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June 04, 2013

Framing Reality

The Editorial Staff got to this remarkable excerpt via a post from Texan99:

As early as the 1980s, large-scale US research began to endorse Erin Pizzey’s view: women often initiated violence and could give as bad as they got. In Britain a big Home Office survey in 1995 found that 4.2 percent of men said they had been physically assaulted or injured by their partner within the last year – precisely the same figure as for women. A subsequent trawl through over eighty studies, mostly from America, came up with a similar verdict: there was little difference between men’s and women’s perpetration rates. Even so the terms ‘domestic violence’ and ‘wife battering’ continued to be used interchangeably. Again and again successive BCS and other surveys showed how strikingly the prevailing view was incomplete, yet still none of this made much impact on popular or political consciousness. When fifteen years of British findings were put together in 2012, they told an essentially consistent story: between 30 and 40 per cent of those assaulted were men and they suffered a quarter of all the attacks. Although in many cases neither men nor women reported injury or emotional effects, about one in ten in both genders had suffered bleeding or broken bones and 3 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women had attempted suicide.

Not that most men would confess how they were injured. Females are twice as likely as male partners to confide in a professional, five times more likely to tell a doctor or a nurse and three times as likely to go to the police. Bear with me on this because the women-as-victims view is so entrenched the evidence does need spelling out. And if anyone could still be unconvinced, the same pattern emerged more or less by accident from a landmark health investigation in New Zealand. In the early 1970s about a thousand children born in Dunedin’s Queen Mary Hospital were chosen for regular checks on their well-being as they grew up. The idea was to see if there were paediatric indicators of what would happen in later life. When the cohort reached the age of twenty-one, the researchers became interested in the relationships that were being formed, and were intrigued to find that violence between couples was quite common. What was even more surprising, and was crosschecked by interviewing partners separately, is that the women generally hit out first and ‘engaged in serious woman-to-man domestic abuse that was not explained by self-defence’. The researchers point out that because women are usually physically less powerful they tended to come off worse but ‘naively’ believed that if they hit their partner he would not hit back.

The Dunedin study shows, along with other studies, that women’s overall rates of partner violence perpetration are similar to those of men. This is not an isolated finding. Many studies have found that substantial numbers of women self-report abusive behaviours toward male partners, and epidemiological studies show that although males are more likely than females to engage in almost every type of violence, the single exception is family violence.

The fact that males as well as females are victims does not diminish the horror of domestic abuse, especially when it is repeated, severe and one-sided. Women do tend to come off worst, and a small proportion of them suffer relentlessly, staying out of low selfesteem or fear, out of stoicism or because, as more than one has told me, they find themselves ‘attracted to the rugged ones’. But we should not underestimate the extent of mutual aggression that takes place within the hurly-burly of mundane human discord. Nor should we forget the extent of emotional bullying, where the wounds don’t show, or the effect on children, with the demonstrable likelihood that they will grow up to be violent themselves. Mothers as well as fathers must take much of the blame. Incidentally, feminists, criminologists and journalists have paid scant attention to violence in same-sex relationships. Claire Turner, who founded a British support group after her female partner tried to strangle her, said:

You end up thinking that society will not think it serious enough because it was another woman who perpetrated the abuse. I did not report it. I really believed that women were great and incapable of being anything but nice to each other. But you come to realise that anybody in society has the potential to behave badly.

...So let’s now turn to the other crime with which women are almost exclusively identified as victims: rape. Here too we need to challenge assumptions while avoiding the flying fur which purports to be rational debate. Rape is one of the most violating crimes. Victims tend to feel dirty, embarrassed, wracked with revulsion and self-blame. And, since it almost always involves a male assailant, rape is one of the defining issues for radical feminism. But have the red mists of politics and emotion clouded reality here too?

Again we owe much to advances brought about by feminist campaigning. For centuries women were belittled and held responsible if they let themselves be ‘ruined’. Until quite recently it was perfectly acceptable for sons to sow wild oats while daughters’ purity had to be protected – and in some cultures that remains the case. Until at least the 1970s and ’80s the institutions of the state were steeped in prejudice. There was tactless condescension from judges and, as a seminal TV documentary showed with shocking candour in the 1980s, police officers sometimes treated rape complaints with crass insensitivity. There was a widely held assumption that victims had probably been asking for it or at least had rashly encouraged it. Conviction rates were said to be a risible 10 per cent.

Reforms in court procedure and changing public attitudes brought improvements to the way rape victims were treated in the 1990s. Several police forces set up dedicated sex crime facilities, with officers selected and trained for sensitivity; complainants were allowed anonymity when giving evidence in court; judges began to frown on cross-examinations which implied promiscuity. When that failed to raise conviction rates, England’s Solicitor General announced packages of targets and ‘guidelines’ for judges and juries which would shift the presumption of innocence towards a presumption of guilt. Yet conviction rates appeared to fall. The figure of 6 per cent was widely quoted in the media.

As so often, the politicians and the media misunderstood the problem. In this case they were suckers for politicised advice powered by a desire to push rape higher up the political agenda. On cool analysis it is not that prosecutions fail; they just don’t happen. So far as we can tell, roughly 4 per cent of women are raped at some point in their lives, some repeatedly, and about 0.6 per cent of women (and 0.1 per cent of men) are victims of rapes and other serious sexual assaults each year. Yet despite the fact that reporting rates have soared, fewer than 20 per cent go to the police. When they do, about a sixth of rape complaints are rejected (rightly or wrongly) by police as implausible, a third are abandoned for lack of evidence, and a third are dropped because the complainant withdraws. Bear in mind that some of the allegations are made weeks or even years after the event took place and the average rape case takes nearly two years to get to trial. Officers have sometimes pressured women to abandon complaints – if they have no crime it improves their detection rates – but there is no evidence that police fail to prioritise sex offences in general. In fact the detection rates for sex crimes are comparable with many other crimes including robbery, burglary and fraud. For rape specifically the conviction rate is around 33 per cent with a further 23 per cent of those accused found guilty of lesser charges such as sexual assault. The real issue is that hardly any rapes ever get before a jury in the first place.

Is that such a bad thing? The implicit assumption is that any woman who chooses not to pursue a claim is being let down by the state or is acting irrationally. But could it be that she is right? What if she feels partly responsible for what happened? What if she realises there is no evidence other than her word against his? What if her life is bound up with that of her assailant? What if she feels humiliated as well as violated? Should she be expected to disclose all this in public and then put her life on hold for the greater good? Do we want a justice system that overrides the victims’ sense of what is in their own best interests, or one that, in order to accommodate them, ceases to be just? Indeed, before we complain about the failure to get more convictions it might be sensible to ask women themselves whether a formal prosecution process is always the most rational way to deal with rape.

Homo sapiens is a narrative race: we like our facts to fit neatly into a story like framework that makes a profoundly messy reality appear linear and orderly. We construct templates and use them to organize information; snapping this usebit tidbit into the structure and discarding the puzzle pieces that don't fit as unimportant or irrelevant:

The notion of templates is an interesting metaphor for the value systems and lenses we use to evaluate ourselves and those around us. Templates can be as simple as a set of expectations - often other people's expectations - that prevent us from being satisfied when we get what we want (but what we want doesn't conform to someone else's idea of what we should want). This is the problem with viewing unequal results as prima facie evidence of social injustice: such a stance assumes that we all deserve the same outcome. More importantly, it assumes - incorrectly, as it turns out - that we all desire the same outcome...

It is farcical to insist that women be viewed as "equal" to men while buying into a narrative in which women (unlike their supposedly-equal counterparts) are always presumed to be the prey and never the predators.

Posted by Cassandra at June 4, 2013 08:46 AM

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Thanks for this. I started following the link from T99's piece and realized I'd like to read more of the argument in context. However, I ran out of time and patience before I go where you got. Can you post a link to the excerpt itself? Thanks. (If it's right in front of me and I can't see it, apologies.)

Posted by: Elise at June 4, 2013 09:57 AM

Sorry about that! I meant to link to the original piece but spaced out. Will get it up there shortly!

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2013 10:15 AM


Posted by: Elise at June 4, 2013 01:40 PM

Is this something that we once knew, and have suppressed? I am old enough so that I remember when housewives were often depicted with rolling pins -- and they were threatening to use them on their husbands, not dough.

And on the classier side of society, it was once widely accepted that a woman who felt she had been insulted had the right to slap a man -- hard. And that he couldn't retaliate, in any way.

I am not saying that either was routine, but that people -- men and women -- knew that they sometimes happened.

Posted by: Jim Miller at June 4, 2013 05:14 PM

Is this something that we once knew, and have suppressed? I am old enough so that I remember when housewives were often depicted with rolling pins -- and they were threatening to use them on their husbands, not dough. And on the classier side of society, it was once widely accepted that a woman who felt she had been insulted had the right to slap a man -- hard. And that he couldn't retaliate, in any way.

When my husband deployed for a long time, I used to watch a lot of old movies because the graphic violence in modern movies made me feel unsafe in my own home at night.

I was very surprised to note that in the older movies (40s era) women were slapping men left and right! In fact, a little slapping often preceded the smooching part.

I think you're dead on, Jim. That said, I haven't hit too many men.

I once gave a boy on the school bus a big bruise after he tried to grope me. It was the size of a dessert plate. After that, he was my biggest fan and never again got fresh with me :p A few years later in HS, he walked up to me one day in the hallway and announced that he and his friends had submitted my name for the homecoming Junior princess or some such nonsense.

You would have had to have known me back then to imagine my shock. I didn't really fit the mold, but it was a sweet gesture that I have never forgotten to this day :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 4, 2013 05:22 PM

I am old enough so that I remember when housewives were often depicted with rolling pins -- and they were threatening to use them on their husbands, not dough.

Apropos of which...

Posted by: Grim at June 4, 2013 05:33 PM

1. Family violence: Many older folks that have been paying attention are well aware that women probably do start marital violence much more often than is reported, but I still strongly believe young men need to be taught and conditioned to not respond in kind.
Plain fact is that men average about 50% more muscle, and absent weapons are usually able to inflict a lot of damage very quickly if they lose their temper. The reverse is less likely.

2. The rape issue is a bitch, and I don't think there is any simple solution. Absent physical evidence (rape kit, other DNA, injuries) a rape prosecution will inevitably often come down to the 'he said, she said,' leaving a jury to decide whether the woman is sufficiently more compelling as a witness to attain the required level of 'proof;' beyond a reasonable doubt.
Kinda hate to say it out loud, but it seems obvious to me that a woman would be wise to not agree to be with a not yet trusted man in too private a setting.
The predatory behavior by some women (small few, I very much hope) wrt rape is he false charge. A charge of rape ruins a man's reputation, even if he is found 'not guilty.'
I genuinely fear that lefties will wind up making consent forms necessary for sex.

Very Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 4, 2013 09:43 PM

Plain fact is that men average about 50% more muscle, and absent weapons are usually able to inflict a lot of damage very quickly if they lose their temper. The reverse is less likely.

I always wonder when this issue comes up (female on male domestic violence) if they're just counting number of blows or if they're actually including the amount of damage inflicted. Colaguy has six inches and over a hundred pounds on me; if I hit him as hard as I could, I might leave a nasty bruise, whereas if he hit me as hard as he could, I'd be in the hospital. No question. Obviously weapons change things (e.g. the rolling pin mentioned before or, say, a cast-iron skillet), but still...

Regarding the rape issue...If I were ever raped (god forbid), unless it was a straight-forward "jump-out-of-the-bushes" type assault, I would think very, very hard before going to the police, and in the end, I suspect I probably wouldn't. I can't imagine wanting to put myself through such a grueling experience, after such a horrific event, for a result that would be a crapshoot at best. Based on the stories of which I'm aware, most women who have been raped don't report it, and of those that do--again, just based on incidents of which I'm aware, reporting it just doesn't seem to work. My cousin was roofied by two guys she met in a bar and dumped off naked and unconscious by the side of the road. They never caught the guys and she ended up moving to Arizona. It's a lousy system, but I just don't know how it can be made better.

Posted by: colagirl at June 5, 2013 10:12 AM