Monday 20 June 2016

Intimate violence

My first contact with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, was when I heard of a researcher there who had attempted to correct the meme “More Vietnam vets died of suicide than died in Vietnam” by showing that the original calculation was a projection based on early results which turned out to be wrong: Vietnam vets showed a high rate mostly because they were young men, and pretty soon as they aged the suicide rates were no different from men in the general population. I do not know what became of the researcher, but I fear he battles on in retirement, writing to journalists every time the mistaken calculation is repeated. If you know him, send him my regards.

The CDC has now done work on intimate violence, and also published the results by sexual orientation, results I quoted when discussing the case of a lesbian couple who murdered the son of one of the pair, but it has wider relevance, including for the massacre in a gay club in Orlando.

Here are the summary results:

Violence by sexual orientation of partner

On its own the table tells a particular story: bisexual women experience lots of violence, as do lesbians, then to a lesser extent bisexual men, male and female heterosexuals, and least so gay men. As a reality check, this measurement technique puts the lifetime prevalence of violence for heterosexual women at 35% which is very high, in my view. The publication gives the results under the different categories of violence, and severe violence is rare.

That is the snapshot of the victims, but the perpetrator profile is almost universally male, with the exception of lesbian couples.

Among women who experienced  rape, physical violence, and/or stalking in the context of an intimate relationship, the majority of bisexual and heterosexual women (89.5% and 98.7%, respectively) reported only male perpetrators (data not shown). More than two-thirds of lesbian women (67.4%) identified only female perpetrators.

One interpretation is that lesbians are masculinized women and therefore violent; homosexuals are feminized men and therefore docile.

Now a gripe about how CDC present their data: clunky, pedestrian, and confusing. The first impression is that the partners did the aggressing, and one has to look at the data in more detail to find that in bisexual couples, for example, it is mostly the men who have been violent. What I want to see is on the left hand side of the picture the violence experienced, and the male/female perpetrator rate on the right hand side. This approach has been used in opinion polls to simultaneously show how each sector of the population intends to vote (left hand side) and how likely they are to vote at all (right hand side), with a ribbon connecting each.

In general men are more violent than women. In intimate relationships most of the violence comes from men. The exception is lesbians, who are responsible for two thirds of the violence they experience, the final third coming from men. Gay men, who on the grounds of being male ought to be very violent to each other are the least violent pairing. Lesbians as masculine women and gays as feminised men is one possible interpretation.






  1. As ever, I suppose we must begin with "How do they know?"

    1. Nationally representative sample National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, telephone interviews.

    2. In other words, they don't know. All they have is people spouting off. Not actual evidence e.g. from E & A wards. Not even (I assume) evidence of complaints to the police or the like. Just spouting.

  2. "Gay men, who on the grounds of being male ought to be very violent to each other are the least violent pairing. Lesbians as masculine women and gays as feminised men is one possible interpretation.".

    Then there is the finding from multiple studies that females more often use violence in relationships than males - and the primary predictor of Injury to a female is her own use of aggression and violence.

    1. Sex differences in the behaviour, as I recall, women using aggressive language, throwing objects, men doing more actual first hand physical violence.

    2. However, throwing objects is violence. The choice of form, is more a question of perception of impact. That I choose to throw or hit, does not alter violence, or intent.

  3. You might want to check out Martin Fiebert's famous bibliography: REFERENCES EXAMINING ASSAULTS BY WOMEN ON THEIR SPOUSES OR MALE PARTNERS

    SUMMARY: This bibliography examines 286 scholarly investigations: 221 empirical studies and 65 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 371,600