Nancy E Adler
Lisa and John Pritzker Professor of Medical Psychology
Center for Health and Community
University of California at San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

Dear Professor:
Many years ago I read and mentioned to my girlfriend, yes, believe it or not: I actually had a girlfriend once, that 18 % of women are raped.  She fixed me with a withering glare and said, “That’s in any one year, right?”  Now I read (Nancy E. Adler and Paula A. Johnson, Violence and Women’s Health Science vol. 350 no. 6258 October 16, 2015 page 257) that a third of US women will be assaulted at some point in their lives. 

That’s a lot.  Women are tough.  Indeed they say that in fifty percent of violent encounters the woman makes the first contact.  But they are less well able to defend themselves and, alas, are less able to deal with the emotional consequences.  Often this violence is perpetrated by an intimate.

People attack women who are family members.  There’s no doubt of that.  Killing of women who have offended the family “honor” in India and the Mid East makes the news from time to time.  And of course much violence across the board is directed against kin; after all, they represent a bunch of people the attacker knows; one more rarely attacks total strangers.

But my question is this: among the subset of violence against women by an intimate, is it more common among kin or among couples who were initially strangers?

The nul hypothesis must be that it is more likely among kin.  After all, any violence is more common among kin.  But I’m not so sure. 

The family is the woman’s natural environment.  Time out of mind the man would go out and hunt or plow and the woman would stay with the youngsters.  Once in Australia we were shown a bullroarer; swung around the head, it would make a noise.  The men used it during their sacred rituals to warn women not do come defile the meeting with their presence.  I thought, “Oh really?  It sounds like the whole exercise was to get the men off somewhere so the women in the camp would not be interrupted while they worked out how the band was to be managed.  As long as that thing was audible, they could talk business.”  It was easier on the men than a long hunting expedition and safer than a war.

Women married kin.  That was, and is, a necessary survival strategy as explained by Professor Robin Fox in chapter 19, “Marry in or Die Out” in the textbook Handbook on Evolution and Society.  So it would seem like a good bet that selection has favored women who married kin, and those who have intimate relations elsewhere face danger.  This could override the other factors that might put them at risk.  What do you think?


M. Linton Herbert MD

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