In "soft" sciences like sociology, it's much more difficult to detect manipulation of research, than in "hard" sciences like physics. Soft science researchers who strive for objectivity deserve an extra measure of respect. Sadly, far too many researchers are more concerned with pushing an agenda than with objectivity. These same problems are not unknown in the world of journalism. Since the soft sciences and the media have a powerful influence on social policies in this country, this affects every family and every individual.

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Straus Says National Violence Against Women Survey is Biased

By Mark B. Rosenthal

April 4, 2005

For decades, government policy on domestic violence has been, and continues to be, predicated on the erroneous belief that the overwhelming majority of cases involve a man brutally abusing a helpless woman, and that the number of male victims and female abusers is negligible.  Contradicting this belief, the U.S. Dept. of Justice's 1998 National Violence Against Women Survey found that 834,732 men are victimized annually.  (See exhibit 7, p. 7 of http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/172837.pdf) Yet the policy implications section of that report virtually ignored the finding that there are a significant number of abused men who also need services.

How can this be?  I recently stumbled onto a statement by Murray Straus which I believe explains this apparent paradox.  For those who do not know who Straus is, let me explain that he is one of the U.S.'s leading authorities in the research of family violence.  It was his work in the early 1970s that made the study of family violence a legitimate topic for scientific research.  He has been a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire since 1968, is founder and Co-Director of UNH's Family Research Laboratory, conducted the First and Second National Family Violence Surveys in 1975 and 1985, and continues to be active in the research to this day. In 2006, he presented results of his 32-nation International Dating Violence Study.

On August 15, 2002, Straus was a guest on the radio show "The Exchange" hosted by Laura Knoy on NH Public Radio.  During that show, Straus said that the researchers who did the National Violence Against Women Survey for the Dept. of Justice tried to bias it by intentionally omitting questions that could show women in a negative light and neglecting to include men in the study.  The researchers did not originally intend to include men in the study at all. They only did so after a great deal criticism by other researchers who wanted the study to be conducted in an unbiased fashion, among them Straus.  Straus' words are below. Click here to listen to audio clip of this segment of the radio show.

When I first heard the show, the significance of Straus' comments didn't hit me.  It was only recently, as I was cleaning up old files on my computer, that I listened to the show again and realized that it offers an explanation of why the D.O.J. study's policy implications section makes no mention of the fact that, contrary to popular belief and the researchers' expectations, men constitute 36% of victims of physical assault by an intimate partner.

When researchers approach a topic in an unbiased fashion, one would expect their report to highlight the most surprising results.  In this case, one would expect the policy implications section to have included a statement like, "Of the victims in our survey, 36% are men, a dramatically higher percentage than the generally believed 5%, and services need to be developed to address the unique needs of this population."  But in this case the researchers treated this result as the elephant in the room that everybody's politely trying not to notice.  It's impossible not to wonder what their true agenda is, and whether the number of male victims would have been notably higher than 36% if the researchers had conducted their work in an impartial fashion.

Mark Rosenthal

Straus' Comments on "The Exchange", Hosted by Laura Knoy, Broadcast August 15, 2002 on NH Public Radio:

Below is my transcription of the relevant portion of the show.  Be aware that transcribing from spoken words is always tricky since people don't speak the way they write.  I've done my best to preserve the meaning while trying to make the printed form readable.  The authoritative source for what Straus said is the audio clip of his comments which can be heard by clicking here.

In this portion of the show, another guest had proposed that academic researchers should partner with the battered women's shelters to figure out how to get the violence to end.

Straus responded:
"I tried to do that.  I haven't tried for a number of years because the people I tried to do it with insisted on my using a biased instrument."
Interviewer: "What do you mean by that?"

Straus:
"Well, I'm the developer of the Conflict Tactics Scales.  This instrument lists things that might happen when there's a conflict or when people are just plain feeling out of sorts, or lousy, or angry for whatever reason.  The instrument asks, 'Did these things happen?'

"It includes various acts that the partner can do, and that the respondent – the person being interviewed – might do.  They refused to ask the questions about what the respondent did.  When they were interviewing women respondents, they insisted on asking only questions about what the partner did.

"That same procedure was carried over into the National Institute of Justice National Violence Against Women study.  They asked what they call a 'feminist version' of the Conflict Tactics Scale, that asks only about victimization and leaves out the questions about perpetration.  And of course if you do that, you will have to find that only men are violent.

"It was only after much pressure from people like myself that they then added a second sample, of men, to find this out.  As a result of this, even though this study is biased in a number of ways, some of them unintentional, some of them intentional, they found that 40% of the past year assaults were perpetrated by women.  This is a national sample of 16,000, so it's huge and very dependable."
Complete List of Policy Implications from the U.S. Dept. of Justice November 1998 report "Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey" by Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes:
  1. Violence against women should be treated as a significant social problem.
  2. Rape should be viewed as a crime committed primarily against youth.
  3. Studies are needed to determine why the prevalence of rape and physical assault varies significantly among women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
  4. Women are at greater risk of partner violence than men.
  5. Violence against women is predominantly partner violence.
  6. America's medical community should receive comprehensive training about the medical needs of female victims of crime.
  7. Stalking should be treated as a significant social problem.
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