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Mr. Dad: Partner violence goes both directions

Dear Mr. Dad: My 16-year old son has been coming home with bruises on his face and arms. At first, I assumed they were from sports. But when I asked, he got very embarrassed and refused to talk about it.

Thinking maybe he was getting bullied at school, I pushed the issue and eventually he told me that his girlfriend was hitting him. I’ve never heard of a girl beating up a guy before. How common is this?

A: Sadly, it’s incredibly common – far more than most people would like to admit. If you look at official statistics you’ll find that nearly all the perpetrators of domestic violence are male.

Unfortunately, official statistics don’t reflect reality. Men almost never admit to being the victim of any crime at all, much less a violent one committed by a woman.

Violence by women against men is generally ignored or seen as funny. Just think of all the movies and TV shows where a woman slaps, kicks or punches a man. The reaction? Laughter, applause, cheers. So what are the real statistics? According to Murray A. Strauss, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, intimate partner violence (violence by people in relationships) is far from one-sided.

In most violent relationships, physical aggression is mutual, with both sides swinging at each other. But when violence is initiated by one person only, it’s usually the woman.

Strauss is no crank. He’s been researching and writing about relationship violence for decades. And he’s far from alone. Dozens of other researchers have also found that females are at least as violent as males.

Critics say that even if that’s true, men do more damage than women. But the research shows that men tend to use their hands while women use weapons. So why have male victims and female perpetrators been ignored? In part, it’s because there’s a societal belief that women just aren’t capable of violence. There’s also a knee-jerk reaction to female-on-male violence: the guy deserves it. ABC news did a segment that explored how people react when seeing a woman abusing a man in public. Go to YouTube and enter “reaction to women abusing men in public.” I think (and hope) that you’ll be shocked.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the problem is going away anytime soon. We keep talking about “violence against women” as if it’s the only kind of violence out there.

As a result, very few female offenders will get the treatment they need and even fewer male victims will get the support they and their children need.

We need to decide that violence – not just violence by men – is a problem. Then, and only then, will we be able to solve it.

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