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"Gender Symmetry" in Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 8 Issue: 11 Dated: November 2002 Pages: 1332-1363
Michael S. Kimmel
Date Published
November 2002
32 pages
Some empirical studies have suggested that rates of domestic violence by women and men are equivalent; this article explores these claims of "gender symmetry" in intimate partners' use of violence by reviewing the empirical foundations of the research and critiquing existing sources of data on domestic violence.
Despite numerous studies that report the preponderance of domestic violence to be perpetrated by men against women, there are also currently more than 100 empirical studies or reports that suggest rates of domestic violence are equivalent for men and women. The two large-scale reviews of literature that show "gender symmetry" in domestic violence are useful indicators of the types of evidence offered and arguments made by their proponents (Archer, 2000; Fiebert, 1997). Of the 79 empirical studies that Fiebert reviewed, 55 used the same empirical measure of family conflict, i.e., the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) as the sole measure of domestic violence. The CTS was also used in 76 out of the 82 studies that Archer examined. In addition, 28 of the studies noted by Fiebert discussed samples composed entirely of single people younger than 30, and not married couples. This article discusses the characteristics of the CTS in some depth and explains why studies of college-age and young dating couples yield different rates of violence and aggression than studies of somewhat older married couples. Based on this analysis, the author concludes that violence as an expression of family conflict is somewhat less than symmetrical, but would include a significant percentage of women. He hypothesizes that including assaults and homicide by ex-spouses, spousal homicide, and sexual assault, the gendered ratio of male-perpetrated violence to female-perpetrated violence would be closer to 4:1. On the other hand, violence that is instrumental in the maintenance of control -- the more systematic, persistent, and injurious type of violence -- is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, with rates captured best by crime victimization studies. More than 90 percent of this violence is perpetrated by men. When sexual violence and violence by ex-spouses are considered, the evidence is overwhelming that gender asymmetry in domestic violence remains in full effect. 4 notes and 94 references