One would hope that one of the last bastion’s of good journalism wouldn’t just publish some researchers’ thoughts on a topic without vetting the research they’re based upon. Not at the Washington Post.
In an article originally entitled, “One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married,” researchers Robin Wilson and W. Bradford Wilcox decided to ignore all the other risk factors research has identified for partner violence against women and focus only on one of them.
In doing so, the scientists seemed to have purposely painted a biased, blurry picture of what we know about violence against women — especially in partner relationships.
The most serious problem with the Washington Post’s sloppy journalism is that it none-too-subtly suggests that all partner violence against women can be boiled down to a single factor: your relationship status.
Decades worth of research blow that simplistic idea out of the water in two seconds.
A research report published by the U.S. Department of Justice summarizes the research in this area quite nicely:1
Numerous studies have examined risk factors associated with intimate partner violence. Results from these studies show that unmarried, cohabiting couples have higher rates of intimate partner violence than do married couples; minorities have higher rates of intimate partner violence than do whites; lower income women have higher rates of intimate partner violence than do higher income women; less educated women have higher rates of intimate partner violence than do more educated women; and couples with income, educational, or occupational status disparities have higher rates of intimate partner violence than do couples with no status disparity.
Research also shows that experiencing and/or witnessing violence in one’s family of origin increases one’s chances of being a perpetrator or victim of intimate partner violence.
In addition, research shows that wife assault is more common in families where power is concentrated in the hands of the husband or male partner and the husband makes most of the decisions regarding family finances and strictly controls when and where his wife or female partner goes.
So you see what the Washington Post article did? It marginalized all the other risk factors for partner violence and simply focused on one of them — whether you’re in a married relationship or not. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a handy list of all the risk factors associated with partner violence as found by the research. It’s a longer list, and the one thing not even listed there? Marital status. Same with this research summary from the National Institute of Justice.2
They could have just as easily chosen another one of these factors and written an article with one of these equally-offensive headlines:
One way to end violence against women? Be White, Non-Hispanic
One way to end violence against women? Get rich
One way to end violence against women? Go to college
The problem is that society is complex, and these factors don’t exist in some sort of vacuum. They exist in combination with all these other factors. So cherry picking one of them and suggesting it is the one that is most important is not only bad journalism — it’s a sign of researchers who seem to not understand the very basic premise of “risk factors.” Researchers who, in my opinion, are apparently just bad researchers.
Even the cherry-picked data they chose to present undercut their silly argument. Remember how the researchers said that being a married woman living with your husband is the best way to go?
Forget the blue line. Look at that black line — “One female adult only.” It’s right there with “married adults with children” in 1994 and stays there until 1998. Then, for reasons nobody can explain, the “married adults with children” group decreases in partner violence.
But this graph alone shows that a female adult living alone was at the same risk for partner violence as being married with children at one point in time. And that risk hasn’t changed significantly in 15 years. In 2010, being a female adult living alone was beginning to approach the same risk as being married, with or without children.
Perhaps before the Washington Post is going to publish a sloppy summary of the research in an area as well-researched as violence against women, they actually spend some time vetting the research first and ensure the conclusions reached by the researchers are similar to what other research shows.
Otherwise it’s just a strange tunnel-vision article that demonstrates how low the journalistic standards at the Washington Post have fallen.3
Read another critique of the article: The Washington Post Misused the Data on Violence Against Women
Read the horrible journalism: One way to end violence against women? Married dads.
- Extent, nature and consequences of intimate partner violence: Research report. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2000. [↩]
- See this 2011 study (Abramsky et al.) for a good summary of world-wide intimate partner violence risk. [↩]
- Perhaps they should rethink the name of that feature section, PostEverything. Obviously if you “post everything,” you’re going to end up posting a lot of crap. [↩]