Washington Post had an epic disaster of a column today, in which they managed to blame women for violence against women and literally tell women to fix it, they should get married. “One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married.”
Never mind that three women a day are murdered in this country by an intimate partner, or that on yet another day of mass shooting, gun ownership by an abuser increases a woman’s chances of being murdered. Oh, no. It’s all the ladies’ fault, and they can fix it by getting married.
Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed captured the before and after headlines at WaPo as they scrambled, ineffectively, to be less offensive:
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) June 10, 2014
I’ve seen some egregious reporting before, but this Washington Post article by Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson is not only so academically compromised as to not even merit a quote, but more importantly it’s dangerous in its failure to comprehend the issue. It’s a wonder that when the editors chose to change the title, they didn’t pull the article. Their own 538 column said the authors misused the data.
Some of the statistics cited in this article are from one of the author’s own papers and disagree with the stats I’ve cited for years, which come from the FBI and experts in actual statistics regarding crimes against women. Her papers come laden seemingly with the burden of blaming women for the violence of a small percentage of men.
But even “unskewed” statistics have to be misunderstood in order to sell this load of dangerous tripe. Correlation does not equal causation, so saying that married women experience less violence does not automatically mean that marriage cures abusers. Actually, that’s a dangerously inaccurate thing to suggest.
Real statistics show that younger women are more likely to be victims of violence. Younger women are also more likely to be unmarried as opposed to older women. So marriage isn’t the cure or the causation of “safer” times for married women. Shannon Catalano, the author of the DOJ study cited by the WaPo article and a statistician at the Bureau of Justice Statistics, explained this as well, writing to 538, “The BJS chart used here is limited to one variable, household composition, when we know from previous research that violence is associated with a multitude of factors.”
538 points out that there are other unaccounted for factors — “the marrying kind tend to be more educated, wealthier and whiter” — while accurate, this could be misleading as it could feed into the too commonly accepted stereotype of an abuser. In fact, lethal abusers aren’t contained to the poor, uneducated, or the minority population, nor are they the types to be given the sort of practical endorsement by our legal system that others are.
Furthermore, from one of the studies they cited, “Females ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence.” Yes. Prime age for pregnancy, which is one of the biggest dangers for a woman.
But also, “unmarried” women being larger victims of violence does not equate to getting married protecting a woman. Rather, the second most lethal time for a woman is when she leaves or has left her abuser. The DOJ study they cited even says, ” Separated females experienced the highest rate of intimate partner violence during the 18-year period.”
So what is WaPo saying, that these women should not leave?
The study they cite even explains exactly what I’m saying– note the huge jump in violence for separated women (women are at their most endangered when they leave an abuser):
From 2000 to 2005, the rate of intimate partner victimization remained stable for married females, while rates for females who were never married (down 31%), divorced or widowed (down 31%), or separated (down 30%) declined.
In 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence for married females (2.0 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older) was about four times less than the rates for never married females (8.0 victimizations per 1,000), about three times less than the rate for divorced or widowed females (6.5 victimizations per 1,000), and about 30 times less than the rate for separated females (59.6 victimizations per 1,000).
Additionally, married women have a larger motive (investment) for not reporting, let alone prosecuting. So do children regarding their biological parents. Experts know that underreporting is a huge problem in violence against women and sexual molestation. Speaking of “reporting”, this DOJ study was a survey study, as noted by 538. Surveys are notorious for underreporting.
Yes, “The rate of female intimate partner violence in 2010 among households comprised of one female adult with children was more than 10 times higher than the rate for females in households with married adults with children” but we do not know why. Did these women leave an abuser? If random boyfriends are to blame for violence against these women with children, this is clue that predators will be predators. Single parents tend to be vulnerable. Why isn’t anyone blaming the absent parent for this? And why aren’t we doing something as a culture to support and protect the vulnerable instead of blaming them for being prey in a system designed to make them prey?
A violent boyfriend does not stop being violent when he marries a woman. This suggestion is the equivalent of blaming women for the actions of a small percentage of men. It is absolutely wrong to suggest that women could fix an abuser by marrying him or that marriage somehow inoculates a woman from violence.
Women need to stop taking lovers and then they won’t be hurt or killed anymore – that was the original premise. Women have free will and they are entitled to free will. They do not owe some man their bodies or their lives. This kind of attitude is part of what condoned the sick attitudes of the Santa Barbara shooter. In fact, a sense of entitlement is a sign of lethality on the lethality assessment chart. Washington Post should be ashamed to contribute to that.
Furthermore, even if women did as WaPo suggested, guess what? It doesn’t work. There is no appeasing an abuser with compliance. Women are killed for being pregnant, for cooking a hamburger the wrong way, for not cleaning the kitchen to his standards and for not being subservient enough. There is never enough compliance to assuage the needy and insecure abuser.
The two most lethal times for a woman are when she is pregnant and when she is trying to leave an abuser. What kind of culture do we have that blames women for this and leaves them on their own to survive being hunted down like an animal?
The authors of the Washington Post article never thought to discuss why these men abuse women and children, let alone how articles like WaPo’s excuse said violence. Instead they blamed the women for it all by suggesting that if she married, these things wouldn’t happen. In order to make this argument, they relied on survey data that they misinterpreted and misappropriated for a cause. But this isn’t just bad reporting. This very article is indicative of the American culture of violence against women.
I speak of this matter sadly as an expert, both as a survivor of an attempt on my life and as someone who has studied the issue for years. Just weeks ago when writing about this for the first time after the Santa Barbara shootings, I was inundated with stories from women and men who had dealt with violence against them or a loved one. This is as serious as it gets. Thus, in honor of all of the women murdered in this country by intimate partner abuse and terrorism, the esteemed paper needs to apologize.
Until then, I dedicate the graves of the statistically three women murdered every day by intimate partners to the editors at the Washington Post who thought this was acceptable. Women’s lives matter. We are not garbage and we do not deserve to be blamed for the culture of violence that threatens our safety and that of our children.
I challenge the WaPo writers and editors to a real dialogue about this issue. Get a panel of victims and experts together so they can not only learn what they got wrong, but be a positive part of educating others. They are one of the best papers out there, and they could steward a huge awakening that would help millions.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah has won two Telly Awards and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.