Why I’m backing QLD Labor Premier on male victims | Talk About Men

October 25, 2015

This week the Labor premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, made headlines by calling for campaigns against domestic violence to be inclusive of male victims.

Predictably—for anyone who understands the world of gender politics—this call for greater inclusivity and gender equality was not celebrated (or even begrudgingly tolerated) by the feminist movement.

Responding in The Guardian, representatives from Domestic Violence NSW (DVNSW) and Brisbane Domestic Violence Service (BDVS) warned Palaszczuk not to “put domestic violence against men above women”.

If you haven’t been initiated into the ways of gender politics, you might expect domestic violence services to be concerned for the safety of all victims, regardless of their gender.

In reality, DVNWS believes in “managing and operating refuges within a feminist framework for women alone” and BDVS takes the position that “all the indications are that 9 out of every 10 domestic violence victims is a female”.

This statement, made on the “myths and facts” page of the BDVS website without any sense of irony, is in fact a myth.

The truth is, there are many conflicting indicators on the numbers of victims of domestic violence who are male and female. Some men’s advocates claim the proportion of male victims of domestic violence is 50% or more. Some women’s advocates claim it’s 10% or less.

The truth sits somewhere between these extremes, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics telling us that one in three people who experienced domestic violence from a current partner in the past 12 months are male, as are one in four people killed by their partners.

More broadly, nearly two-thirds of victims of all violence in Australia are male, with men and boys being the main victims of both men’s violence and women’s violence.

Each year, for example, more Australian males (8.7%) will experienced violence than Australian females (5.3%).

Sure, there are some types of violence that women are more likely to experience and men are more likely to perpetrate (and vice versa). But let’s be clear, most men and women in Australia are neither perpetrators nor victims and all fair-minded campaigners for gender equality should want just three things:

  • For all victims of violence to be helped, supported and protected regardless of their gender
  • For all perpetrators of violence to be held to account for their actions and given the opportunity to reform and redeem themselves, regardless of their gender
  • For all violence to be prevented and ultimately ended, regardless of the gender of the victim of the perpetrator

There are those who argue that talking about male victims ignores the “fact” that violence is “gendered”. This is the thrust of the feminist backlash against Palaszczuk’s call for domestic violence campaigns to include male victims.

The word “gendered” is used five times in the Guardian article with Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, claiming there is a resistance to recognising the gendered nature of domestic violence and Karyn Walsh, CEO of Micah Projects, which runs the Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, saying that the response to domestic violence must maintain “a gendered focus”

But what do they mean by “gendered”?

At a theoretical level, this “gendered” approached was recently described by a former advisor to the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police as a “socio-constructivist model of abuse…that [sees] male violence against women [as] solely an expression of patriarchy” and discards “any contributing factors to the perpetrator’s crimes other than his gender.”

At a practical level, “gendered” means that whenever possible, we should only talk about violence as a phenomenon that men perpetrate against women and girls (or women and children).

Proof of this dogma in action can be found in an open letter to the Queensland premier, signed by 24 domestic violence refuges and support services including BDVS.

Despite being 1,500 words long, the letter makes no mention of male victims (straight or gay); no mention of gay or bisexual women who are victims of domestic violence and no mention of female perpetrators.

The letter uses the word women or the phrase “women and children” 45 times, always in the context of being a “victim”, while using the word “male” twice, always in the context of “perpetrator”.

That’s not a “gendered” approach, it’s sexist and it’s homophobic in a way that is damaging to men, women, children as well as people of different sexualities and gender identities across the LGBTQI spectrum.

I agree with Walsh, Baulch and everyone in the women’s movement who says we have to take a gendered approach to tackling domestic violence, but only if that means ensuring services are tailored to the specific needs of all victims of every gender, sexuality and gender identity.

Within that diverse and equitable ideal, I would have no issue with women’s groups who advocate for female victims and not male victims, but what we have at present is people in positions of power and privilege for whom it is business as usual to advocate for female victims and against male victims.

Despite this unfortunate truth, I have no issue with people offering services within a feminist framework, but not when they try to prevent others from offering services within a non-feminist framework.

As Ally Fogg, a columnist at The Guardian in the UK, has previously said, within feminist approaches to tackling domestic violence, “too often male victims are portrayed as a statistical irrelevance, smeared as probable abusers themselves or as part of a malevolent plot against feminism, or simply ignored altogether”.

Where feminism dominates and controls services, it is inevitable that these services will respond almost exclusively to the needs of women (and their dependent children) who are victims of male perpetrators. According to the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, this approach means that the family violence sector in Australia is missing “at least 30 per cent of family violence situations”.

With this in mind, anyone who is genuinely committed to creating a world free from violence should be welcoming and supporting the Labor Premier’s attempts to include male victims in our response to tackling domestic violence.

To do otherwise is to treat male victims as the enemy and make it harder (if not impossible) for men, women and children who don’t fit into the heteronormative “male perpetrator/female victim” paradigm of domestic violence to get the help and support they need.

This is an archaic view of gendered violence, which lies beyond compassion and reason and has no place in a diverse, inclusive and equal society.

—Article by Glen Poole, Director of Helping Men and author of the book Equality For Men

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