A paper for the Australian Crime Prevention Council Conference: Community Safety, Crime Prevention Models, Strategies and Alliances
Such is the current state of domestic violence research and debate that it is possible to state that domestic violence is a complex, contentious and highly political issue, and still be accused of an understatement. It might also be said that there is more confusion between myths and realities in this area than just about any other social research. It is difficult to imagine an issue that has more profound implications for so many aspects of human life that we value highly: personal identity, interpersonal relationships, sexuality, family, sense of community, economic well-being, and the care and nurturing of children. Until relatively recently, the focus of domestic violence research has been on female victims and male perpetrators of violence. These foci are understandable when viewed in the context of the history of domestic violence research, but are coming under increasing scrutiny and criticism by ‘victims’ who do not fall into these categories.
Domestic violence can mean anything from murder to a dirty look. Usually, it is used to imply the worst when it may be quite minor. Many will argue that domestic violence is an open-and-shut case, that is, male violence. We hear little else in the media. I am not so sure that the community accepts the argument that it is always men who are violent in the home, despite the dominance of media attention given to women. I know that politicians are falling over themselves in the race to show they are gender aware, but they are politicians after all. My discussions with hundreds of people in the last few years – during the course of my study – convince me that people are much more realistic in there understanding of domestic violence, women as often as men.
DATA CONFIRMING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AGAINST MEN
Since 1975, approximately 100 both-sex prevalence studies, mainly in Britain and North America have shown that physical domestic violence rates are much more symmetrical between the sexes than women’s advocates suggest. These studies have ranged from random nation-wide surveys of many thousands of participants to smaller regional surveys, and included national crime surveys.
Case study interview data on men victims in Britain and in Canada, reveal remarkable similarities of physical domestic violence experiences between men in these two societies, and in those in my study that I will discuss in a second.
Two recent studies in Australia have confirmed the both-sex prevalence data I have just mentioned. Dr Sotirios Sarantakos has recently completed in-depth interviews of families with histories of violence. A major aim of the Sarantakos study was to investigate the validity of criticisms that studies showing symmetrical rates of intra-partner violence are relatively meaningless because they do not consider the contexts within which the violence occurred. The Sarantakos findings confirmed these studies showing symmetry between couples and also that self-defence as an argument for all women’s violence could not be sustained.
A recent representative survey by Dr Bruce Headey and Dr Dorothy Scott from the University of Melbourne, and Dr David de Vaus from Latrobe University, on approximately 800 men and 800 women, has again confirmed the accuracy of claims from other both-sex surveys that rates of violence between heterosexual couples are approximately equal, but interestingly, that men appeared to suffer more physical injuries.
Now, these studies did take place, and the criticisms of their validity have been shown to be fallacious. And, the results are remarkably consistent, both in the quantitative instruments and the similarities of stories in the in-depth interviews. So something better must come from them than relegating them to the unspoken-about men’s nonsense that the feminist literature infers.
MEN’S ACCOUNTS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Through 1997 and 1998 I conducted a qualitative study of 20 men for my Masters degree, and I have summarized the findings here.
- Overall, the men were hurt more by the emotional aspects of domestic violence (there were reports of mental breakdowns, depression and suicide attempts requiring medical or hospital treatment), than any physical violence, (some of which required hospital treatment). The men tended to seek medical help only as a last resort. This ‘male’ attitude is consistent with what appears to be men’s general attitude to their own health concerns.
- They thought most of their violence was either defensive or provoked.
- They were largely reluctant to report being victims for a variety of reasons, though some were prepared to take legal action, with a variety of outcomes.
- They looked for excuses for their partners violence, for example, upbringing and hormonal influences.
- They felt the justice system was biased against them.
- They thought their partners used ‘the system’ against them; and they thought their plight, individually and collectively as men, was largely unrecognized by the society.
- They found no dedicated support systems for men victims of domestic violence.
- They expressed a reluctance to leave the relationship. The reasons included fear of failure and being seen as a failure, loss of children and loss of home, not wanting to leave the children with a violent person.
I want to include one quote here from one of the men in my study, because I think it sums up the general feeling of most of them.
“What I did to her was apparently a crime, what she did to me was not. For no other reason than displaying my frustration physically – and remember she was never physically hurt – I lost everything at the time: the house, my job, the children. I want you to understand what I am saying here: this is not simply a relationship breakdown. This is domestic violence: one person in an intimate relationship with another, going for the jugular. Knowing and wanting to cause maximal damage to that other person. This is not unconscious, it is deliberate and sustained. But worst of all, she is not doing it alone. She is doing it with the help of the system: state sanctioned domestic violence if you like. She knows she has the support of the system, the community sentiment. She knows as a man I have nowhere to turn, and she knows as a woman she can get away with it. She knew she had it over me because I was a man. By that I do not necessarily mean any formal system, but the general community support of the ‘defenceless woman’, the ‘a man must not hit a woman’ doctrine. She had the trump-card. And I knew that too. People would look down on me and support her, even if they saw it happen. My behaviour, as with most men, was overt and observable. Hers was always covert. Beneath the belt. In the end, hers caused more damage. She was able to ruthlessly breach consent orders and callously manipulate intervention orders with complete impunity, to isolate me of my family and my life as a father, aided and abetted by the system.”
ISSUES and QUESTIONS
As is often the case in researching complex matters: as many issues and questions are raised as it tries to answer. I want to leave the following questions and issues with you as food for thought, as you try to grapple with how to reduce and prevent domestic violence.
- It seems to me, that the most obvious question has to be, is this a giant hoax? I mean, where are all the men? If the both-sex studies, and studies like my qualitative study are true, then there are an awful lot more men slipping through the net than we see. Is their reluctance to report simply the macho thing, or is it simply that they process violence differently, that is to say, they don’t see themselves as victims? All of the men I have interviewed have been asked why they did not report, and the most common answer was “I didn’t know it was violence until I saw your article”.
- Nearly all that we know about the prevalence and nature of domestic violence has been gleaned from surveys conducted by, or at the behest of, women’s interest groups, or, developed from feminist theory. Nearly all of these surveys asked women questions about what their male partners had done to them. Rarely were there such questions as, for example, did the woman inflict any violence, did she start the conflict, what actual harm was done, did she contribute in any way?
I want to say something here about a conversation I had with a woman who was involved in a national survey conducted by the OSW, a few years ago. The survey asked women whether their male partners had hit them in the last twelve months, to which most answered “yes”. When I said to this woman, “but what actually happened to you” she told me that she threw a hot cup of coffee in his face, and he had hit her in response”. It may well have been that greater injury was done to him than her, but nevertheless, another tick went down against men. Now, I am not saying this case is typical, but it does highlight the potentially misleading nature of surveys that ask simplistic tick-box questions of one sex only.
- Despite scores of both-sex surveys revealing roughly symmetrical patterns of violence between partners, women’s advocates have never conducted such studies.
- With the development of women’s advocacy groups, women have been encouraged to report violence done to them by their male partners. No such encouragement exists for men. I think this is one reason we rarely hear from them. Why did so many men respond to my advertisement for my MA (close to 200), and yet so few respond to other calls for victims? Men who report domestic violence against them to domestic violence agencies are generally given a short shrift. The only men’s domestic violence agency in Victoria -the Men’s Referral Service – provides help and advice only to so-called perpetrators.
- Much lower reporting rates for men, are not necessarily indicators of much lower incidence rates for men, as neither are queues for women’s refuges proof that only women are victims. As I have said, men are much less likely to report. Hospital reports reveal that while fewer men present to emergency wards than women, of those men who do, a much higher percentage are admitted than the percentage of women whom present and are subsequently admitted.
- Men’s and women’s domestic violence is not mutually exclusive, and I am not suggesting that some men are not violent, far too many are. However, I do think most men are blamed for what some men do, and it seems somewhat of a system is in place which automatically protects women and condemns men out of hand in these matters. If what I am suggesting is in any way correct, then domestic violence is a pathology of intimacy rather than a pathology of maleness. Therefore, it is useless focusing on male violence alone to try and prevent domestic violence. I do not think we actually need any more surveys to show the extent of domestic violence against men (or women for that matter), just a recognition also of the both-sex studies which have already been done, and listening to the stories like those from studies like mine.
- $25m has recently been allocated by the Federal Government to be given to women on the basis of the ABS I mentioned before. I think we can do better than that. One of the questions was: “Did he ever try to stop you using the telephone or the family car?” Many other questions were so obscure in what they asked, that only the most wild and biased interpretation would count as evidence of violence. It is not an open and shut case that men are the sole perpetrators, and this is taxpayers’ money. Therefore, the government must insist on strict audits on how this money is being used.
- I understand a comprehensive study by the Institute of Family Studies has been conducted on violence in separating couples. This is also taxpayers’ money, and I would like to see the results of that study. At this stage it seems to be under wraps, and I am suspicious – I think with good reason – that the results have been kept from us because they do not fit what many people would like to hear. I hope that is not my paranoia speaking.
- When all studies are heeded, and not the unprintable selected out, we might get a step closer to understanding domestic violence, and thus developing workable reduction and prevention strategies, as it seems we have made little progress focusing on male perpetrators only In the last 25 years.
Graham Stockdale is a PhD candidate currently interviewing men victims of domestic violence.
Before I proceed, I have to stop at this point and say .”In no way, what I am saying, takes anything away from domestic violence to women by their male partners.
(Shupe et al (1987), Sommer (1994)
- Men also find it nearly impossible to obtain AVOs against women, and are advised by legal counselors to desist from litigation against their partners in the FCA because they will not succeed. There is an abundance of lawyers willing to defend women on gender issues but few to defend men.
It seems to me we have an ethical crisis here: as many historians and philosophers of science have pointed out in recent decades, knowledge of our physical and social world is not given, rather, it is a human construct. We cannot ‘know’ something in the sense of systematically researched and verifiable information unless we direct our research attention to it. This means that knowledge derived from research is not value free, in part because our knowledge is dependent on what we choose to investigate.