Mutual abuse allegations allow female abusers to shift blame
It is very difficult to gauge how many men experience abuse at the hands of a domestic partner. Statistics indicate that as many as one-third of all men may experience it at some point, but researchers acknowledge that many cases may go unreported and therefore uncounted.
According to The Domestic Violence Hotline, abusers rarely take responsibility for their actions and instead try to shift the blame to the other party, sometimes claiming “mutual abuse” as a defense. In other words, both partners were violent, so neither is really accountable. Because of the perception that women are primarily or solely victims of domestic violence, a female abuser who makes a claim of mutual abuse may receive more credence and sympathy than a male abuser.
Newsday describes a highly publicized case that clearly demonstrates the double standard at work. During divorce proceedings, a wife accused her husband of domestic violence during their brief marriage. Both the media and advocacy organizations were quick to champion the wife and demonize her husband.
During subsequent legal action, evidence came to light in which the wife admitted to violence against her husband, mocking him for refusing to fight back. After this information went public, the wife and her attorneys were quick to allege mutual abuse. While the revelations appeared to move the needle of public opinion slightly in the husband’s favor, the organizations that initially supported the wife have remained largely silent.
Mutual abuse myth
Mutual abuse is difficult, if not impossible, because abuse is about exerting power over someone else. Therefore, while it is possible for a couple to be mutually violent toward one another or to behave in ways that are unhealthy in their relationship, one partner almost always has the upper hand. Allegations of mutual abuse allow the aggressor to retain power by shifting blame, absolving herself of responsibility while forcing the other partner to doubt himself.
Because of the societal pressure to believe a woman who alleges abuse in all instances instead of reaching a conclusion based on examination of the facts, female abusers may be more likely to get away with a mutual abuse allegation against male partners.