Bow to the Powerful Meme, You Predatory Men!

Wendy McElroy

January 16, 2014

I have spent the week sumo wrestling with a meme; that is, with a cultural assumption that grows almost by osmosis. The meme: Men are the perpetrators of domestic violence; women are the victims. The truth: Men and women commit DV at about the same rate. The result so far: meme 1; me 0.

This truth is particularly important to champion because public policy, programs and law are being based on lies, and the lies are part of a bias against males that impoverishes society. I am used to arguing against that bias and its political consequences. The aspect that confounds me now, however, is how damnably difficult it is to uproot a meme once it has seeded.

Trying to Correct One Little DV Stat

The prize in the wrestling match is modest and specific. Some colleagues and I want the Department of Justice (DOJ) to correct a flatly false statement on DV that occurs repeatedly on its website. It comes from two 2009 speeches by Attorney General Eric Holder. It is this: “Disturbingly, intimate partner [DV] homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.” In a 2011 USA Today article, the conservative feminist Christina Hoff Sommers wrote: “That’s a horrifying statistic, and it would be a shocking reflection of the black family, and American society generally, if it were true. But it isn’t true.”

For four years, people have tried to have the DOJ references corrected. During that time, the ‘fact’ has found a home in scholarly journals, newspapers, in books, on university sites and in the campaigns of politically-correct feminists. Finally, the exasperated professor of economics, Mark Perry, approached Glenn Kessler, who mans the fact-checker feature at the Washington Post.

On December 18, 2013, Kessler published the results of his investigation in the Washington Post. He wrote that Centers for Disease Control data shows “for the year 2008 (the year before Holder’s speeches), cancer, heart disease, unintentional injury and HIV/AIDS all topped homicide. Then if you break out intimate-partner homicide, that ends up being seventh or eighth on the list (depending on whether you also include all homicides.)”

Where did Holder acquire such dramatically false data? Kessler did a forensic examination. He continued, “As best we [the Washington Post] and the Justice Department can determine, this all started with a 1998 study by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).” But the BJS study did not find such homicide to be the leading cause of death in black women aged 15 to 45 years. The statistic never occurs.

The trail in search of the statistic ended at two 2003 studies published in the prestigious American Journal of Public Health and National Institute of Justice Journal; the studies were conducted by the same principal investigator who used many of the same co-researchers. The 1998 BJS study was cited as a source in both but, as Kessler commented, “these facts cannot be found in the original BJS report.” The principal investigator did not respond to his request for clarification.

The DOJ told Kessler the statistic would be corrected on the website. A month later, nothing has changed. On Tuesday, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) filed a formal complaint with the Office of Research Integrity of the Department of Health and Human Services. SAVE is a victim-advocacy group that includes men and accuracy in its mission. It wants the Office to “investigate these allegations of research misconduct” by the principal investigator and her colleagues, “and take appropriate corrective action.” I am following the progress with great interest.

But it is impossible to miss the fact that, four years later, the lie prevails. And the truth is left knocking on a closed door.