This is my fourth and final column for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I want to address the numbers. It is said that 86.7 percent of all statistics are wrong. Statistics are amazingly easy to twist, and by properly formatting a survey a result can be created to say just about anything.
I imagine that the domestic violence surveyors have as hard a time getting reliable data as those who attempt to gather sex data. Both are areas that people are quite embarrassed about, and we tend to inflate or deflate our responses based on the perceived “right” answer, given the poll at the time.
The distressing part of this, for anyone who is attempting to have an intelligent conversation about domestic violence is the lack of solid verifiable numbers. Because anyone can find a statistic that supports their position in some way, the conversations implode into a “I’m right, you’re wrong” place, where both parties are digging trenches for their positions and not actually understanding each other.
I went to the American Bar Association website (abanet.org) to find some research on domestic violence. They have a website devoted to summarizing the studies broken out by crime, and then victim population by racial classification, sexual orientation, and economic factors.
To show how easily twisted numbers can be, check this summary, According to the National Violence Against Women Survey:
• Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence than men: 78 percent of the victims of rape and sexual assault are women and 22 percent are men.
• Most perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Among acts of sexual violence committed against women since the age of 18, 100 percent of rapes, 92 percent of physical assaults, and 97 percent of stalking acts were perpetrated by men. Sexual violence against men is also mainly male violence: 70 percent of rapes, 86 percent of physical assaults, and 65 percent of stalking acts were perpetrated by men.
If we look at the statement that 100 percent of the rapes were committed by men, but that only makes sense if the definition involves intercourse. If the definition of rape is expanded to include sexual assault, it cannot be 100 percent — because a woman can sexually assault another woman. The same study shows that 8 percent of the physical assaults and 3 percent of the stalking were committed by other women. It is also interesting to note that sexual violence against men has a strong male component, but also a very strong female component.
Looking at the same study, if 70 percent of the rapes against men are perpetrated by men, that means the remaining 30 percent were perpetrated by women, and 15 percent of the physical assaults and 35 percent of the stalkers were women.
In another study it was reported that: 11 percent of lesbians reported violence by their female partner and 15 percent of gay men who had lived with a male partner reported being victimized by a male partner.
When it comes to elder abuse the numbers are also hard to pin down. This from one study: It is estimated that for every one case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, or self neglect reported to authorities, about five more go unreported.
My point with all of this is that the numbers are very easily sliced and diced in such a way as to make any point that someone wants to make. One can easily point to the high numbers and say that this is an astronomical problem and that the source of all the pain is men in society.
One can just as easily look at the numbers and say that the studies are mixing apples and oranges to count coconuts.
And frankly, everyone is right, and everyone is wrong. Domestic violence is a big problem, but what many studies show is that the same people are victimized repeatedly, and the perpetrators continue their pattern of behavior over multiple relationships.
One person’s loud Italian family is another’s domestically violent household. One couple’s foreplay would be grounds for another couples incarceration.
The variety of human experience makes all of this a delicate situation. On the one hand we want to bring awareness to real problems, on the other, by crying wolf too often, over too little, we dilute the message.
At the end of the day we just have to realize that when we look at statistics, no matter who is quoting them, they are still wrong 84.25 percent of the time.
David Pisarra is a Divorce Attorney who specializes in Father’s Rights and Men’s Issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He is the author of the upcoming, “A Man’s Guide To Child Custody.” You can pre-order the book by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/664-9969.