Wrong, wrong, wrong. It paints a picture of mayhem in NSW or else a very small police force.”
Pru Goward Head of Office of the Status of Women 1997 when criticizing the Women’s Electoral Lobby for telling the United Nations that seventy per cent of police time in NSW was spent on domestic violence. She omitted to say that the figure came from the Office of the Status of Women in 1995.
“Family violence is probably the only situation where women are as or more violent than men. If men have a genetic predisposition to be violent, one would expect them to be more violent at home than their wives. Yet, an examination of violence between couples and violence by parents towards children reveals that women are as violent or more violent than men”
Behind Closed Doors a US study used, falsely, by the Office of the Status of Women in a publicity campaign claiming one in three women was at risk of domestic violence
“To suggest that any planned research on women’s experience of violence should look at women as perpetrators is about as logical as the proposition that a child abuse survey should include data on child bullies”
Kathleen Townsend, then head of the Office of the Status of Women writing in the Canberra Times February 19 1995
Thank you for the opportunity to address this meeting
My name is John Coochey and I have been published in Australia and internationally on subjects ranging from the economics of naval hydrography to the epidemiology of treating benign prostatic hyperplasia, which for those of you who have not swallowed a medical dictionary is a blockage in men’s dicks when they get older. However the issue on which I am most widely known for is the debunking of false statistics, particularly those put out by people on the Government payroll.
The theme of this conference is myths and reality, that would normally cover such issues as a public perception that crime is increasing whereas ‘official figures’ show that it, or at least a sub set, is decreasing, or at least keeping place with population increase.
I have always had a problem with ‘official statistics’ since I did a degree unit including national income statistics when my lecturer pointed out that according to official ABS statistics twenty per cent of the beer produced in Australia was poured down the sink! My more recent calculations suggest the discrepancy is closer to forty per cent! Likewise ever since the first Census there have always been considerably more married women in Australia than married men! The evidence for the first anomaly is that if you match the ABS Household Expenditure Survey to the excise figures for the sale of beer then there is now up to a forty per cent discrepancy between what people say they spend on beer and the picture given by the actual excise figures. Likewise when you look at the number of women who in the ABS Women’s Safety Survey claimed to have been assaulted in the previous year and reported it to police, then the figure is twice that who actually did. This relates to the issues of what is known as ‘strategic answering’ and telescoping. Strategic answering is where respondents deliberately color information, for example claiming to have more children than they have in order to encourage more day care centers. Telescoping is where something happened in a distant past time period but is remembered as happening more recently. This artificially inflates “current data” by contaminating it with past events.
Sometimes ‘official figures’ change with a change of management. In a letter published in the Australian Financial Review in 1997, Pru Goward, the head of the Office of the Status of Women, castigated the Women’s Electoral Lobby for stating that seventy per cent of police time in New South Wales was spent on domestic violence.
“Wrong, wrong, wrong. It paints a picture of mayhem in NSW or else a very small police force.”( 1)
What she did not point out was that the figure had come from OSW in 1995! ( 2) In fact every other figure in that 1995 press release was false but I will come to that later.
The first thing that most of us do when we see a study on crime is to relate it to our own experience but then again how typical is our own experience? Many years ago I remember Peter Cook, of Peter Cook and Dudley Moor fame, for those of you who are old enough to remember them, was addressing a talk show audience, allegedly representing the general population. He asked them to put their hands up if they had a car, almost everybody did. Nothing unusual today but back then car ownership was in a minority. In that vein I would like to ask how many people here have seen their mother tied up and sodomised by their father? A ridiculous question? But according to the Office of the Status of Women and the Press Council if a third of us have not seen this then we cannot be a typical audience. (3) In 1987 OSW ran a media campaign claiming that one in three women were at risk of domestic violence. This was based on US research by Straus Gelles and (Susan) Steinmetz (4)which in fact had shown that one in three households would experience at least one incident of violence in its existence, but in the majority of cases it would be the woman who would be the perpetrator. This results has been repeated nearly a hundred times in independent studies. The two most recent in Australia by Dr Sarantakos at Charles Sturt University and by a study done by the Universities of Melbourne and La Trobe. I understand from Dr. Dorothy Scott one of the authors of that paper, that since its publication the Office of the Status of Women has employed consultants from the University of South Australia to undertake a qualitative study. In Dr Scott’s words “if quantitative research gives findings we don’t like then let’s try some qualitative research on non-representative samples!!).Nevertheless the myth of one woman in three getting bashed up by her husband persists, it reoccurs in the medical literature including a seminar kit put out by the Royal College of General Practitioners. (5) A couple of years ago the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article by an Angela Matheson which stated that typical domestic violence involved the husband sodomising the wife in front of the children. She also claimed that ABS had criticized the studies done by Straus and Gelles. I protested this to the Press Council and despite a statement from ABS that they had never commented on the US studies my complaints were not upheld. So I guess officially that Angela’s article must be true and therefore we do not represent the general public.
I will now return to the OSW press release of 1995. It stated in part
We also know that domestic violence comprises one of the largest areas of police work-some 70 per cent according to NSW figures…
Victorian police report that they received more than 14000 calls involving domestic violence in 1992…
There are no national statistics on the nature and extent of violence against women but we do know that on any night in Australia, approximately 5,000 women and children seek accommodation in refuges-most of whom are escaping violence..
And in Queensland, a 1992 study showed that one in five women admitted to the Royal Brisbane Hospital’s emergency department was a victim of domestic violence.(6)
Every one of these figures is demonstrably false. The officials responsible claimed that the 70 per cent figure came from the ACT Community Law Reform Paper Research Paper no. 1 (7). The actual figures in that report refer to call outs to domestic incidents is 3.5 per cent of which only one in five involved an assault (including male on male) that is 0.7 per cent, not 70!
Victorian crime statistics for 1993-4 show 13,485 call-outs to family incidents, only 13.7 per cent definitely involved violence against the person which would amount to one tenth of one per cent of households in Victoria. Fewer than half of these resulted in charges being laid. In 18 per cent of the total incidents the complainant was male and 17 per cent involved parents and children. Victoria police statistics now include “threatening to damage property and “behaving in an offensive manner as “violence”
OSW originally claimed that the figure of 5000 for the number of women and children seeking refuge came from the National Census, which actually shows the number of accommodation, not seeking it. The official figure is from “Hostels for The Homeless, Night Shelters and Refuges” There were 6,607 people in this category -1614 children, 1271 women and 3,722 men. In other words, men outnumbered women and children put together. There was absolutely no indication if any of these people had been subjected to violence. Subsequently, OSW claimed the figure came from statistics compiled by the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program and from a paper by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.(8)In fact the SAAP figures show that on each night about 280 women claiming that they are the victims of domestic violence seek accommodation at a refuge. The AIHW paper suggests a lower figure.
The figure for the Queensland Hospital was supposed to have come from a study done in 1990 by Gwen Roberts of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Queensland. In fact the study was done in 1991 and published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1993. The study actually concluded that “one in 100 emergency departmental attendees is as a result of domestic violence”. The 20 per cent figure refers to women attendees who claimed to have been victims of “domestic violence” at some time in their adult lives. That included being pushed or verbally abused in possibly a situation of mutual abuse. There was no evidence that any were admitted
This slide in definitions is not unique to OSW. The issue of war crimes is increasingly in the public eye and one “folk myth” is that the International Red Cross has stated that the majority of victims of war are women. This is stated from time to time on the politically correct ABC. The Red Cross does not in fact collect such figures but does state that eighty per cent of the World’s Refugees are women and children. I suppose that men could be under represented because they are either still in the war zone or are dead but then again a moments thought shows that this is a mathematical truism. The smallest family that will reproduce itself is four, mum dad and two kids. If they all become refugees then seventy five per cent of them are women and children but then again seventy five per cent are men and children. Think about it.
This issue of “changing definitions” occurs in other fields. In May 1995 a female academic Jeanne Madison published a study that showed that 67 per cent of nurses stated that they had been the victims of sexual harassment but this included any unwanted telephone calls or requests for dates not necessarily persistent ones. When I pointed out that the last time I was in hospital I had asked my nurse out to dinner she said that did not constitute harassment as the invitation was accepted! It is in the Australian Capital Territory that this lack of intellectual rigor seems to have reached its zenith. In March 1996 the ACT Department of Health released a report entitled Review of ACT Sexual Assault Services (9) which stated without any evidence that one in four women had been the victim of sexual assault. It was largely based on an earlier report Many Paths for Healing prepared by the Canberra Women’s Health Centre, funded by the Commonwealth and Territory Governments. This had found 20 per cent of respondents to a survey had been the victims of organized ritual abuse, formerly known as satanic ritual abuse-black masses torture chambers etc. This obviously means the ACT must have more covens complete with torture chambers than Catholic Grammar schools. And absolutely ridiculous study, but which was accepted publicly by the ACT Government! In fact a British Government study found only three such cases over a four year period and in the US only one out of 12,264 cases was substantiated. The origin of this insanity can perhaps be found in the WHS report, page 7.
“Feminist research methodology
· The distinction between subjective and objective research is rejected. All research occurs in a social context and reflects the researchers way of seeing the world.
· The production of emancipatory knowledge and empowerment of those who are being researched is a central focus.
· The research process should contribute positively to consciousness raising and transformative social action”
With such methodology , it is not surprising that stupidity occurs. But how on earth does it get included in Government policy? In 1995 the ACT Community Law Reform Committee put out a report (10) stating that (page 203) over a three month period there were “347 verified call out to domestic violence incidents”. This was allegedly based on a report by the Australian Institute of Criminology which had actually stated that there were 347 call outs to domestic incidents, only 9 of which resulted in convictions i.e. were proven.
It is not only on gender issues incorrect folk myths exist. Since Port Arthur the issue of gun control has been of increasing prominence. This resulted in a multi million dollar gun buy back program so that we “do not become like the United States”. What is relevant here is what is the true situation in the United States, does it in fact have high rates of firearm related crime particulary murder? Well yes and no. Depends on where you are and who you are.
The Canberra Times made editorial comment recently on gun-related deaths in Australia using the “situations” in Japan and the United States to illustrate its argument. Japan has a low incidence of murders and firearm ownership whereas the reverse is true in the USA. Ipso facto, guns cause murders. In fact the situation is considerably more complex.
Japan has a very low crime rate per se, largely because of a draconian legal system that would probably be unacceptable in any Western country, intrusive policing leading to a percentage of “conviction upon arrest rate” in the high 90s, usually by the confession of the “perpetrator”. The full situation in the US is often misrepresented.
For example, the murder rate for whites is very similar to that of much of Western Europe and figures disclosed at a recent Australian Institute of Criminology Conference showed that when gun-related murders were excluded from US data the rate was still more than twice that of Australia, even when Australian murders involving the use of firearms were included.
What bulks up the US rate is the rate among Hispanics, several times that of whites and even higher among blacks, eight times that of whites as perpetrators and seven times as victims. (11) It is not possible to given an exact figure for Hispanics as some principalities do not collect separate figures for this group If guns cause murders, one would expect these ratios to be reversed, higher-income whites having access to more and better firearms. Furthermore, the vast majority of both US murder victims and perpetrators have serious criminal records In other words criminals are killing other criminals, particularly if they are involved in the crack cocaine trade. It has been pointed out frequently that those US States with the highest crime rates have the most stringent gun-registration rules. The reply to this is that criminals buy their weapons where they are easily available and then transport them to high crime areas but, if this were true, one would expect firearm-related crime to be much the same all over the US.
This is not the case. FBI statistics (12) show that in the early 1991 for the entire state of Vermont there were only 12 murders, Wyoming had 16, North Dakota 18 and New Hampshire 20. When expressed in the more usual way this is 2.1 per 100,000 for Vermont, 3.5 for Wyoming, 1.72 for North Dakota, 2.6 for South Dakota, and 1.8 for New Hampshire. These figures are considerably smaller than in Australia’s Northern Territory, with a rate of about 11 per 100,000 with very tight gun laws, almost identical with those of the ACT (which has the lowest rate in Australia), but high alcohol consumption, a large young male population and high levels of domestic violence among the indigenous community.
In some US states the murder rate is of course higher. Florida has 8.9 per 100,000 and New York 13.3, but these rates are lower than in many European cities that do not have any particular reputation for violence. For example, Copenhagen has a murder rate of 10.5 per 100,000. Helsinki 15.9 and Amsterdam seems to hold the lead at 38, four times that of Florida, which has a reputation bad enough to scare a friend of mine when he had to stop over there on his way home.( figures for Europe UN publication Human Development Report 1995 page 198 table 23.)
His home town is Bogota, Colombia.
What has actually happened in Florida is that since it has allowed qualified residents and interstate visitors to carry handguns the violent crime rate has decreased faster than the national average. The only group of potential victims who are known to be unarmed are international visitors, which is why attacks on them increased.
Indeed, the most sophisticated study yet done of this aspect of firearm (13)ownership in the US has shown that those states that have allowed the carrying of handguns by qualified civilians have shown a faster reduction in violent-crime rate than those that have not.
Even those who do not carry guns are protected, potential muggers not knowing who will be able to fight back and who will not.
Once factors such as ethnic make-up and degree of urbanization have been taken into account, the number of “lives saved” exceeds any increase in such factors as domestic murders, suicides or accidental deaths. What such states have seen is that there has been an increase in crimes in which the victim would not normally be present, such as car theft.
In Australia even a body as august as the Australian Institute of Criminology is not above reproach. In the 1993 paper reported earlier question 13 to a survey was never published. I got a copy of the answers under Freedom of Information legislation. That question asked police officers what they thought of the local Domestic Violence Crisis Service. The answers were so critical, especially from female officers that the DVCS put pressure on the AIC not to publish. Unbelievable but true, I have it in writing from the ACT Government. When the AIC bows to political pressure one wonders what the world is coming to. In May 1999 it put out a paper Firearm-related Violence the Impact of the Nationwide Agreement on Firearms by Jenny Mouzos. (14) This concluded that it was still too early to ascertain whether Australia’s uniform firearms laws have achieved their aim in reducing firearm-related violence and misuse. It did conclude however that “There is also preliminary evidence that in some cases, for example suicide and armed robbery, firearms may be being displaced by other methods or weapons. In 1996 there were thirty accidental deaths and in 1997 after the “Buy Back” there were 19. “. But when we look at all of the data a different picture emerges, in 1993 there were 18 accidental firearm related deaths, in 1994 20 and in 1995 15. When we go further back accidental deaths averaged 26 per annum 32 from 1883-5 and a staggering 50 per year from 1980-82. Or put more simply accidental deaths was falling much faster before the “Gun Buyback” than before.
In the case of armed robbery the AIC study concluded “However there is a declining trend in the percentage of robberies involving the use of a firearm and this has been accompanied by increases in the percentage of robberies involving other weapons” So the buy back has not reduced armed robberies and I for one would be as worried by a blood filled syringe as a firearm.
So what about the situation with accidents? According to Mouzos’s paper there has been a decline in firearm accident since the gun buyback, 30 in 1996 and only 19 in 1997. But in fact when a longer term view is taken a different picture emerges. According to official statistics in 1995 there were 15 such deaths, in 1994 20, in 1993 18, going further back accidental deaths averaged 26 each year from 1989-91, 28 from ’86-88, 32 from 1983-5 and a staggering 50 per year from 1980-82. When I asked Jenny Mouzous why she had not looked at these early figures she said that it had never occurred to her. Surprising considering that I got the figures from the AIC’s own Home Page! What is absolutely clear is that accidental deaths involving a firearm were falling at a much higher rate before the gun buy back than afterwards. It is also worth pointing out that the Federal Government financed a poll by Newspoll that found in part
“The decrease in the number of people owning a gun is of an order of magnitude which is not statistically significant”
(Newspoll Australian Firearms Buyback Tracking Study Phase Two Advertising June-July 1997 page 14)
In such circumstances one would not expect much change in firearm related deaths. However given that $500 million dollars was allocated to the scheme as a health economist I would have to question the cost effectiveness.
Some other recent examples of data’s being misrepresented include the National Health and Medical Research Council-funded study of abortions, from which it was concluded that abortions had not increased per capita since the 1930s.Despite the fact that the team included highly paid academics and the head of a major teaching hospital, it had misrepresent the data grossly by including spontaneous miscarriages in the 1930s data but excluding them from later periods.
In fact, there had been a massive increase since the 30s.
When this was publicized, the NHMRC had to withdraw the paper. At least one organization has some integrity but why was it published in the first place?
Despite this, the discredited data appeared subsequently in an information paper by the Public Health Institute and a number of press articles.
On another occasion it took the financial might of the Tobacco Institute to fund a court case that showed that on another reference not only had the NHMRC refused to read submissions that did not support its preconceptions but a sociologist, Simon Chapman, had advocated concealing the findings of the study when it showed very few deaths from passive smoking – not what he wanted to hear.
The recent NSW Commission on Child Sexual abuse has given rise to almost a bidding war on who can come up with the highest figure for child sexual abuse. The current leader appears to be a Liz Mulder who during the launch of a booklet by the NSW Department of Women, announced that overseas studies had shown that 98 per cent of handicapped women were sexually abused before the age of 18. This false claim was repeated in the document Reclaiming Our Rights which attributed the figure to a work by David Finkelhor Sexually Victimized Children 1979. In fact Finkelhor came up with a figure of 19 per cent for girls and 9 per cent for boys based on questions given to university students and using a wide definition of abuse. which included any sexual contact or attempted sexual contact before the age of 18.. The Finkelhor study never studied handicapped people at all. I have made numerous attempts to contact Liz Mulder but she has not returned my calls. No doubt this figure of 98 per cent will be dredged up whenever anyone needs a headline about child abuse. It was a “Government Report” so therefore must be correct. One of the problems with Finkelhor’s methodology is that only those students who said they had been abused had the opportunity to earn $25 for attending a follow up interview. A sure way to bias responses even assuming all students took the survey seriously. In this context I am reminded of a survey by Dolly magazine done a few years ago (No I am not citing this as a serious academic source). It announced proudly that half of all girls had lost their virginity by the age of sixteen. When you think about it that means half of all girls have been “sexually abused”. The age of consent in Australia is sixteen. I guess it is all a question of definition.
Is it really a case of “lies, damn lies and statistics”, or is it a case of “all the facts that fit we print”, preconceptions sometimes overruling objective investigation?
John Coochey (email@example.com)
1 Pru Goward. Published as a letter to the editor Australian Financial Review Friday August 1 1997
2 Office of the Status of Women Media Release June 1995.
3 Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald 5 August 1996. The original article by Angela Matheson was published on April 23 1996
4 Behind Closed Doors Straus Gelles and Steinmetz
5 The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Women and Violence undated publication
6 Office of the Status of Women Media Release June 1995.
7 Mugford, J and Easteal, Edwards, A. ACT Domestic Violence Research Report to the ACT Community Law Reform Committee March 1993 Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra 1993)
8 Supported Accommodation Assistance Program May 1994 (and other dates) Home for A Night
9 Courtnney, J Williams, L Many Paths to Healing: the counseling and support needs for women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse or ritual abuse 1995
10 The Community Law Reform Committee of the Australian Capital Territory Report No 9 Domestic Violence November 1995
Department of Health and Community Care Review of ACT Sexual Assault Services March 1996
Department of The Prime Minister and Cabinet Private Communication 19 September 1995
11 Bureau of Justice Statitisics Homicide Trends in the US Trends by Race
12 US Department of Justice 1991. Uniform Crime Reports Federal Bureau of Investigation ,
13 John R. Lott, Jr., More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)(Studies in law and economics)(ISBN: 0226493636).
14 Jenny Mouzos Firearm-related Violence the Impact of the Nationwide Agreement on Firearms by Australian Institute of Criminology trends and issues in criminal justice. Paper no 116 May 1999