Husband Abuse: Fact or Fiction?

Article excerpt

During the last thirty years, ideologies, theories and policies relating to domestic violence have changed radically. As a result of this, community concern and state policies shifted considerably towards protecting and supporting abused wives. Although this shift was justified by the extreme severity of the problem and the relative inadequacy of relevant policies of the past to address wife abuse effectively, it nevertheless led to a partial neglect of other types of domestic violence. Particularly wife-to-husband abuse has been totally ignored and neglected, and even taken to be the fault of the victim. This paper explores the status of husband abuse, by re-assessing relevant trends and developments in Australia and other countries, and presents a review of empirical evidence which shows that husband abuse is more common and more serious than it is generally believed to be, and that it is the task of the government to address spouse abuse by means of policies and practices which are free from a sexist bias.

Introduction

Over the past thirty years, community response to wife abuse resulted in radical changes in the perception and treatment of domestic violence. The tireless efforts of many feminists and other activists to highlight the severity of wife abuse brought domestic violence under the microscope of public scrutiny, re-defined `normalities' in dyadic relationships, exposed injustices, initiated reforms, instituted a pro-victim and pro-women culture, and set in place policies and practices which offered a more constructive solution to the problem of wife abuse and a relatively safer place for women to live in.

Although these changes improved significantly the status of women, and civilised interpersonal relationships in dyadic systems, they also led to a feminisation of spouse abuse and of domestic violence in general, and to an invisibility of husband abuse. This was accompanied by a marked shift of relevant policies from a pro-husband to a pro-wife position, a bias in favour of abused wives and against abused husbands (who are being ignored and disbelieved), and a new philosophy which equates spouse abuse (and domestic violence in general) with wife abuse, where husbands are the primary perpetrators and wives the primary victims (Adams, 1988:191; Grace, 1995:3; Kurz, 1993:88, 99; Saunders, 1988: 90; Seth-Perdie, 1996; Thorpe and Irwin, 1996:6).

Kurz (1993) epitomised this attitude to domestic violence (and through this to abused husbands) in statements such as `only violence against women should be evaluated as a social problem requiring concern and social intervention' (reported in Gelles and Loseke, 1993:63); or `only men can be perpetrators of violence' (Kurz, 1993:88); or `women are typically victims and not perpetrators of violence in intimate relationships' (Kurz, 1993:99). This is not a single voice but rather a common belief shared by the vast majority of those dealing with domestic violence (see eg Dobash and Donash, 1979; Schechter, 1982; and Tierney, 1982), and a principle that is widespread among most current writers on this subject.

Domestic violence is generally seen as a manifestation of patriarchal values; or a symptom of a social structure which is predominantly patriarchal and embedded in stereotyped male and female gender roles (Seth-Perdie, 1996) and of male supremacy (McGregor, 1990; Lazarus and McCarthy, 1990); a tool in the hands of men which is used `to control female intimates' (Kurz, 1993:90) and not the result of individual failings of the relationship. It is an expression of male power that is used by men to reproduce and maintain their relative superiority and authority over women (Adler, 1992:269), which is encouraged and expected by the society (Hopkins and McGregor, 1991); and a reflection of system rules which assign men the right to own and control women (OSW, 1991:7), and a by-product of the system that holds women subordinate and oppressed (OSW, 1992:5). …