Violence by Women

I am 32 years old and live in the southeast part of the United States. I am a victim of domestic family violence. I know that it seems like most cases are the man abusing the woman, but in my case it’s the other way around. The violence has been going on for 2 1/2 years, till I finally called the police on my wife. I didn’t know what else to do; she was getting worse and worse. Many times my wife would use harsh words, and profanity towards me with our child standing right next to me. She would often tell me

to get out of the house, and go f_myself. She would get angry and throw fits, and 30

to 45 minutes later she would say that she was sorry, and that she loved me. She told me that it will not happen again, but this continued to be a daily thing for her. It got so bad that she started hitting me, and even at times when I was holding our 2 yr. old son. Men are often mistreated by women like in my case, but everyone always points to the man to blame. That is not always the case. Many women like my wife who knows that I will not hit or harm her, take advantage of the situation.

Emails and letters like the one above show up on a fairly regular basis in the mailboxes of researchers who study IPV and include examinations of female-to-male violence in their books and articles. While bidirectional or mutual violence remains below the radar screen in the field of IPV, unidirectional IPV by women remains an extremely controversial topic. In Chapter 2 I briefly discussed how contentious the issue of female-to-male violence is as a topic. Both Suzanne Steinmetz and Murray Straus actually received death threats in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of their public presentations and professional publications on the topic of female-to- male violence. The fervor has not died down. At the time of this writing, a blast email went out soliciting papers for a special issue of The Journal of Family Violence. The title of the special issue is “Current Controversies Over Gender Differences in Perpetration of Physical Partner Violence.” That such a special issue is planned is not a great surprise, but the response to the call for papers revealed that the issue of violence by women and mutual violence remains a controversial topic. Among the online responses to the call for papers was the following:

... Funny for two reasons, he doesn’t name the guest editor(s) which, I bet, means its one of the FR [Father’s rights] nuts I met at the SD [San Diego] Conference. . I wouldn’t go near this with a pole (unless they asked me for something and guaranteed publication). Also, for me, this issue is resolved and I see no reason to continue to hash it out in public.

It is not clear what the writer meant by “this issue is resolved.” As we noted earlier, the reaction to the first papers and presentations on violence toward men was that no such behavior existed. A second response was a methodological critique of the method Straus and his colleagues (Straus, 1979; Straus, Gelles & Steinmetz, 1980) used to measure IPV. The main measure was an instrument titled the “Conflict Tactics Scales” (CTS) (Straus, 1979). The critics pointed out that the initial version of the CTS did not measure outcome—what was the consequence of the violent act—and also failed to measure who initiated the violence (Loseke & Kurz, 2005; Kurz, 1993). Failing to measure consequences meant that those who used the CTS could not know whether female-to-male violence was as injurious as male-to-female violence was. The assumption of the critics was that men did far more damage when they used violence than did women. Failing to assess who initiated the violence, the critics pointed out, meant that using the CTS to measure IPV obscured women’s predominant use of violence as a selfdefense mechanism.

In later applications of the CTS, Straus and his colleagues (Straus, 1993, 2005; Gelles & Straus, 1988) added questions to the interview schedule on outcome and sequence of events in the course of a violent incident. Straus (2005, 2011) rebutted criticism of the CTS and demonstrated that, in terms of injury, men do cause more injuries than women do. In terms of initiating violence, men and women initiate violence at about the same rates.

Given the quick and sardonic reaction to a simple call for papers, it is clear the controversy and issue are not at all resolved.


We need to point out an important caveat when presenting data on both the extent of female-to-male violence as well as the risk factors. There are three types of IPV: (1) Male-to-female only; (2) Female-to-male only; and (3) Bidirectional.

Very few of the articles that examine the rate of IPV break the data down into rates by each of the three forms of IPV. Most analyses of male-to-female violence presented in Chapter 4 combine male-to-female violence only with bidirectional violence. Similarly, in the discussion that follows, data on female perpetrators and the rate of perpetration include unidirectional and bidirectional violence. When the analysis differentiates between unidirectional and bidirectional violence, we will specifically make note of that.

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