Last summer, we wrote that Nebraska's domestic violence policies need revision, primarily because they are based on inaccurate information. Since then, two new studies have been published that confirm the need for our domestic violence policies to be revised. These studies also describe a worrying new trend in domestic violence.

Before we discuss these new studies, let's summarize what the research shows about domestic violence:

* Women and men commit domestic violence at comparable rates.

* Men and women are victimized by domestic violence at comparable rates.

* Half of all domestic violence is mutual.

* When domestic violence is not mutual, female-only and male-only domestic violence occur at comparable rates.

The two new studies confirm earlier warning signs that women, especially younger women, are perpetrating domestic violence with increasing frequency. The first study was presented to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in August and concluded that young women are significantly more likely than young men to commit physical dating violence. According to this study, 43 percent of young females reported committing an act of physical dating violence compared to 28 percent of males. Young males and females reported committing sexual violence at comparable rates, 23 percent of males compared to 18 percent of females.

The second study was published in October by the American Medical Association's journal JAMA Pediatrics, one of the most authoritative sources available. This study found that boys and girls perpetrated sexual violence at nearly equal levels by age 18. According to this study, 48 percent of perpetrators were female and 52 percent were male. The study also found that females tend to assault older victims, while males are more likely to assault younger victims. Perhaps most troubling, the study found females are significantly more likely to engage in group or gang rape types of activity, with 20 percent of females reporting this type of activity compared with only 3 percent of males.

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These findings are important because many people, including policymakers, judges and social workers, assume most perpetrators of domestic violence are male. These and other studies show those assumptions are not accurate. In fact, they are wildly inaccurate. This means current intervention and enforcement strategies, which are based on the assumption that perpetrators are male, ignore a large (and growing) part of the problem.

Many people also assume most victims of domestic violence are women, despite authoritative research that shows men and women are victimized at near-equal rates. This misperception prevents many domestic violence victims from receiving protection and necessary services. According to the Nebraska Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, the 21 domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Nebraska provided services during fiscal 2012 to 13,264 women, 1,560 men and 8,790 children/youth-undisclosed. That means men made up only 10.5 percent of the adult population served even though they make up half or more of all adult victims. These disparate effects raise the question of whether domestic violence services are being provided in a nondiscriminatory manner, as required by law.

Where you have such disparate treatment of domestic violence victims, the system that is designed to protect victims is manipulated easily. Men often are penalized without any real investigation of how the domestic violence transpired. It is not uncommon for male victims of domestic violence to be wrongly charged as perpetrators.

Nebraska needs to approach this problem in a smarter, more even-handed way. Our domestic violence agencies need to analyze why they are reaching only half of all victims. Law enforcement needs to realize that a female striking a male or engaging in some other form of abuse is just as much a crime as if the roles were reversed. Judges need to understand that perpetrators are not primarily male and that most domestic violence is mutual. It is common knowledge that women can obtain protection orders more easily than men, even on the same facts, and that female batterers often receive lighter punishment than males for the same conduct.

Domestic violence is a serious matter. But the advocacy and enforcement mechanisms, the efforts to assist the victim and to hold the perpetrator responsible, must be based on facts instead of myths. We'll never find a solution until we have an accurate understanding of the problem and equal enforcement of the law without regard to gender.

Chris Johnson is a family law attorney in Hastings. He is a past chairman of the Nebraska State Bar Association Family Law Section. Amy Sherman is a family law attorney in Omaha. She is a past member of the Nebraska State Bar Association House of Delegates and its Legislation Committee.


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