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39 Soc. Probs. 71 (1992)
The Myth of Sexual Symmetry in Marital Violence

handle is hein.journals/socprob39 and id is 81 raw text is: The Myth of Sexual Symmetry in
Marital Violence*
RUSSELL P. DOBASH, University of Wales College of Cardiff
R. EMERSON DOBASH, University of Wales College of Cardiff
MARGO WILSON, McMaster University
MARTIN DALY, McMaster University
A currently fashionable claim is that violence against husbands is about as prevalent as violence against
wives; spousal violence has been said to be symmetrical in its extent, severity, intentions, motivational contexts,
and even its consequences. The evidence for this alleged symmetry derives from two sources: (1) surveys employ-
ing the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS), a checklist of self-reported acts perpetrated or experienced, and (2) U.S.
homicide data. We criticize the claim of sexual symmetry by reviewing other contradictory survey evidence; by
showing that the CTS provides an account of marital violence that is neither reliable nor valid; and by demon-
strating that the sexual symmetry of spousal homicide victimization does not reflect sexually symmetrical motiva-
tion or action-and is in any case peculiar to the United States. Confining self-report data to a checklist of acts,
devoid of motives, meanings and consequences cannot insure objectivity, validity or an adequate development of
theory to explain violence.
Long denied, legitimized, and made light of, wife-beating is at last the object of wide-
spread public concern and condemnation. Extensive survey research and intensive interpre-
tive investigations tell a common story. Violence against wives (by which term we
encompass de facto as well as registered unions) is often persistent and severe, occurs in the
context of continuous intimidation and coercion, and is inextricably linked to attempts to
domininate and control women (e.g., Counts, Brown, and Campbell 1992, Dobash and Dobash
1979, Martin 1976, Pagelow 1984). Historical and contemporary investigations further reveal
that this violence has been explicitly decriminalized, ignored, or treated in an ineffectual
manner by criminal justice systems, by medical and social service institutions, and by com-
munities (e.g., Bowker 1983, Dobash and Dobash 1977/78, 1979, 1981a, 1992, Dobash, Dobash,
and Cavanagh 1985, Gordon 1988, Pahl 1985, Pleck 1987, 1989, Smith 1989, Stark and Flitcraft
1983, Stark, Flitcraft, and Frazier 1979). Increased attention to these failures has inspired in-
creased efforts to redress them, and in many places legislative amendments have mandated
arrest and made assault a crime whether the offender is married to the victim or not.
A number of researchers and commentators have suggested that assaults upon men by
their wives constitute a social problem comparable in nature and magnitude to that of wife-
* The order of authorship was determined by a random process upon the completion of the manuscript. The
authors wish to acknowledge the financial support of NATO, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation; in addition, we thank several people for facilitating the development of the
homicide datafiles, including K. Shaw of the British Home Office in London, F. Hird of the Scottish Home Office in
Edinburgh, J. Turner and J. LaCroix of the Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, as well as C.R. Block, R. Block,
R.L. Drake, R. Gartner, and A. Wallace. This paper was written while M. Wilson and M. Daly were Fellows of the Center
for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences with financial support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Foundation, The National Science Foundation #BNS87-008, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the Gordon P.
Getty Trust, and while M. Daly was a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Correspondence to: R.P.
Dobash, School of Social and Administrative Studies, University of Wales College of Cardiff, Cardiff, Wales CF t 3AS.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS, Vol. 39, No. 1, February 1992

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