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.
I guess I am just confused as to what evidence you have that actually supports your reasoning or explanation for the data. Secondly, I think you are purposefully downplaying the amount that women are victims to make it seem more equal to men. The CDC article you cited says that, “results provided in this report indicate that the burden of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence is not distributed evenly in the U.S. population. Consistent with previous studies, the results suggest that women, in particular, are impacted heavily during their lifetimes.” Yes, there are instances where men and women are affected equally, but by and large women are more often affected. And while you are correct in saying that concluding that it is only men perpetrating violence on women is baseless, that is not what people are saying. People are saying that men are more often than not the perpetrator. The CDC says (also in the article you cited), “prevention efforts should take into consideration that female sexual violence and stalking victimization is predominately perpetrated by men and that a substantial proportion of male sexual violence and stalking victimization (rape, unwanted sexual contact, noncontact unwanted sexual experiences, and stalking) also is perpetrated by men.” No one is saying that men are the sole group to blame, women can do nasty things too, as I know you know, but the trend is that men are perpetrators. This being said, it is understandable why people say that there is a culture in which men feel that they have the power to commit acts of violence. However, I do agree that this should not discount other experiences. Men are almost invisible in the domestic abuse discussion and women are not often seen as perpetrators. This does need to change, but I fail to see how that then works against the idea that our culture surrounding men allows for men to more easily hurt others. If you want to convince people that the cause of this discrepancy is a result of biological differences, as you suggest, rather than cultural, then maybe include links to reliable sources, rather than to places on this very website. (I am assuming the links are your sources).
Thanks for your comments, Kevin. The point of the blog was not at all to downplay the amount that women are victims, but to dispel the myth that domestic violence is caused by one gender’s beliefs and attitudes. Why getting rid of that erroneous assumption is important is because, until we identify the real cause (poor emotional control, often caused by previous emotional wounds and trauma), we have no hope for fixing the problem. The real cause does not affect just one gender, although it might affect men more than women due to biological factors and/or cultural influences, as you point out.
When people come to us for help in stopping behaviors that hurt their partners, telling them they need to get rid of their attitude of superiority (which they usually don’t have) is not helpful. Only by healing the hurts, challenging the distorted thoughts they have (mostly about themselves), and developing better emotional control abilities can someone respond to the stressors and conflicts that are inevitable in intimate relationships.
You’re right, this is not “what people are saying.” That’s the problem and why we have been so ineffective with misguided treatment programs. For any theory to hold up, it needs to also explain the exceptions. The dominant narrative about domestic violence being caused by a male entitlement issue does not explain the very large number of cases that are not perpetrated by males. Emotional wounds, which can affect anyone, is a much better explanation.
Domestic Violence, regardless of gender, has a wide array of causes. It would be interesting to gain insight on the impact of increase of drug and alcohol addiction as it contributes greatly to the mental and emotional status of the living environment.
You’re right, Nathaniel. Domestic violence is a little like cancer in that there is no single cause. And you are also correct in saying there is a link to drug and alcohol use. If you haven’t already, check out my blog on that topic here. Thanks for your comment.
It seems to me that what you are saying is that when men experience intimacy violence that it is automatically a woman who is the perpetrator. Some of the MOST under-reported and unaccounted for intimacy violence is between two male partners. This brings the numbers back into perspective on how much more that the violence meted out is from a dominant male; whatever the sex of his partner/victim.
You’re correct–we have good evidence that domestic violence is under-reported in the LBGTQ community. But no, I did not say that men victims always have a woman perpetrator. Gay men experience intimate partner violence from other men, and lesbian women from other women. You’re on the right track when you say the violence comes from the partner that is attempting to dominate. The key is the psychological reasons one person feels the need to be in control, however, and not their gender. Those conditions occur regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and they hold the answer to stopping domestic violence. Thanks for your comments, Nickie.
Thank you so much for this article. I appreciate any voice that is an advocate for justice and equity. Facts and truth matter.
I have found that the fact that men are more often victims of emotional abuse, and frequent receivers of physical abuse from partners is a not an item to is frequently discussed, even with many substantiating studies being conducted that seem to clearly indicate that as the reality. My theory in this is that this does not fit the current social narrative that vilifies men, and glorifies abusive behavior from women towards men as a woman “finding her voice”, or being “brave and beautiful” or some other such nonsense. It’s abuse. It’s not love.
In my own experience, I have been the receiver of emotional as well as physical abuse from my wife (soon to be ex) who refused to change. I just put up with it. I didn’t report it. I could “take it”. I cared for her, and still do. However, her fear and anger and desire for control built into abusive treatment of her husband.
She filed a bogus protection order against me, and it was issued despite there being zero evidence against me, other then the one time I restrained her following an elbow to my face.
The justice system provides a strong disservice to the people that it is supposed to protect, as is illustrated in my own hearing, as well as in so many others I have heard of.
Thanks for your comments, Ben. I’m sorry you experienced both the abuse and the injustice. We hope and pray that your wife will realize her actions hurt her, too, and will continue to work to protect victims by helping those causing harm to change, regardless of their gender.