Baltimore Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson was arrested after an altercation with his girlfriend last week--the latest example of how police often arrest men who have been attacked by their female partners.
According to the Associated Press, the Baltimore police concluded that Erickson's girlfriend Lisa Ortiz: initiated the fight by hurling objects; decided to come back twice after Erickson carried her out of the apartment; repeatedly kicked the apartment door; caused Erickson two minor injuries, one of them to his pitching arm; and herself suffered no injuries.
Nonetheless the police, who were operating under Maryland's mandatory arrest law, interpreted Erickson's actions as excessive and are charging him with second-degree assault. Ortiz states that Erickson, who did not pursue her either time after carrying her out, "has never been physically abusive toward me, and in no way do I feel threatened or felt fear from Scott." Ortiz was not arrested.
Domestic violence activist Greg Schmidt, a police lieutenant who created the Seattle police department's domestic violence investigation unit in 1994, says that cases like Erickson's demonstrate the way men are often presumed guilty in domestic disputes. He notes that mandatory arrest laws, such as California's, frustrate police officers because they are "expected to make arrests in petty incidents, often where the woman is the aggressor, the abuse is mutual, or it is unclear who the aggressor was."
"The domestic violence industry--the trainers, the shelter directors, etc.--can spin things however they want," he says, "but most street cops know that women are just as likely to start domestic disputes as men are. But arresting women puts you under lot of scrutiny. It's bad for your career."
Schmidt also criticizes the dominant aggressor doctrine which discourages dual arrests (which are often an appropriate measure) and instructs police to downplay who struck the first blow. Instead, police are asked to focus on who is (supposedly) in control of the situation and who is more fearful--often code words for "arrest the man."
Part of the problem is the training that police officers receive from the domestic violence industry, which insists that 95% of domestic violence is committed by men. Southern California domestic violence consultant Anne O'Dell, who has conducted over 500 domestic violence trainings of police officers and commanders, judges, district attorneys, and victim advocates, tells her trainees that "if a police officer is arresting more than 8% women, you've got a real problem. When an officer arrests 12% or 15% women, I'm outraged." O'Dell says that dual arrests should occur in no more than 3% of incidents.
There is virtually no current data which supports the "95%" myth. According to the US Department of Justice's 1998 Report on the National Violence Against Women Survey, men comprise nearly 40% of all domestic violence victims. California State Long Beach University professor Martin Fiebert has compiled an on-line bibliography (www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm) which examines 130 scholarly investigations (104 empirical studies and 26 reviews and/or analyses) which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 77,000.
Domestic violence researchers Susan Steinmetz, Richard Gelles, and Murray Straus, early advocates for battered women and authors of the influential and groundbreaking Behind Closed Doors: Violence in American Families, conducted two major studies for the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, both of which found similar rates of abuse between husbands and wives.
As Gelles explained in "The Missing Persons of Domestic Violence: Male Victims," "Contrary to the claim that women only hit in self-defense, we found that women were as likely to initiate the violence as were men."
In addition, studies by researchers R.L. McNeeley and Coramae Richey Mann show that women compensate for their lesser physical strength by their greater use of weapons and the element of surprise. According to Phil Cook, author of Abused Men the Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, while abused women tend to be seriously injured more than abused men, often it is men who receive the most serious injuries, because of the weapons factor.
Once a man is arrested for domestic violence it can be difficult (and expensive) for him to extricate himself. Family law attorney Lisa Scott, founder of the domestic violence activist group Taking Action Against Bias in the System, says that district attorneys are rarely willing to drop domestic violence cases against men, even when the evidence is scant and the female "victims" themselves ask that charges be dropped.
Many women's advocates correctly note that these drop requests can at times be motivated by economic dependency or because women are unfairly made to feel guilty for nonviolently "provoking" violent men. However, Scott explains that it is much more common that women request drops because they know that they initiated the violence, or that they participated equally in it, and they do not want their male partners to be prosecuted unfairly.
Men in Erickson's position often face an agonizing choice. If they do nothing, they allow the abuse to continue and possibly escalate. If they attempt to defend themselves, they take the chance that someone will call the police and they will be arrested. If they call the police, they are in danger of being arrested and prosecuted for what is really their female partners' violence.
According to Gay Kennedy, formerly the domestic violence adviser on the LAPD Harbor Division advisory board, "the system has become very unfair to men."
"Studies show that there are many male victims of domestic violence but that they don't report it," she notes. "It's not hard to see why. Anyone who is attacked by their partner should call the police, but male victims don't want to risk being sucked into a system which is hopelessly stacked against them. And the domestic violence industry, which is rife with anti-male prejudice, is part of the problem."
Note: The second-degree assault charge against Erickson was eventually dropped. According to a police spokeswoman, "The victim was interviewed by the prosecutor, and her testimony bordered on a recantation. With no other independent evidence, the case just could not proceed." The "victim" the police spokeswoman refers to is Ortiz, not Erickson. Ortiz, who initiated the violence which left Erickson with a bruised and swollen right arm (his pitching arm), was not prosecuted.
This column first appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal and the San Francisco Daily Journal (8/8/02)
Glenn Sacks writes about gender issues from the male perspective. He can be reached at .