The wife-beaters who do not fit the brutal pattern

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The Independent Online
The stereotype of the "wife beater" as an unemployed ex-offender who was abused himself when a child is false, according to a new study - which also shows that most of the men involved believe they are doing nothing wrong and that relatives and friends are usually aware of the attacks but do not report them.

More surprisingly all the men had full-time or part-time jobs, only one had a criminal record, and although four said they were beaten at least once by their parents only one said he had been subjected to repeat violence.

Previous research has suggested that poverty and a history of violence were very important in predicting which men battered their partners.

More than 430,000 women each year are victims of domestic violence, according to estimates in 1993, and only about one quarter of these are reported to the police.

Interviews with wife-beaters are rare because of the difficulty in getting access to offenders.

The new research, involving 23 offenders, was carried out during the past 18 months, as part of a master of philosophy degree, by Superintendent Stephanie Yearnshire, area commander of South Tyneside, Northumbria.

The men were all from Sunderland, and says Supt Yearnshire, "they were all people who would be considered regular, everyday men.

"Virtually all of them were totally surprised they were arrested. Their attitude was that it was something private which the police were interfering with."

The men were aged between 19 and 51, with about half aged from 20 to 23. Almost all were manual workers and included taxi drivers, scaffolders and labourers. A quarter of the men had been violent towards their partners in the previous month and four admitted inflicting violence weekly.

Injuries included broken bones and one women ended up in intensive care but most cases were bruising.

In a small number of incidents the women had retaliated, one attacker being hit on the head with a frying pan and another needing stitches to his hand.

Almost all the men thought their behaviour not worthy of arrest. One said: "I only slapped her on the back of the head. I was surprised I was arrested - there was nothing vicious about it."

Typically the men blamed their partners. One man said: "I didn't think she would take it this far.

"We have had our arguments like everyone else...I don't know if the violence will continue. It all depends on her behaviour and attitude."

The most cited reasons for violence were jealousy and drink. A third of the couples split up, but had got back together again.

Although most lived in council-rented accommodation but none of it could be described as "deprived" housing, said Supt Yearnshire.

In 70 per cent of the cases the wife or partner called the police, although in more than half the cases parents were aware of violence and in almost a similar number friends knew.

Supt Yearnshire said: "They appear to have adopted the 'ostrich position' - they stuck their heads in the sand and hoped it would go away."

She argued that the police had made great strides in their treatment of domestic violence, but called for better treatment of victims in court.

Supt Yearnshire will present her paper on domestic violence in Birmingham on Monday at the International Police Training Conference.