Murray Straus, a researcher in family violence at the University of New Hampshire, died last weekend at the age of 89. He was a man of fierce integrity, and since I covered the social sciences for two national publications, I can tell you that his evidence always checked out. I can also tell you that his memory will not be cherished by gender warriors.
In almost 50 years of research, Straus and the researchers who followed his lead, established beyond any doubt that domestic violence isn’t an instrument of patriarchal control as feminists claim. Nor is it a gender crime as the Violence Against Women’s Act insists it is, but a crime that troubled male and female partners commit against one another at roughly equal rates. Men do more damage than women do, but women conduct and initiate violence as often as men do, and one of three killings by partners is by women.
The frequent claim that women commit violence in self-defense is not borne out in the research. In his 2010 paper, “Thirty Years of Denying The Evidence of Gender Symmetry in Partner Violence,” Straus says the long uproar was fueled by the 1975 National Family Violence Survey, which found a perpetration rate of assault by men partners of 12% and by women partners 11.6%. The rate of severe assaults such as kicking, punching, choking, and attacks with objects was also about the same for men and women (3.8% by men and 4.6% by women). Neither of these gender differences was statistically significant. The response by those who wanted to use domestic violence as a lever to reduce patriarchal power was furious. Reports that men and women are equally culpable are not what many wanted to hear.
Among other things, that fury led to dishonest surveys that suppressed evidence of female violence, dropped some findings, blocked publication of some research. faked some statistics, touched off campaigns of intimidation of researchers in the field, and made it risky for graduate students to study under Straus.
Straus had to endure a lot of pressure, demonstrations and death threats. The late Suzanne Steinmetz of the University of Delaware was frequently harassed for research similar to Straus’s, and a bomb threat was called in at her daughter’s wedding.
Straus guessed that the news media went along with the war on honest research out of a simple desire to sell newspapers. That sounds wrong. Sociology doesn’t sell papers, A much more likely explanation is that young people who enter the news media tend to support causes of the cultural left and have trouble producing straightforward reporting on cultural issues. The decline of social science is mirrored by decline of the press.
You can watch Prof. Murray Straus on You Tube discuss the falsification of domestic violence statistics, at the Conference on Violence, Conflict and Unity in the Family, at Ariel University, 29.4.13.