West Australian inquiry into family & domestic violence (2019)

I heard about the development of this strategy via the One in Three organisation, and the relevant page in the WA government agency’s web site is here.

The deadline for submissions has been extended to 30 May 2019.

The deadline to complete the online questionnaire (a worthwhile alternative if you are too pressed for time to prepare a submission) is also 30 May 2019.

The State Government is developing a 10 Year Strategy for Reducing Family and Domestic Violence in Western Australia (the Strategy). It will guide a whole of community approach to prevention and earlier intervention, victim safety and perpetrator accountability. 

The Strategy will include a focus on access and inclusion, and consider the unique and diverse needs of Aboriginal people, people with disability, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, LGBTQ+ people, and people in regional and remote Western Australia.” 

The proposed vision of the strategy is stated as being “A future where all Western Australians live free from family and domestic violence, and where women and children are safe, respected, valued and treated as equals in private and public life.” 

So bad luck if you believe the government also has a duty to keep men safe, respected and valued. Nah-ah. Not a priority. Not gonna happen. And yet another instance of #GenderEqualityWhenItSuits.

I have already completed the questionnaire, and as and when I prepare a submission I will post a link to it on this page.

By way of background, some other references to related West Australian ‘initiatives’ or news can be found here.

*That* West Australian Government DV Helpline web page – Some further background

This blog post follows an earlier post of mine entitled ‘Addressing systemic gender bias in the WA Department for Child Protection and Family Support‘. That item discussed the gender bias that is very evident in a particular WA Government web page promoting a domestic violence helpline service.

The same WA government web page was also the focus of this reddit mens rights discussion thread. Within that thread I came across an interesting post from someone with the moniker ‘dragonsandgoblins’. It’s interesting not just in relation to the information about domestic violence that it contains, but also because of how it demonstrates the censorship that occurs in relation to efforts to broaden the DV debate beyond the feminist-framed male perp/female victim model.

Anyway, this is what the author had to say:

“I actually wrote an article inspired by this exact webpage in 2013 that was published by http://rightnow.org.au/. Or at least it was published for about 4 hours before they pulled it. I’ll copy/paste it here because people may as well read it:

This webpage, hosted by the Government of Western Australia Department for Child Protection, contains two short paragraphs describing the domestic helpline services provided by this state government. The women’s helpline offers a range of services for women experiencing domestic violence. The men’s helpline on the other hand is more singularly focused, only offering counselling, and only for “men who are concerned about becoming violent or abusive“.

The Government of WA does not offer a helpline service to male victims, instead assuming that women are the only victims and that men will always be the perpetrators. This is despite a growing body of evidence that males do suffer from domestic and family violence in significant numbers. For example, the Personal Safety Survey (2006) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that, 780,500 women and 325,700 men aged 15 years and over experienced violence from a current or previous partner in the last twenty years. In other words, 29.4 per cent of victims who suffered domestic violence were men. 92.5 per cent (301,400) of these male victims suffered this violence at the hands of a female partner.

The Publications and Resources webpage from the Government of WA provides domestic violence resources aimed at the general public and they are as gendered as the helpline services. Out of the “Freedom From Fear” resources, three fact sheets and one booklet are targeted at the violent party and, excluding the fact sheet “How do I know if I’m abusive?”, they all use gendered language that exclusively refers to the violent party as male and the victim as female. All of them bear subtitles describing themselves as being “for men who want to change”, with no reference to women who may want to do the same. The fact sheet aimed at victims also uses the same gendered language.

WA isn’t alone. For example, NSW Legal Aid offers a Domestic Violence Practitioner Service and a Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program which aid women and children who are victims in legal matters such as getting Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs) and victims’ compensation. The NSW Government Family & Community Services Staying Home Leaving Violence program “…aims to prevent homelessness by working with the Police to remove the perpetrator from the family home so that women and children can remain safely where they are.” If the NSW Government offers similar programs specialising in male victims, I was unable to find them.

The federal government also discriminates against male victims. The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (The National Plan) paints a pitiful picture of the federal stance on male victims. Along with use of gender biased language The National Plan has seen the Commonwealth commit $86 million to support women and children who are victims and only $0.75 million to male victims. This discrepancy in funding is justified through the use of misleading statistics from the ABS Personal Safety Survey.

The section of the page that discusses male victims provides statistics that only 4.4 per cent (21,200) of men who were physically assaulted in the 12 months prior to the survey were assaulted by a current/previous partner compared with 31 per cent (73,800) of women who were physically assaulted. This is misleading because it doesn’t compare the quantity of male victims to female victims – instead it compares what percentage of all assaults against men were domestic violence to what percentage of all assaults against women were.

Looking at just these numbers – 21,200 male and 73,800 female victims – the divide in funding is twenty-five times greater than the divide in victims. The National Plan claims only “a small proportion of men are victims“, yet the ABS survey shows that they are roughly a quarter of all domestic violence victims. Is that really such a minority as to warrant less than one per cent of the funding committed under The National Plan?

Our state and federal governments are perpetrators of gender discrimination. Those discriminated against are not only men, they are victims. Victims who are denied services and support they need based on their gender.

(I apologise for the fact that some of the figures are out of date (for example I am pretty sure the funding disparity under the national plan has increased since 2013), and any dead links. This is presented unaltered from when it was written in 2013.)”

The author of the paper was then asked “Why was it pulled?” and responded:

“Well it was refined by 3 of their editors and myself before going up. After a while one of them was contacted by the editor in chief who pulled it and asked me to make changes such as explicitly mentioning that women are victims more than men (which I do already, since I actually state numbers), saying that I didn’t want funding for women reduced, and calling DV a gendered crime. He also said that I could be “more critical in relation to statistics”. Note that I only take stats from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, hardly a biased source. He also wanted me to mention that women under report DV. He also said and I quote:

…[the article] can be understood as arguing “men are being discriminated against in favour of women”.

I replied and said that I could make some of these changes but my word count ceiling would need to be increased. I said that I’d be happy to say women under report but I wouldn’t say that without mentioning that men under report too. I also said that I couldn’t avoid the theme that “men are being discriminated against in favour of women” because that is the thesis of the entire piece.

I get the feeling the editor in chief never wanted my article to go up at all because without further discussion he decided that even with changes my article shouldn’t be published because.

Your responses suggest to me that it is likely that even with changes, your article will not be suitable for Right Now. The primary reason for that is that you principally concerned with “the numbers”, as you put it, rather than the human rights debate. This means that you miss the point that these services for female victims of violence are not simply about statistics (the fact that more women are victims of violence in domestic contexts then men) but also about socio-cultural male dominance

In other words, these services exist not only because of the quantity of violence against women, but its gendered nature.

So there’s the rub.

Addressing systemic gender bias in the WA Department for Child Protection and Family Support

Imagine for a moment that you are a guy living in Western Australia. You are enduring periodic violent outbursts from your partner, and one night you go online looking for help. You come across the following web page:

WA_DViolence_helpline

Now I ask you, would you be likely to contact this agency for help? Or would you think, “I’m embarrassed enough already, I don’t want to speak with people who are going to automatically assume that I am the one responsible for the violence.”

Personally I think the web page displays disgraceful anti-male bias and so on 19 May 2014 I emailed the relevant agency stating:

“I wish to draw your attention to material contained in your web site which I consider to be hugely inappropriate. The relevant page is http://www.dcp.wa.gov.au/crisisandemergency/pages/domesticviolencehelplines.aspx

Please be advised – and surely I should not need to inform your department of this fact – but there are in fact such people as female perpetrators of IPV and male victims of IPV. Indeed some studies assert that there is symmetry between genders, ie. equal or almost equal numbers of male/female victims/perpetrators.

If your staff are not aware of this fact then please circulate and study the list of references provided below. As it stands now, the content of your web page is outrageously biased against men and should be re-written to be gender-neutral and not suggest to all readers all men are perpetrators of DV.

For your attention and action at the earliest opportunity please.”

I received the following reply the next day:

“Thank you for your email dated 19 May concerning the language used to describe the roles of the Men’s and Women’s Domestic Violence Helplines.

The Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline is funded to provide telephone based counselling, information, support and referral for men who self- identify  as at risk of, or who are using violence.  It is acknowledged that both women and men can be victims of family and domestic violence.  Should a man experiencing such violence contact the Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline he would be provided with any necessary services and supported accordingly by the telephone counsellor. Counsellors are experienced and their training enables them to identify all scenarios and work with the caller and their presenting issues.

Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline is funded to provided telephone based counselling, information, support and referral for women who are experiencing family and domestic violence.

This is the purpose of the Helplines and the description provided on the website reflects as such.

For all individuals and families who are experiencing violence, the Department for Child Protection and Family Support also provides the following support options:

  • 24/7 Crisis Care service, this is a crisis intervention service providing an immediate response to an individual or family experiencing a crisis, examples include any person experiencing family and domestic violence.
  • Family helpline, 24/7 telephone counselling service providing counselling, support, information and referral to an individual or family experiencing a range of issues.

These services are also on the department’s website.

I hope this response has been useful in advising you of the department’s services to those who are experiencing family and domestic violence from all perspectives. Thank you again for your email.”

And on the 21 May I wrote back to the department saying:

“Thank you for your prompt response to my concerns regarding the content of the web page provided in relation to your helplines. I take it from your response that you do not consider that the wording of the page displays undue bias against men, and consequently you do not propose to amend the content of the page.

We do however agree on the key point that there are both male and female aggressors and male and female victims of aggression, and that all should have access to support and assistance from your organisation.

It is my position, as I think it would be that of any reasonable person reading your web page, that the second sentence of each respective paragraph implies that your service is provided for the use of males who are aggressors and females who are victims, viz.:

“This service provides support and counselling for women experiencing family and domestic violence”, and “This service provides counselling for men who are concerned about becoming violent or abusive.”

I see no reason why the wording used in relation to the two helplines should not be identical, and I would suggest that such an amendment would be entirely appropriate. Consider for example the following suggested re-wording:

WOMEN’S DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HELPLINE

The Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline is a state wide 24 hour service. This service provides support and counselling for women who are either experiencing family or domestic violence OR who are concerned about becoming violent or abusive. Our service offers phone counselling, information and advice, referral to local advocacy and support services, liaison with police if necessary and support in escaping situations of family and domestic violence. The service can refer women to safe accommodation if required.

Telephone (08) 9223 1188 Free call 1800 007 339

MEN’S DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HELPLINE

The Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline is a state wide 24 hour service. This service provides support and counselling for men who are either experiencing family or domestic violence OR who are concerned about becoming violent or abusive. Our service offers phone counselling, information and advice, referral to local advocacy and support services, liaison with police if necessary and support in escaping situations of family and domestic violence. The service can refer men to safe accommodation if required.

Telephone (08) 9223 1199 Free call 1800 000 599

Darren, I do hope you will give these suggestions due consideration and that you will see merit in removing the gender bias evident in the current page content, via making the proposed amendments. I firmly believe that the current bias is not just discriminatory and inappropriate in a general sense, but would surely also alienate men who might otherwise seek sympathetic assistance from your organization. I look forward to receiving your further response in due course.”

I never received a response to my email, but while I was waiting I scanned the various publications available in the Department’s web site. Unsurprisingly, they also display a high degree of gender bias against men. Some examples:

http://www.dcp.wa.gov.au/CrisisAndEmergency/FDV/Documents/Perpetrator%20Accountability%20in%20Child%20Protection%20Practice.pdf (Sub-titled “A resource for child protection workers about responding to and engaging with men who perpetuate family and domestic violence“. And no, there is no ‘sister’ publication provided for dealing with female abusers.

See page 7 under definition of ‘perpetrator’ where it helpfully points out that “some women also offend against their children“, but that it’s not their fault as “sometimes this reflects an attempt to prevent greater harm from the primary perpetrator of violence …” And yes, that would be a man.

http://www.dcp.wa.gov.au/CrisisAndEmergency/FDV/Documents/Freedom%20From%20Fear/Fact%20sheet-Has%20your%20partner%20hurt%20you.pdf (Written on the basis that the perpetrator of violence is male)

If you too feel that the Department should adopt a more professional and gender-neutral approach then I suggest you make your views known to the relevant Minister, the Honourable Helen Morton MLC (email to Minister.Morton@dpc.wa.gov.au). Alternatively, or in addition to a Ministerial letter, it might be appropriate to lodge a complaint in relation to sex discrimination.

As a footnote, I found this item entitled ‘Commission welcomes initiatives to address gender bias‘. Let’s see how they react when the perpetrator of gender bias is another state government agency.

Still in Western Australia, I noted a phrase in this March 2015 article about a new form of restraining order that is very telling in terms of its inherent anti-male bias:

“Family violence starts usually with the partner controlling every aspect of a woman’s life, the banking, who they speak to, where they go,” [Police Minister Liza Harvey] said.

I guess Liza didn’t say “every aspect of their partners life” as she is of the mistaken belief that all family violence is initiated by men. Shame on you Ms Harvey! But look at the Facebook posts concerning this article – clearly not everyone is buying the feminist perspective.

Note that there is a follow-up post to this one, entitled *That* West Australian Government DV Helpline web page – Some further background

There are also various other posts within this blog concerning domestic violence, perhaps you might like to start with the one entitled domestic violence is not a gendered issue – So why the sexist bias against men?

See also:

Reddit discussion thread on this topic dated November 2015

Reddit mensrights discussion thread on this topic dated March 2015, that features some very interesting comments from concerned individuals. See in particular, comments from ‘dragonsandgoblins‘, also ‘fetafett’, ‘border-box’, ‘Il128’, ‘deadfallpro’, ‘Raditz10’, ‘pookabot’ and ‘regeya’.

WA domestic violence laws pose an insidious threat, by Augusto Zimmermann (24 September 2016)