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Gender and Domestic Violence – conflict of theory and data

Filed under: Domestic Violence — JohnPotter @ 11:51 am Tue 18th October 2005

A paper published earlier this year in a peer-reviewed scientific journal explores the negative impact radical feminist ideology has had on the treatment of Domestic Violence. The paper details are:

The gender paradigm in domestic violence research and theory: Part 1–The conflict of theory and data. Donald G. Dutton, Tonia L. Nicholls Aggression and Violent Behavior 10 (2005) 680—714
Download ‘Part 1–The conflict of theory and data’ [278KB PDF]

The authors begin by noting the heightened official response to Domestic Violence in the early 70s, which resulted in refuges being opened for women victims and court-ordered treatment groups developed for men, a model which has persisted until the present. [References have been removed from the excerpts below, but are available in original paper.]

As a result of this sample selection and of the prevailing ideology of feminism, the notion evolved that spouse assault was exclusively male perpetrated or that female intimate violence, to the extent that it existed at all, was defensive or inconsequential. Subsequent research showing equivalent rates of serious female violence has been greeted with scepticism, especially by the activist-research community. Data surveys similarly met with criticism, especially by feminist researchers who were committed to the view that intimate violence was the by-product of patriarchy and hence, an exclusively male activity. This initial dogma has persevered despite data to the contrary, to be presented below.

This type of error in social judgment is demonstrated in research studies by social psychologists which show “confirmatory bias” (also called “biased assimilation”) and “belief perseverance” occurring when research subjects have a strongly held belief and are exposed to research findings inconsistent with the belief. The subjects reconcile the contradiction and maintain the prior belief by discounting the research methodology. They do not apply the same rigorous standards to research findings, which confirm their beliefs.

After a comprehensive review of the literature and the debates which have raged between the activist and research communities, the paper points out some of the downside of this ideologically-driven approach:

The function of the gender paradigm originally was to generate social change in a direction that righted an imbalance against women. The result, however, has been to misdirect social and legal policy, to misinform custody assessors, police, and judges, to disregard data sets contradictory to the prevailing theory,and to mislead attempts at therapeutic change for perpetrators.

The authors then discuss how feminists have dealt with criticism – they distort evidence, misinterpret data, and constantly position their opposition as the “out-group” who should not be taken seriously:

Also typical of groupthink processes has been the tendency to label any dissenters as reactionary regarding women’s rights. Worcester described the “antifeminist backlash”, which she equates with the “anti-domestic violence movement”, as picking up on “conflict tactics”-type studies (her quotations) and hints at “limitations and dangers of a gender-neutral approach to antiviolence work”. In other words, anyone who believes female violence might exist is antifeminist and anti-domestic violence movement.

The paper argues for the adoption of theories which match the data, and detail some of the negative impacts which result from adhering to the feminist paradigm:

The inevitable conclusion is that feminist theory on intimate violence is flawed. It cannot accept the reality of female violence. While male violence is viewed as never justified, female violence is viewed as always justified. The data do not support this double standard. Women commit intimate violence frequently and do not do so only in self-defense. A more reasonable interpretation of the data from these numerous studies would be that people (not just men) use violence in intimate relationships and use whatever form they have learned will be effective. Men, having greater upper body strength use direct physical violence more than women. Women use weapons more often than men to generate an advantage.

The negative effects of disregarding male victimization by intimate violence include a reenactment of the age of denial displayed to female victimization in the early 1970s. Feminists complained rightly about that denial then; they should be moved from a sense of justice to do the same now. Secondly, the risk to children from female child abuse is seriously underestimated in the literature (but not in the data). From the perspective of child safety, this needs more attention. Thirdly, feminists are interfering with the delivery of effective treatment intervention through state laws or policy that holds up the gender based but ineffective Duluth Model as the “intervention” model of choice. This disadvantages women partnered with men in treatment by precluding the availability of more effective psychologically based treatment.

And ends by asking the obvious question:

The “one size fits all” policy driven by a simplistic notion that intimate violence is a recapitulation of class war does not most effectively deal with this serious problem or represent the variety of spousal violence patterns revealed by research. At some point, one has to ask whether feminists are more interested in diminishing violence within a population or promoting a political ideology.


  1. as an offender of female violence i agree with some points of this article but i strongly disagree with certain aspects as well. violence on anyones part is abhorent. however it is not an issue of feminism. it is an issue of our society and how shallow we are and how we refuse to go any deeper than skin deep.

    many people, whether male or female, have serious problems in the way they express themselves and the way they cope. i did not know how to get my husband to listen to me so i started off in a manner that i thought was normal and when i got no favourable response i pushed for one using yelling screaming hitting and violent intimidation. i am learning through counselling, medication and mediation other ways of handling situations, other techniques to use to communicate and ways of trying to control my anger and frustrations that do not involve violence of violent behaviour. however i am finding that my husband hides behind my violent behaviour and uses it to his own benefit, ie to get people on side when a disagreement occurs between us. in my immature emotional state i find this very difficult to cope with and hence find myself “losing it” almost against my will.

    i feel that in most cases, violence is never the root of the problem but only a symptom. as inexcusable an action as it is, in any person no matter what their sex, we need to help the violent offender just as much as we need to keep the victim safe. sometimes we, the offender, are just as scarred by what WE are doing as the person we are assaulting. we need to face up to the consequences of our actions as well as being entitled to the same sort of crisis avenues offered to victims. there is not enough out there to help those who feel they have no control. society seems to concentrate on those who have bruises to show. it is the same case with ones subject to mental and emotional abuse, who have no physical injuries. too often we concentrate on what we can see and neglect what is deeper. BOTH credit our help and support, and BOTH need our attention.

    Comment by mahina — Tue 18th October 2005 @ 11:39 pm

  2. Mahina – I would be interested to learn which aspects of the article you strongly disagree with, and whether you read the full paper. My brief review above concentrates only on the specific areas which are relevant to this, and shouldn’t be considered a balanced representation of Dutton et al’s views.

    I sympathise with your personal situation, and appreciate your honesty. I agree with most of what you say. I am convinced that most domestic violence occurs when a person feels powerLESS, or “out of control” as you put it.

    However where I do perhaps see things a little differently is that I think a neat division into victim/offender is only appropriate in a small minority of cases.
    In the vast majority of troubled relationships the violence is mutual – a mix of physical, verbal, psychological and violence-by-proxy (using someone else – or government agencies – to do the dirty work).

    Men are generally more “effective” at physical violence, which is why two women suffer serious physical injuries to every one man. Women on the other hand, are usually better at inflicting the type of violence you don’t see. As you demonstrate though, there are plenty of relationships where the tendencies are reversed.

    When I was involved with the Men’s Centre North Shore back in the late 90’s we tried to set up a course for couples to better manage conflict in their relationships. It was designed to teach communication, negotiation and conflict resolution skills. It’s launch attracted such opposition from feminist agencies that it eventually became impossible to continue. You can read about Positive Partners – Strong Families here.

    You end by writing:

    BOTH credit our help and support, and BOTH need our attention.

    This is exactly what I think, which lead me to wonder where you do disagree.

    Comment by JohnP — Wed 19th October 2005 @ 9:01 am

  3. I am a father who had to defend his children from their sarcastic and violent mother.
    With regards to violence I think I agree with most that has already been written, however our greatest ordeal was at the hands of the official and community groups that are meant to help in cases of domestic violence and child abuse.
    I can vouch that most are staffed by people who are guided by extreme anti-male doctrines. For instance even though I phoned police to a child abuse incident admitted by their mother, I was asked what I was doing to make her hurt the kids?
    There were many other daft events and claims, in the absence of evidence innuendo and sham evidence was created with a view to obtaining the children into their abusers custody. This indeed did occur only for my truth to be eventually proven. So I see two fronts of abuse for fathers. One is the abuse that happens at home, the other is the abuse from idealogically driven [anti-violence?] groups.
    My own assessment is that the latter is the worst, and the most corrupt.

    On the matter of protection orders, I did apply for a protection order on the children’s behalf, ex-pate because my wife had gone into a refuge where she naturally became the “victim”. Even though there was a sound record about her abuse of the children spanning years, my protection order application was turned down flat. It occurrs to me that different standards for granting protection orders are applied to male applicants than to female applicants.

    Comment by Alan — Thu 20th October 2005 @ 9:32 pm

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