Are Heterosexual Men Also Victims of Intimate Partner Abuse?

The document discusses discrepancies in scholars' interpretations of findings regarding women's use of violence against intimate partners, explains the findings of the research review, and provides recommendations for research and practice.

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VAWnet Summary:

Are Heterosexual Men Also Victims of Intimate Partner Abuse? by Joanne Belknap and Heather Melton (March 2005).

In Brief:

For the past twenty-five years there has been a significant debate over the amount of intimate partner abuse (IPA) committed by women against men. Studies employing large, random, and national or community samples and using the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), a questionnaire that asks about recent use of specific tactics by an intimate partner against the respondent to measure IPA, tend to conclude gender symmetry : that men and women are equally likely to be both perpetrators and victims of IPA. Despite these findings, other researchers (as well as most shelter workers) continue to maintain that there is not gender symmetry in IPA. These other studies are more likely to employ samples from shelters, hospitals, and police reports and report that as many as 90 to 95 percent of IPA involves a male perpetrator against his female partner or ex-partner.

Several arguments have been made to explain the huge discrepancies in scholars' interpretations of findings regarding women's use of violence against intimate partners. These arguments include criticisms of the CTS as a measure of IPA, concerns over gender differences in reporting of IPA and its impact on abuse rates, the differences due to settings in which the data have been collected and the samples studied and, finally, issues related to studying solely victimization rather than studying victimization and perpetration simultaneously.

In addition to addressing whether the frequency of IPA is gendered, it is necessary to ask whether the nature of IPA is gendered. Many scholars and victim advocates report that women have different motivations for using force against their current or former intimate partners. For example, women are far more likely than men to employ force with their intimate partners in the context of self-defense. Furthermore, research findings are consistent regarding extreme gender differences in the consequences of men and women's violence in their intimate relationships. A significant amount of research reports that women suffer more negative consequences as a result of violence from a current or former male partner than men do from a current or former female partner.

The research review reported in this paper concludes that IPA is gendered: Men and boys are more likely (than women and girls) to be the perpetrators, and women and girls are more likely (than men and boys) to be the victims of IPA. At the same time, it is necessary to recognize that there are some women and girls who are abusive and violent to their intimate male partners . This is estimated to be in five percent or fewer of the cases. Research indicates that women's and girls' IPA needs to be understood in the context of learning abuse/violence, the opportunity to use abuse/violence, and choosing to use abuse/violence.

There are important implications from these findings. First, researchers need to more carefully design measurement instruments and data collection so that intimate partner victims are not confused with intimate partner abusers. Second, the research instruments need to be designed to measure IPA among a broad cross-section of individuals (e.g., across ethnicities/races, immigrant-status, etc.). Finally, criminal processing personnel (e.g., police, prosecutors, judges) need to more carefully scrutinize whether a woman who is reported to be an intimate partner abuser is indeed abusive or instead, a victim of IPA, so as not to treat and process a victim as an offender.

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