Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Beyond the Conflict Tactics Scale: Assessing Gender Differences in Partner Violence

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Beyond the Conflict Tactics Scale: Assessing Gender Differences in Partner Violence

Article excerpt

Previous studies of partner assault, particularly those using the Conflict Tactics Scales, have produced the controversial finding that women are as likely to assault their partners as are men. Such findings are clearly at odds with medical, legal, and social service agencies which find that women are far more often the victims of partner assault. Self-reported data from a national sample of young adults were used to determine the extent to which this apparent discrepancy could be reconciled. Results confirm previous findings of extensive violence by women, with little evidence of systematic over- or underreporting by either men or women. However, although both men and women engaged in frequent minor assaults, men were more likely than women to repeatedly beat their partner during the course of a year. In addition, women were far more likely than men to suffer physical injury and seek medical treatment as a consequence of incidents of male violence. Taken together, these findings somewhat reconcile the discrepancy regarding partner assault: women are more often than men the victims of severe partner assault and injury not necessarily because men strike more often, but because men strike harder.

For nearly two decades, scholars, social policymakers, and grassroots activists have engaged in a highly charged debate over the appropriate focus of research on violence between male and female intimate partners. Nowhere has this debate been more emotional than when discussing the findings from the 1975 and 1985 National Family Violence Surveys, and the method of gathering the data which fueled the findingsthe Conflict Tactics Scales, or CTS (Straus & Gelles, 1990a; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). Using the Conflict Tactics Scales, a set of scales which measure the prevalence and frequency of verbal and physical violence between partners, Straus and his colleagues reported in several early articles and a number of subsequent books the controversial finding that male partners in intimate relationships are physically abused at least as often as are their female counterparts (Gelles & Straus, 1988; Steinmetz, 1977-78; Straus et al., 1980; Straus & Gelles, 1990a).

Citing these and similar findings from studies using the CTS, a substantial number of researchers have argued for a broadening of the focus of research on intimate violence to include not only abusive men, but abusive women as well. Critical of the traditional image of asymmetrical, or male-based, domestic violence, these researchers call for a reconceptualization of the problem of "battered women" to one of "family violence." In contrast to this position, feminist advocates argue that the focus of research be maintained on male abusers and their violence against women. Citing a large body of evidence from police, hospital, and court records, clinical and shelter sample surveys, and national victimization surveys which indicate that women are far more likely than men to be the victims of severe spousal assault and injury, feminist researchers dispute the claims of "mutual violence" or "sexual symmetry" of assault by prioritizing the gendered nature of violence in the home (Berk, Berk, Loseke, & Rauma, 1983; Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992).

The controversy surrounding both the appropriate focus of inquiry into intimate violence and the utility of the CTS and its findings is ultimately grounded in an ideological dispute between academicians, researchers, clinicians, and activists who are guided by very different values, philosophies, and goals (see Schwartz & DeKeseredy, 1993) for a review of this controversy over time). On the one hand, there are those researchers whose work on intimate violence is guided by psychological or sociological explanatory theories; for example, pathological approaches, normative values, or "family systems" perspectives. These more traditional theoretical approaches claim to be gender neutral and often rely upon quantitative, fixed-format methods of data collection, such as the CTS, and empirical analyses (c. …

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