Turning the Tables

What would you do if you saw abuse, but the gender roles were reversed?

ByABC News
December 20, 2006, 3:06 PM

Dec. 26, 2006— -- 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. "HelloHello!" 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.

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.