Minister misleads Federal Parliament about Family Violence

May 31, 2011

A leading men’s health organisation today claimed that the Federal Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon. Kate Ellis MP misled Parliament during debate of the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 last Thursday by making false and misleading claims about family violence.

Men’s Health Australia are concerned about the Minister’s claim, “while it is true that men are more likely to be victims of violence, this violence occurs predominantly at the hands of a stranger and in public places, such as the street or the pub, not at the hands of a family member, not at the hands of a partner, not at the hands of those they trust the most and not in their own home.”

Spokesperson Greg Andresen said, “Australian men are indeed more likely than women to experience violence at the hands of strangers and in public places, such as the street or the pub. However, this does not mean that men are less likely than women to experience violence at the hands of persons known to them, or in the home.”

Recent figures just released from the ABS Personal Safety Survey 2005 show there was no statistically significant gender difference between the victimisation rates for males and females for physical assault:

(a) by known perpetrators in the last 12 months,
(b) by family members in the last 12 months, or
(c) in the home in the most recent incident in the last 12 months.

The Minister also used statistics on all violence against women – not just family violence – to infer that those who suffer from family violence are predominantly women and children. She went on to cite “research conducted in Victoria just a couple of years ago revealed that intimate-partner violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness amongst women in that state who are aged between 15 and 44.”

Mr Andresen confirms this study only looked at women, so the comparative figures for men simply aren’t available. “This statistic is also misleading because the study found that the vast majority (71.8%) of the contribution to the burden of disease in young Victorian women from intimate partner violence was from illness (depression, anxiety and eating disorders), not from death or disability. In the year of the survey the number one cause of death for Australian women aged 15 to 44 was cancer with 757 deaths, while there were 54 domestic violence homicides of women.”

In her speech the Minister claimed that separated mothers do not make false accusations of family violence and child abuse to gain a tactical advantage in family law proceedings. The only evidence provided was “a report in 2007 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies finding that the family violence allegation rates in custody proceedings in the Family Court of Australia or in the Federal Magistrates Court are similar to the reported rates of spousal violence profiles in the general divorcing population.”

Mr Andresen said, “Persons going through custody proceedings in the FCA or the FMC are ‘the sharp end of the stick’, and are not at all representative of the general divorcing population. Therefore any correlation or not between family violence allegations/rates is meaningless.”

Men’s Health Australia says that in recent research by VicHealth, half of all respondents (49%) believed that ‘women going through custody battles often make up or exaggerate claims of domestic violence in order to improve their case’, and only 28% disagreed – most likely because they had personal knowledge of a friend or family member who had experienced this, or had experienced it themselves.

Men’s Health Australia agrees with the Minister on one point: that child abuse and family violence are real, especially during divorce proceedings. However, they argue there is no reason to throw away due process – as the government’s proposed amendments do – in an attempt to protect people from child abuse and family violence. They say it is possible to protect people both from violence and from false allegations of violence – both cause immeasurable harm to the lives of victims.

Media contact: Greg Andresen | | 0403 813 925

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