Research - Domestic Violence - Gender differences in
CANADIAN JOURNAL OF BEHAVIOURAL
SCIENCE, 1999, 31:3, 150-160
Gender differences in patterns of relationship violence were
investigated in a representative sample of adult men (N =
356) and women (N = 351) from the province of Alberta. Respondents
reported on their receipt and perpetration of violent acts
in the year prior to the survey. Men and women, respectively,
reported similar one-year prevalence rates of husband-to-wife
violence (12.9% and 9.6%) and wife-to-husband violence (12.3%
and 12.5%). However, differential gender patterns of reporting
were identified. On average, men reported that they and their
female partners were equally likely to engage in violent acts
and to initiate violent conflicts. In contrast, women reported
lower levels of victimization than perpetration of violence,
and they reported less male-only and male-initiated violence
than did men. The majority of respondents in violent relationships
reported a pattern of violence that was bidirectional, minor,
infrequent, and not physically injurious. The discussion focuses
upon the meaning of gender differences in reports of relationship
violence, and the existence of distinct patterns of violence
within intimate relationships.
The academic and popular literatures on relationship violence
focus primarily on the battery of women by their male partners.
However, a number of representative surveys in the U.S. have
suggested that a large minority of both men and women commit
violent acts within their intimate relationships (e.g., Morse,
1995; Straus & Gelles, 1986). These findings have raised
questions about gender differences in experiences of relationship
violence. Although a few Canadian surveys have assessed both
male-to-female and female-to-male violence, none have included
reports of perpetration and receipt of violent acts from both
men and women. In addition, these surveys have provided limited
information on the context and consequences of the violence
reported. In the present study, we have re-analyzed data from
Kennedy and Dutton's 1987 survey of Alberta, in which information
on wife-to-husband violence was collected but not analyzed
or reported, to investigate gender differences in experiences
of relationship violence.(1) Four aspects of relationship
violence were examined: rates of perpetration and receipt
of violence, bidirectionality of violence, initiation of violence,
and consequences of violence.
Table 1 presents a summary of the relationship violence surveys
reviewed in this paper. All of these surveys employ probability
sampling in which every individual in the sampling frame has
a known probability of being selected. With one exception
(Bland & Orn, 1986), these surveys have assessed rates
of violence using variants of the Conflict Tactics Scales
(CTS; Straus, 1979), the most widely used instrument for assessing
relationship violence. Two violence rates can be obtained
by this measure: (1) one-year prevalence rates, the proportion
of participants reporting violence in the past year, and (2)
prevalence rates, the proportion of participants reporting
violence at any time in the past.
Relationship Violence Surveys
Bland & Orn (1986)(a)
Brinkerhoff & Lupri (1988)(b)
DeKeseredy & Schwartz (1998)(ade)
Grandin & Lupri (1997)(b)
Kennedy & Dutton (1989)(b)
Statistics Canada (1993)(ce)
Straus & Gelles
Magdol et al. (1997)(bd)
a: prevalence rates (violence
experienced ever in the past)
b: one-year prevalence rates
c: violence experienced from a current partner
d: young adult sample
e: women's reports only
Four Canadian surveys have obtained and reported rates of
both men's and women's experiences of relationship violence
from representative community samples (Bland & Orn, 1986;
Brinkerhoff & Lupri, 1988; DeKeseredy & Schwarz, 1998;
Grandin & Lupri, 1997). It is notable that the rates of
male perpetrated violence obtained from these surveys are
as high as or higher than those obtained in Canadian surveys
that have only assessed violence against women (Smith, 1987;
Statistics Canada, 1993). Furthermore, the findings of these
four surveys suggest that at least as many women as men have
acted violently within their intimate relationships. Unfortunately,
none of these surveys obtained victimization and perpetration
reports from both genders, thus preventing the comparisons
required to validate men's and women's reports. To illustrate,
women's perpetration reports and men's victimization reports
need to be compared to validate the obtained rates of wife-to-husband
The finding that similar rates of relationship violence are
reported by men and women has been replicated in many representative
surveys conducted outside of Canada (see Straus, 1993, for
a review). In several of these studies, reports of both perpetration
and receipt of violence were obtained from both men and women.
Table 1 presents the reported rates for a national U.S. survey
of married or cohabiting adults (NFVS; Straus & Gelles,
1986), and a survey of an unselected birth cohort of young
adults in New Zealand (Magdol et al., 1997). Although it appears
that young adults report higher rates of violence than older
adults, men's and women's perpetration rates are still comparable.
The similar rates of perpetrated and received violence generally
reported by men and women raise an important but volatile
issue -- physical assault of husbands by wives. Some information
on the meaning of these findings may be gained by exploring
gender differences in the context and consequences of relationship
violence. Context has typically been examined through assessment
of the bidirectionality and initiation of violence.
In their study of Calgarian couples, Brinkerhoff and Lupri
(1988) found that of 213 couples reporting violence, both
partners reported perpetrating violence in 38% of couples,
while in 27% only the husband reported violence and in 35%
only the wife reported violence. Although DeKeseredy and Schwartz's
(1998)survey of young adults included information that could
address bidirectionality, the directionality data is not included
in their reports of this survey. Extensive U.S. research,
however, has indicated that much of the violence experienced
by intimate partners is bidirectional. For example, in the
1985 NFVS, of the sub-sample of 825 respondents who disclosed
violence, 49% reported that both spouses had engaged in violence,
23% reported male-only violence, and 28% reported female-only
violence (Stets & Straus, 1990).
Regarding the initiation of violence, Bland and Orn (1986)
found that of those individuals reporting violent relationships,
58% of men and 73% of women indicated that they had initiated
violence by hitting or throwing things first, "regardless
of who started the argument" (p. 131). Similarly, in
the 1985 NFVS, more women (53%) than men (44%) admitted to
having struck the first blow in violent confrontations (Stets
& Straus, 1990). Unfortunately, little additional information
about the circumstances surrounding these incidents was available
to assess the context in more detail. For instance, measures
of bidirectionality generally refer to the use of violence
and not the level of violence. It is possible that in many
bidirectionally violent relationships, men are the primary
aggressors and women are responding physically in self-defe
nse. However, findings showing female-only violence and female
initiation of violence suggest that this is not always the
case. Interestingly, in DeKeseredy and Schwartz's (1998) survey
of young adults, 62.3% of women reporting perpetration of
minor violence said it was never in self-defense and only
6.9% said it was always in self-defense. Similarly, of women
reporting perpetration of severe violence, 56.5% said it was
never in self-defense and 8.5% said that it was always in
While gender differences in the context of relationship violence
are unclear, U.S. data on the consequences of relationship
violence have shown that women are more likely to suffer physical
injury and seek medical attention than men. The 1985 NFVS
found that 3% of female victims, but only 0.4% of male victims,
reported that they required medical care for injuries sustained
from partner violence (Stets & Straus, 1990). A survey
of young adults found that women in violent relationships
feared physical injury significantly more than men (Morse,
1995). Thus, it seems that while both men and women engage
in frequent minor assault, women are more likely to sustain
and fear physical injury.
The present study used the Alberta data collected, but not
reported, by Kennedy and Dutton (1989) to explore gender differences
in experiences of relationship violence. As far as we are
aware, this is the only data available from a representative
Canadian survey to assess gender differences in the rates,
context, and consequences of violence in intimate relationships.
In contrast to Kennedy and Dutton's (1989) procedure of combining
reports by both genders to derive wife assault rates, we have
presented separately male and female reports of the perpetration
and receipt of violent acts. In addition to permitting gender
comparisons, separate reports enabled us to check for agreement
between men and women on rates of received and perpetrated
violence. We also compared men's and women's reports of bidirectionality
of violence and initi ation of violence. In order to better
understand the context of violence, descriptive analyses on
gender differences in the types and frequencies of specific
acts of relationship violence were conducted. Finally, we
compared male and female reports on the consequences of violence.
As part of a larger population research project, 707 adult
residents (356 men and 351 women) of the province of Alberta
completed a relationship violence survey in1987 (Kennedy &
Dutton, 1989). To be eligible for the violence component of
the study, participants had to have been living in a marital
or "marriage-like" relationship in the year prior
to the survey. See Kennedy and Dutton (1989) for information
on the demographic characteristics of the sample and the sampling
and weighting procedures.
Violence was assessed with a short form of the Conflict Tactics
Scales (CTS; Straus, 1979). This measure was comprised of
nine violence items: threw something; pushed, grabbed, or
shoved; slapped; kicked, bit, or hit with a fist; hit or tried
to hit with something; beat up; choked; threatened with a
knife or gun; used a knife or gun. Kennedy and Dutton (1989)
omitted the choking item in their analyses to remain consistent
with the NFVS surveys (e.g., Straus & Gelles, 1986). However,
we have included the item in our analyses. Respondents were
asked how many times each of these acts had occurred in the
last 12 months. First, they reported on their own behaviour,
then on their partner's behaviour.
Scoring of One-year Prevalence Rates. Three indices of violence
were derived from the CTS items. An overall violence index
was derived from responses to all nine items. Minor and severe
violence indices were derived from the first three and last
six items respectively. For example, the one-year prevalence
rate of overall violence indicates the percentage of respondents
who reported at least one occurrence of any of the items included
in the overall violence scale during the year prior to the
survey, and the one-year prevalence rate of severe violence
refers to the percentage of respondents who endorsed at least
one item on the severe violence index. Thus, rates indicate
the existence of violence only. They do not give any information
about the frequency of violence reported by respondents.
To assess initiation of violence, respondents were asked who
had started the physical conflict in the most serious physical
fight they had had with their partner in the past year. Response
choices were "you"' or "spouse/partner,"
although responses of "both" or "neither"
were recorded if volunteered.
To assess the consequences of violence, respondents reporting
receipt of violence were asked whether they had ever (1) sustained
serious injuries, (2) had to go to a hospital's emergency
ward for treatment, and (3) had to take time off from work
because of a physical fight with a partner. Response choices
were "yes" or no."
Type of Violence
Hit/tried to hit with something
Threatened with knife/gun
Used knife or gun
a: N = 356;
b: N = 351.
Note: Across rows, proportions with differing subscripts are
significantly different at p < .05.
Four sets of analyses are presented: (1) one-year prevalence
rates of unidirectional violence (husband-to-wife and wife-to-husband),
(2) bidirectionality of violence, (3) initiation of violence,
and (4) consequences of violence. Male and female reports
are presented separately to permit gender comparisons. Figure
1 displays the various gender comparisons made for rates of
unidirectional violence. Comparisons were also made between
men's and women's reports of the bidirectionality, initiation,
and consequences of violence.
Gender agreement on one-year prevalence rates. Figure 2 presents
one-year prevalence rates for the three indices of husband-to-wife
violence. The proportions of male respondents who reported
overall, minor, and severe husband-to-wife violence were 12.9%,
12.1%, and 2.2%. The proportions of female respondents who
reported overall, minor, and severe partner violence were
9.6%, 9.6%, and 2.8%. Although men reported higher rates of
husband-to-wife violence than women, tests comparing the independent
proportions were not significant. Al in Figure 1 illustrates
the comparison made to test gender agreement on husband-to-wife
Figure 2 also shows one-year prevalence rates for the three
indices of wife-to-husband violence. The proportions of female
respondents who reported overall, minor, and severe wife-to-husband
violence were 12.5%, 1l.9%, and 4.5%. The proportions of male
respondents who reported overall, minor and severe partner
violence were 12.3%, 12.1%, and 4.8%. A2 in Figure 1 illustrates
the comparison made to test gender agreement on wife-to-husband
In summary, men and women agreed on one-year prevalence rates
of both husband-to-wife and wife-to-husband violence. Moreover,
the obtained rates were similar to those found in the 1985
NFVS (Straus & Gelles, 1986).
Gender comparisons of one-year prevalence rates. In contrast
to the previous analyses of gender agreement, the next set
of gender comparisons examines whether a higher proportion
of one gender experiences violence than the other. First,
within-gender reports were compared to see whether each gender
reported perpetrating and receiving differing levels of violence.
See Figure 1 for an illustration of these two comparisons:
B1 indicates within-male reports, and B2 within-female reports.
As presented in Figure 2, men reported perpetrating and receiving
comparable levels of overall and minor violence. However,
men reported receiving significantly more severe violence
than they perpetrated (4.8% versus 2.2%, z = 2.32, p <
In contrast, female reports in Figure 2 show that women reported
receiving lower levels of violence than they perpetrated for
all three indices. However, only the difference between rates
of overall violence perpetrated and received was significant
(z = 2.2, p < .05).
Next, we made two across-gender comparisons: one for reports
of violence received (Figure 1, Comparison C), and another
for reports of violence inflicted (Figure 1, Comparison D).
Comparison C indicated that men reported receiving more violence
than women reported receiving on all three indices. However,
tests of independent proportions were not significant for
any of these differences. There was no clear pattern for Comparison
D between men's and women's reports of violence inflicted,
and there were no significant differences.
Gender comparisons of specific acts of violence. Table 2 presents
one-year prevalence rates for specific acts of violence. According
to both men's and women's reports, minor acts of violence
were generally more common than acts of severe violence. Furthermore,
men's and women's rates for each specific act of violence
were similar except for two items, "slapped" and
"kicked/bit/hit", where significantly more women
than men reported perpetrating these acts (z = 2.3, p <
.05 and z = 2.4, p < .05, respectively).
In summary, the results of within-gender comparisons were
inconsistent with across-gender comparisons. Within-gender
comparisons showed that men reported receiving more severe
violence than they inflicted, and women reported inflicting
more overall violence than they received. However, no significant
differences in violence experienced by men and women were
found using across-gender reports. This inconsistency is probably
due to the greater statistical power of the within-gender
test (i.e., tests of differences between dependent samples
are more powerful than tests of independent samples). As Figure
2 shows, across-gender reports for wife-to-husband violence
(male report: 12.3%; female report: 12.5%) are consistent,
and male-reports for violence perpetrated and received (12.9%
and 12.3%) are consistent. However, women's reports of the
violence they received (9.6%) are lower than their reports
of violence inflicted (12.5%) and lower than men's reports
of viole nce inflicted (12.9%).
Descriptive analyses were conducted to examine the proportions
of respondents who reported experiencing one of three levels
of violence: low (1 to 4 incidents), moderate (5 to 20 incidents),
and high (more than 20 incidents). These cutoffs were based
on an examination of the distributions of violence frequency
and a consideration of the likely implications of different
frequencies of violence. Only respondents who reported experiencing
at least one incident of violence in the year prior to the
survey were included in these analyses. As shown in Figure
3, the majority of perpetrators (male report: 85%; female
report: 69%) and victims (male report: 77%; female report:
79%) of violence reported relatively low levels of violence.
Few perpetrators (male report: 4%; female report: 9%) and
victims (male report: 5%; female report: 12%) reported high
levels of violence. Th ere were no significant gender differences
in violence levels reported by either perpetrators or victims.
The data of respondents who experienced any violence were
categorized by who had engaged in physical conflict: both
partners, male only, or female only. Of those women who reported
any violence in the past 12 months (received and/or inflicted),
52% reported violence from both partners, 35% reported female-only
violence, and 13% reported male-only violence. Of the men
who reported any violence in the past 12 months (received
and/or inflicted), 62% reported that both partners were violent,
18% reported female-only violence, and 20% reported male-only
violence. Thus, according to more than one-half of men and
women in relationships with any violence, both partners had
engaged in at least one violent act. Furthermore, women were
significantly more likely than men to report female-only violence
(z = 2.0, p < .05).
Bidirectionality was also assessed by comparing reports of
perpetration and receipt of violence within gender to test
for the likelihood of bi-directional violence. Sixty percent
of women who reported perpetrating violence also reported
receiving violence; conversely, 79% of women who reported
receiving violence also reported perpetrating violence (c2(1,
n = 354) = 150.8, p < .01). Similarly, 76% of men who reported
perpetrating violence also reported receiving violence, and
77% of men who reported receiving violence also reported perpetrating
violence (c2(1, n = 356) = 189.9, p < .01). Parallel analyses
also indicated strong dependencies in reports of perpetration
and receipt of minor and severe violence, for both women and
Male and female respondents who had reported any violence
within their relationship were asked who had initiated the
physical conflict during the most serious incident that occurred
in the prior year. Of men reporting violence, 49% identified
themselves as the initiator, 35% identified their partner,
and 14% identified both partners. Of women reporting violence,
67% identified themselves as the initiator, 27% identified
their partner, and 6% reported that both had initiated the
conflict. Although more women than men appeared to attribute
the initiation of violence to themselves (a difference of
18%), men's and women's proportions for reported self-initiation
did not differ significantly. Nor was there a significant
difference between men's and women's reports of partner initiation.
However, significant differences were found when checking
for gender agreement in reports for female and male initiation.
Women were significantly more likely than men to report fe
male initiation (z = 3.2, p < .01), and men were significantly
more likely than women to report male initiation (z = 2.3,
p < .05).
Of the 19 women who were asked about the consequences of a
physical fight with their partner,(2) only three reported
that they had experienced any of the three consequences assessed
in the survey (serious injury, need for medical attention,
and time off work). Two women reported two consequences and
a third woman endorsed all three consequences. No men reported
experiencing any of these consequences. The low endorsement
rate on the consequence items does not necessarily mean that
respondents who reported violence experienced no injurious
consequences. The consequence items used in this survey assessed
only relatively severe physical consequences and did not include
psychological consequences of violence.
A more in-depth analysis indicated that women who reported
suffering consequences from violence also reported experiencing
the highest frequencies of abuse, both as perpetrators and
victims. These frequencies refer to the total number of violent
behaviours reported for the 12 months prior to the survey.
For example, if a woman reported being slapped 10 times and
kicked 15 times, she would receive a frequency score of 25.
Two of these women reported receiving much more violence than
they inflicted: One woman reported that her partner had perpetrated
49 violent acts against her while she had engaged in 23 such
acts, and the other woman reported that she had been the victim
of 218 violent acts while she had engaged in 72 such acts.
A third woman reported inflicting many more acts of violence
than she received. She reported perpetrating 297 violent acts
against her husband and receiving 22 violent acts. All three
women reported that it was their partner who had i nitiated
the physical conflict during the most serious incident in
the year before the survey. The pattern of violence described
by the two women who reported receiving more violence than
they perpetrated could represent women attempting to defend
themselves from consistently abusive partners. Although such
relationships would be categorized as bidirectionally violent,
the frequency of received violence between partners is dearly
different. This illustrates why it is critical not to interpret
reports of the existence of bidirectional violence as indicating
equivalence in the severity or nature of violence experienced.
Based on Kennedy and Dutton's (1989) representative survey
of Alberta, the proportions of men and women who reported
perpetrating and receiving at least one act of violence within
their intimate relationships in a 12-month period were roughly
comparable. Specifically, rates of overall husband-to-wife
violence were 12.9% and 9.6%, and rates of overall wife-to-husband
violence were 12.3% and 12.5%, according to men's and women's
respective reports. There were no significant gender differences
in reported rates for each category of violence, indicating
gender agreement. Furthermore, with only two exceptions, similar
proportions of men and women tended to report engaging in
specific acts of violence that were usually minor and infrequent.
The comparable one-year prevalence rates of male and female
violence are consistent with the findings of a number of non-Canadian
studies (e.g., Straus & Gelles, 1986). In addition, the
obtained rate of male violence is generally consistent with
prior Canadian surveys that only included women's reports
of male violence (e.g., Smith, 1985, 1987; Statistics Canada,
1993). Hence, the consistency of rates across men's and women's
reports and across different studies supports the validity
of the current findings.
Consistent with prior research (e.g., Morse, 1995; Stets &
Straus, 1990), measures of the context of violence revealed
that much of the violence experienced by these men and women
was bidirectional. Sixty-two percent of men and 52% of women
who reported violence indicated that it was perpetrated by
both partners. As discussed previously, evidence of bidirectional
violence does not inform us of the relative severity of male-to-female
and female-to-male violence. However, some insight into this
issue can be obtained by comparing the frequencies of perpetrated
and received violent acts for individual indicating bidirectional
violence. It could be, for instance, that women reporting
bidirectional violence report higher levels of receipt than
perpetration, suggesting that their perpetration may be self-defensive.
We defined asymmetric v iolence as those cases in which a
participant reported that one partner had inflicted at least
five more acts of violence than the other partner in the past
year. Based on this criterion, 15 of the 62 respondents reporting
bidirectional violence were classified as experiencing asymmetric
violence. Of the 7 men classified as asymmetric, 6 reported
receiving more violence than they perpetrated and one reported
the opposite pattern. Of the 8 women classified as asymmetric,
3 reported receiving more violence than they perpetrated and
5 reported the opposite pattern. These small numbers preclude
any definitive interpretation. However, these data indicate
that only a minority of respondents reported clearly asymmetric
patterns of violence in their relationships. Moreover, we
found no evidence that male-to-female violence was more frequent
than female-to-male violence in bidirectional cases.
Surprisingly, both men and women tended to attribute the initiation
of violence to themselves. Specifically, 49% of men and 67%
of women reported that they had started the physical conflict.
Since participants were given only forced choice response
options, however, it is not clear how reports of initiation
should be interpreted. Participants were not asked about their
reasons for initiating physical violence or about the role
of psychological aggression during the incident.
The overwhelming majority of respondents who experienced violence
did not endorse any consequence items. Just 16% of women who
reported receipt of violence endorsed one or more of the consequences
assessed, and no men reported experiencing these consequences
from their receipt of violence. This pattern of findings is
similar to that from the 1985 NFVS: Of the participants reporting
receipt of violence, 3% of the women, and only 0.4% of the
men, required medical care for injuries sustained as a result
of domestic violence (Stets & Straus, 1990).
Within-gender analyses of violence reports showed that men
generally reported gender equality in the perpetration, receipt,
initiation, and bidirectionality of abuse. In contrast, women
tended to report that they were more likely to perpetrate
violent acts than their male partners. Furthermore, a smaller
proportion of women reported male-only violence (13%) compared
to female-only violence (35%), and fewer women reported male
initiation of violence (26%) than female initiation of violence
(67%). At the very least, this data suggests that not all
of women's violence within intimate relationships can be interpreted
as self-defensive (cf., Straus, 1993).
An across-gender comparison of men's victimization reports
and women's perpetration reports showed gender agreement for
rates of wife-to-husband violence. Other across-gender comparisons,
however, revealed some discrepancies. As shown in Figure 2,
all reports of overall violence were consistent except for
women's reports of violence they received. Moreover, women
reported significantly more female-only violence and female
initiation of violence than men. in contrast, men reported
significantly more male initiation of violence than women.
This pattern of findings is contrary to common expectations
that it is men who are motivated to understate their perpetration
of violence. These observed discrepancies may be due to women
underreporting the violence that they receive, perhaps in
an attempt to protect their partners or to minimize the problem.
Alternately, men may be overreporting the violence they perpetrate,
perhaps to avoid appearing to be a victim or to compensate
for the guilt they feel from being abusive. Of course, both
genders' reports of violence may be biased: Men may be overreporting
to some degree, and women may be underreporting to some degree.
For a more thorough discussion of potential sources of reporting
biases, see Moffitt et al. (1997).
Selection biases may also account for the observed discrepancies
in men's and women's reports of violence. As has often been
argued, abused women and violent men may be reticent to participate
in relationship violence surveys. If abused women are even
less likely to be included than violent men, women's reports
of the receipt of male violence will be lower than men's reports
of their perpetration of violence. However, it seems equally
plausible that male victims of violence (and perhaps, violent
women as well) will be underrepresented in these surveys.
In addition, the sampling method may have systematically excluded
some individuals at high risk for being assaultive or being
the victim of assault. In particular, male batterers who are
incarcerated and female victims in transition homes were not
included in the sampling frame, thereby potentially resulting
in an underestimate of the rate of severe husband-to-wife
Johnson (1995) has proposed that the phenomenon of "domestic
violence" can be broken down into two distinct patterns
that he labels patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence.
Patriarchal terrorism describes violence in which women are
highly victimized by husbands who seek control over them.
Common couple violence represents occasional violence that
is often enacted and initiated equally by men and women during
conflicts that get out of hand. Johnson argues that studies
of women seeking aid for domestic violence, such as women
in shelters, generally include only women experiencing the
extreme form of domestic violence. It is therefore inappropriate
to generalize from these studies to the entire population
of violent couples. On the other hand, representative surveys
reach individuals experiencing common couple violence, but
underrepresent those experiencing extreme forms of domestic
violence, because both highly violent and highly victimized
individuals are unlikely to participate in this type of survey.
Similarly, Straus (1990, 1993) has discussed the "clinical
fallacy" of generalizing from studies of women identified
as battered to the general population and the "representative
sample fallacy" of generalizing from representative samples
to specific subsamples such as severely battered women.
There is some support for these distinctions in the present
study. Only 3 of the 52 women who reported receiving any violence
in the year prior to the survey fit the batterer/victim pattern
of clearly asymmetrical violence. The majority of violence
reported by respondents was equally perpetrated by men and
by women, relatively minor and infrequent, and did not result
in injury. However, a significant proportion of the subsample
reporting violence described patterns of violence that did
not fit either the patriarchal terrorism or common couple
violence pattern A minority of men and women reporting violence
indicated receiving (18% and 9%, respectively) and perpetrating
(11% and 22%, respectively) moderate levels of violence in
their relationships, and in many cases it was difficult to
determine whether the reported violence was mutual or not.
Although the typology outlined by Johnson (1995) is he lpful,
we suggest that researchers and clinicians be open to a range
of abuse patterns that differ in frequency, severity, and
Unfortunately, there is little information in the present
study on potential gender differences in the meaning of violence
or the interpersonal dynamics associated with violence. The
measures of violence available -- one-year prevalence rates,
bidirectionality of violence, initiation of violence, and
consequences of violence -- are inherently impoverished. In
particular, the original CTS has a number of limitations (e.g.,
Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992). Assessments of
the context and consequences of relationship violence could
be enhanced by including measures of psychological abuse and
psychological consequences. Research has shown that psychological
abuse may be as harmful as physical violence (Herbert, Silver,
& Ellard, 1991) and that women in mutually violent relationships
report more negative psychological impact from their receipt
of violence than do their husbands (Vivian & Langhinrichsen-Rohling,
1994). Finally, the present sample only assessed relationship
violence in the past year.
Another limitation of this survey is that it is not able to
address gender differences in the psychosocial correlates
of relationship violence. Surprisingly little research has
examined this question, though there are some indications
that the developmental pathways leading to relationship aggression
may differ for men and women. For example, Capaldi and Crosby
(1997) found that antisocial behaviour was predictive of relationship
aggression for young men, whereas depressive symptoms and
low self-esteem were predictive for young women. In contrast,
Magdol et al. (1997) found that various psychosocial variables,
including antisocial behaviour and depression, were predictive
of young men's violence, but not young women's.
An additional limitation of the current survey is that only
men and women in marriage-like relationships were sampled.
Excluding people who are single, divorced, or separated may
have deflated rates of reported violence since higher rates
of relationship violence have been found in samples of dating
couples (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 1998) and separated or
divorced women (Schwartz, 1989). Furthermore, the selection
criteria for the current study (living in a "marriage
like relationship" in the past year) was oriented towards
heterosexual men and women, and this doubtless led to a systematic
underrepresentation of men and women in same-sex relationships.
Because of this selection criteria and the fact that 91% of
respondents indicated that they were currently or previously
married, we have interpreted the data in terms of heter osexual
relationships. However, it is possible that, in some cases,
people are reporting the perpetration and receipt of violence
with same-sex partners. For future surveys, it is important
to include all adults in the sampling frame, to word all survey
questions and selection criteria in more inclusive terms,
and to explicitly assess sexual orientation.
While these improvements could address some of the limitations
of survey research, telephone questionnaires are best suited
for collecting data that is standardized and objective. Context
and meaning, on the other hand, are full of nuances and subjectivity.
Therefore, more in-depth interviewing techniques may be better
suited for investigating the context of violence. Future research
could benefit from the strengths of both methods by employing
representative surveys to obtain estimates of rates and then
administering in-depth interviews to a subsample of respondents
to explore the more complex relationships between abuse and
its contexts and consequences. In-depth interviews are particularly
important in understanding how the meaning and consequences
of relationship violence may differ for men and women.
This is the first Canadian study to investigate gender differences
in the rates, bidirectionality, initiation, and consequences
of relationship violence in a representative sample. Consistent
with research outside of Canada, men and women reported similar
rates of violence perpetration and victimization. And, while
more comprehensive study is needed, it appears that a substantial
proportion of women's violence cannot be explained as acts
of self-defense. Both genders reported that women do initiate
violence and are sometimes the sole perpetrators of aggression
in relationships. Also consistent with prior research, the
violence reported by respondents generally differed from the
prototypical batterer/victim pattern. The majority of respondents
in violent relationships reported a pattern of violence that
was bidirectional, minor, infrequent, and not physically injurious.
While the importance of eliminating violence against women
is obvious, the need to stop women's violence against men
may be less evident. Our society seems to harbour an implicit
acceptance of women's violence as relatively harmless, even
amusing. For example, the popular media frequently shows women
hitting men with little consequence. Straus (1993) has outlined
four reasons in support of the elimination of women's violence:
1) spousal assault is morally wrong, regardless of gender;
2) the acceptance of female violence may perpetuate traditional
norms tolerating violence between intimate partners; 3) there
is evidence that women's violence may increase the probability
of spousal conflict escalating into severe wife battery; and
4) all forms of spousal violence model violence to children
and may be predictive of children subsequently being perpetrators
or victims of relationship violence themse lves. We would
add that although a low level of violence between men and
women may not be physically injurious, it is associated with
high marital and individual distress (e.g., Vivian & Langhinrichsen-Rohling,
1994). Furthermore, the failure to acknowledge the possibility
of women's violence, in the face of sound research evidence,
jeopardizes the credibility of all theory and research directed
toward ending violence against women. It also does an injustice
to men who are victims of female violence and to women who
need help in learning more constructive strategies to deal
with the inevitable conflicts and frustrations that arise
in intimate relationships.
As Straus (1990, 1993) has emphasized, findings indicating
that many men and women are involved in relationships with
low-level, often mutual, violence do not negate the problem
of severe relationship violence in which men are likely the
primary perpetrators and women the primary victims. Nor does
the small proportion of survey respondents reporting an extreme
batterer/victim pattern negate the usefulness of survey methodology
for investigating relationship violence. The finding that
a sizable minority of Albertan men and women reported at least
one incident of violence in a one-year period shows that a
considerable amount of physical aggression does occur in intimate
relationships. And, because low level violence is associated
with marital and individual distress, some of these men and
women may seek some form of therapy. For ex ample, in a sample
of maritally distressed couples seeking marital treatment,
Cascardi, Langhinrichsen, and Vivian (1992) found a prevalence
rate of 71% for marital aggression. Thus, marital therapists
should be prepared to deal with different types of relationship
Unfortunately, we do not yet have sufficient information to
fully describe the range of relationship violence that Canadians
experience, nor the nature or meaning of that violence. However,
it is becoming clear that the mutual/low and batterer/victim
patterns of relationship violence may be largely non-overlapping.
These distinct patterns, and other possible patterns yet to
be identified, may represent different problems that require
different therapeutic approaches. Couples who are experiencing
low levels of relationship violence may seek therapy, but
not specifically for the physical conflict. In fact, spouses
rarely report physical aggression spontaneously when asked
about the marital problems for which they are seeking help
(O'Leary, Vivan, & Malone, 1992). Therefore, efforts directed
at improving communication and conflict resolution strategies
may be more beneficial than focusing solely on the issue of
violence. However, it is important to keep in mind that, within
the criminal justice system, any of the physical acts endorsed
by these respondents would constitute assault. Further research
is required to enhance our understanding of all forms of violence
within intimate relationships and to guide our efforts in
appropriate preventative and therapeutic approaches.
The authors would like to thank Leslie Kennedy for generously
making this data available to us and Stephen Hart for his
feedback during the preparation of this paper.
Bland, R., & Orn, H. (1986). Family violence and psychiatric
disorder. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 1, 129-137.
Brinkerhoff, M.B., & Lupri, E. (1988). Interspousal violence.
Canadian Journal of Sociology, 13, 407-434.
Capaldi, D.M., & Crosby, L. (1997). Observed and reported
psychological and physical aggression in young, at-risk couples.
Social Development, 6, 184-206.
Cascardi, M., Langhinrichsen, J., & Vivian, D. (1992).
Marital aggression: Impact, injury and health correlates for
husbands and wives. Archives of Internal Medicine, 152, 1178-1184.
Cascardi, M., & Vivian, D. (1995). Context for specific
episodes of marital violence: Gender and severity of violence
differences. Journal of Family Violence, 10, 265-293.
DeKeseredy, W.S., & Schwartz, M.D. (1998). Woman Abuse
on Campus: Results from the Canadian National Survey. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Dobash, R.P., Dobash R.E, Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1992).
The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence. Social Problems,
Grandin, E., & Lupri, E. (1997). Intimate violence in
Canada and the United States: A cross-national comparison.
Journal of Family Violence, 12, 417 - 443.
Herbert, T.B., Silver, R.C., & Ellard, J.H. (1991). Coping
with an abusive relationship: How and why do women stay. Journal
of Marriage and the Family, 53, 311-325.
Hotaling, G.T., & Sugarman, D.B. (1986). An analysis of
risk markers in husband to wife violence: The current state
of knowledge. Violence and Victims, 1, 101-124.
Johnson, M.P. (1995). Patriarchal terrorism and common couple
violence: Two forms of violence against women. Journal of
Marriage and the Family, 57, 283-294.
Kennedy, L.W., & Dutton, D.G. (1989). The incidence of
wife assault in Alberta. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science,
Magdol, L., Moffitt, T.E., Caspi, A., Newman, D.L., Fagan,
J., & Silva, P.A., (1997). Gender differences in partner
violence in a birth cohort of 21-year-olds: Bridging the gap
between clinical and epidemiological approaches. Journal of
Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 68-78.
Moffitt, T.E., Caspi, A., Krueger, R.F., Magdol, L., Margolin,
G., Silva, P.A., & Sydney, R. (1997). Do partners agree
about abuse in their relationship?: A psychometric evaluation
of interpartner agreement. Psychological Assessment, 9, 47-56.
Morse, B. J. (1995). Beyond the Conflict Tactics Scale: Assessing
gender differences in partner violence. Violence and Victims,
O'Leary, K.D., Vivian, D., & Malone, J. (1992). Assessment
of physical aggression in marriage: The need for a multimodal
method. Behavioral Assessment, 14, 5-14.
Schwartz, M.D. (1989). Asking the right questions: Battered
wives are not all passive. Sociological Viewpoints, 5, 46-61.
Smith, M.D. (1985). Woman abuse: The case for surveys by telephone.
LaMarsh Research Programme on Violence and Conflict Resolution,
Report No. 12. York University, North York, Ontario, Canada.
Smith, M.D. (1987). The incidence and prevalence of woman
abuse in Toronto. Violence and Victims, 2, 173-187.
Smith, M.D. (1990). Sociodemographic risk factors in wife
abuse: Results from a survey of Toronto women. Canadian Journal
of Sociology, 15, 39-58.
Statistics Canada (1993). The Violence Against Women Survey.
The Daily, November 18, 1993. Ottawa, ON. Ministry of Industry,
Science and Technology.
Stets, J.E., & Straus, M.A. (1990). Gender differences
in reporting marital violence and its medical and psychological
consequences. In M.A. Straus & R.J. Gelles (Eds.), Physical
Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations
to Violence in 8,145 Families (pp. 227-244). New Brunswick,
NJ: Transaction Publishing.
Straus, M.A. (1979). Measuring intrafamily conflict and violence:
The Conflict Tactics (CT) Scales. Journal of Marriage and
The Family, 41, 75-88.
Straus, M.A. (1990). Injury and frequency of assault and the
"Representative Sample Fallacy" in measuring wife
beating and child abuse. In M.A. Straus & R.J. Gelles
(Eds.), Physical Violence In American Families: Risk Factors
and Adaptations To Violence in 8,145 Families (pp. 75-91).
New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishing.
Straus, M.A. (1993). Physical assaults by wives: A major social
problem. In R.J. Gelles & D. Loseke (Eds.), Current Controversies
in Family Violence (pp. 67-87). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Straus, M.A., & Gelles, R.J. (1986). Society change and
change in family violence from 1975 to 1985 as revealed by
two national surveys. Journal of Marriage and the Family,
Vivian, D., & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J. (1994). Are bi-directionally
violent couples mutually victimized?: A gender-sensitive comparison.
Violence and Victims, 9, 107-124.
Received October 14, 1997
Revised September 9, 1998
Accepted September 22, 1998