Dear Mr. Dad. My 16-year old son has been coming home with bruises on his face and arms. At first, I assumed they were from sports. But when I asked, he got very embarrassed and refused to talk about it. Thinking maybe he was getting bullied at school, I pushed the issue and eventually he told me that his girlfriend was hitting him. I was shocked—I’ve never heard of a girl beating up a guy before. How common is this?

A: Sadly, it’s incredibly common—far more than most people would like to admit. If you look at official statistics you’ll find that nearly all the perpetrators of domestic violence are male. Unfortunately, official statistics don’t reflect reality. Men—including young men, like your son–almost never admit to being the victim of any crime at all, much less a violent one committed by a woman. And there’s good reason. Violence by women against men is generally ignored or seen as funny. Just think of all the movies and TV shows where a woman slaps, kicks, or punches a man. The reaction? Laughter, applause, cheers. The message to women (and girls) is that it’s okay to hit other people—especially males. And the message to men (and boys) is that if you ever get hurt by a female people are going to laugh at you.

So what are the real statistics? According to Murray A. Strauss, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, intimate partner violence (violence by people in relationships) is far from one sided. In most violent relationships, physical aggression is mutual, with both sides swinging at each other. But when violence is initiated by one person only, it’s usually the woman. Strauss is no crank. He’s been researching and writing about relationship violence for decades. And he’s far from alone. Dozens of other researchers have also found that females are at least as violent as males. (There’s a good bibliography at
Critics say that even if that’s true, men do more damage than women. But the research shows that men tend to use their hands while women use weapons. So even assuming that men do more damage, they certainly don’t do ALL the damage.

So why have male victims and female perpetrators been ignored? In part, it’s because there’s a societal belief that women just aren’t capable of violence. I wrote an article a few years ago about male victims of domestic violence and received the only death threat I’ve ever had in more than 15 years of writing. It was from a woman who—without noticing the irony—insisted that women are never violent. And she was going to kill me to prove it.

There’s also a knee-jerk reaction to female-on-male violence: the guy deserves it. ABC news did a segment that explored how people react when seeing a woman abusing a man in public. The URL is too long to give you here, but go to YouTube and enter “reaction to women abusing men in public.” I think (and hope) that you’ll be shocked.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the problem is going away anytime soon. We keep talking about “violence against women” as if it’s the only kind of violence out there. As a result, very few female offenders will get the treatment they need and even fewer male victims will get the support they and their children need. We need to decide that violence—not just violence by men—is a problem. Then, and only then, will we be able to solve it.