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The Myth of Sexual Symmetry in Marital Violence

Russell P. Dobash, R. Emerson Dobash, Margo Wilson, Martin Daly
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3096914 71-91 First published online: 1 February 1992


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: (I) surveys employing 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 demonstrating that the sexual symmetry of spousal homicide victimization does not reflect sexually symmetrical motivation 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.

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