Turning the Tables

It's the kind of sweaty summer day when you might expect tempers to be short. Even so, though, the scene on a park bench in northern New Jersey strikes bystanders as a bit odd. A young woman with fiery red hair leans over her hapless boyfriend, screaming in his face.

"Nate, stop ignoring me!," she implores, just inches from his face. He all but ignores her.

"You're not even…" She pauses and moves her face even closer to his. "Hello…Hello!" she screams. At times her rage boils over to physical abuse: she pulls the young man's hair, slaps the side of his head, and beats him with a rolled-up newspaper.

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Fortunately, the troubling scene isn't real. The abusive woman and her boyfriend are actors, hired by "Primetime" for a hidden camera experiment.

On previous shows, "Primetime" has staged scenes of abuse in which the man is the aggressor, and the woman is the victim. And in these situations, passersby -- men and women -- often stepped up and intervened. So producers were curious. What would happen if the tables were turned, and the man was suddenly the victim? Would people be just as willing to come to his defense?

This staged scenario happens more often in real life than you may think. According to Colgate University psychology professor Carrie Keating, women abusing, even assaulting their male partners "is a big problem in this country."

"There are some data that suggest that women actually hit more than men do," says Keating. "Men create more damage, but women hit more than men do."

A report prepared for the Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year there are over 800,000 serious cases of men being physically abused by women. But the actual figures are believed to be much higher, since many men are often too embarrassed to admit being the victim of abuse by a woman.

Even professional athletes, with their macho reputations, have alleged abuse. In 2002, Major League pitcher Chuck Finley's wife, actress Tawny Kitaen, was arrested and jailed after he accused her of pummeling him, causing bruises and abrasions. She pleaded not guilty, and charges were dropped after she agreed to attend anger management classes.

'You Go Girl'?

Verbal and physical abuse of men by women might be an acknowledged problem, but will people try to stop it when "Primetime"'s hidden cameras are rolling?

One after another, passersby witnessed the abusive scene… and kept right on going.

Mathilda was one of those bystanders. She says she didn't think the man was in any physical danger, and could probably take care of himself. "I didn't immediately think to protect the man at all," she said. "It didn't look like any harm was being done."

The reaction of another woman, Lynda, was stunning. As our actress continued to heap abuse on her make-believe boyfriend, she walked by the scene and pumped her fist in a show of sisterly solidarity.

"Good for you. You Go, Girl!" is how Lynda recalls her reaction.

"I was thinking he probably did something really bad," she said. "Maybe she caught him cheating or something like that…and [it] made her lose it and slap him in the face. I reacted like, 'Yes. Woman power.'"

This type of reaction didn't come as a surprise to Keating. Observers often excuse their "own lack of response by denigrating the victim and making up stories that he really deserved the punishment he was receiving," Keating says.

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