1IN3 reponds to latest Daily Life attack on victims of domestic violence

November 29, 2015

On November 26th, Fairfax blog Daily Life published an article titled One-in-three myth unanimously busted on ‘Hitting Home’ finale of Q&A. The article was the latest in a long line of attacks upon male victims of domestic violence by the publication.

This is the One in Three Campaign’s response.

It important to acknowledge first of all that not a single speaker invited to take part in the ‘Hitting Home’ finale of Q&A was an advocate for male victims, so it is unsurprising that the panel would fail to acknowledge them.

The Daily Life article starts by stating without evidence, that domestic and family violence is a gendered issue stemming largely from men’s sense of entitlement and ‘ownership’ of their partners. This popular theory lacks empirical research evidence to support it. It doesn’t apply to the violence experienced by tens of thousands of men from a current partner, previous partner, girlfriend or date in the past 12 months; or the many victims of same-sex domestic violence; or the victims of broader family violence (parents, children, sibings, aunt, uncles, grandparents, other family members).

Even in the case of the men who use violence or abuse toward their female intimate partner, there are decades of sound peer-reviewed research demonstrating that men’s sense of entitlement and ‘ownership’ of their partners plays a part in only a small percentage of these cases (and that women’s sense of entitlement and ‘ownership’ of their partners also plays a part in some cases where they abuse their male intimate partner). If it’s a “fact,” Daily Life should cite the empirical, peer-reviewed evidence to support it. Even the internationally renowned feminist domestic violence researcher Michael P Johnson acknowledges that “repeat, severe violence against a non-violent intimate is symmetrical by gender”.

The article goes on to claim that “experts, police and people working at the frontlines all agree that the particular type of violence we call ‘domestic abuse’ is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women”. Once again there is no evidence to support this claim. There is no area of social science research that is more controversial than the area of domestic and family violence. Yes, many researchers claim that domestic abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women, and is caused by men’s patriarchal need for control. However, many other researchers claim that domestic violence is a two-way street – that both men and women can be perpetrators and victims – and that the causes are complex and varied. Any basic literature review will demonstrate this.

The One in Three Campaign has always argued that statistically more women than men are affected by family violence (hence our name!). However, men make up a significant minority of victims. We also agree that physical injury and poor physical and mental health outcomes are greater for female victims compared to male victims on average, however many male victims do report such poor outcomes. We have always argued that greater levels of services and support will probably be needed for female victims of family violence because on average females are affected by family violence more than males. However, the current levels of services and support for male victims – who make up a significant proportion of all victims, and who can be as severely affected by their experiences of family violence as female victims – are simply unacceptable. A base level of support is required so these males don’t fall through the cracks.

Daily Life next proceeds to develop a conspiracy theory of sorts, claiming that the citing of statistics by groups claiming to represent the interests of male victims, isn’t really being done to support those victims, but instead to “derail the conversation about the role played by gender and the intergenerational cycle of trauma wreaked by patriarchal family relationships.” There is no evidence whatsoever to support this hyperbole. There is, however, widespread evidence to show that the number one reason there are so few services provided for male victims of family violence and their children is because of the myth that “they make up such a small percentage of cases”.

It’s really important to note that there is no other area of social concern in which this bizarre argument is proposed. We don’t stop providing services for suicidal women because men make up the overwhelming majority of suicides. We don’t stop providing occupational health and safety services to female workers because the vast majority of illness, injury and death in the workplace is suffered by men. In fact, in every other area of social concern, we have a social obligation to provide for minority groups. Imagine we stopped providing services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders because the overwhelming majority of Australians are from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The article then claims that the ‘one in three’ statistic has been constantly debunked, referencing another article by (you guessed it!) Daily Life which did nothing of the sort. In fact it contained so many errors that it required this open letter to the author and editor. The article then rubbishes claims that men are being discrimated against within the family violence system. The NSW Government’s recent inquiry into Domestic Violence found that:

  • “There was a broad recognition among inquiry participants that women offenders and male victims do exist” (p.218). “Of [reported] victims of domestic assault in 2010, 69.2% were female, while 30.8% were male.” (p.28)
  • “Male victims have been much less visible and able to access supports than should be the case” (p.xxiv)
  • “The experience of [males]… is equally as bad as that of other victims” (p.xxxii)
  • Recognising “the gap in services for male victims and [encouraging] the government to examine how services can most appropriately be provided to male victims of domestic violence” (p.xxxii)
  • Identifying males as “in need of special consideration with regard to domestic violence,” along with Aboriginal people, older people, people with disability, and several other population groups (p.89).

If that doesn’t paint a picture of discrimination, what does?

The author claims that the implication of the ‘one in three’ statistic is that “women are getting too much sympathy and using it to take children away from their fathers”. No, Daily Life, there is no such implication. The One in Three Campaign has consistently argued since its foundation in 2009 that female victims of family violence need all the help they can get – in fact they are in dire need of extra services. We simply argue that men need services as well. Standing up for male victims is not an attack upon female victims or upon women in general. We believe our society has the capacity to support all victims of family violence, whether young or old, male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, wherever they live.

The article goes on to talk about what the speakers said on the Q&A ‘Hitting Home’ special. It claims they were unanimous in ‘debunking’ the ‘one in three’ statistic. We don’t know how Daily Life defines ‘unanimous’, but they conveniently omitted the voice of Cathy Humphreys, Professor of Social Work at University of Melbourne, when she said “there is 30% of the victims of cohabiting partners who are men and 70% that are women”. That certainly sounds like ‘one in three’ to us. Humphreys then tried to downplay the experiences of male victims by referencing British crime data. If she had continued to reference the ABS Personal Safety Survey she would have seen that 50.6% of men who experienced violence from a previous partner reported more than one incident and 61.3% of these men said their previous partner had been violent either “all of the time/most of the time” (17.0%) or “some of the time” (44.3%). She also failed to acknowledge that males make up different proportions of victims of family violence depending on the relationship involved. While they make up just over one in five victims of previous partner violence, they make up one in three victims of physical dating violence, one in three victims of current partner violence, and more than one in three victims of emotional abuse by a partner.

The just-released AIFS Experiences of Separated Parents Study found that in 7 out of 11 types of emotional abuse, fathers reported experiencing abuse “often” since separation at equal or higher rates than did mothers. Fathers also reported “often” feeling controlled after separation at significantly higher rates than mothers. Fathers experienced more ’emotional abuse alone’ than did mothers before/during separation. Rates of physical violence experienced since separation were almost equal for mothers and fathers, and even before separation 41.0% of victims were male.

NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Michael Fuller may have had trouble recalling exact statistics when put on the spot on live TV, claiming that “around 25 per cent of men present as victims of DV assaults”. The latest NSW crime stats from BOCSAR (2014) show that 31.2% (almost one in three) victims of assault – domestic violence related offences recorded by NSW Police were male. This proportion has remained quite steady over time: BOCSAR found that 28.9% (almost one in three) victims of domestic assault between 1997 and 2004 were male. Male and female victims received very similar numbers and types of injuries.

Unfortunately the latest BOCSAR stats don’t reveal the gender of the perpetrator. Fuller claims that more than half of the offenders of DV against males are other males. That may be true, but how does that debunk the claim that ‘one in three’ victims are male? We have consistently argued that both males and females can be perpetrators of family violence against men and boys. The gender of the perpetrator is irrelevant to a victim who cannot find a service to help him, or is told by Police to “go home and man up”. It was very nice of Fuller to say that “any victim of crime deserves a service”. It would be even nicer if this rhetoric was turned into practice by actually providing such services – something One in Three has been working on for the past 6 years.

It’s important to note that only 46% of males who have experienced current partner violence have ever told anyone about it, only 30% have sought advice or support and only 5% have contacted police. 94% of these men were assaulted or abused by a female partner. The NSW crime stats reported by Fuller are really only the tip of the iceberg. Luckily male victims appear to be coming forward in greater numbers than ever before. There was a 175% rise between 2005 and 2012 in the number of men reporting current partner violence since the age of 15 to the ABS.

Domestic Violence NSW CEO Moo Baulch pointed out that male offenders are often skilled at pretending to be the victim in order to play the system. This is one point on which we certainly agree. Some male offenders do ‘play the victim card’ in order to avoid responsibility for their actions. However, so do some female offenders. We have lost count of the number of men who have contacted us disclosing that their abusive and violent partner called the Police and pretended to be the victim in order to take out a violence order that could then be used as a tactic in the family court.

Voices such as Daily Life will continue to attack the work of the One in Three Campaign and other advocates for male victims of family violence, incorrectly labelling them ‘MRAs’, and claiming that their real intent is not to support male victims but to attack women or “derail the conversation”. That’s OK – we welcome it. We believe in free speech. Every time an article such as this is published, we receive a spike in traffic to our website, a growth in our Facebook community, and an increase in public donations.

Daily Life appears not to have thought through their approach of attacking male victims very well. For readers who know a male who has experienced family violence, or who have experienced it themselves, they may appear to be attacking and downplaying their own experiences or those of the people they love. For many female readers who have experienced family violence (who write to us all the time), they appear to be attacking and downplaying the experiences of fellow victims.

For readers who have no personal experience of family violence, there are probaly three responses to attacks such as these. If they believe we live in a patriarchal society where men have all the power and women have no power, they probably agree with these articles and have a ‘feel good moment’ – but their mind is probably already made up. If they believe we live in a society where men and women have different amounts of power in different social domains, they probably see through the dishonest rhetoric contained in such articles. For the likely majority who are turned off by gender politics, they probably stop reading anyway after seeing the headline.

While we are always happy to defend our position and the sound, rigorous, referenced statistical analysis provided on our website (we’re human, and we will immediately fix any errors that are brought to our attention), we prefer to focus our time and energy on our vision and mission of raising public awareness of the existence and needs of male victims of family violence and abuse; working with government and non-government services alike to provide assistance to everyone affected by family violence; and reducing the incidence and impacts of family violence on Australian men, women and children.

Our recent achievements include working on the production of this poster outlining the limited services available to male victims of family violence in Western Sydney; working alongside Police, DVCAS and VWCCS on the Insight trial court support service for male victims of violence at the Downing Centre and Parramatta courthouses; seeing Mensline Australia start to provide online resources for male victims of family violence – both straight and gay; and seeing the Start Safely housing subsidy opened up to male victims. None of these has had any negative impact whatsoever upon female victims of family violence or women in general. All of them have improved the lives of men who have experienced or are experiencing family violence. Our society can support ALL victims – we really can.

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