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Stat Wars: The Rerelease

"Equity feminists" accuse "gender feminists" of manipulating statistics to make it seem like a scary world out there for women

By Ami Chen Mills

In Christina Hoff Sommers' book, Who Stole Feminism, and in others like The New Victorians and The Myth of Male Power, authors question the extent of a "male conspiracy" to subjugate women. Statistics are the subject of intense controversy. According to Sommers, highly publicized stats on rape and domestic violence are inflated, misleading and often just wrong. "If you come up with high figures of victimization, you are quoted in the media, you are granted funding for research," she says, "and a divisive, radical feminist ideology is finding its way into public policy."

The following are some popularly disseminated statistical myths and facts about men, women and violence.

Fact: Women are six times more likely than men to experience and report violence committed by an intimate, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Researcher Richard Gelles describes this ratio as a "rate of injury," meaning that women are six times more likely to be injured by men. An important contextual point for all statistics is that men do more physical damage in general.

Fact: When women are killed or assaulted, they are more likely to be killed or assaulted by a partner or someone they know than by a stranger. Men, however, are more likely to be victimized by a stranger--more than twice as likely.

Fact: Nearly 90 percent of all reported domestic violence crimes are committed by men against women.

Myths: A woman is battered every nine seconds, and three to four million women are battered each year by their husbands or partners.

These stats are widely quoted by domestic violence advocates. According to the BJS, roughly 1 million women are "violently victimized" by an intimate each year. This number includes a large proportion of "threats" and "attempts," considered crimes by the BJS. According to BJS stats, then, a woman is "violently victimized" by an intimate approximately once every 31 seconds. Gelles, however, maintains that the "most righteous" figure, according to his research, is that a woman "experiences severe violence" once every 15 seconds.

Fact: Gelles maintains that in approximately one quarter of violent households, the woman is the sole batterer. In one quarter, the man is. And in half the households, both genders are violent. Researcher Murray Straus finds that the ratio of woman-to-man assaults and man-to-woman assaults is roughly equal; the assault rate for women is "slightly higher" than that for men.

Myth: "Rule of thumb" is a phrase which comes from an old English law that a man was permitted to beat his wife with a stick no larger than his thumb. Sommers researched this phrase--used by advocates to prove the point that women historically have been victims of violence by men--and traced it three centuries back to woodworkers who used their thumbs to eyeball measurements.

Myth: When men kill their wives, they serve an average of five years in prison. When women kill their husbands, they serve an average of 15 years in prison. This stat is widely quoted by Santa Clara County advocates who sometimes say that women serve an average of 25 years, men five. According to the BJS, the average prison sentence for a man who kills his wife is 17.5 years and for a woman who kills her husband, 6.2 years. Women defendants in spousal murder cases are also more likely to have their cases dismissed and to be acquitted.

Myth: There is no profile of a battered woman. Although women of all income levels and races are vulnerable to battery, women with family incomes of less than $10,000 are four times more likely to suffer abuse by intimates than women with family incomes of $50,000 or more. Also, women between the ages of 19 and 29 are more likely than other women to become victims of intimate violence.

Fact: There are two female victims for every three male victims of violent crime.

Fact: A man is the victim of violence every 4.7 seconds.

Fact: Men in most countries are drafted by military forces to perform violent acts and to murder and become the victims of violence and murder--mostly by other men, but often against their will.

The Duluth model batterers' programs for the Marine Corps raise an interesting question: If we, as a society, support men to kill and be killed in the military, how can we simultaneously train them to reject male violence? According to Duluth trainer Bob Brenning, "We teach them that there's a time for killing, but at the end of the day, that's over. And then they have to have equity with their partner. We tell them that's what the Marines want them to do."

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From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro

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