Know this upfront: I don’t condone or make excuses for anyone committing domestic violence. However, the NFL has, in response to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, instituted a zero tolerance policy of sorts for these kinds of offenses. ESPN reports that “[t]he NFL is immediately implementing a sweeping domestic violence initiative under its personal conduct policy that calls for a six-game suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban from the league for a second offense.” Needless to say, I’m not a fan of zero tolerance policies. They bind the hands of better judgement, and often impose sanctions on people which everyone knows wasn’t the intent of the policy.
My biggest concern with this announcement is that it unduly perpetuates the myth that men are always, or at least most often to blame for cases of domestic violence. After all, when we think of domestic violence, what do we picture? Me too. But maybe that’s too hasty of an image. As it turns out, women are just as likely to initiate and participate in physical attacks in relationships where there is violence. Moreover, when there is only one person committing the violence in the relationship, nearly 70% of the time it’s the woman.
(ScienceDaily) — The [University of Washington] study also found no independent link between an individual’s use of alcohol or drugs and committing domestic violence. In addition it showed that nearly twice as many women as men said they perpetrated domestic violence in the past year including kicking, biting or punching their partner, threatening to hit or throw something at their partner, and pushing, grabbing or shoving their partner.
(University of Florida) – In a survey of 2,500 students at UF and the University of South Carolina between August and December 2005, more than a quarter (29 percent) reported physically assaulting their dates and 22 percent reported being the victims of attacks during the past year. Thirty-two percent of women reported being the perpetrators of this violence, compared with 24 percent of men. The students took selected liberal arts and sciences courses. Forty percent were men and 60 percent were women, reflecting the gender composition of these classes.
(American Journal of Public Health) — Almost 24% of all relationships had some violence, and half (49.7%) of those were reciprocally violent. In nonreciprocally violent relationships, women were the perpetrators in more than 70% of the cases. Reciprocity was associated with more frequent violence among women (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=2.3; 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.9, 2.8), but not men (AOR=1.26; 95% CI=0.9, 1.7). Regarding injury, men were more likely to inflict injury than were women (AOR=1.3; 95% CI=1.1, 1.5), and reciprocal intimate partner violence was associated with greater injury than was nonreciprocal intimate partner violence regardless of the gender of the perpetrator (AOR=4.4; 95% CI=3.6, 5.5).
(Baltimore Sun) — Men are often the victims of their girlfriends or wives. Ned Holstein and Glenn Sacks (“The violence we ignore,” July 16, 2009) cite a 2007 Harvard study that says, “according to both men’s and women’s accounts, 50 percent of the violence in their relationship was reciprocal (involving both parties). In those cases, the women were more likely to have been the first to strike.”
The article continues: “Moreover, when the violence was one-sided, both women and men said that women were the perpetrators about 70 percent of the time.”
While it’s laudable that the NFL would make an attempt to recognize and address the issue of domestic violence, it helps paint a somewhat inaccurate picture. An important question to ask is how we’ve come to hold the misperception that women are nearly always the victim.