A currently fashionable claim is that violence against husbands is about as prevalent as violence against wives; spousal violence has been said to be symmetrical in its extent, severity, intentions, motivational contexts, and even its consequences. The evidence for this alleged symmetry derives from two sources: (I) surveys employing the “Conflict Tactics Scales” (CTS), a checklist of self-reported “acts” perpetrated or experienced, and (2) U.S. homicide data. We criticize the claim of sexual symmetry by reviewing other contradictory survey evidence; by showing that the CTS provides an account of marital violence that is neither reliable nor valid; and by demonstrating that the sexual symmetry of spousal homicide victimization does not reflect sexually symmetrical motivation or action—and is in any case peculiar to the United States. Confining self report data to a checklist of acts, devoid of motives, meanings and consequences cannot insure objectivity, validity or an adequate development of theory to explain violence.

Author notes

The order of authorship was determined by a random process upon the completion of the manuscript. The authors wish to acknowledge the financial support of NATO, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation; in addition, we thank several people for facilitating the development of the homicide datariles, including K. Shaw of the British Home Office in London, F. Hird of the Scottish Home Office in Edinburgh, J. Turner and J. LaCroix of the Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, as well as C.R. Block, R. Block, R.L. Drake, R. Gartner, and A. Wallace. This paper was written while M. Wilson and M. Daly were Fellows of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences with financial support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The National Science Foundation #BNS87-008, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the Gordon P. Getty Trust, and while M. Daly was a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.