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

Authors:
  • VA Puget Sound Health Care System and University of Washington

Abstract

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.
Violence
and
Victims,
Vol.
16, No. 3,
2001
©
2001 Springer Publishing Company
Abused Women
or
Abused Men?
An
Examination
of the
Context
and
Outcomes
of
Dating Violence
Melanie
S.
Harned
University
of
Illinois
at
Urbana-Champaign
The
present
study examines
the
controversial issue
of
whether women
and men are
equally
abused
in
dating relationships. Undergraduate
and
graduate students
(n
=
874) com-
pleted
a
survey about
their
experiences
and
perpetration
of
psychological,
sexual,
and
physical
aggression
within dating relationships.
To
enable
a
more
contextualized
under-
standing
of
these phenomena, motives
for and
outcomes
of
dating violence were also
assessed.
Women
and men
reported comparable amounts
of
overall aggression
from
dat-
ing
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
psy-
chological 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 rela-
tionships
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, stud-
ies
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
pri-
mary
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 aggres-
sion
toward dating partners
as men
and, thus, that women
and men are
equally abusive.
269
270
M.
5.
Earned
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
physi-
cal
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). Other
research
has
addressed this issue
by
examining
who
initiates violence
in
intimate relation-
ships.
For
example, DeKeseredy
and
Schwartz (1998) report that
the
majority
of
women
in
their
college
sample
who
used physical aggression toward dating partners never initi-
ated
violence.
Similarly, Molidor
and
Tolman
(1998)
surveyed high school students
and
found
that
70% of
females
and 27% of
males reported that their dating partner
had
initi-
ated
the
violence.
Conflicting
findings
have indicated that women initiate physical violence
as
often
or
more
often
than
men and
that
men are
more likely
to
report
using physical
aggression
in
retaliation
for
being
hit
first.
For
example,
using
data
from
the
National Family Violence
Resurvey,
Stets
and
Straus (1990)
found
that women reported initiating violence toward
their spouses about
as
often
as
men. DeMaris (1992) surveyed college students
and
found
that both
men and
women reported that, when
one
partner could
be
identified
as the
usual
initiator
of
violence,
it was
most
often
the
woman.
In
addition, Follingstad
and
colleagues
(1991)
found
that college
men
were more likely than women
to
report
using
physical vio-
lence
in
retaliation
for
being
hit
first.
In
summary, research
on
gender
differences
in
motives
for
using physical aggression
has
yielded inconsistent results, perhaps reflecting
the
vari-
ation
in
samples
and
measurement techniques used.
Research examining
the
consequences
of
violence
in
intimate relationships
has
gener-
ally supported contentions that women report more severe outcomes. Studies have
found
that women experiencing physical aggression
from
dating partners report more emotional
difficulties
and
physical
injury
than similarly victimized
men
(Follingstad
et
al.,
1991;
Foshee,
1996; Makepeace, 1986).
For
example, Molidor
and
Tolman (1998) asked high
school students about
the
worst incident
of
physical violence experienced
from
a
dating
partner. Boys reported little
or no
effects
from
the
violence
in
over
90% of the
incidents
and
only
5%
reported
physical injury. Conversely,
48% of
girls said that
it
hurt
a lot and
34%
reported
physical
injury;
only
9% of
girls indicated that
the
violence
had no
effect
on
them. Comparable results have been obtained
in
studies
of
married couples; women expe-
riencing
physical aggression
are
more likely than
men to
require medical attention, incur
injury,
and
report
depression (Morse, 1995; Stets
&
Straus,
1990).
Such research
findings
are
also
supported
by
clinical observations
of
male batterers indicating that
the
impact
of
female
aggression
on men is
irritation
and
annoyance rather
than
fear
or
injury
(Hamberger,
Lohr, Bonge,
&
Tolin,
1997).
Context
and
Outcomes
of
Dating
Violence
277
The
present study addresses
the
central issues
in
this debate while overcoming some
of
the
limitations
of
previous research
in
this area. First, conclusions that women
and men are
equally abusive toward dating partners have been drawn almost exclusively
from
data
on
physical aggression.
The
present
study
conceptualizes dating violence more broadly
to
include incidents
of
psychological, sexual,
and
physical
aggression
and, therefore,
may
yield quite
different
results. Previous research
has
consistently
found
that women
are
more
likely
to
experience
and men are
more likely
to
perpetrate sexual
aggression
in the
context
of
dating relationships (e.g., Foshee, 1996; Makepeace, 1986). Results pertaining
to
rates
of
psychological aggression have been mixed, perhaps reflecting
the
different
ways this
construct
has
been defined.
For
example, research
has
found
that dating
men and
women
typically
do not
differ
on
rates
of
verbal aggression experienced
or
perpetrated (Stets
&
Henderson, 1991; White
&
Koss,
1991).
However, studies utilizing broader definitions
of
psychological aggression have yielded inconsistent results (Foshee,
1996;
Kasian
&
Painter,
1992;
Stets,
1991).
Further research
is
clearly needed
to
provide
a
more
complete
under-
standing
of the
amounts
and
types
of
violence experienced
by
women
and men in
dating
relationships.
A
second goal
of the
present study
is to
examine
further
the
motives
of men and
women
who
perpetrate physical violence
in
dating relationships.
As
reviewed above, previous
research
in
this area
has
largely been inconclusive. Given
the
central role that motivational
hypotheses play
in
feminists' rebuttals
of the
argument that women
and men are
equally
physically violent,
it is
important
to
gather additional evidence relevant
to
this
issue.
As
with
previous research,
it is
therefore hypothesized that women will
be
more likely
to
per-
petrate
physical
violence
for
self-defensive purposes than men.
Finally,
the
present
study
examines
a
variety
of
outcomes (i.e., physical, psychological,
and
school related)
in
asso-
ciation with dating violence.
It is
hypothesized that women
who
experience violence
from
dating partners will report worse outcomes than similarly victimized men.
METHOD
Procedure
All
data were
collected
via an
electronic
survey that
was
located
on the
Internet.
The
sur-
vey
was
initially pilot tested
on a
sample
of 34
undergraduates
and
appropriate revisions
were
made.
The
final
study employed
a
stratified random sampling procedure
in
which
the
categories used
for
stratification included:
1.
Gender,
2.
Race
(African
American, Asian American, East Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian
and
Other),
3.
Class (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, Graduate/Professional).
Graduate/professional students were randomly selected
from
the
entire graduate student
body
at the
university, whereas undergraduates were randomly sampled
from
among
those
students whose last names
fell
in the
first
half
of the
alphabet. Although
the
undergraduate
sampling procedure
was
nontraditional,
there
is no
reason
to
believe that students
in the
first
half
of the
alphabet would
differ
in any
systematic
way
from
those
in the
latter half.
Three thousand students were selected
for the
initial sample.
A
letter
was
sent
to all
members
of the
sample
inviting
them
to
participate
in the
study
and
follow-up postcards were mailed approximately
five
weeks later. Ultimately
1,150
stu-
dents
completed
the
survey, yielding
an
overall response rate
of
38%.
To
ensure
that only
272 M. S.
Earned
responses from members
of the
sample were included, each student
was
required
to use a
preassigned log-in identification number when completing
the
survey online. Only responses
for
which
the
log-in could
be
matched
to a
member
of the
sample were included
in the
dataset.
Of the
1,150
students
who
completed
the
survey,
1,139
(99%) provided usable data
and
were included
in the
database.
As can be
seen
in
Table
1, the
full
sample
was
repre-
sentative
of the
university student body
as a
whole.
Sample Characteristics
Only
those respondents
who
reported having dated while enrolled
at the
university were
included
in the
present analyses. Dating
was
defined
as
having engaged
in any
type
of
dat-
ing
behavior
ranging from one-time
dates
to
long-term relationships
and
included both
same-
and
opposite-sex dating partners.
Of the
1,139
students
in the
full
sample,
874
(77%)
had
dated whereas
265
(23%)
had
not. Daters ranged
in age
from
17 to 52 (M
=
21.3,
SD
=
3.74)
and
31
(4%) identified
as
homosexual, whereas
19
(2%)
identified
as
bisexual; addi-
tional demographic data
can be
found
in
Table
1.
Measures
Participants completed materials described
as a
questionnaire about student
life
at the
uni-
versity. With
the
exception
of the
physical
injury
scale (located immediately following
the
physical assault measure),
all
measures assessing outcomes were placed prior
to the
mea-
sures
assessing
stressors
to
minimize potential demand
effects.
The
measures used
in the
present study
are
described below;
see
Table
2 for
correlations
and
reliability indices.
Psychological
Outcomes.
A
21-item
version
of the
Mental Health Index
(MHI;
Veit
&
Ware,
1983;
Ware, 1984) assessed symptoms
of
anxiety, depression,
and
positive
affect
dur-
ing the
past month. Reliability indices
for the MHI are
excellent
for the
general population
(a =
.96; Ware, 1984). Symptoms
of
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurring
TABLE
1.
Demographics
of the
Entire
Student
Body,
the
Full
Sample,
and the
Dating Sample
Entire Student Full Sample Dating Sample
Body
(n
=1,139)
(n =
874)
% % %
Gender
Female
49
600(53)
489(56)
Male
51
539(47)
385(44)
Race/Ethnicity
African-American
8 72 (6) 53 (6)
Asian-American
10
110(10)
75 (9)
Caucasian
67
816(72)
660(76)
East
Asian
3 61 (5) 25 (3)
Hispanic
5 42 (4) 30 (3)
Other
7 38 (3) 31 (3)
Class
Freshman
20
294(26)
222(26)
Sophomore
16
186(16) 151(17)
Junior
18
204(18)
160(18)
Senior
21
182(16)
162(19)
Graduate/Professional
25
272(24)
178(20)
TABLE
2.
Scale Correlations
and
Reliabilities Among Women
and Men
1
.
Positive
Affect
2.
Depression
3.
Anxiety
4.
Posttraumatic Stress
5.BSQ
6.
School Withdrawal
7.
Academic Withdrawal
8.
Physical
Injury
9.
Motives
for
Violence
10.
ABI
(V)
ll.ABI(P)
12.
SES (V)
13.
SES (P)
14. CTS (V)
15.
CTS(P)
1
.82/.81
-.14*
-.64*
-.56*
-.30*
-.32*
-.16*
-.10
-.20
-.29*
-.26*
-.19*
-.07
-.11*
-.08
2
-.73*
.91/.90
.11*
.68*
.37*
.44*
.26*
.10
.15
.29*
.28*
.17*
.07
.14*
.12*
3
-.49*
.61*
.877.85
.54*
.29*
.29*
.13*
.11
.02
.29*
.28*
.14*
.10*
.12*
.12*
4
-.58*
.74*
.61*
.92/90
.33*
.39*
.37*
.20*
.29*
.37*
.35*
.24*
.07
.16*
.13*
5
-.23*
.29*
.28*
.36*
.977.96
.17*
.23*
.26*
.17*
.21*
.22*
.23*
.08
.19*
.15*
6
-.37*
.42*
.24*
.40*
.15*
.59/62
.26*
.00
-.06
.06
.08
.02
.03
.00
-.03
7
-.12*
.13*
.04
.23*
.09
.23*
.687.74
.04
.08
.24*
.22*
.24*
.15*
.10*
.08
8
-.09
-.06
-.06
-.03
.07
-.14
.03
.717.54
.25
.40*
.07
.13
.11
.73*
.39*
9
-.18
.26
.17-
.42*
-.12
.41*
.25
.21
.787.75
.26*
.50*
.19
.04
.42*
.46*
10
-.03
.08
.12*
.14*
.04
.01
.29*
.16
.63*
.877.84
.65*
.39*
.18*
.50*
.30*
11
-.02
.10
.13*
.17*
.06
.06
.37*
.19
.62*
.83*
.817.79
.29*
.29*
.38*
.46*
12
-.05
.07
.02
.19*
.08
.12*
.21*
.21
.21
.27*
.23*
.77/72
.29*
.28*
.11*
13
-.02
.03
.01
.14*
.03
.03
.22*
.03
.22
.29*
.36*
.40*
.537.66
.14*
.13*
14
.03
-.03
.04
.06
.00
-.04
.12*
.58*
.32*
.37*
.29*
.39*
.21*
.847.84
.70*
15
-.01
.03
.07*
.08
-.02
-.02
.03
.42*
.14
.18*
.15*
.15*
.11*
.71*
.837.83
Note. Correlations
for
women
are
shown below
the
diagonal; correlations
for men are
shown above
the
diagonal. Coefficient alphas
are in
italics
and
appear
in the
diagonal;
alphas
for
women
precede
the
slash
and
alphas
for men
follow
the
slash.
BSQ =
Body Shape Questionnaire;
ABI =
Abusive Behavior
Inventory—Psychological
Abuse sub-
scale;
SES =
Sexual Experiences Survey;
CTS =
Conflict Tactics
Scale—Physical
Abuse subscale;
(V) =
Victimization;
(P) =
Perpetration.
*p
<
.05.
274
M.
S.
Earned
during
the
past
month were assessed
via the
PTSD
Checklist—Civilian