Despite more than
twenty years of consciousness raising and programs, in some key areas women
are still being discriminated against. What is unusual, is that the
discrimination is being supported by many awareness advocates.
Twenty years ago, men and women killed their partners in roughly equal
numbers, but now far fewer women are killing their male domestic partners.
According to a comparison study by Dr. Daniel Nagin a public policy expert
at Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, there is a "substantial"
difference in the rate of decline. He links this to improved economic
circumstances and as importantly, legal advocacy programs for female
domestic violence victims. Dr. Nagin told the New York Times (July 28,
1998): "The resources for women seem to be saving the men’s lives."
National homicide rates are not as precise as most people would assume.
There are yearly variations. Surprisingly, a significant percentage of
state and local reports to the Justice Department statisticians do not
include information on whether the victim was an intimate. The 1994
justice dept. figures may be the most accurate as a larger number than usual
of homicide reports were examined. As reported in Abused Men-The Hidden Side
of Domestic Violence these results show about 20 percent more females than
males were slain by their mates. Of all white family murder victims, 62
percent were wives and 38 percent were husbands. For black family spouse
murders, according to the justice department, "Wives were just about as
likely to kill their husbands as were husbands to kill their wives." One
might argue with Dr. Nagin's use of the words "far fewer" to describe this
difference, but his main point is that the rate of decline for women
murdering intimate partners has shown a remarkable downward trend even
factoring in overall declines in the homicide rates including those against
Given the news media and activist attention to the deaths of women at the
hands of their spouses compared to the coverage and outrage when it happens
to a man, a twenty percent greater rate of female partner murders is not as
large a difference as many would assume. For example, the "Silent Witness"
program featuring life-size red silhouettes of women killed due to domestic
violence specifically excludes male victims. This useful public awareness
program is supported by corporations and government but there is no such
effort for male victims, because there are few advocate groups for them.
The few male victim advocates who have tried to enlist the support of
national and state domestic violence coalition groups have been actively
excluded from participating.
By "legal advocacy programs" Dr. Nagin is specifically referring to domestic
violence shelters and crisis lines that offer consumer quasi-legal advice
such as understanding how the court system works, obtaining restraining
orders and educating victims as to some available options under the law. It
also means victims advocates either from semi-private sources such as the
shelters but also in locales where there are such advocates within the
District Attorney office. Results show that domestic violence victims
advocates secure a higher rate of prosecution and conviction for offenders.
It should also be noted, that states which require mandatory arrest if there
is domestic violence, should also be counted as a form of increased legal
advocacy. What is surprising is that most criminologists and other experts
(Dr. Nagin and I strongly agree on this point) believe that we don't know
for sure what works to prevent domestic violence. We can only say with
certainty that arrest and prosecution works. Whether other types of legal
advocacy such as restraining orders, or the often mandated in lieu of
prosecution (anger management program), are truly effective is still a
matter for further investigation.
Dr. Nagin however, says the data indicate that women who have help escaping
or changing an abusive situation are less likely to murder their partners.
Since there are no effective legal or non legal advocacy programs for male
victims, he can not say one way or the other whether they would have the
same effect. Given the numbers of male victims and the even larger numbers
of couples who experience mutual abuse, it seems logical however, to make
the assumption that similar legal advocacy programs for men would reduce the
number of female murders.
Shouldn’t we at least try to put in place such programs for men, to see if
they can be effective in preventing murders of women? Many domestic violence
advocates resist this notion. Indeed, most reject any recognition at all for
the fact that some women can be violent and controlling in their intimate
relationships. The lowest official estimate puts it at 148,000 male victims
a year and 838,000 female (National Criminal Victimization Survey-U.S.
Justice Dept), while the highest, the National Family Violence Survey-funded
by The National Institute of Mental Health-shows 1.8 million female victims
and two million male.
Advocates however, often mix the results by quoting the low figure for males
in the first survey and the higher figure for females in the latter.
They fear that attention to domestic violence against men will de-emphasize
the importance of services for women.
In direct response to this view, researchers, reporting in the Journal of
the American Medical Association (August-97) found gender-equal rates of
emergency room treatment. They declared: "Recognition of the global nature
of violence may be more realistic than assuming that only women are
The advocate’s assumptions hurt women in another way besides perhaps
increasing their chances of being murdered or injured. When women call a
shelter or domestic violence crisis line expressing concern about their own
anger and violence, they are often told, "Oh, he must have done something to
Pioneering sociologist Dr. Suzanne Steinmetz (Co-author of Behind Closed
Doors-Violence in the American Family-1980) says, "We are in essence denying
" When a man beats up a woman, right away he’s put in a program for
batterers. He’s helped to deal with his problems. He’s also sometimes sent
to jail. But when a woman does it, it’s passed off as no big deal. No one
says, ‘Gosh if you’re acting this way, you might be troubled.’ "
Dr. Steinmetz also points out that it took a long time for shelters to help
lesbian women. Lesbian partner battering contradicts gender-feminist
patriarchal theories about the causes of domestic violence. Public
acknowledgment of the problem is kept quiet for political reasons.