Women's Use of Violence in Intimate Relationships
last updated August 2013
Although women do use violence against intimate partners, women's violence is often reactionary , shaped by gender roles, and manifests itself differently than men's violence.  Claims that men are battered as often as women do not take into account the fact that in a high percentage of cases, women's use of violence is preceded by severe acts of violence by their partners.
Women typically use violence in self-defense or in order to escape. A woman may use force as a response to the batterer's attack, to stop him from assaulting her. She may use preemptive force—if she believes that an assault may be imminent, she may initiate the violence in an attempt to gain control over the place and time of the assault, either to increase her safety or to minimize the embarrassment and disruption the assault will cause. Women may also retaliate for a history of abuse. In addition, women generally do not use violence "instrumentally" to obtain a desired result.[1] Thus, while men use violence to establish widespread authority over longer periods, women use violence to control an immediate conflict situation.[2]
The use of violence has different consequences for men and women. Women more often recognize violence as contrary to their socially-prescribed gender roles and more readily admit to using violence. Men typically minimize or deny the violence, reflecting a greater feeling of entitlement to use violence. Reports of violence against men are also often exaggerated; men accused of domestic violence often minimize and deny their partners' claims by arguing that the abuse was mutual or that they were the victims.[3] Male batterers “manipulate the system not only to protect themselves from punishment but also as a way to maintain positions of power in their intimate relationships.”[4]
Finally, women's and men's uses of force often have different physical manifestations. A batterer's use of force is often controlled; the batterer may consciously choose to inflict injuries in places where they are difficult to see, such as the back of the head, or in an area the woman may feel uncomfortable showing to police. When women use force, however, the physical injuries that result are often quite visible because they are generally inflicted in self-defense. It is important for advocates and police to understand the difference between the more hidden "offensive" injuries, such as bruises or strangling, and the more visible "defensive" injuries, such as scratching or biting.[5] See the section on Determining the Predominant Aggressor.

[1] Stephanie Avalon, Advocacy and the Battered Women's Movement (1999), accessed July 29, 2013, http://www.bwjp.org/files/bwjp/articles/Advocacy%20and%20the%20Battered%20Women%27s%20Movement.pdf.  A 2005 U.S. study of over 400 women found that a majority of women who had used physical violence against a male partner had been victims of violence themselves. Suzanne Swan, et al., An Empirical Examination of a Theory of Women’s Use of Violence in Intimate Relationships (2005), accessed July 19, 2013, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/208611.pdf. A 2012 study in England tracked 128 cases of heterosexual intimate partner violence over a six-year period, including 32 cases where the woman was identified as the sole perpetrator and 32 cases where both partners were identified as dual perpetrators. Marianne Hester, “Portrayal of Women as Intimate Partner Domestic Violence Perpetrators,” Violence Against Women 18(9) 1067–82 (2012), accessed July 29, 2013, http://vaw.sagepub.com/content/18/9/1067.full.pdf+html. The study found that female perpetrators were more likely to use verbal abuse and some physical violence as opposed to threats or harassment. Men, in contrast, used much more severe forms of violence and were more likely to use violence to invoke fear in and control over their partner. Although the women in the study exhibited aggressive and violent behaviors, they did not fit the profile of a “batterer” because their aim was not to control or evoke fear in their partners.
[2] Erin H. House, When Women Use Force: An Advocacy Guide to Understanding This Issue and Conducting an Assessment with Individuals Who Have Used Force to Determine Their Eligibility for Services from a Domestic Violence Agency, accessed July 29, 2013, http://www.ncdsv.org/images/house_whenwomenuseforce.pdf.  
[3] Shamita Das Dasgupta, Towards an Understanding of Women's Use of Non-Lethal Violence in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships (2001), accessed July 29, 2013, http://www.ncdsv.org/images/Womens_Use_of_Violence1.pdf.
[4] William DeLeon-Granados, et al., “Arresting Developments: Trends in Female Arrests for Domestic Violence and Proposed Explanations,” Violence Against Women 12(4): 355, 361, accessed July 29, 2013, http://vaw.sagepub.comezp2.lib.umn.edu/content/12/4/355.full.pdf+html.
[5] Erin H. House, When Women Use Force: An Advocacy Guide to Understanding This Issue and Conducting an Assessment with Individuals Who Have Used Force to Determine Their Eligibility for Services from a Domestic Violence Agency, accessed July 29, 2013, http://www.ncdsv.org/images/house_whenwomenuseforce.pdf.