Many media depictions, domestic violence advocates, and websites will lead you to believe that domestic abuse is something that men do to women. Domestic violence statistics show, however, that domestic abuse is not just a man problem. This fact has huge implications on how we solve the issue.

Domestic violence statistics

My source here is a large survey conducted by an unbiased and very reliable authority: the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While women are more frequent victims, the domestic violence statistics show men were also victims much more often than even I would have expected. Here are the numbers affected by physical violence:

  • 30.3%, or about 1 in 3 women, have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • 25.7%, or about 1 in 4 men, have also experienced physical assault by a partner sometime in their life.

Note the numbers for women verses men are not that far apart. In case anyone thinks that many of these incidents were harmless, the CDC also recorded severe physical abuse incidents. These were cases that involved being hit with a fist or something hard, slammed, kicked, burned, choked, beaten, or incidents involving a weapon.

  • 24.3%, or about 1 in 5 women, experienced severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • 13.8%, or about 1 in 7 men, had a life experience that involved severe violence using the same definition.

The statistics definitely show women are more often victims of domestic violence. But are you, like me, surprised by how close these numbers are? Concluding that it is only men perpetrating violence on women is baseless.

Emotional abuse statistics

The gender differences become even smaller when we look at emotional abuse statistics. Emotional abuse, for purposes of the survey, was defined as acting angry in a way that seemed dangerous. It also included being told they were a loser or a failure, being insulted or humiliated, or some form of coercive control.

  • 48.4% of women have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by
    an intimate partner during their lifetime.
  • 48.8% of men have also experienced one of these forms of psychological aggression by
    a partner in their lifetime.

The lifetime incidents experienced by each gender are nearly identical. Who would have guessed? This hardly paints a picture of only men victimizing women.

Domestic violence statistics in the LBGTQ community

There are fewer domestic violence statistics on the LBGTQ community, but a 2012 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) sheds some light. They found a similar number, approximate one third, of women (32.6%) and men (36.1%) were survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). Clearly the often-sighted cause of domestic violence—male privilege—is not the cause of abuse in non-heterosexual relationships.

What does not cause domestic violence

These domestic violence statistics tell us that this is clearly not an exclusively male issue. Attitudes of male superiority, entitlement, or privilege don’t explain over 4.9 million incidents of domestic violence that happen to men each year. Raising boys to stuff their emotions can’t explain the 2.3 million incidents of severe domestic violence perpetrated on men annually.

I’m not defending attitudes of superiority, entitlement, or privilege by anyone, male or female. Those beliefs are wrong and a sure path to destruction for both relationships and personal happiness. And, both men and society are well served if we do a better job helping boys understand and express their emotions. I’m just saying the research, logical, and statistical links between these factors and domestic abuse are very weak.

Gender differences better explained

Still, women are more often victims and men are more often perpetrators. How do we explain this imbalance? Biological differences between the genders offers a better explanation.

Male brains have less connectivity in their brain wiring, giving them a lower ability to regulate emotions like hurt, sadness, and fear. Consequently, stressors like relationship conflict are more likely to come out as the outward facing emotions of anger or rage, and these can be destructive. Partners hold a unique power to stir feelings of inadequacy or questions about lovability, and therefore receive the brunt of the harm.

When our emotions become turbulent, our human tendency is to try to regain that control. Men are also less adept with words, so they are prone to “use what you got” and resort to physical means of control. Again, this is an explanation of the gender imbalance we see in the domestic violence statistics, not justification or permission.

Why domestic violence against men is invisible

With domestic violence statistics showing nearly as many male victims as female, why do we so often call it “violence against women”? First, women are more affected by domestic violence. Due to biological differences in size and strength, they are more prone to injury or fear of being injured.

Second, men under-report incidents involving domestic violence more than women. Note the CDC survey asked participants if they experienced these forms of violence or abuse, not whether they reported it. Male victims likely feel more embarrassed and  a greater social stigma than their female counterparts.

Had the CDC involved me in their survey, I would have been counted among the men who experienced both physical and emotional abuse. I was hit with a fist and stalked by one woman, and subjected to emotional abuse and bit by another. Typical of many men, I reported none of these incidents to the police.

Third, the media and many domestic violence advocates have created such a dominant story, we tend to dismiss those that don’t fit. A man abusing his wife or girlfriend fits with what we expect to see, so it validates our viewpoint. A woman abusing her husband or boyfriend must have acted in self-defense, we tell ourselves.

Organizations that carry the banner of protecting women are in line to receive government funding and donations. It’s called the Violence Against Women Act, not Violence Against Partners Act. A lot of funding and political clout is riding on maintaining the dominant narrative.

Implications on policies and priorities

First, we need to remove gender reference biases when we talk about domestic violence. We should condemn violence and protect victims, regardless of the sex of the victim or perpetrator. We’d be racists if we talked about criminals as blacks, and we are equally prejudice when we talk about abusers as men.

Second, we need to stop using “eliminating male entitlement” as a cornerstone for treating batterers. If that attitude exists, it is small and insignificant among the factors that contribute to our alarming domestic violence statistics. Maybe this is why batterers intervention programs (BIPs) have been largely ineffective.

Instead, programs need to focus on healing past traumas and developing emotional control capabilities. Long-term, we should be more concerned with promoting healthy relationship behaviors in young people than hyper-focusing on supposed gender superiority attitudes. We should aim both of these efforts at both sexes, with the goal of creating healthier adults and healthier relationships.

This is not about identifying which gender is to blame; it’s about gaining insights that will help us stop domestic violence. What numbers surprised you or revelations do you get when you look at the domestic violence statistics? I’d love to hear your thoughts.