Ms. Annastacia Palaszczuk MP
Premier of Queensland and Minister for the Arts
As you are aware, the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence released its report entitled ‘Not Now Not Ever’ on 28 February 2015. I am one of many people who earlier contributed a submission for consideration by the Task Force. I have now reviewed the Task Force’s report and wish to provide you with my thoughts on it.
Firstly some general observations
- My first impression of the report was favourable in that its tone was generally inclusive and gender neutral in comparison to the more overt anti-male bias of many other reports regarding domestic violence (DV), such as The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, 2010-2022. The weakness of the Bryce report though was that the words were not followed-up with conclusions and recommendations when it came to the issue of female perpetration and male victimisation. In addition, there were many things left unsaid in relation to these aspects of DV that should have been addressed.
- No mention was made in the report of the extent of anti-male bias in the pre-existing debate concerning DV, nor for example of the corresponding lack of resources devoted to male victims. Likewise no mention was made of the puzzling lack of family violence perpetrator intervention initiatives provided for violent or abusive women.
- The report continues the trend of earlier reports in that it features an inflated emphasis and reliance on communication/education/awareness programs, without properly justifying what had been achieved to date – nor what gains might be predicted in the future. This is confusing as the problem does not seem to be that people are unaware of domestic violence, as was confirmed in the focus groups. How and why will more “awareness” result in lower rates of perpetration? Has this been achieved in Australia? In any other countries? Indeed no effort was made to detail the full extent of previous expenditure in this area, either absolutely or relative to total government expenditure related to DV.
- The fact that a document word search of the Task Force’s report, using the terms ‘male survivor’ ‘male victim’ or ‘female perpetrator’, returned no results is indicative of the extent of gender bias present therein.
- I am curious as to why copies of public submissions were not made available online (except of course those people who sought anonymity). Publishing submissions, as for example occurred with the federal Senate Inquiry, would have been consistent with the desire for awareness raising advanced in the report. I have no doubt that there would have been many submissions lodged that, like my own, challenged the dominant feminist narrative regarding DV. It is of concern that no extracts/quotes from such submissions featured within the body of the report, and that all of the references cited were written by those adopting and promoting a pro-feminist perspective. It appears, for all intents and purposes, that all such submissions were simply swept aside.
- There is a major anomaly in that no ’round table’ was held with members of mens/fathers groups, yet special meetings were held with (for example) members of the Indian and African communities? This despite the fact that the need to involve men was stressed within the body of the report, and that men comprise a substantial number of the victims of DV.
- It was pleasing to see that the LGBTI community was included in the discussion, as was the issue of elder abuse. Given the latter however I am unclear why (non-sexual) child abuse that occurred in the home was not also discussed in the report. Was this decision made because the pattern of perpetration was at odds with the dominant feminist narrative?
Comments in relation to specific matters raised in the report
Foreword: “Today there are more than 300 women’s refuges around Australia and there have been many advances in the past 40 years in how we deal with domestic abuse”
Why was there no mention of how many beds in refuges are currently available for men?
“It is through listening, sharing and understanding the experiences of those subjected to abuse and violence that we can start to understand how we can put an end to violence, and the action that must be taken.”
And yet no serious effort was made in the report to listen to and understand the circumstances of male victims, and men generally.
Executive Summary: “On average, across Australia, one woman is killed by her partner every week.” (p6)
Why was no mention made of the corresponding number of male victims?
“Initiatives such as White Ribbon (a male-led campaign) and Australia’s CEO Challenge (a workplace domestic violence prevention program) are driving campaigns to break the silence surrounding domestic and family violence.”
Yet no attempt was made to quantify the extent to which rates of perpetration have been affected. Does simply “breaking the silence” actually help survivors? Especially when the ‘awareness’ campaign relentlessly drive home a gender-biased and blame-ridden message of ‘men are violent/women are their victims’?
“The majority of people who experience domestic and family violence in Queensland are women. This is not to say that women cannot be the perpetrators of fear and violence upon male victims.”
On a positive note it was pleasing to see that the Task Force did not follow suit and use the misleading phrase “overwhelming majority” as has featured in many other similar reports.
“Men can be and are victims of violence and coercive control, and are victims of domestic and family violence homicides. Any domestic and family violence, regardless of who the victim and perpetrator are, is unacceptable.”
It transpired that this is/was essentially the report’s sole concession to specifically recognising the existence of male victims and their right to be heard and to receive support.
“The Taskforce recommends that Government commission specific reviews into the impacts of domestic and family violence for two targeted vulnerable groups – people with a disability and the elderly. There is a distinct lack of sound and helpful evidence on the impact of domestic and family violence for these two groups, and the Taskforce strongly believes that more is needed to understand the needs and dynamics of elderly and disabled victims”.
The inclusion of these two groups is to be applauded, but men should also have been included and discussed as an at-risk minority for the same reasons as given for including the other minority victim groups.
“The attitudes, knowledge and beliefs of individuals and communities can and do create a culture that justifies, excuses, perhaps trivialises or even condones or encourages domestic violence.”
I disagree with this assessment. Later in the report the Task Force offers, as its sole supporting evidence, the findings of a national survey that did not even bother to ask questions about the community’s views about violence towards men. Thus its findings were compromised by the lack of statistical context or any valid point of comparison.
(p8) “Culture and attitudes affect the ability of victims to report violence and seek help, and influence the willingness of the community to hold perpetrators to account. It affects the behaviour of the professionals within our police, justice, welfare and service-provider systems when called on to deal with and respond to domestic and family violence. Importantly, culture and attitudes inform and influence the decisions of bystanders to either intervene or ignore incidents of domestic and family violence.”
This is highly applicable to the situation of male victims yet no mention was made of them in this regard – a further reason why men should have been included as an at risk minority and consulted with via a separate round-table meeting.
(p12) “Leaving a violent partner or home situation is a difficult step for a victim. If a victim does not know where to go, or does not feel understood or supported by a service, or worse, if there is no service for the particular need, the victim may return to the violence and not try to leave again. Compassionate, coordinated responses provide much needed support to victims trying to leave and will ensure greater success than disjointed and disengaged services can.”
It would have been highly relevant to note here the fact that many helplines and related web pages pointedly assume that male callers are perpetrators and female callers are victims. All such information, and such services, should be made non-judgemental and gender neutral.
(p13) “Much of the focus in this report and elsewhere is placed on victims, but cultural change needs to happen to stop perpetrators from using violence and coercive control in their relationships. Any integrated service response must include programs to address perpetrator behaviour and hold perpetrators to account”.
Why was no mention made of the need for perpetrator programs for violent women? There is a cultural problem with the community ‘looking the other way’ in relation to abusive women and the Task Force report only perpetuates that situation.
No male perspectives were provided in section 3, and Section 3.3 made no mention of the mens/fathers rights perspective put forward in any of the submissions. This section of the report was given over to advancing one ideology, and one alone, that being gender feminism.
(p105) “Training and games provide opportunities to engage boys and men in conversations and actions around understanding domestic and family violence, without the involvement of women and in a traditional or stereotyped ‘masculine’ environment. Just starting the conversations will make significant steps toward changing attitudes and behaviours.”
This implies that men/boys are the problem and/or that girls don’t play sport, and/or that sporting venues constitute a “a traditional or stereotyped ‘masculine’ environment”. This is inaccurate, unhelpful, and simply conforming to dated stereotypes. Why not have the same program for girls/women? Why could this not have been written as:
‘Training and games provide opportunities to engage adults and children in conversations and actions around understanding domestic and family violence, without the involvement of members of the opposite gender’
(p142) “Further, in the National Crime Prevention Survey, one in four young Australians admitted having witnessed physical domestic violence against their mother and/or step-mother”.
It would have been more appropriate to report that ‘23% of young people between the ages of 12 and 20 years had witnessed an incident of physical violence against their mother/stepmother and 22% against their father/stepfather’ (Source)
(p151) “Alarmingly, the most recent national survey about community attitudes towards violence against women revealed that significant numbers of Australians believe there are circumstances in which violence can be excused. More than 1 in 5 agreed that partner violence can be excused if the person is genuinely regretful afterward (21%) or if they temporarily lost control (22%). These statistics are disturbing and indicate attitudes that trivialise violence by suggesting that violence against a partner can be excused. There is no excuse for domestic and family violence”.
It should have been noted that this survey did not ask about community attitudes towards violence towards men, thus there is no context in which the results may be interpreted. If the surveyors had bothered to ask about men, they might well have found that the community was even more complacent about violence towards men than women. This is not to suggest that any such complacency is good/better, but rather that the issue is one of social attitudes towards violence generally rather than sexism towards women.
(p152) Both Our Watch and White Ribbon ignore female perpetration of violence. There are other groups working in the field that hold a different perspective. Why was no mention made, for example, of the One in Three organisation?
(p154) “We will only achieve long-term and lasting change if we address the causes of domestic violence. International evidence shows the causes are complex – unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women, rigid or narrow gender roles and stereotypes, and a culture and attitudes that support violence”
The two references cited to support this assertion were written by a hardline feminist researcher and a feminist advocacy group. Feminists rely heavily on a theory known as the ‘Duluth Model’ in their approach to DV. Whether or not the factors they mention are, in fact, the primary “contributing factors” is highly debatable. Alternative perspectives should have been provided in this section of the report, in order to provide a more thorough and more balanced coverage of the topic. An example of an alternative perspective worthy of consideration is presented in this article.
(p155) “The most recent data released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in August 2014 shows a widening of the wages gap between men and women in Australia with women currently earning 18.2% less than men.”
This is an average figure for all men and all women and cannot and should not be extrapolated as an indicator of gender bias or discrimination. The so-called gender gap is a complex issue and one that is routinely misrepresented by feminist advocacy groups
(p156 and again at p162-167) “There appears to be a significant gap between an individual’s belief that the violence is wrong, and the willingness to talk about the violence or take action to do something about it.”
It would have been relevant to note that this gap is greater in the case of people witnessing a man being assaulted than in the case of a woman
(p159-160) Mention should have been made of the fact that the media focuses overwhelmingly on male-perpetrated domestic violence, and on promoting a view that only men are responsible for such behaviour. This mirrors the message disseminated in most existing education/awareness campaigns such as those mentioned in the Task Force’s report.
(p171) “It is crucial for men to show leadership in the community in their actions to prevent domestic violence and to address the social and cultural causes of domestic violence. It is also important for them to demonstrate the value of healthy and respectful relationships.” Surely the same could, and in fact should, be said about women? Why wasn’t it?
(p173) The White Ribbon ‘breaking the silence’ campaign has been criticized for only focussing on the responsibilities of boys to treat members of the other gender with respect. It basically shames boys for being male and let’s girls ‘off the hook’ entirely in terms of how they act towards boys. This is not gender equality, it is gender bias or sexism.
(p176-179) This section is unbalanced and excessively influenced by feminist ideology. It absolves women of any responsibility whilst pushing all responsibility onto men (despite the fact that it admits that few men commit violence against their partners)
“Domestic violence is a men’s issue because their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends are being harmed. We know that most men do not commit violent acts in the home, however their attitudes are pivotal to accountability and responsibility for that violence because the majority of violence against women is perpetrated by men.”
Instead of that wording, why not this version instead?
Domestic violence is a women’s issue because their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and friends are being harmed. We know that most women do not commit violent acts in the home, however their attitudes are pivotal to accountability and responsibility for that violence because a substantial proportion of violence against men is perpetrated by women.
Women must also challenge violence committed by other women!
Some further revised wording for the Government’s consideration:
‘There are three key forms of action that people can take in helping to reduce and prevent intimate partner violence:
- Avoiding the personal use of violence against their partner
- Intervening in the violence of other people
- Addressing the social and cultural causes of violence’
(p235) “Currently, there are 14 services funded by the Queensland Government to provide perpetrator intervention initiatives for the following regions: Townsville; Mount Isa; Gold Coast; Murgon; Toowoomba; Rockhampton; Brisbane; Cairns; Roma; Maroochydore; Ipswich; and Logan. In addition, there are two services funded by the Commonwealth”.
How many of these cater for violent women? Any of them? Surely this is relevant to the discussion?
Comments in relation to the Task Force’s recommendations
17. It was most pleasing to note that the monitoring and evaluation of programs was identified as a priority area
18-23. These recommendations demonstrate an excessive emphasis/reliance on communications. How will this help? Apart from just sounding good? No clear nexus between spending money here and actually fixing the problem
24-29. It should have been made clear that such programs should be aimed at both boys and girls (re: respecting the other gender) and not simply a platform for anti-male messaging.
Why was there no suggestion of using female role models? This goes against the general thrust of the report, and implies that it is only male behaviour that is the problem, and that no effort/adjustment is needed on the part of women/girls
31-37. The recommendations in relation to domestic violence leave should have clearly identified that both men and women would be eligible for such leave
67-70. The names of alleged perpetrators and victims should be protected to the same extent. If the victim’s name is withheld until such time as a conviction is recorded, then so to should the alleged perpetrators name be protected from publication
“… reviews and updates the Professional Practice Standards: Working with men who perpetrate domestic and family violence”.
To be consistent with the general thrust of the report it would have been desirable to have this document reviewed and re-launched as Professional Practice Standards: Working with PEOPLE who perpetrate domestic and family violence OR have a separate document written for female perpetrators. To do otherwise is simply to unquestioningly accept an unacceptable and gender-biased status quo.
84-88. Why was no mention made of the existing supply of and demand for shelter beds for male victims?
96-98. Why was no mention made of the fact that this type of specialist court has just been de-funded by the WA Government as they were found to be counter-productive? (Source)
The continued focus on the feminist perspective towards domestic violence, and the exclusion of other perspectives that are equally or perhaps even more valid, is deeply troubling.
Mens violence towards women is a very important issue, but at the same time we must remain mindful of the fact that it is but one component part of a bigger issue. Everyone is important and we need to focus on achieving a reduction in violence to adults and children whether they be male, female or transgender.
I believe that real gains will elude us until such time that we adopt a holistic, practical and non-ideological approach to this most pressing and complex social problem.