My submission to the Australian Government Inquiry into Domestic Violence

 A submission to the Senate Inquiry into Domestic Violence in Australia

“I think the sad part is the way husband abuse is treated at the moment is exactly the way wife abuse was treated thirty years ago” Dr Sotirios Sarantakos[1]

 The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference

My submission addresses the nature and adequacy of policy and community responses to domestic violence. I also wish to submit the following comments in relation to the Inquiry’s terms of reference:

Points six and seven of the terms of reference limit consideration of certain matters to their impact on women only:

  • the effects of policy decisions regarding housing, legal services, and women‘s economic independence on the ability of women to escape domestic violence;
  • how the Federal Government can best support, contribute to and drive the social, cultural and behavioural shifts required to eliminate violence against women and their children

I disagree with this limitation given the substantial number of men who are also victims of domestic violence, and who face the same or similar issues as do female victims. That this restriction was considered appropriate reflects the existence of gender bias and outdated notions of gender stereotyping, viz. there are now for example substantial numbers of house-husbands who may be financially reliant on a working partner.

I also object to the use of the phrase “violence against women and their children”.

Firstly, it should be recognized that children generally have two parents and they are not the property of one or the other. Neither should it be assumed that one particular parent is more competent to look after the children than the other, based purely on their gender.

Secondly, when men are victims of domestic violence, it is often the case that the female partner is also abusing or may potentially also abuse children in the household. In such cases the male partner may be forced to leave the home and take the children with him for their safety.

Clarification and disclaimer

Domestic violence (DV) is comprised of man-on-man, woman-on-woman, man-on-women, and woman-on-man violence. The current debate about DV, and the community’s response to it, focuses almost entirely on man-on-woman violence.

I believe that such a focus more closely reflects the prevailing ideology within the DV sector, rather than actual patterns of perpetration. The continued existence of this disparity constitutes a significant barrier to effectively dealing with domestic violence and related issues of concern.

I believe that a solution to the problem of domestic violence will continue to elude us as long as we continue to only recognise and address one piece of the puzzle. Further, the current narrow focus on male-on-female violence generates or accentuates additional problems that I will touch on in this submission.

Those who have previously advanced this perspective have been accused of seeking to ameliorate the behavior of male perpetrators and/or to downplay the suffering experienced by female victims. Be advised that this is most certainly not my intention.

From my research regarding the subject of DV, I am well aware of the highly defensive and oftentimes aggressive response directed towards those who question the ‘DV=men’s violence towards women’ model. This pattern of threatening behavior, shaming and abuse is nothing new, and dates back to the experience of Erin Pizzey in Britain in the 1970’s.[2] It is for this reason, and out of concern for the welfare of my family, that I have chosen to put forward this submission on a confidential basis.

Much of the data about patterns of domestic violence that appears in the media and in the web sites of DV agencies is misleading

The starting point of any discussion about domestic violence must be accurate assessment of the nature and extent of the problem. In my view many of the statistics being circulated in discussions about DV are inaccurate or at the very least, highly misleading. This is unfortunate as suitable data, albeit imperfect or incomplete in some regards, is available for those who genuinely seek it.

From this one might well conclude that misleading statistics are at times being deliberately advanced in order to support a particular ideological perspective that is held by many, if not most, working in the field of DV.

A red flag for astute observers is the absence of comparative statistics for men and boys within much of the literature about domestic violence.[3] In some cases this is because men were not surveyed, or in other cases survey instruments were biased and/or did not ask appropriate questions about female perpetration and male victims. In other cases the relevant comparisons were available but were not reported, presumably as doing so would undermine the predetermined narrative.

For me to provide details concerning the debunking of these widely cited yet misleading ‘findings’, and to provide accurate statistics in their place, would substantially increase the length and complexity of this submission. What I will do instead is provide a series of links to relevant online sources within the body of this submission where the Committee may readily access the relevant information.

The view that is put forward by most within the DV sector is that this preoccupation with male violence is justified because the number of female perpetrators is almost insignificant – that female perpetrators are almost an aberration.

When provided with irrefutable statistics showing gender symmetry (or near symmetry) in rates of perpetration, the fall-back position is typically that females only perpetrate violence in self-defence, that the physical violence they perpetrate is less severe, and/or that the impact of DV is greater for women than men.

The first statement is demonstrably false[4] and the subsequent statements demand careful qualification and interpretation.

The US organization ‘Stop Abusive and Violent Environments’ (SAVE) examined DV research results from around the world and noted that “These studies show that rates of female perpetration are very similar to male perpetration rates. The authors conclude, Results of this review suggest that partner abuse can no longer be conceived as merely a gender problem, but also (and perhaps primarily) as a human and relational problem, and should be framed as such by everyone involved.

These conclusions mirror findings in the United States, where research shows men and women initiate most forms of abuse at equal rates, for similar reasons, and rarely in self-defense.” [5]

I would invite members of the Committee to review the following references:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsgeDrlRQWc (Donald Dutton)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KgBVedec_0

http://www.reddit.com/r/mensrightslinks/comments/y0mnx/dvipc_summary/

Intimate partner abuse of men (Edith Cowan University, 2010) at http://www.ecu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/178297/10_Tilbrook_Final-Report.pdf

http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mas2/V71-Straus_Thirty-Years-Denying-Evidence-PV_10.pdf

http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/dom/heady99.pdf ‘Domestic Violence in Australia – Are men and women equally violent?’

http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mas2/V74-gender-symmetry-with-gramham-Kevan-Method%208-.pdf

http://newscastmedia.com/domestic-violence.htm

http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=12153&page=0

http://reason.com/archives/2014/02/22/are-domestic-violence-statistics-bogus

http://www.familylawexpress.com.au/family-law-news/research/family-violence-research/domestic-violence-study-suspended-by-unsw-for-breach-of-ethics/2165/

http://time.com/#2921491/hope-solo-women-violence/

http://www.avoiceformen.com/women/working-with-violent-women/ (Erin Pizzey)

These and further references can be found at http://www.fighting4fair.com/misrepresenting-reality/domestic-violence-one-sided-media-coverage-and-bogus-statistics/

Consider also the trend of increasing violence by women and girls generally

The claim that women are rarely responsible for domestic violence becomes all the more implausible when one considers recent trends showing substantial increases in violent crime by women and girls. Such increases also exceed the trend in similar crimes by males.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/violent-crimes-committed-by-teenage-girls-have-surged-in-nsw/story-e6freuy9-1226239405809?nk=5f0a5e0064e7e26d5416acaf028e02d8

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/girls-get-violent-1345290.html

http://www.theage.com.au/national/girls-at-war-the-new-face-of-violence-20090815-elsm.html

http://www.news.com.au/national/arrests-of-women-in-nsw-are-rising-and-now-at-a-faster-rate-than-men/story-fncynjr2-1226937589292

http://www.aic.gov.au/media_library/conferences/evaluation/gelb.pdf

These and further references can be found at http://www.fighting4fair.com/women-behaving-badly/on-the-recent-increase-in-violent-crime-carried-out-by-women-and-girls/

How and why is the current focus on men’s violence towards women a problem?

Firstly it is a problem because this focus is reflected in language and in statements that paint a picture of all men as abusers or potential abusers. Web site content, even to promote help-lines, is written in such a way as to pre-judge visitors based on their gender. I will provide a link to one such site in a footnote, but the agency in question is by no means unusual in this regard.[6] The material posted online in most Australian federal, state, and NGO web sites dealing with DV is assiduously judgmental and anti-male in its nature.

Take for example the document the ‘National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children’ which sets the scene for addressing domestic violence at both federal and state level. That document, as do many others like it, waves away the welfare of battered men within the first few paragraphs. The Plan states “While a small proportion of men are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, the majority of people who experience this kind of violence are women in a home, at the hands of men they know.  Men are more likely to be the victims of violence from strangers and in public, so different strategies are required to address these different types of violence.”

As a consequence of both the message being communicated by DV agencies, and broader social forces at work (i.e. anti-male bias and sex-role stereotyping), many male victims are discouraged from coming forward to report crimes and/or seek assistance. By the same token it is also entirely likely that the overt profiling undertaken by DV agencies results in fewer women coming forward to seek help for their own aggressive tendencies.

Under-reporting by male victims then has a flow-on effect of reinforcing the misconception that there are few female aggressors, that facilities for male victims are unnecessary, that survey question on male victims/female aggressors are redundant, etc.

There are many reports of male victims who do come forward being treated with suspicion, if not downright hostility. They claim to not have been believed, and that they were considered as abusers who were denial. Even when they are treated sympathetically, the next problem they encounter is that there are either nil or minimal services (e.g. beds in shelters) or assistance available to men, and even more so for men accompanied by children.

When this mantra of ‘DV=men’s violence towards women’ is disseminated through the community via the media it encourages the view that men are inherently violent, and that should you see a man involved in a violent incident with a woman then the man is the perpetrator.

This is demonstrated in the videos at http://www.fighting4fair.com/promulgating-inequality/differing-public-response-to-partner-violence-depending-on-gender-of-victim/

Be assured that men suffer deeply from the affects of domestic violence. Another largely unreported outcome of the current situation is a very high rate of male suicide linked to involvement in domestic violence – which is often exacerbated by subsequent isolation from children.[7]

The man’s separation from children can and does occur regardless of whether the father is the perpetrator, the alleged perpetrator, and/or the victim of domestic violence (as for e.g. in the case where no emergency accommodation is available for fathers with children).

Focusing wholly on male perpetrators is akin to handing violent women a free-pass

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) prepared a submission to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. RAINN is the USA’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. In that submission they wrote:

“… an inclination to focus on particular segments of the student population (e.g.,
athletes), particular aspects of campus culture (e.g., the Greek system), or traits that are
common in many millions of law-abiding Americans (e.g., “masculinity”), rather than on the
subpopulation at fault: those who choose to commit rape. This trend has the paradoxical
effect of making it harder to stop sexual violence, since it removes the focus from the
individual at fault, and seemingly mitigates personal responsibility for his or her own actions.”[8]

Now if we change ‘sexual violence’ to ‘domestic violence’ you might see where I am heading with this. As stated earlier, many within the DV sector are loudly asserting that ‘domestic violence is men’s violence towards women’, and devoting their resources to educating/shaming men as a collective group. But by doing so they are inadvertently sending a message to violent women that ‘whatever you are doing must be something other than domestic violence’, and ‘given the violent nature of men your actions might well be justified’.

It also follows that violent women would be less concerned about being prosecuted in the knowledge that they will probably be believed more readily than their male partner should the authorities become involved.

Recommendations

  1. First and foremost, I would implore members of the Committee to consider this submission, and the linked references it provides, with an open mind and in an objective manner. You may or may not share my view that the results of the approach now taken towards domestic violence are somewhat less than stellar. Truly, domestic violence is a difficult and multi-faceted problem with which to wrestle.

Please be open to the possibility that the limited success achieved to date may also be partly due to shortcomings in both the philosophical approach that is driving current efforts, and the fixed attitudes and preconceived notions of many of those tasked with addressing the issue.

Indeed I am very much aware of the ‘elephant in the room’ that is feminist doctrine, and of the combative ‘us and them’ approach often adopted by adherents to that movement. But as is usually the case, we can and must find a middle path that will lead us to a fair and equitable solution to the scourge of domestic violence.

2. Evaluate and modify all documents and web content produced by government agencies in order to identify and remove any bias that might be present in relation to gender or sexual orientation. None of this material should pre-judge who is or might be the perpetrator or the victim in the relationship, or their motivation for coming forward.

3. Ensure that gender bias is removed from survey instruments and in research methodology in order to ensure accurate, unbiased and truly representative findings.

4. Evaluate and adjust the composition of relevant sections within agencies, committees, and panels dealing with DV issues so that, as far as practicable, they are representative of the broader community, particularly in relation to gender and sexual orientation.

At the moment it is my impression that many such groups are currently comprised entirely of women, and it is quite possible that this is introducing a degree of bias which could limit the scope of approaches being considered or undertaken to address the problem of DV.

It is also important that any budget committee, steering committees or similar should contain representatives who are completely independent, in a financial sense, from any of the matters being considered. It would be naïve to assume, given the huge amounts of money directed towards domestic violence at the state and federal level, that there was no potential for financial considerations or self-interest to influence decisions regarding the approaches undertaken.

5. Evaluate and adjust the allocation of funding and resources so that it is in accordance with the reality of the domestic violence problem in its entirety. In the first instance this would almost certainly necessitate additional resources being directed towards male victims of domestic violence and counseling for female perpetrators of violence.

6. Although it may be beyond the scope of the Committee’s consideration the manner in which the welfare of men has been largely ignored in the case of DV is partly indicative of the lack of any advocacy for the interests of men and boys within the federal sphere. This of course contrasts strongly with the situation for women where there are generously-funded agencies or sections within agencies to advance the interests of women and girls. This may not be the time or the place to consider this issue, but it is a disparity which should not continue to go unquestioned.

[1] http://mensrights.com.au/domestic-family-violence/violent-women/

[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erin_Pizzey

[3] http://www.fighting4fair.com/misrepresenting-reality/gender-bias-at-the-australian-department-of-social-services/

[4]See for example http://www.mediaradar.org/docs/Dutton_GenderParadigmInDV-Pt1.pdf, See  p687

[5]http://www.saveservices.org/dvlp/policy-briefings/partner-abuse-worldwide/

[6]http://www.fighting4fair.com/misrepresenting-reality/addressing-anti-male-bias-by-an-australian-state-government-department/

[7]http://mediaradar.org/docs/Davis-DomesticViolenceRelatedDeaths.pdf See Conclusion

[8]https://rainn.org/images/03-2014/WH-Task-Force-RAINN-Recommendations.pdf

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Further information concerning the Inquiry can be accessed at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Finance_and_Public_Administration/Domestic_Violence.

PS: The tabling of the Inquiry’s report has been postponed from 27 October 2014 to 2 March 2015, and then extended again to 18 June 2015. On 15 June 2015, the Senate granted a further extension of time for reporting until 20 August 2015. I was extremely disappointed with this delay – it was really quite a pathetic effort.

Here is a link to the final report which I have yet to review (that review may well form the basis for a separate post).

An interim report was released on 19 March 2015. Regretfully there is nothing in that document to suggest that any consideration whatsoever has been given submissions from those offering a non-feminist perspective on the matter. As a consequence the report continues the tradition of turning the other way with respect to the existence of male victims and female perpetrators. To give an example, clauses 1.11 and 1.38 only refer to behavioural modification programs in relation to male perpetrators.

The One in Three organisation has had a significant degree of involvement with the Senate Inquiry. In this paper they recount the bias and antagonism that they have witnessed and experienced because of their efforts to seek a fairer outcome for men who have been subjected to family violence.

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