In 2014, noted female soccer star Hope Solo was arrested and charged with two counts of domestic violence assault charges against her half-sister and 17-year-old nephew. That same year, singer Solange (sister of Beyoncé Knowles) was caught on video violently attacking her brother-in-law Jay-Z.
These stories grab our attention, not just because of the celebrities involved, but because they point out the rare occasions in which we hear about women committing some sort of domestic abuse.
When we think about domestic violence, we typically presume the perpetrator is a man and the victim is a woman. And with good reason: The overwhelming majority of DV cases involve a male perpetrator and a female victim. However, some women can be as violent as men when it comes to their relationships, and some believe the number of women who commit domestic violence is significantly underreported. Let’s take an overview of this often-overlooked issue to see what we can learn.
Female Domestic Violence—By the Numbers
While some groups have attempted to calculate the percentage of domestic violence acts committed by women, the numbers themselves have wide variance. Some studies have put the percentage of female batterers as low as 3 percent. However, a compilation of studies has shown a much wider spread of possible percentages, especially in localized areas, with reported arrests of females for DV ranging anywhere between 16 percent and 35 percent.
When the numbers vary by this much, it’s safe to suggest that we don’t really know for sure how many women abuse their partners—but the consensus is that the real number is greater than we have been led to believe. Researchers have cited several possible reasons for this discrepancy:
- Men are reluctant to report themselves as victims for fear of embarrassment, or that they won’t be believed (a shaky argument considering many female victims do the same thing).
- Men sometimes don’t recognize the physical violence of their partner as an act of abuse, and therefore don’t report it.
- Some incidents may erroneously be reported as the woman acting in self-defense.
- Many women are involved in “situational couple violence” (when both partners are physically fighting). Women are often thought of as victims in these situations, rather than perpetrators.
Why Do Women Commit Violence?
In many cases, women who commit DV do so with the same basic motivation as most male abusers—i.e., a desire to control or dominate their partner through intimidation. However, the genders do tend to respond differently to conflict, and for different reasons. Some research has suggested the following possible motives for female-driven violence:
- A belief that they can “get away with it”
- An attempt to get their partner’s attention (i.e. feeling unheard)
- Retaliation for breaking the “rules” of the relationship (e.g., infidelity)
- Retaliation for abuse
Other Things to Know about Female Domestic Abuse
- Women who commit violence are more likely to use a weapon rather than physical force. The most likely reason is that many women feel they cannot overpower their partner physically.
- Females who abuse their partners may put themselves in greater danger, due to the potential for retaliation.
- Abusive women don’t always resort to physical means. In her book Exposing the Abusive Female, author Kimberly Taylor notes that women who are the sole abusers in a relationship often use nonphysical forms of abuse like verbal, emotional or psychological abuse. These tactics aren’t always illegal, but no less harmful.
- Female domestic violence is just as damaging to the family as violence perpetrated by the male. Violence is violence, and it can leave lasting scars on victims, children, and witnesses, no matter who commits it.
Female Domestic Violence in the Eyes of the Law
On its face, California law is gender-neutral when it comes to domestic violence. Women offenders are subject to the same possible penalties as male offenders if they are convicted—including fines, jail time, restraining orders, loss of custody of their children, etc. That being said, practical enforcement of the law can be confusing at times. Since law enforcement is so accustomed to male perpetrators in calls of domestic violence, it’s easy to assume the male is at fault, or at least shares blame. It is not uncommon for police to mistakenly arrest the man, or to perform a dual arrest of both partners if it is unclear who is the perpetrator. In such cases, the need for skilled legal representation cannot be overstated. An attorney experienced in domestic violence cases will perform an investigation to ascertain the facts and fight any signs of gender bias to ensure defendants’ rights are protected under the law.
If you are a woman accused of domestic violence, or a man mistakenly accused, we can work on your behalf to make sure the law treats you fairly, especially in complex situations. Call our offices for a free case evaluation.