Survivors and Victims, Women and Men in Domestic Violence Literature

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Scholarly literature addressing domestic violence typically gender stereotypes domestic violence. It typically represents and refers to victims of domestic violence as women. It typically represents and refers to perpetrators of domestic violence as men. It commonly calls victims of domestic violence “survivors,” as if death is a common outcome of domestic violence victimization. These linguistic practices gender-stereotype and sensationalize domestic violence, just as have sensational, false claims about domestic violence against women. They are part of the democratic failure underlying frequent imposition of extraordinary domestic violence emergency law and mass incarceration.

Men account for an important share of domestic violence victims. When justifying gender stereotyping domestic violence, the scholarly literature usually cites studies showing that men account for 5% of domestic violence victims. Other scholarly studies indicate that men account for roughly half the victims of domestic violence. Nationally representative, widely used data on injuries indicate that men account for about 40% of victims of acute injuries from domestic violence. Despite the relatively large share of men who are victims, domestic violence literature seldom refers to domestic violence victims as male or men.

Death is the outcome in a relatively small share of domestic violence victimizations. A widely cited study of violence against women, which used data with serious weaknesses, found that women and men suffer 4.5 million and 2.5 intimate partner assaults (victimizations) annually.^ About 3,000 civilian women and 12,000 civilian men annually died from all forms of violence, including intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence about the time of the victimization study. Domestic violence victimization causing death thus amounts to less than 0.1% of typically quoted figures for domestic violence victimizations. The number of women who commit suicide is much higher than the number of women who die from domestic violence.

Domestic violence restraining orders can be obtained with an standard-form, ex parte civil petition that gets only perfunctory review. About 1.7 million restraining orders issue per year in the U.S. Successfully petitioning for an ex parte restraining order is a poor indication of survival in any meaningful sense. Referring to such petitioners as “survivors” is publicly harmful symbolic violence.

Gender stereotyping domestic violence and the use of the term “survivors” to refer to victims of domestic violence indicates that facts have little influence on determining domestic violence terminology. Men plausibly account for 40% of victims of serious domestic violence. Death from domestic violence is a result of less than 0.1% of claimed domestic violence victimizations. Nonetheless, victims of domestic violence are called “women” and “survivors.” Gender stereotyping and sensationalism in addressing domestic violence underscore the orientation of domestic violence law and policy: encouraging the criminal arrest of men.

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