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Controversy Over Domestic Violence by Women: A Methodological, Theoretical, and Sociology of Science Analysis

NCJ Number
Murray A. Straus
Date Published
32 pages
This analysis of domestic violence committed by women and men examines the source of discrepancies between more than 100 family conflict studies and the fewer crime studies, examines theoretical issues related to explaining the high rate of domestic assaults by women, and discusses why controversy persists despite the data.
Family conflict studies all reveal about equal rates of assault by men and women, whereas crime studies all reveal much higher rates of assault by men. Crime studies also reveal a prevalence rate for both men and women that is a small fraction of the rate of assaults revealed by family conflict studies. The explanations for the discrepancies suggest that the findings from the two types of studies apply to different groups of people and reflect different aspects of domestic assault. Most violence revealed by surveys of family problems is relatively minor and infrequent, whereas a large portion of the violence in crime studies and clinical studies is chronic and severe and often involves injuries that need medical attention. These two types of violence probably have a different etiology and probably require a different type of intervention. Variables hypothesized to inhibit physical assaults by women outside the family and variables hypothesized to facilitate physical assaults within the family by women relate to gender differences in rules for violence, size and strength differences, the source of personal identity, criminal justice system involvement, and others. Finally, whether a definition of violence is broad or narrow helps explain the continuing controversy regarding gender issues and violence. Tables, attached background information, and 67 references