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“The CTS has serious methodological flaws”

August 24, 2011

Catalogue – Feminists will often quote research that uses a measurement instrument called Conflict Tactics Scale or Conflict Tactics Scale 2 that has been modified to generate an outcome that reflects their ideological positions on abuse [1]. When confronted by the bulk of the more credible research – research that has not been tampered with and so contradicts their ideological stereotypes of abuse they will then claim that CTS or CTS2 has serious methodological flaws and then will usually repeat some variation of  “CTS measures a playful slap against a punch in the face”, which of course is an absurdity. 

“As of 2000,[11] the CTS2 measured a total of 39 behaviors. Each of these behaviors, or “items,” are divided into five categories: “Physical Assault,” “Injury,” “Psychological Aggression,” “Sexual Coercion,” and “Negotiation.” There are 6 items in “Negotiation,” 8 items in “Psychological Aggression,” 12 items in “Physical Assault,” 7 items in “Sexual Coercion,” and 6 items in “Injury.” Straus gives examples of a minor and severe questions within each scale:[12]

  • Physical Assault: “I slapped my partner.” “I punched or hit my partner with something that could hurt.”
  • Injury: “I had a sprain, bruise, or small cut because of a fight with my partner.” “I needed to see a doctor because of a fight with my partner, but I didn’t.”
  • Psychological Aggression: “I shouted or yelled at my partner.” “I stomped out of the room or house or yard during a disagreement.”
  • Sexual Coercion: “I insisted on sex when my partner did not want to (but did not use physical force).” “I used force (like hitting, holding down, or using a weapon) to make my partner have sex.”
  • Negotiation: “I said I cared about my partner even though we disagreed.” “I suggested a compromise to a disagreement.”

CTS2 questions are presented in pairs. The first question in the pair asks respondents to indicate how often they carried out each item, in a range from “never” to “more than 20 times,” in the referent period. The second asks how often the partner carried out each item within the same referent period. Default referent periods are usually 12 months, but other spans of time can be used.[12] Subscales measuring the degree of severity of “less severe” and “more severe” behaviors are included for all CTS scales, “based on the presumed greater harm resulting from acts in the severe subscale.” [13] The severity of behaviors can also be measured by analyzing the frequency of the acts and by whether an injury was reported by the respondent.”

“Addressing criticism of the CTS, Straus says that:

“[T]he most frequent criticisms reflect ideological differences rather than empirical evidence. Specifically, many feminist scholars reject the CTS because studies using this instrument find that about the same percentage of women as men assault their partners. This contradicts the feminist theory that partner violence is almost exclusively committed by men as a means to dominate women, and is therefore prima facie evidence that the CTS is not valid. Ironically, the fact that the CTS has provided some of the best evidence confirming the link between male dominance and partner violence and other key aspects of feminist theory of partner violence has not shaken the belief that the CTS is invalid.”[25][26][27]

In his article in Nicky Ali Jackson’s Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence, Straus addresses three “erroneous” criticisms of the CTS:[28]

  • Measures Only Conflict-Related Violence
“Although the theoretical basis of the CTS is conflict theory, the introductory explanation to participants specifically includes expressive and malicious violence. It asks respondents to answer questions about the times when they and their partners ‘disagree, get annoyed with the other person, want different things from each other, or just have spats or fights because they are in a bad mood, are tired or for some other reason.’ … [N]o empirical evidence has been provided showing that only conflict-related violence is supported. In fact, where there are both CTS data and qualitative data, as in Giles-Sims (1983),[29] it shows that the CTS elicits malicious violence as well as conflict-related violence.”[25]
  • Equates Acts That Differ Greatly in Seriousness
“The physical assault scale, like all the CTS maltreatment scales, differentiates between less severe acts of violence, such as slapping and throwing things at a partner, and more severe acts such as punching, kicking, and choking, and the CTS provides the opportunity to weight the scores by the frequency of these behaviors.”[30]
  • Context and Consequences are Ignored
“Context and consequences are extremely important, but they must be measured separately from the behavior they presumably cause to be able to test theories about context effects. This includes information on whether the assault was in self-defense or retaliation or was provoked by domineering behavior, verbal taunting, or other psychological aggression. For example, because the CTS has a separate measure of psychological aggression, Murphy and O’Leary (1989) were able to test the theory that psychological aggression against a partner is associated with an increased probability of physical violence.” [30][31][32]

Later in this article, Straus outlines self-described “actual-limitations” of the CTS:[30]

  • Covers Only a Limited Set of Violent Acts
The subscales are limited to distinguishing only minor and severe levels of each of the tactics.[30]
  • Response Categories are Unrealistic
Respondents cannot be expected to accurately report the total number of times an event that occurred daily (or several times a day or week) occurred in the referent period of a year. “Nevertheless, thousands of respondents around the world have provided these estimates, and these data have been successfully used to identify cases which are low or high compared with other respondents. These response categories enabled Giles-Sims (1983) to estimate that women in the shelter she studied had been assaulted an average time of sixty-nine times in the preceding year. This is more than ten times greater than the six times in the previous twelve months experienced by women in the National Family Violence Survey who had been assaulted that year (Straus and Gelles 1990).” [30][33][34]
  • Underreporting
Though the CTS usually reports higher rates of partner violence than other instruments, it is still subject to the willingness of respondents to report their victimization and perpetration of behaviors truthfully. “In addition, a meta-analysis (Archer 1999) found that although both men and women underreport, the extent of underreporting is greater for men. Perhaps the most serious type of underreporting is by partners or victims of partners who engage in repeated severe assaults that often produce injuries.” [30][35] Straus also notes that underreporting “is a limitation of survey research on partner violence rather than a unique problem of the CTS.”[30]
  • Obtains Maltreatment Data for Only the Current (Or Most Recent) Partner or Caregiver
The CTS does not provide information concerning respondents’ histories of victimization or perpetration.[30]
  • Injuries Not Directly Linked to Assualts
“The injury scale does not provide information on which assault caused each of the injuries in the scale. Research to understand the processes resulting in injury could obtain this information by expanding the CTS to ask each of the injury items for each assaultive behavior reported.” [30]

Other methodological issues with the CTS include that interobserver reliability (the likelihood that the two members of the measured dyad respond similarly) is near zero for tested husband and wife couples. That is, the chances of a given couple reporting similar answers about events they both experienced is no greater than chance.[36] On the most severe CTS items, husband-wife agreement is actually below chance:”

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