Mutual Abuse and Gender Symmetry

“What about ‘mutual abuse’?” or “Don’t women abuse just as much as men do?” –

90-95% of domestic violence victims are women and as many as 95% of domestic violence perpetrators are men.* However, men can be victims and women can be perpetrators, and domestic violence occurs in same-sex relationships.

There are unhealthy relationships, in which both partners may be doing unhealthy things like checking each other’s text messages or Facebook pages, arguing, and being generally jealous, and there are abusive relationships, where these and other tactics are used by one partner to maintain power and control over the other.  In abusive relationships, there is always a dominant aggressor who uses various tactics to maintain power and control in the relationship.  The other partner may react to these tactics, including through use of self-defense, but they are not attempting to control their partner, so they are not equal in the abuse.  Thus, the general concept of ‘mutual abuse’, or that two people are mutually controlling one another in a relationship, is actually a myth.

But what about those studies that show women are just as violent as men?

These studies use a research tool called the “Conflict Tactics Scale,” which does not control for the context in which the violence occurred, such as use of force in self-defense or retaliation. So, for example, if a man is strangling a woman and she scratches him to get him to stop, they each get “one point” on the conflict tactics scale for use of violence! Even more significantly, if a woman has been abused by a man for years, he pushes her into the wall, and she picks up a knife, brandishes it and says “get away from me,” she will get two points and he will get one. This is the substance of studies that found women are more violent than men. Furthermore, other studies consistently find that no matter what the rate of violence or who initiates the violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured in acts of intimate partner violence than men are.*

For more information about the false claim that women are equally as violent as men, please see

* Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings: Violence Between Inmates (NCJ-149259), November 1994; A Report of the Violence Against Women Research Strategic Planning Workshop sponsored by the National Institute of Justice in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995.

Adapted from