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'Battered Men' Syndrome Is a Myth : Abuse: While there are husbands who are victims, the claims of huge numbers are based on faulty research.

July 03, 1994|MILDRED DALEY PAGELOW | Mildred Daley Pagelow, an adjunct research professor of sociology at Cal State University, Fullerton, has studied woman-battering and other forms of violence in the family for 18 years. She is the author of "Woman-Battering: Victims and Their Experiences" (Sage Publishers, 1981) and "Family Violence" (Praeger, 1984)

Once again, the myth of the "battered husband syndrome" has generated confusion in the minds of the public confronted by the news that a national sports hero had battered and terrorized his wife over a span of years. O.J. Simpson himself raised the issue when he stated in his "farewell" letter, "At times I have felt like a battered husband or boyfriend, but I loved her."

When the issue of husband-battering was first raised in a 1977 professional paper, the media sensationalized it, because the idea of men suffering abuse at the hands of "the little woman" is contrary to role expectations. Now, some writers have again taken hold of that notion to claim that "domestic violence is the responsibility of both men and women," similar to earlier claims that rape was the responsibility of the victim as well as the perpetrator. In capsule form, here is a summary of what is known and accepted as fact by the vast majority of researchers, scholars and professionals in the field:

* Criminal justice statistics (the latest from 1992) consistently show that about 90% of the perpetrators of violent crimes are men. Women convicted of violent crimes are frequently those who aided and abetted male partners.

* Scientific research and public agencies (such as the Department of Justice) have concluded that 95% of victims of domestic violence are female.

* About two-thirds of spousal homicides are committed by husbands, (according to sociological studies). Researchers have found "when women kill, they are far more likely than men to be responding to, rather than initiating, violence."

* Extensive analysis of child-abuse studies and statistics for my book "Family Violence" shows that men are the primary physical abusers of children; women are the primary physical neglectors of children.

* Analysis of the original claims raised in 1977 revealed that they were based on evidence taken out of context; data were added, altered or eliminated, and generalizations were introduced as fact. (Among the author's more frivolous examples of "battered husbands" were comic strip characters from "Maggie and Jiggs" and the "Katzenjammer Kids.") In the 17 years since that claim was made, not one study has used a scientific sample of battered husbands as has been done in studies of battered wives.

Some of the claims made in 1977 were based in large part on a research instrument that was unable to support them because it only counted numbers of acts reported by men and women not married to each other, but failed to measure the context in which they occurred: There were no data about who struck the first blows, whether they were in self-defense, nor the damage inflicted. There were other serious defects in the questionnaire that have been soundly denounced by many researchers in this country and abroad. All other research using this flawed research produces equally misleading conclusions.

This is not meant to be an indictment of all men, but only to set the record straight about misleading information being spread in the aftermath of the tragic death of Nicole Simpson. Many men are gentle, kind and loving to the women in their lives. To these men, loving does not mean possession, domination and control. Indeed, some men are victims of their wives' violence. These men also deserve to live lives free of pain and abuse. However, there is a difference in the amount of terror and intimidation they suffer, and they usually know that they can walk out the door without being physically restrained.

Although there has not been a single scientific study of a sample of battered husbands, there have been a multitude of studies on wives who fight back. Almost without exception, researchers found extreme differences in the amount, type and severity of violence used by men and women. Not only are wives more seriously injured than husbands, wives less frequently use severe violence. Men usually initiate the violence and are more likely to engage in multiple assaults. Validity checks of self-reports found that women tend to exaggerate their own acts of violence while men tend to minimize theirs and blame factors other than themselves.

The overwhelming evidence suggests that women who fight back do so for purposes of self-defense. It is long past time that the pseudo-issue of the "'battered husband syndrome" be laid to rest.

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