the cycle, preserving it for the next generation and helping to explain why rates of abuse are epidemic in some communities. Even if you escape abuse in your own life, domestic violence is truly everybody’s problem; supporting efforts to intervene may protect your daughters and sons down the road.

But What Are The Actual Numbers?

Pregnant women are a unique group who are particularly likely to be abused, and who face particularly detrimental effects from abuse. But is the overall cost to the medical system of abuse really that large? Do that many victims seek emergency services?

The US Department of Justice finds that 37% of women admitted to emergency rooms for care for violence-related injuries were injured by a current or former intimate partner. At the same time, however, the CDC reports that only about 4% of women admitted to the emergency room were admitted for injury resulting from violence; accidental falls, for example, or illness claim much larger numbers.

Even this seemingly fractional percentage, of course, is extremely costly to the health system. In 2003, the CDC, examining costs from the 700,000 reported incidents of domestic violence in America in 2001 (all included in the 1/3 of 4% violent victimizations), placed the annual estimated direct health care cost associated with domestic violence at around $4.8 billion.

Yet these numbers dramatically underestimate the cost of abuse to our health care system. A recent University of Pennsylvania study found that although about 80% of domestic violence victims who report incidents to the police seek health care in emergency rooms, nearly three out of four are never identified as victims of abuse during any hospital visit. This is despite the fact that most sought ED care frequently; an average of 7-8 times each in the four year study period.

How it is possible that so many victims of severe abuse slipped through the cracks? One reason: 78% of the visits were for medical complaints other than injuries associated with abuse. In fact, assault was the main documented cause in only 3.8% of the victims’ ED visits.

Clearly, by focusing only on when IPV is disclosed, the CDC misses a massive amount of harm.

Finally, even the numbers found in the University of Pennsylvania study are a conservative estimate because they describe only women who were harmed enough—and willing enough—to go to the police. As a group, then, these women were particularly likely to be flagged as dv victims, yet the study found that only 28% were ever identified. And even in the cases in which they were identified as victims of abuse, fewer than 35% of ERs made any documented assessment of whether they had a safe place to go after discharge, and they were referred to services only 25% of the time. Considering that these statistics are limited to a group of particularly brutalized victims who are trying to seek help, it’s certain that many more victims are being overlooked, their injuries not recorded because they result from secondhand effects of dv or are disguised in other categories such as that old cliché, “accidental falls.”

Is it possible that victims of abuse are just particularly unlucky?

Of course, an alert reader could identify a problem in the statistics above; perhaps the 78% of medical problems not categorized as abuse-related really weren’t abuse-related. Could it be just normal that victims of abuse visit the emergency room an average of 7-8x in four years? (How frequently do women in non-abusive relationships visit the emergency rooms?)

The answer is: a lot less frequently. Over a 3-year study period, health care costs for women who disclosed a history of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse were on average $1,700 higher than those of their cohorts who had never been abused. In short, being a victim of any kind of abuse—note the inclusion of “emotional abuse”—results in higher health care costs. These findings, by the way, are neither unique to the study nor confined to a small number of victims experiencing exceptionally terrible harm. A 2007 longitudinal cohort study of over 3000 female patients found that 44% of the sample reported a history of IPV. These women had significantly higher healthcare utilization and costs both during and after the abuse than women who had never been abused. And although medical costs decreased over time after the IPV ceased, healthcare utilization for previously abused women was still 20% higher 5 years after their abuse had ended. Ultimately, the excess costs due to IPV were estimated to be $19.3 million per year for every 100,000 female enrollees aged 18-64. The study concluded that IPV has a major impact on medical care resource utilization and that preventative efforts should be taken.

And yes, you read that right: the health care costs of domestic violence don’t stop after the violence ends. In fact, they may even go up. Another study involving 2,026 women patients found that although abuse victims’ health care costs average $585 per year higher than normal during the period of abuse, their health care costs rise to more than $1,200/yr above non-abused women for the first two years after abuse, and $444 after the third year. One explanation for the continuing increase in cost is that women may still be exposed to abuse after the conclusion of the relationship; as we’ve reported before, a significant amount of IPV harm takes place after partners separate. It’s also possible that women are not able to access the health care services that they should be receiving when they are with a controlling or abusive partner. And once again, the study’s findings are conservative, because it did not distinguish between severity or type of abuse and because some victims participating in the study may not have admitted to being abused and so were not included among the abuse victims. Ultimately, the researchers stressed the importance of screening and prevention efforts: “Victims of abuse require more health care resources for years after their abuse ends. If we can prevent domestic violence, we are not only helping the women involved, we are also saving money in our health care system.”

So…

As mentioned before, none of this harm is included in current cost estimates of domestic violence, which already amount to billions of dollars, even in 2003 dollars unadjusted for inflation.

And the costs keep coming; abuse is already linked to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide attempts, and negative physical health consequences including migraines, asthma, chronic pain, arthritis. New research suggests that it is a major risk factor for heart disease and that children in abusive households are at greater risk for cancer later in life. That’s right: cancer.

The surprise with which you’re likely reading that is only evidence of the way that the massive cost of IPV has been is still being uncovered, after too many years of silence.

The Bright Side

Yet despite the still epidemic prevalence of abuse, domestic abuse is a solvable public health problem. In 2006, the Justice Department reported that intimate partner violence rates had fallen by more than 50% between 1993 and 2004. Among some segments of the population, namely males and black females, intimate partner homicides have fallen sharply as well. The number of services for victims, mostly due to funding from VAWA, have skyrocketed since 1994. In an increasingly computerized age, steps to screen victims for abuse can and should be taken, and community support systems equipped to communicate effectively with hospitals. Hospital workers must develop and learn protocols to better serve victims of abuse. And the systems already in place in hospitals must be refined; as the UPenn study shows, current screening procedures are worryingly ineffective—particularly for victims who may not identify as victims—and women who are being abused must be given information about support services. Ultimately, there are many steps that are within our power that we can take to reduce domestic violence.

Emphatically, they are steps worth taking.

Selected Resources:

3 in 4 domestic violence victims go unidentified in emergency rooms, Penn study shows

Domestic violence victims have higher health costs for years after abuse ends

Health Costs Associated with Domestic Violence

Impact of police-reported intimate partner violence during pregnancy on birth outcomes [Abstract Only]

Fact sheet: Domestic Violence and Futures without Violence

Further citations provided upon request

Domestic Violence Against Men: Turning the Tables (…again)

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The Incidence of Domestic Violence Against Men: Turning the Tables (…again)

The Australian “One in Three” campaign clearly intends their website to be shocking. “One in Three? Really?” reads the header of page describing their mission. Like most groups challenging the “arguably sexist premise” that domestic violence against women is more prevalent than domestic violence against men, the One in Three campaign claims to be fighting for gender equality. Citing statistics* that show that one in three victims of domestic violence are male, they assert that the fact that a number of state services (to say nothing of restraining orders) serve mainly female victims is nothing less than gender discrimination.

*We’ll talk about those statistics in a minute.

The One in Three group is joined in their indignation by the BBC, which recently concluded a major feature on domestic violence in the United Kingdom. The article ran under the headline, ““Women’s Convictions for Domestic Violence ‘Double’”, joining earlier groundbreaking stories such as “Domestic Violence Against Men in Scotland Up by 167%”, “Sharp Rise in Number of Women Guilty of Domestic Violence” and “A Hidden Crime: Domestic Violence Against Men is a Growing Problem”. The article discusses the “almost 4,000 women successfully prosecuted in the past year” and provides commentary from the experts about a “growing culture of violence among women.” It’s not until the last line that we learn that some men happen to be perpetrators as well: “men remain by far the main offenders, with the numbers convicted increasing from more than 28,000 in 2005 to just over 55,000 in 2010.” Essentially, that means that there were likely more than 55,000 women victimized by men in the UK in 2010. I guess that’s not newsworthy, though.

In fact, the article uses the very disparity in numbers of convictions between men and women as evidence that men aren’t treated fairly by the system: “…some organizations still fail to recognize that men can be victims of domestic abuse too.” Nonetheless, they do air the numbers of both male and female offenders. Because it’s important to tell the whole story; you need to show both sides.

It’s only fair.

The Long History of Women Being Seen as “More Equal” Than Men…Or Something.

And fairness, of course, is something that’s been lacking in our treatment of domestic violence for a long, long time.

Or has it? Interestingly, the thing that would probably most surprise the One in Three campaign is how many people already agree with them. As early as 1992, a researcher noted that the field of domestic violence study was becoming increasingly gender neutral, finding that between 79 and 82 recent studies had used intentionally gender-blind language. In 1997, 20/20 aired a report on battered men entitled “The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence”; a more recent expose on ABC was called “Turning the Tables.” This is a common theme when the topic of dv against men is brought up; the issue is always considered “hidden,” “ignored,” the “dark underbelly” of domestic violence (is there a bright side?).

Perhaps these people are not aware that the most famous scale for measuring dv, which was first developed in the 1970 and is still the most popularly used measurement of intimate partner violence today, deliberately ignores gender differences. On the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), aggression level depends entirely on the behaviors used by the participants—if a man hits a woman and she tries to push him away, both have committed one violent behavior. Conversely, if a woman hits a man and he tries to push her away, the result is the same.

Unsurprisingly, considering that people being hit tend to fight back in self-defense, the CTS found that both partners in a relationship used roughly equal amounts of violence. These results were shocking in the 1970s—“battered women,” it seemed, weren’t so battered after all. “Battered women” were batterers themselves. The results garnered a massive wave of media attention. Experts raised concerns about the validity of the scale. The CTS relies on participant self-reports of abuse, which are in turn dependent on memory. This is particularly worrying following a series of studies in the early 1990s that documented gender differences in reporting aggression: “men tend to underestimate their use of violence, while women tend to over-estimate their use of violence. Simultaneously, men tend to over-estimate their partner’s use of violence, while women tend to under-estimate their partner’s use of violence.” In fact, contrary to the assertion that men, afraid of seeming weak, keep their victimization hidden, men are more likely than woman to call the police and to press charges, and are less likely to drop charges than are women.

One explanation for gender discrepancies in reporting lies in the motivation for the violence, which is not considered by the CTS. Assume that both participants want the relationship to continue (as the CTS does—more on that later). Because male violence tends to be control-oriented (82% of homicides in which “possessiveness” was cited were committed by men), men have a strong motivation to minimize the harm done and women have motivation to minimize it as well (“It wasn’t a big deal, I shouldn’t have upset him”). Because female violence tends to be defensive (despite perpetrating far fewer homicides than men overall, women commit 83% of self-defense motivated homicides), she has motivation to maximize the damage she did (“He wasn’t really doing anything, I definitely overreacted in hitting him—no wonder he got upset”) and he has motivation to maximize it as well (“She was getting violent—I had to do it”). In short, ignoring motivation while depending on self-report causes the CTS to dramatically underestimate the gender gap in use of violence.

But regardless of concerns about the validity of the scale, let’s assume that its conclusions are correct; let’s assume that violence does indeed emerge as the result of mutual combat in the relationship. If this is the case, why aren’t so-called domestic disputes handled this way—assigning blame to both partners—by the police?

Setting the Record Straight

In fact—perhaps, again, to the surprise of men’s campaigns—they already are. For years in this country, domestic violence wasn’t handled by law enforcement at all. Marital violence was considered within the private sphere, for the participants themselves to work out. What this meant, of course, was that they were at the discretion of the man, the legal representative of the household, to resolve. In fact, it wasn’t until 1883 that Maryland became the first state to pass a law against wife beating. Of course, we’ve come a long way since then.

Or have we? In the 1970s and 1980s, domestic violence cases were almost universally “resolved” without an arrest. The cops would show up—well, maybe—and warn the participants that it wouldn’t be wise to make him come back, and then leave again, perhaps after telling both of them that they should cool down, and advising the man to take a walk around the block (there is some evidence that this continues today—most incidents of dv, one officer noted in a recent news article, “end peacefully, without an arrest” ). The main threat the police officer offered was that if he had to come back, “someone” would get arrested. Which was not a very encouraging response for victims of abuse.

So basically, what was happening was that men were taking that walk around the block, and then coming back and beating their partners worse. To address this, districts began to pass mandatory arrest policies, requiring that officers either make an arrest in domestic violence calls or file a report explaining why they hadn’t felt an arrest was necessary. Unfortunately, in many cases the passing of this legislation led to officers simply arresting both participants upon arrival. In response, women’s groups, whose clients were being arrested merely for calling for rescue from abuse, pushed for another policy change: officers were to arrest only the “primary aggressor” in a domestic dispute.

This, of course, must be where it started getting bad for men. No doubt those police officers, brainwashed by society’s insistence that men are always the ones responsible for the troubles in a relationship (…wait, what?), began automatically arresting men without stopping to hear their side of the story.

One problem: as the Women’s Justice Center reports, in some districts the proportion of women arrested in domestic violence calls is as high as 30-40% . A 1999 New York Times feature on the issue revealed that in New Hampshire and Colorado, 35% and 25% respectively of domestic assault arrests were of women . Another study, from the UK, shows that while men are far more likely to offend for domestic violence (92% of calls were about a male perpetrator), in any given instance of violence a woman offender was three times more likely than a male offender to be arrested. This was despite the fact that men were far more likely to offend multiple times; 81% were repeat offenders, while 62% of the women were first-time offenders. It seems that law enforcement officials are actually very willing to believe that women can be violent just like men, and that domestic violence involves two people (in a University of Michigan study, officers presented with a hypothetical situation in which the woman sustained visible injuries nonetheless arrested her 15% of the time. These officers also tended to believe that dv was justified in some scenarios, such as infidelity ).

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, the tendency to treat dv as a mutual crime extends to the media. This insistence on “neutrality” continues to lead to some fairly ridiculous headlines; for example, last week, two people “began to have a domestic dispute,” to the point that “both fled the scene in cars.” Upon closer inspection, we learn that she fled the scene first, presumably to get away from him, considering that he was armed with a gun and “fled” after her in order to continue shooting at her.

A recent Washington state-based study reviewed 230 newspapers on domestic homicide and found that less than 22% of the articles specifically labeled the incident as domestic violence. For example, in case of Kathleen Anderson, who was stabbed over 100 times by her boyfriend, the “domestic dispute escalated.” There was a “conflict.” A “troubled relationship.” As the author of the article cited writes, to call these assaults “domestic disputes” is as ridiculous as calling a robbery a “commercial dispute.” These are not disputes, they are crimes, and the majority of them occur against women.

But the CTS Says…

And, so here, it seems, is where I diverge from men’s groups, who I presume would have no problem with the above stories, focused as they are on telling “both sides” of the story.

Because what about the numbers? What about the CTS? What about the studies that show that the responsibility for violence is shared equally by both partners, regardless of the admitted disparity in the amount of harm done? What about all the things these scales tell you?

Frankly, from a public policy standpoint at least (which is what, incidentally, “sexist” bodies such as The Office for Violence Against Women research and create), what is more important is what those scales don’t tell you.

For example, the CTS doesn’t tell you about the pattern of violence that may have been going on for years before before the measurement was taken, or the violence that occurs after the relationship ends. This leaves out a massive amount of harm, considering that 70% of harm to women from domestic violence is done while the partners are separated. Ironically, most of the “domestic disputes” I see would not fall under the classification of the very scale that paved the way for them to be labeled domestic disputes. In fact, most kinds of severe violence—where a victim becomes afraid enough for their life that they attempt to leave the relationship—are not measured by the CTS because the participants are no longer a couple. Divorced or separated women—for obvious reasons disqualified—are actually the group at highest risk of harm from intimate partner violence.

The CTS also doesn’t tell you about homicides, because in conflicts in which one partner dies the participants are, for equally obvious, if somewhat more morbid, reasons, no longer a couple.

Until recently, it excluded sexual assault, and it still excludes stalking , crimes which are overwhelmingly conducted by men against women.

As mentioned before, the CTS doesn’t even tell you what actually happened. It tells you what participants think happened, or what they want to think happened. Fact: the concordance between husband and wives reports’ of the abuse is no more than chance. Fact: the concordance between husband and wives reports’ of severe abuse—“beat up,” for example—is actually below chance. Who do you believe? The CTS says both, because using aggressive behavior means they’re both aggressors, because self-defense is not relevant to the measurement of domestic violence. After all, in a “dispute” or “conflict,” both parties are at fault.

What happens when you treat domestic violence as a crime? It turns out that you get dramatically different results than the ones that advocacy groups fighting against “inherently sexist” policies parade around. You get results such as these, compiled from crime data gathered by the National Institute of Justice:

• 85% of victims of IPV are women
• As many as 40-50% of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner (in comparison, 5% of male victims are killed by an intimate partner.) Women are 8x more likely to be killed by an intimate partner then men. In 70-80% of intimate partner homicides, regardless of who was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.
• 78% of stalking victims are women
• More than 90% of “systematic, persistent, and injurious” violence in intimate relationships—the type of violence that characterizes an abusive relationship—is perpetrated by men.

These are surveys that measure harm. They are valid. They are not dependent on victim’s perceptions of the power dynamics in their relationship.

And they show that women are dramatically more at risk of being seriously hurt or killed by IPV than men. They show that in the vast majority of cases, women are the ones who need protection, both during and—importantly—after their relationships. Because that’s what social services are for, aren’t they? They are meant to provide protection for people who need it. As crime data shows, those people are overwhelmingly women. (Ironically, men are most at risk from women who are at risk from men as well. Since the introduction of support services for battered women—shelters, hotlines, etc.— the number of female victims of domestic homicide has stayed about the same, but the number of male domestic homicide deaths has decreased by 70%).

Acknowledging that men and women are victims of domestic violence at different rates is not the same thing as saying that men cannot be victims of domestic violence. Acknowledging that the mere fact of being a woman is a risk factor for being a victim of domestic violence is not engaging in discrimination. And distorting these facts in a misguided attempt at “equality” or “gender blindness” is not fair, true, or justifiable.

Frankly, it does an injustice to all victims of domestic violence, male and female alike.

Why?

For one thing, it says that victims are partially responsible; it encourages people to ask the question, “Well, what did she/he do?” Remember, the “One in Three” group proposes that we accept that most domestic violence is mutual. That in “many” cases of domestic violence, men are merely reacting to the coercive behavior of their partner. That in fact, “a woman’s perpetration of IPV is the strongest predictor of her being a victim.” Essentially, that men only hit women who hit them back. Or, in other—perhaps more familiar—words: she asked for it. The fact that the only way to make that case is by using statistics that ignore the massive amount of harm—vandalism, assault, sexual assault, death—that take place outside of the relationship speaks volumes.

In a world in which one in three women will be in an abusive relationship, in a world in which the vast majority of violence against women occurs at the hands of men, and men they know, we have the responsibility to give these victims a better answer than, “statistically, it is likely that you in fact deserved it.” Pretending—as the media does, as these groups do, as abusers do, as victims themselves do—that violence justifies other violence;that taking a phone is an equal act of aggression to kicking down a door ; ultimately, that women aren’t overwhelmingly the casualties in this “war” between the genders perpetuates the same misperceptions that have flawed the system for thousands of years.

Women are always told, “Don’t be a victim.” Men’s groups now want to tell us that we’re really not victims, but in fact equal (or more than equal) instigators. Wouldn’t it be great if that were true? If merely by us making an effort to stop causing arguments to “escalate”*, dv crimes, which are conducted primarily against our gender, would stop as well. If the fact that 85% of domestic violence is conducted against people with two x chromosomes doesn’t even have anything to do with the fact that we’re women; if that was just a crazy coincidence. (Maybe we all just happen to be really hard to live with.) If domestic violence were not a major threat, in some ways the major threat for women, the cause of three American women’s deaths per day, of more deaths than cancer, mugging, rape, car accidents. If your gender did not affect your likelihood of being a victim.

But right now?

Men can be victims of domestic violence. Women can be perpetrators of domestic violence. In fact, nearly 4,000 women in the UK were successfully prosecuted on domestic violence charges.

There were at least 55,000 incidences of domestic violence against women in the UK last year alone.

*

*Step one: be sure not to leave your abuser. That should cut domestic homicides against women by about 75%! Well done, ladies.

Resources:

Measuring Intimate Partner Violence: National Institute of Justice: NIJ Overview of statistics on IPV, and why Family-violence studies such as the CTS tend to underestimate the gender gap.

Male Victims of Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review: An overview of the literature on the CTS compared to crime data in measuring IPV.

One in Three The One in Three campaign’s website.

Marital Spat with a Weapon?: Quoted story on DV coverage in the media

Two additional fact sheets referenced: http://www.purpleberets.org/pdf/bat_women_prison.pdf and http://www.dvrc-or.org/domestic/violence/resources/C61/#rap

We would be happy to provide further citations upon request.