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)

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