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Six Feminist Myths: Myth #4

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'Men abuse women'

It's become an established truth in Sweden that abuse of women is a problem of immense proportions. Not physical abuse in general - only abuse of women.

In the minutes from the parliamentary debates for the past five years we see the phrase 'violence towards women' used 1,365 times. The phrase 'violence towards men' is used only 61 times. Violence towards women is given 22 times as much attention as violence towards men.72

The government also run campaign after campaign to stop what with a clear ideological portent is called 'men's violence towards women'. A small symbolic detail which elucidates the social climate is that the website menu of the national Crime Prevention Council has the item 'Abuse' with only two subitems: 'Abuse of Children' and 'Abuse of Women'. 'Abuse of Men' isn't to be found.

Men are the biggest victims

But what might the facts be? Oh yes, men are the sex affected the most by violence.

To make a fair comparison, it's important to consider all types of violence, not just violence in the home or domestic violence. A skull fracture that results in permanent difficulties and a life of pain, just to take one example, is just as terrible for the victim no matter the crime takes place inside or outside one's home. Already in the limitations of the social debate that today is almost exclusively about domestic violence, one finds a tendency to hide the extensive pain of the male (and I'll cover domestic violence at the end of this chapter).

Let's study the most recent statistics from the Crime Prevention Council with regard to criminal complaints in Sweden for 2010. Following are a few excerpts from the council's database.

  • 135 men but only 95 women are victimised by murder, manslaughter, or abuse with a fatal outcome. 42% more men than women perished through violence in 2010.
  • 594 men but only 197 women were targeted by attempted murder or manslaughter. That's almost three times as many men as women.
  • A search in the database for the crime 'aggravated assault' of people over 15 years of age yields 4,272 affected boys and men and 1,116 affected girls and women. Aggravated assault affects the male almost four times as often as the female.
  • When it's a question of the total cases of abuse (assault and aggravated assault) of people over 18 years of age, we find 40,910 men for 26,261 women affected. 56% more men affected.
  • When it's a question of abuse of older children (15-17 years of age) we find 4,989 boys for 3,021 girls affected. 65% more boys than girls.
  • If we study the truly tragic cases, abuse of children 7-14 years of age, we again find a significantly larger attribution to the male sex: 5,784 boys are affected to 3,121 girls. 85% more boys than girls.
  • If we sum up all types of violent crimes, and this will then include rape, our statistics from the council for filed complaints yield 54,769 affected boys and men for 42,4176 girls and women (this for 2009). The male sex is 29% more affected by violent crime.
  • Another type of statistic can be found in a study called the National Safety Study 2010, also by the Crime Prevention Council. The difference here is the figures aren't about filed complaints: people have instead been asked if they've been the victims of a particular crime. Following are a few excerpts from those statistics (for the year 2009):
  • 3.0% of the men - as opposed to 1.8% of the women - claimed to have been the victims of abuse the previous year. 67% more men than women have been affected.
  • When it's about 'aggravated abuse', 0.7% of the men and 0.4% of the women claimed to have been victimised. 75% more men than women. Both statistics also mesh well with the earlier statistics for filed complaints.

Another source of information is the 'Survey of Living Conditions' by the Central Bureau of Statistics. There one can find how many men and women claim to have been victimised by 'violence with bodily harm'. 3.6% of the men and 2.4% of the women said they'd been victimised (for the year 2007). 50% more men than women said they were the victims of violence that led to bodily harm.

Any way you twist and turn it, facts show that men and boys are much more the victims of violence than women and girls. And this is especially true of aggravated violence. But the political agenda is only about violence towards women. So if you place the parliamentary mentions of 'violence towards men' and 'violence towards women' side by side with the actual frequency the two sexes are victimised, you can - to simplify a bit - claim that a female victim is 37 times more important than a male victim for the Swedish parliament.73

They don't seem to have the same tunnel vision in Denmark: their equality minister released a report in 2008 with the title 'Vold mod mænd i Danmark' (Violence Against Men in Denmark).

Domestic violence

Up to now we've only discussed the overall violence. A subset of this which has gained a great prominence in the political debate is domestic violence. The accepted truth in Sweden is that 'domestic violence' is identical with 'men's violence towards women'. But this is a myth perpetuated by ideological means. Men too are victims of domestic violence.

Different surveys yield different figures about how affected the two sexes are by domestic violence. Many surveys don't even ask men how they're affected because it's taken for granted that women cannot perpetrate violence towards men. But there is research in Sweden into the degree men are victimised by violence, and if you expand your horizons and look to the international community, you'll find many a survey with a gender-neutral perspective. And if you study these surveys, the picture that emerges is clear: violence towards men is also a serious social issue.

Let's look at a number of studies and research papers that focused on domestic violence. The Crime Prevention Council wrote in their report 'Violence Towards Men and Women in Close Relationships' from 2009 that 'the difference between men's and women's exposure to domestic violence is small'. But they write that the violence directed at women is 'often repeated, 'tends to be more serious', 'results in more negative consequences for the victim'.

In 2006 Gävle College carried out a Swedish study of domestic violence which in turn became a part of a large international study with 30 countries involved. Approximately 900 Swedish students responded to questions about their experience of domestic violence, which yielded a database with 200,000 questions and answers. The results are interesting. A few examples of what the study reveals:

  • Women use violence against their partners as much as men.
  • Twice as many women as men admit they were the first to resort to violence.
  • Almost as many men as women reported being injured by their partner's violence.

'[It's] naive and pretentious to claim women don't use violence towards men', say the people behind the study, professor in teaching science Peter Gill and master of teaching science Carita Remahl, in an op-ed in Dagens Nyheter.74

Female violence is widespread

This is what the Crime Prevention Council's Klara Hradilova Selin says:75 'three out of four women who use violence also use something to hit with. That figure for men is only one out of three'.

In 2002 the Irish Department of Health and Children published a very ambitious inventory of surveys about domestic violence that had been carried out all over the globe. The title of the report is 'Men and Domestic Violence: What Research Tells Us'. No less than 13 gigantic research projects about domestic violence from Great Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were studied, and the results are unequivocal. Some representative quotes:

'To begin with domestic violence that was experienced the previous year, the studies reviewed show that women are at least as inclined to resort to violence as men. This for both physical and psychic violence, mild and serious. The reports of the men and women yield the same result for this question.'

'All research results in table 3.3 show that during the past year, women resorted to more serious violence towards men than men towards women.'

'The results in table 3.8 show that women consistently are more inclined than men to initiate domestic violence. [...] This challenges the [traditional] belief that women's violence mainly attempts to 'give back' or is of a defensive character.'

'The feminists own the domestic violence issue'

There are also some interesting statistics76 from the British Home department and the British Crime Survey. They show that men are 40% of those victimised for domestic violence for the years 2004-2009.

Dr Martin S Fiebert, working at the department of psychology at California State University, has put together a great many studies of self-reported violence in partner relationships.77 All told 99 empirical surveys with a total of 77,000 people participating. The conclusion? 'Women are just as aggressive as, or even more aggressive than, their male partners.'

Linda Kelly, professor of law at the University of Virginia, has studied women's violence towards men in a huge research project.78 Her conclusions can be summarised like this: women hit their men about as often as men hit their women. Despite this, there is next to nothing in literature about women's violence towards men - domestic violence is considered the same thing as men's violence towards women. The silence means that female perpetrators are not exposed and male victims don't get help. Professor Kelly comments on the lack of interest in women's violence towards men like this: 'Today's refusal to react [to women's violence towards men] is a product of the feminist control of the domestic violence issue'.

Norway carried out a mapping of domestic violence amongst young adults (median age 22) that was published in 2003. The study shows that approximately 50% more men than women are victimised. 6% of the men and 4% of the men had been physically attacked in the past half year.79

Beaten men are ridiculed

There's a shame associated with a man being hit by a woman which probably means the real figures for women's violence towards men are even worse. This is what Skövde detective superintendent Tommy Hoff says - he's studied violent crime in Skaraborg:80

'I'm convinced that the [...] number of hidden cases is large when it comes to women who physically abuse or violate their men. Some crimes are taboo and this is one. It's not part of a man's makeup to be a victim - and especially not the victim of violence perpetrated by a woman.'

There are also sources who testify that they've seen that men who've been assaulted by women aren't taken seriously by the police. It's not uncommon that an attempt to file a complaint is met with laughter. Abused men also receive a poorer health care and help from the social services.

For example, Dagens Nyheter wrote in 2010 about an emergency center in Finland that had been criticised for 'prejudicial behaviour' by Finland's ombudsman for justice. A man had rung repeatedly because he felt threatened by his wife. But instead of help, he got got the question 'so you let your wife beat you up?' The person on duty then inquired as to the bodily weight of the man and his wife and then stated it would be a fair fight as they mostly weighed the same.81

Is it a common female belief that a woman has a right to hit her men when she feels like it? You can seriously ask that question after reviewing an international study where questions about domestic violence were asked of 6,500 women at 36 universities in different countries. Over 74% of the women declared that it's perfectly acceptable for them to perpetrate violence towards their men.82

So let me summarise this chapter. Men are significantly more exposed to violence than women. It's also significantly more common that women hit men than what the public debate would let on. It is therefore a myth that the main issue when it comes to violence from a gender perspective is the claim that 'men hit women'. And to call domestic violence 'men's violence towards women' is nothing less than propaganda.

Copyright © Pär Ström/Stiftelsen Den Nya Välfärden. Translation copyright © Rixstep. All rights reserved.

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