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Domestic violence article was disinformation

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

I read Jim Scholz's My Turn (June 12) on family violence with a rapidly growing sense of disgust and embarrassment for my gender. While I laud the desire to make domestic abuse a thing of the past and I appreciate the need for a balanced view of the problem, this article quickly crossed the line into misogyny and outright statistical deception.

Mr. Scholz cites the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3) to support his claims about women as abusers. I found the Executive Summary by the study's authors online at http://www.calib.com/nccanch/pubs/statinfo/nis3.cfm, and quickly discovered that their findings were not what Mr. Scholz's article might lead me to believe.

For example, Mr. Scholz claims that "Mother-only households are more dangerous for children than father-only households." Yet the executive summary states that "among children in single-parent households, those living with only their fathers were approximately one and two-thirds times more likely to be physically abused than those living with their mothers." Mr. Scholz then says that children are more likely to be killed in mother-only households, but glosses over the fact that kids are far more likely to be killed when the mother "cohabitates with a man other than the biological father." He tries to imply that the abuser in these cases is usually the mother, but that data don't support that.

While children are slightly more likely to be "maltreated" (a broad term which does not imply violence) by a female than a male, the study has this to say about abuse: "children were more often abused by males (67 percent were abused by males versus 40 percent by females). The prevalence of male perpetrators were strongest in the category of sexual abuse, where 89 percent of the children were abused by a male compared to only 12 percent by a female."

This NIS-3 does support the idea that abuse is lower in families where the children are raised by both birth-parents, which isn't hard to account for. It seems obvious that on the average, parents who stay married have better relationships than parents who split up, and the environment is more stable. It's equally obvious why you'll find more cases of maltreatment by mothers - because it's far more likely the kids will be with the mother. The NIS-3 also gets much of its data from welfare agencies, which overwhelmingly serve single-parent households headed by women.

By misquoting this federal study, the article tries to create a sense of legitimacy before proceeding with a mishmash of unsupported, wildly misogynistic ranting, ending with an almost humorously ironic call to base our policies on sound science.

The real picture is easier to understand if you put back the piece that Mr. Scholz left out: violence against women. How many women who pass on abuse or maltreatment to their children are being abused themselves? Domestic abuse is the No. 1 cause of injury to women, and kills 2,000 to 4,000 women annually (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1993). Mr. Scholz reports that "children raised in single-mother households are eight times more likely to become killers than children raised with their biological father." I don't doubt that for a moment - over 60 percent of young men imprisoned for murder kill their mother's abuser.

On the whole, I have to wonder what the editorial staff intended by elevating this transparent, disingenuous polemic to the My Turn column. I'm no fan of censorship, but this piece should at most have been posted as a letter to the editor, or better yet, left to an obscure home page next to Holocaust deniers. I assume the intent was to drum up controversy, and in so doing, hopefully bring greater attention the issue of domestic violence. I hope the outcry will raise awareness, rather than leaving readers with the blatant disinformation this article provided. I hope, furthermore, that the awareness is raised enough to balance the pain this article must have caused to domestic violence survivors.

Bryan Clark is concerned about domestic violence and lives in Juneau.



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