Abused Women or Abused Men? an Examination of the Context and Outcomes of Dating Violence

Article excerpt

The present study examines the controversial issue of whether women and men are equally abused in dating relationships. Undergraduate and graduate students (n = 874) completed a survey about their experiences and perpetration of psychological, sexual, and physical aggression within dating relationships. To enable a more contextualized understanding of these phenomena, motives for and outcomes of dating violence were also assessed. Women and men reported comparable amounts of overall aggression from dating partners, but differed in the types of violence experienced. Women were more likely to experience sexual victimization, whereas men were more often the victims of psychological aggression; rates of physical violence were similar across genders. Contrary to hypotheses, women were not more likely to use physical violence in self-defense than men. However, although both genders experienced similar amounts of aggressive acts from dating partners, the impact of such violence is more severe for women than men.

Since the early 1980s, research has made it increasingly clear that violence in intimate relationships is not limited to married couples. Although prevalence rates vary considerably depending on how intimate violence is defined and measured, approximately one-third of those who date use or experience physical aggression within the context of their dating relationships (Sugarman & Hotaling, 1989). One of the most heated debates that has risen out of this research pertains to gender differences in rates of dating violence perpetration and victimization. Specifically, significant controversy exists about whether women and men are equally abused by and abusive toward their dating partners.

Research has indicated that women are more likely to report perpetrating (e.g., Follingstad, Wright, Lloyd, & Sebastian, 1991; Foshee, 1996; Pedersen & Thomas, 1992; Stets & Henderson, 1991) and men are more likely to report experiencing (e.g., Pedersen & Thomas, 1992; Stets & Henderson, 1991) physical violence in dating relationships. However, studies have also found that men and women do not differ on rates of physical aggression used or experienced (e.g., Makepeace, 1986; White & Koss, 1991) and that women are the primary victims of physical aggression in dating relationships (e.g., Follingstad et al., 1991; Stets & Pirog-Good, 1987). On the whole, however, the research findings have generally been considered to indicate that women are at least equally as likely to use physical aggression toward dating partners as men and, thus, that women and men are equally abusive.

Feminists and woman abuse researchers have contested this conclusion on several grounds. The vast majority of research on this issue has utilized variations of the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS; Straus, 1979) or similar instruments that simply tally up the types of physical aggression used or experienced, but fail to consider the context in which violence occurs or the consequences it has for those who experience it. Critics have suggested that although women and men may commit similar amounts of violent acts, women suffer more damage and are more likely to engage in physical aggression for purposes of self-defense (e.g., Currie, 1998; DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 1998). The failure to consider these issues can foster a decontextualized and, thus, distorted understanding of violence within intimate relationships. Although many have argued these points on purely ideological grounds, some relevant empirical evidence does exist.

Research examining gender differences in motives for using physical aggression has yielded mixed results. Some data demonstrate that women are more likely than men to use physical aggression for self-defensive purposes among high school students (Foshee, 1996), college students (Makepeace, 1986), a shelter-based sample of battered women (Saunders, 1986), and physically violent couples in marital treatment (Cascardi & Vivian, 1995). …