A review of the research literature indicates that female intimate partner violence (IPV) is a frequent as male IPV. It is just as severe and has much the same consequences for males as for females. Despite these findings, criminal justice intervention and custody evaluation operate from the unwarranted assumption that males are the greater risk for IPV perpetration.
Keywords: females as perpetrators, males as victims, intimate partner violence
Research data contradicting the feminist view of intimate partner violence (IPV)--exclusively male perpetrators and female victims--have been available since 1980. Stets and Straus (1992) reported data from the 1985 United States National Survey on the incidence of abuse showing that 45 percent of abuse reports were bilateral (corrected for level of severity) and, of the rest, women were three times as likely as males to use severe violence against a non-violent or minimally violent partner. Dutton (1994) reviewed data patterns inconsistent with feminist theory, including higher rates of IPV in lesbian relationships compared to heterosexual relationships, the absence of a direct relationship between power and violence in couples, and a small number of men who used severe violence unilaterally.
As new incidence data were collected, they became more troubling for feminist theory (Dutton 2006; Dutton & Nicholls, 2005). These included data from the United States National Surveys of 1975 and 1985 showing women to be as violent as males. However, female violence rates have been portrayed as indications of self-defensive behavior, as less serious, or as a result of reporting differences. In fact, they are equivalent or exceed males' rates, they include female violence against non-violent males, and they have serious consequences for males. A large meta-analytic study reviewed below (Archer, 2000) found male and female IPV to be best represented as overlapping skewed distributions. Females were injured more often than males, but by only .083 of a standard deviation from the mean.
New Studies of Dating Aggression
New data from dating violence studies are remarkably consistent with the adult partner abuse literature. Watson and colleagues sampled 475 high school students (266 males and 209 females) from a large, metropolitan area on Long Island, New York (Watson, Cascardi, Avery-Leaf, & O'Leary, 2001). Using a modified Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), of students with past or current romantic relationships (N = 401), 45.6 percent reported at least one incident of physical aggression by their current or former partners, but just 9 percent reported exclusive victimization (that is, they had been a victim but not a perpetrator of physical aggression). Using a measure they developed, Watson and colleagues also studied gender differences in response to aggression by a dating partner. Female students were significantly more likely than male students to report an aggressive response. Specifically, girls were significantly more likely (42%) to fight back than boys (26%). Male students (24%) were more likely than female students (6%) to do nothing in response to abuse by a partner. There was also a trend for female students (28%) to be more likely to report breaking up with an abusive partner compared to male students (21%).
Follingstad et al. (2002) conducted a particularly well-designed study of dating violence. They developed a structural equation model, which delineates primary and moderator variables, to best relate psychological etiology and dating violence in a sample of 412 college students. Since the authors assessed both members of the couple, individual characteristics could be statistically connected to couple variables. They also used subjects with a history of IPV (30%) and a subsample of those without such a history (about 15%). Psychological variables measured included anxious attachment and angry temperament. …