Avoiding exceptions for same-sex couples, is abuse in heterosexual couples more commonly initiated by the husband? I am mostly interested in physical violence that is non-reciprocal. In other words, in a couple where only one spouse beats the other, is it significantly more common for the man to beat the women?

This belief seems stemmed from the idea that men are more violent and are physically stronger. "Wife-beater" is a commonly heard accusation; I cannot recall hearing any stories of "husband-beaters". I have also seen claims by mens rights groups suggesting that women are more often the abuser in such a relationship. Given the contended point, is there a statistical difference between the initiating gender?

  • 4
    I am certain there is a difference statistically, but I have personally witnessed husband beaters. They do exist and it is often a surprise to people. The numbers? No idea.
    – horatio
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 18:52
  • 5
    There’s more than just physical abuse. Those mens’ rights groups might refer to psychological abuse. I’m just speculating, mind. Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 19:50
  • 1
    @Konrad: Agreed. I limited the scope of this question mostly to help keep answers shorter / more focused and because I figured physical abuse is less inherently subjective / easier to study.
    – MrHen
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 19:57
  • 17
    Please note that OBVIOUS answers/studies (e.g. results of surveys) are probably incredibly skewed - a lot of men would NEVER admit to the fact that "a girl beat me". Even to a survey.
    – user5341
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 21:22
  • 3
    And yet a third point is that you also need to account for non-heterosexual couples - while it IS quite possible that including them would balance the impact out, it is impossible to predict that without actually studying. For example what if (hypothetical BS assumption) a large chunk of female would-be abusers have a significantly higher chance to end up in a lesbian relationship? Then the answer for heterosexual couples would down-play female propensity for violence in domestic situation. Or vice versa.
    – user5341
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 21:27

3 Answers 3


Statistics don't always agree on this issue.

According to this study:

Almost 24% of all relationships had some violence, and half (49.7%) of those were reciprocally violent. In nonreciprocally violent relationships, women were the perpetrators in more than 70% of the cases. Reciprocity was associated with more frequent violence among women (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=2.3; 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.9, 2.8), but not men (AOR=1.26; 95% CI=0.9, 1.7). Regarding injury, men were more likely to inflict injury than were women (AOR=1.3; 95% CI=1.1, 1.5), and reciprocal intimate partner violence was associated with greater injury than was nonreciprocal intimate partner violence regardless of the gender of the perpetrator (AOR=4.4; 95% CI=3.6, 5.5).

Methodology looks rock solid to me:

We analyzed data on young US adults aged 18 to 28 years from the 2001 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which contained information about partner violence and injury reported by 11 370 respondents on 18761 heterosexual relationships.

The idea that men are stronger, I think is obviously true - which leads to women being more likely to suffer injuries. However, according to this study and others, women can be plenty aggressive as well, and it often seems as if society simply ignores this fact.

Although apparently there's no shortage of physical violence of women against men, it is true that you won't see this often in the mainstream media. But it does happen, occasionally. Quote from the study discussed in the Guardian article:

For the year preceding the survey, and excluding stalking, 5.6% of women and 4.1% of men reported having suffered non-sexual partner abuse (any abuse, threat, or force from a partner or ex-partner), a proportion of male victims of about 42%. Of these, 2.7% of women and 2.0% of men reported suffering actual force [assault or violence], a proportion of male victims of about 43%, which was designated as ‘severe’ in the case of 1.8% of women and 1.6% of men, a proportion of male victims of about 47%. These proportions are slightly higher than those found by Study 276 some four years earlier. Such proportions of male victims are almost double those found by the BCS of 2004/05 (23% based on numbers of incidents) and that of 2005/06 (20%). This suggests either a significant level of under-reporting especially by male victims of domestic abuse to these routine annual surveys or that basing the proportion on the numbers of incidents distorts the actual prevalence of male victims.

To summarize: existing research doesn't necessarily support the stereotype of an abusive male partner, violence seems to be a problem for both genders.

  • Your statistics in Exhibit 1 do not differentiate between "violence done to men by women" and "violence done to men by men", and is therefore not relevant here.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jul 26, 2011 at 17:58
  • well spotted @Ernie; I removed the irrelevant statistics. Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 9:58

This page gives statistics:

Women accounted for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003)

However it also says:

Surveys find that men and women assault one another and strike the first blow at approximately equal rates. (Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126 (5), 651-680. Dutton, D., Kwong, M., & Bartholomew, K. (1999). Gender differences in patterns of relationship violence in Alberta. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 31, 150-160 Morse, B. (1995). Beyond the Conflict Tactics Scale: Assessing gender differences in partner violence. Violence and Victims, 10 (4), 251-269. Straus, M. (1993). Physical assaults by wives: A major social problem. In R. Gelles & D. Loseky (Eds.), Current controversies on family violence (pp. 67-87). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.)

I can only speculate that the first refers to reported crimes, and the second to all forms of aggression.

  • 3
    That page also has some other relevant numbers. Some of them conflict the 85%/15% numbers. One example: "Surveys find that men and women assault one another and strike the first blow at approximately equal rates." Another: "Between 600,000 and 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year, and between 100,000 and 6 million men, depending on the type of survey used to obtain the data." But great page link. :)
    – MrHen
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 19:02

I have also seen claims by mens rights groups suggesting that women are more often the abuser in such a relationship.

In some countries, the term "spousal abuse" isn't limited to physical violence. For example according to this Canadian government definition it includes:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse and exploitation (includes ... using ridicule or other tactics to try to denigrate, control or limit their sexuality)
  • Emotional abuse (includes verbal attacks, such as yelling, screaming and name-calling. Using criticism, verbal threats, social isolation, ... threatening a person or their loved ones, damaging their possessions, or harming their pets)
  • Economic or financial abuse includes stealing from or defrauding a partner
  • Spiritual abuse

According to that same document, "women are more likely to report being assaulted" in almost every category of abuse.

  • It is important to note these more "subtle" forms of abuse, and also that there may be a gender bias in the use of such, but a lack of recording of these.
    – James
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 13:02
  • 3
    -1 women are more likely to report being assaulted does not necessarily mean primarily initiated by males since not every abuse is reported. (see other 2 answers)
    – Stefan
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 15:11
  • @Stefan I didn't claim it does "necessarily mean primarily initiated by males". I was carefully quoting the referenced/evidence FYI, not jumping to an unwarranted conclusion based on it. In fact I agree with your conclusion (that it "does not necessarily mean primarily initiated by males").
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 8:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .