FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Because the common belief is that men are rarely victims of family violence and abuse, when confronted with the evidence that males make up a significant percentage of victims, questions often arise as to the nature of male violence compared to female violence. Here we answer some of these questions, such as whether male violence is more severe or controlling, and whether female violence is more likely to be in self-defence. Because most research on this issue has focused on intimate partner violence rather than violence between other family members, the statistics and research findings on this page reflect this.

IS MEN’S INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE (IPV) MORE SEVERE, AND MORE LIKELY TO INFLICT SEVERE INJURY?

Download a fully referenced Fact Sheet (PDF) about this FAQ

International studies show that, on average

  • Overall, women are injured more than men, but men are injured too, and often seriously
     
  • The overall physical and psychological effects of IPV are similar for men and women
     
  • Women and men who use IPV hurt their partners in similar ways (kicking, biting, punching, choking, stabbing, burning, etc), however men are as likely or significantly more likely than women to experience assaults using a weapon
     
  • Male perpetrators are more likely to produce minor injuries, but less likely to produce severe injuries
     
  • Male victims are more likely to suffer serious injuries, while female victims are more likely to suffer minor injuries
     
  • Women are slightly more likely than men to seek medical treatment for their injuries
     
  • Men and women bear similar intentions when using IPV, leading to similar results when their average differences in physical strength are taken into account (such as when weapons are used)
     
  • Men, having greater strength on average, are more likely to use direct physical violence, while women are more likely to use a weapon to compensate for their lack of strength
     
  • Women are more likely than men to retaliate in response to IPV
     
  • Reducing women’s use of violence will reduce women’s rates of injury from violence because a woman’s perpetration of IPV is the strongest predictor of her being a victim*
     
  • Children witnessing IPV by either their fathers or their mothers are more likely to grow up to use violence themselves.

* While this may sound like ‘victim-blaming’, it is simply stating the research evidence finding that women who perpetrate violence suffer greater injuries than those who do not. If a woman hits her partner who then hits her back and injures her, both people are responsible for their own use of violence. Perpetrating violence is a risk factor for women's injury.

IS FOCUSING ON THE SEVERITY OF PHYSICAL INJURIES THE BEST APPROACH TO REDUCING VIOLENCE?

Download a fully referenced Fact Sheet (PDF) about this FAQ

  • If men are injured less than women, is this a reason to deny them protection?
     
  • Don’t all victims of IPV deserve protection, not just those who are physically injured?
     
  • Does only addressing the outcome of violence (physical injury) distract from addressing the whole process of violence which can include verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, and other forms of control and abuse?
     
  • Does a focus upon injury ignore the fact that people who use IPV do so to control their partner, not necessarily to injure them? In fact, control of one’s partner is often achieved without the use of violence.
     
  • Does a focus upon injury ignore the fact that victims of IPV are often hurt more by the violation of the bond of trust and love between them and their partner, than by the physical injury itself?
     
  • Does a focus upon injury in effect give a ‘hitting license’ to weaker partners, who may eventually be severely injured, should their stronger partner retaliate (regardless of the gender of the partners)?
I’ve put myself in my own prison because I don’t want to have any interaction with society any more. I feel too vile, too dirty, because the mainstream of society says this kind of behaviour from a woman is OK. Kevin

IS WOMEN’S INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE (IPV) MORE LIKELY TO BE SELF-DEFENCE OR A PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE AGAINST A VIOLENT MALE PARTNER?

Download a fully referenced Fact Sheet (PDF) about this FAQ

Although it cannot be denied that there are cases in which women and men abuse their partner in self-defence, international studies have found that

  • Self-defence is cited by women as the reason for their use of IPV (including severe violence such as homicide) in a small minority of cases (from 5 to 20 per cent)
     
  • In a study where self-defence was given as a reason for women’s use of IPV in a large number of cases (42%), it was cited as a reason for men’s IPV even more often (56%)
     
  • Rather than self-defence, reasons commonly given by both women and men for their use of IPV include
    • coercion (dominance and control)
    • anger
    • punishing a partner’s misbehaviour
    • jealousy
    • confusion
    • “to get through” (to one’s partner)
    • to retaliate
    • frustration
  • Rather than self-defence, reasons commonly given by women for their use of IPV include
    • disbelief that their male victims would be injured or retaliate
    • they wished to engage their partner’s attention (particularly emotionally)
    • their partner not being sensitive to their needs
    • their partner being verbally abusive to them
    • their partner not listening to them 
  • Reciprocal partner violence (which makes up approximately 50 per cent of all IPV and is the most injurious to women) does not appear to be only comprised of self-defensive acts of violence
     
  • Men and women initiate IPV (both minor and severe) at around the same rates and women are equally likely or more likely to perpetrate violence against a non-violent partner
     
  • Women are more likely than men to hit back in response to provocation
     
  • Women are more likely than men to kill their partner in self-defence, however overall, only 10 to 20 per cent of women’s partner homicides are carried out in self-defence or in response to prior abuse
     
  • Women’s use of IPV, rather than being reactive to male violence, is predictable by kindergarten age, and certainly by their teenage years. Aggressive girls grow up to be aggressive wives and mothers. High incidence rates of personality disorders are found in both male and female court-mandated samples of IPV perpetrators. Women who kill their husbands are just as likely to have criminal records as women who kill in other circumstances.

IS MEN’S VIOLENCE TOWARDS WOMEN MOST OFTEN AN ATTEMPT TO CONTROL, COERCE, HUMILIATE OR DOMINATE BY GENERATING FEAR AND INTIMIDATION, WHILE WOMEN’S INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE (IPV) IS MORE OFTEN AN EXPRESSION OF FRUSTRATION IN RESPONSE TO THEIR DEPENDENCE OR STRESS, OR THEIR REFUSAL TO ACCEPT A LESS POWERFUL POSITION?

Download a fully referenced Fact Sheet (PDF) about this FAQ

International studies show that,

  • Dominance by either partner is a risk factor for IPV (both minor and severe). It is the injustices and power struggles that are associated with inequality in relationships that give rise to violence, not just the inequality of male dominance
     
  • Empirical research on American couples has found that the vast majority of relationships involve equal power between partners. Relationships in which one partner is dominant are in the minority, and are just as likely to be female-dominant as male-dominant.
     
  • Egalitarian couples are the least violent, while both male and female dominance are associated with increased IPV
     
  • Both husbands and wives who are controlling are more likely to produce injury and  engage in repeated violence
     
  • Coercion (control and domination) is a frequently cited reason by women for their own use of IPV, and by male victims for their partner’s use of IPV
     
  • Even in research samples selected for high rates of male aggression (such as shelter samples), women sometimes report using comparative frequencies of controlling behaviour
     
  • Risk factors for IPV for both women and men include dominance, but also include youthfulness, self-defence, anger management; angry and antisocial personalities; alcohol and illicit drug use; conflict with partner; communication problems; criminal history; jealousy; negative attributions about the partner; partner abuse, sexual abuse and neglect histories; relationship satisfaction; stressful conditions; depression; traditional sex-role ideology and violence approval.
     
  • Factors associated with the use of controlling behaviours include socioeconomic status, ethnicity, education level, age and length of marriage (but not gender)
     
  • Female IPV is not a response to male aggression but, like male IPV, follows developmental trajectories including crystallising into personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Aggressive girls grow up to be aggressive adults (as do aggressive boys)
     
  • After analysing for verbal aggression, fear, violence and control by each gender, husbands are found to be no more controlling than wives. Men and women may differ in their methods of control, but not their motivation to control. Men are more likely to prevent their partner from knowing about or having access to family income even when they ask; and prevent their partner from working outside the home. Women are more likely to insist on knowing who their partner is with at all times; insist on changing residences even when their partner doesn’t want or need to; and try to limit their partner’s contact with family and friends. Relatively few men or women engage in any of these controlling behaviours.
     
  • Controlling behaviours exhibited by abusive women include
    • the use of threats and coercion (threatening to kill themselves or their husbands, threatening to call the police and have the husband falsely arrested, threatening to leave the husband)
    • emotional abuse (making the victim feel bad about himself, calling him names, making him think he is crazy, playing mind games, humiliating him, making him feel guilty)
    • intimidation (making him feel afraid by smashing things, destroying his property, abusing pets, displaying weapons)
    • blaming the men for their own abuse or minimising the abuse
    • using the court system to gain sole custody of the children or falsely obtain a restraining order against the victim
    • isolating the victim by keeping him away from his family and friends, using jealousy to justify these actions
    • controlling all of the money and not allowing the victim to see or use the chequebook or credit cards.
  • In a large recent Canadian study, victimisation by repeated, severe, fear-inducing, instrumental violence (often called intimate terrorism) was reported by 2.6% of men and 4.2% of women in the last five years. Equivalent injuries, use of medical services, and fear of the abuser were also discovered, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator and the victim.
My wife would not let me see the kids. She accused me of sexually molesting my daughter. I was devastated. After a Court hearing which lasted ten days, the judge found that my ex-wife herself had molested my daughter in an effort to generate evidence against me. Despite this, she was still allowed custody. George

DO MEN WHO ARE VIOLENT IN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS TYPICALLY UNDERREPORT THEIR VIOLENCE?

Download a fully referenced Fact Sheet (PDF) about this FAQ

International studies show that,

  • Both sexes tend to over-report minor acts of violence they commit, under-report serious acts they commit, and over-report serious acts they suffer
     
  • The same results are obtained regarding the relative frequency of men’s and women’s violence regardless of whether men or women are the ones being questioned.

ARE MALE VICTIMS OF INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE (IPV) FAR LESS LIKELY TO BE AFRAID OR INTIMIDATED THAN FEMALE VICTIMS?

Download a fully referenced Fact Sheet (PDF) about this FAQ

  • Males are taught by sex-role conditioning not to admit fear, making it appear that women are more fearful simply because they report fear more freely than men
     
  • Women and men have different perceptions of danger and use fear-scales quite differently. Women are twice as likely as men to fear death from a partner, when the actual probability of being killed is the same. Women may over-react to objective threat, while men probably under-react.
     
  • Women’s greater fear of male violence, where it exists, could also simply stem from the greater average size and strength of men, rather than from any difference in motives between men and women who use IPV.
     
  • Men have rarely had their fear of female violence and abuse assessed. One of the few studies to do this found that a substantial minority of male victims of IPV feared their partner’s violence and were stalked. Over half the men were fearful that their partners would cause them serious injury if they found out that he had called the domestic violence helpline.
     
  • Another such study of male victims of IPV found that “perpetual fear and being ‘on guard’ were experienced by most participants”. It is important to note that men's fear is often internalised and thus invisible to the outside observer.
     
  • There is little evidence to support the assertion that all male violence is designed to generate fear in women to enable coercion. In fact the data shows that both men and women have much more complex motives behind their use of IPV.