It turns out that not only was W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson's Washington Post editorial offensive, they misinterpreted a major data point cited to back up their claims that if women were married, there would be less domestic violence. They also totally downplayed the real threat here: men.
As Erin pointed out yesterday, and as FiveThirtyEight's Mona Chalabi points out today, the piece ignored the connection between wealth and marriage. But Witcox and Wilson also used a chart that, according to the study author, didn't explain the whole picture.
In their piece, Witcox and Wilson wrote:
Women are also safer in married homes. As the figure above (derived from a recent Department of Justice study) indicates, married women are the least likely to be victimized by an intimate partner. They are also less likely to be the victims of violent crime in general. Overall, another U.S. Department of Justice study found that never-married women are nearly four times more likely to be victims of violent crime, compared to married women. The bottom line is that married women are less likely to be raped, assaulted, or robbed than their unmarried peers.
The figure above isn't enough however. Shannon Catalano of the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that this chart only looked at household composition, but "we know from previous research that violence is associated with a multitude of factors." (Do we ever.)
"Though other researchers have examined these factors, the purpose of the BJS report was not to identify these other factors," Catalano told Chalabi, adding that if the BJS had controlled for other factors – like age – the results would change:
We know, for example, that victimization (for several types of violence including intimate partner violence) is much higher for younger males and females, particularly between the ages of 18-24.
If you did just want to look at this one chart, also consider this: intimate partner violence is higher for younger people in general, and since women are getting married later in life, that could account for why married women experience less violence in their relationships. You could also consider whether the quality of the married man at the head of a household changes how much violence exists in a household more than his mere existence.
If you really wanted to look for a pattern, unfortunately, the common thread here time and time again isn't whether women are married or not but men – just the existence of men. As a 2000 National Violence Against Women Survey found:
Women living with female intimate partners experience less intimate partner violence than women living with male intimate partners. Slightly more than 11 percent of the women who had lived with a woman as part of a couple reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by a female cohabitant, but 30.4 percent of the women who had married or lived with a man as part of a couple reported such violence by a husband or male cohabitant.
Men living with male intimate partners experience more intimate partner violence than do men who live with female intimate partners. Approximately 15 percent of the men who had lived with a man as a couple reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by a male cohabitant, while 7.7 percent of the men who had married or lived with a woman as a couple reported such violence by a wife or female cohabitant.
"These findings, combined with those presented in the previous bullet, provide further evidence that intimate partner violence is perpetrated primarily by men, whether against male or female intimates," the study found. "Thus, strategies for preventing intimate partner violence should focus on risks posed by men." According to this information, what someone should do is write an op-ed about how banning men would nip domestic violence in the bud. That would solve everything. (Happy Father's Day!)
Image by Jim Cooke, photo via Getty.