By Sue Price, Men's Rights Agency

 Under the auspices of Prime Minister, John Howard’s “Partnerships against domestic violence” initiative, the Attorney General’s department convened a men’s forum to discuss relationship issues.

The forum presented an opportunity to dispel the myth that men only have to resolve one problem …their supposed propensity for aggression and violence. Unfortunately, adherence to political correctness and a willingness to accept without question for many years, the false premise promoted by the women’s domestic violence lobby, that women only are victims of violence has severely hampered and restricted any discussion of men’s needs and concerns.

The conference was weighted fairly heavily towards the pro-feminist, anti family agenda, but we hope delegates from the various men and pro-family groups provided some balance. The interaction between the factions certainly provided for some lively sessions.

The Attorney General’s Department has a website http://203.2.143.12/aghome/commaff/lafs/frsp/mensforum/Welcome.html (obsolete) which includes most of the speeches.

Men’s Rights Agency address to the forum follows ……

Scaling the Brick Wall

The majority of marriages and defacto relationships are ended by a unilateral decision made by the wife or female partner. Research conducted by Peter Jordan indicated 60% of married men did not want to separate and over two thirds had sought reconciliation. Figures compiled from our own records which include defacto relationships show a considerably higher percentage and many women already have a new partner waiting in the wings – ready to move in on the family.

When separation occurs many men are taken by surprise – they just didn’t see it coming – and feel like they’ve been hit by a “ton of bricks”. Initial disbelief and shock, gives way to an inner numbness and despair exposing their vulnerability. This is especially true if the wife and children have just disappeared. An overwhelming sense of loss develops as they face the harsh reality that their future role in the lives of their children will most likely be on a part-time basis only.

A separated man finds himself without a wife/partner, a family, a home/place to live and adequate money to support himself and his children when they visit. He often has to pay for two homes (the marital home and new accommodation for himself) and for the support of the two households. He is not eligible for Legal Aid, the bank account’s cleared out and he now has no spare cash. He feels like his children have been kidnapped and he now has no rights at all in regard to them and likewise they with him, despite legislation promoting the right of the child to have contact with both parents.

Where does a man in this situation seek help? A check of Australian telephone books reveals numerous government-funded organisations and resources for women, indeed for those self-same women initiating the separation and divorce – but few, if any services for men.

This man faces a brick wall … ill equipped to scale its height with any measure of success and he has no way of “walking around the wall” if his ex-partner is unprepared to act fairly for the children and his sake.

Denial of access by the use of domestic violence orders, false allegations of child physical/sexual abuse or even rape in marriage have become commonly used tactics by partners who wish to totally eliminate the father from their children’s lives.

As this Forum has been auspiced under the Prime Minister’s initiative “Partnerships against Domestic Violence” it is appropriate to comment on family violence. In the view of many, including members of the judiciary, a good proportion of domestic violence orders are false, made purely to facilitate the separation and give an advantage in Family Court proceedings. To date efforts to reduce family violence have been based on the incorrect presumption that only women are victims of violence/abuse perpetrated by men. This has occurred despite more than thirty overseas independent studies, not paid for by a feminist friendly government or conducted by self-professed feminist researchers, concluding that women in a relationship are just as likely as men to initiate violence. For example, a few quotes…….

1994 July, “Domestic Assault in the USA” by Kanton and Straus, average male-female spousal abuse rates for 1992 were: Wife assault 2.0%, reported by 2.3% of wives and 1.7% of husbands. Husband assault 4.6%, reported by 5.8% of wives and 3.3% of husbands.

1991 December – Reena Sommer, Gordon E.Barnes and Robert P.Murray Department of Family Study, University of Manitoba, Canada, a study of 1257 (615 male and 642 female) Winnipeg residents found that 39.1% of cohabiting females and 26% of cohabiting males were perpetrators of spouse abuse.

1988 Survey of Couples by Brinkerhoff and Prof. Eugen Lupri, University of Calgary, Canada shows 17.8% of husbands admit to abusing their female partner and 23.3% of wives admit to abusing their male partner and severe wife assault was 4.8%, severe husband assault was 10.0%

1984 Study of 6,200 cases of reported domestic assault by Prof.R.L.McNeely and Coramae Richey Mann shows that weapons were involved in 86% of female on male violence and in 25% of male on female violence.

1980 Straus et al. – of 2,143 couples in 1975, 28% had experienced violence at some point in their marriage, 16% within the last year. Half of abuse was mutual. Annual incidents of overall violence: 12.1 per 100 husbands, 11.6 per 100 wives. When examining severe violence, women were more violent than men. Severe husband to wife violence: 3.8 out of 100 families Severe wife to husband violence: 4.6 out of 100 families. Similar results were found in their 1985, National Family Violence Survey.

Surveys in Australia have, in the main, followed feminist methodology. Results vary, some have even been reworked, to produce more politically correct figures than first disclosed, as uncovered by John Coochey and referred to in his article “All Men are Bastards” The Independent, November 1995. The VISS (Victorian Injury Surveillance System 1995) originally found 37% of DV hospital admissions were men, shortly after the result was changed to 27% due to a redefining of responses.

Confirmation of women’s violence can also be found in several feminist advocacy research surveys; Ottawa’s $10 million 1993 Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women found high levels of female-perpetrated violence, but neglected to publish the fact. Just as our own recent Women’s Safety Survey 1996 found nearly 27% of violence inflicted on women was committed by other women – again no prominence was accorded this information.

Last year 16.5% of Queensland domestic violence applications were made by men and 13.01% of final DV orders were granted to men. (Qld DFY&CC 1996-97)

No doubt the supporters of the concept that “only men are violent” will query why there is a lower incidence of reporting by men than shown by the surveys previously discussed. Quite simply, it is not in the nature of men, neither is there any encouragement for men to report these offences. Most men stick on a bandaid and blame their poor skills negotiating the door whilst wondering how to help their violent partner, rather than reporting to the police. The application of legislation to prevent domestic violence overwhelmingly favours women and men receive little or no assistance when they are the victim. Half the women’s DV applications in Queensland are initiated by the police and only one quarter of men’s. When men call for police assistance they are greeted with comments such as, “Don’t show me your injuries otherwise I’ll have to arrest your wife” or “don’t be a wimp” or asked the question “can’t you handle your wife?”.

Men face just the same problems as do women when they live with a violent partner, staying to protect their children, not able to leave because of financial constraints or because they still love their wife.

Notwithstanding their reluctance, men are increasingly turning to the Courts for relief. Between 1995-96 and 1996-97 the increase for men and women taking out DV orders was 38% and 3.97 %, respectively. (Qld DFY&CC Statistical Services 1996-97)

Over $200 million is allocated Australia-wide providing information services, counselling and refuges for women and their children. Queensland spends $21 million protecting women from domestic violence. There are few, if any, female perpetrator programs and government funded information services, counselling programs or refuges for men and their children who need to escape the violence in their homes are sadly lacking.

There needs to be an acceptance that violence within the home is often mutual and as David Thomas, author of Not Guilty: In defence of the Modern Man said “Twenty years ago, you (referring to women who persist in denying the existence of female violence) asked for society’s understanding of the harm that was being done to women. Now, when it is men whose pain is ignored, is it too much to ask for your tolerance in return?.”

Many fathers feel deep concern about the trauma suffered by their children when contact is denied or limited. American, Frank S. Williams MD, Director of Family and Child Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, coined the phrase “parentectomy” to describe “the forcible removal of one parent by the other”. He described the deliberate alienation of a parent to be “psychologically lethal to children and parents”.

Confronted by a partner determined to eliminate a parent from a child’s life it is not unusual for allegations of child sexual or physical abuse to be made. However Canadian research conducted by the Ottowa-Carleton Children’s Aid Society showed that 2 out of three child abuse complaints were false. Out of 1600 registered complaints, 900 involved custody and access – of these a staggering 600 were false, unfounded or unsubstantiated.

Australian State authorities dealing with the welfare of children are often reluctant to listen to a father’s complaints of abuse by the mother and so they are forced to take the issue to the Family Court, seeking a change of residency.

Many fathers give up the battle for custody, according to Dr. Williams “not because they don’t care for their children enough, but because they become emotionally depleted, physically exhausted, worn out, depressed or financially drained and they don’t want to continue to subject their children to the relentless warring; especially when they discover they have little chance of success against a prejudiced legal/judicial system…..”.

The prejudice spilled over into other areas during the 80’s when attempts to influence public opinion resulted in researchers finding “children did not suffer” when their parents separated and even went so far as to suggest they were better off. This feel-good ideology absolved the guilt of many parents for their decision to breakup their family, but more and more research is coming to light showing the negative effects on children.

Just imagine being unjustly accused of “wife battering” or child abuse, especially sexual abuse! The brick wall just grows in height.

The emotional hurt and harm run’s very deep here as many men are particularly attached to and involved in their children’s lives. According to anecdotal evidence many male suicides are closely associated with family/relationship breakdown.

During 1996, 1810 adult males (over 20 years of age) committed suicide, compared to 429 females and 154 youth (under 20 years of age). Figures since 1990 show men’s suicide rate is rising, whilst the rate for women and youth is fairly constant.

Men, women & youth suicide graph 1998

 Recently, governments, quite rightly, have recognised a need for youth suicide prevention programs. Some “poetic licence” was used to persuade them the crisis is greater than it actually is by adding-in figures for young men and women, aged 20 to 24 years and calling them youth. Our governments should be asked when they will recognise the need to assist men, who are by far, the greatest majority of those taking their own lives.

Canadian, David Shackleton, Editor and Publisher of Everyman recently asked the question “What is the reality underlying family breakup?” and provided the following answer:

For most of us, men and women, having children is a trade-off. We do it for the pleasure of watching a new life grow and take shape, seeing the first steps, hearing the first words, sharing the excitement of correctly tied shoelaces, wiping away tears and sharing laughter. We do it to love and to be loved in return. Above all, perhaps, we do it to feel needed.

In exchange for these satisfactions, we are willing to do the work: earn the money to pay for the food and clothing and rent and piano lessons, do the laundry, cook the meals, wash the dishes, change the diapers and drive to the dentist and girl guides and cub scouts.

What happens in a divorce? If it ends up in court, then unless she is grossly unfit, the mother will be awarded the primary parenting role (either joint or sole custody), and the father will be assessed for child support with visitation rights. The mother thus retains most of the pleasures of parenting, as well as significant duties. For the father, however, the picture has changed hugely. Where there used to be a balance of power and influence between the parents, now the mother holds the upper hand. He, unlike she, is no longer trusted by society to provide for his child, but is told how much and when he must pay. His ability to steer and influence his child’s upbringing is vastly reduced, and easily overruled by the mother. Even seeing his children is dependent on her goodwill, for access orders are not enforced, unlike support orders. In short, he has become a second class parent, who frequently feels that he is no longer needed for who he is, that only his money is valued. And, let us admit, he has good reason to feel this way.

Few people, women or men, can accept such vast reductions in the pleasures of parenting and still carry out the duty side of the equation. But like last century’s debt laws, we have become overfocused on judging fathers and compelling them to fulfil their duties, and are ignoring the human issues of the situation.

Determining strategies to make it over the wall or developing negotiating skills to enable them to ‘walk around the wall’ needs more that just the advice of a solicitor or a counsellor, men need someone who will listen to them without accusation. It is unsustainable to continue with the myth that all women’s ills are caused by insensitive, uncaring men who wish to dominate their partners. Fairness and equity must be paramount if we are to lessen the problems associated with separation/divorce.

Hopefully this forum is the first step in the journey that will begin the process of dismantling the wall, brick by brick, thereby lessening the difficulties so many men experience when their relationships and dreams fall apart, causing an enforced separation from their much loved children.

The Men’s Rights Agency commenced work in April 1994. It is structured as a non-profit benevolent organisation seeking to help men, women and families through times of conflict and difficulty. The Agency offers advice and assistance on all issues; free consultations within our network of solicitors, counsellors, financial advisers; an emergency accommodation service, (located within private homes); and an opportunity to relate to others who have successfully reformed their life after separation/divorce. Assistance is also provided for women who experience just the same problems as men in a non-custodial role and are rarely provided for in women’s services.

Having spoken to over 18,000 people (over a third are women who call on behalf of the men in their lives or with their own concerns) during the past four years we’ve gained a considerable insight into the needs of men/women and the assistance required to help them through this difficult period of their lives to regain their self esteem, take pride in and value their contribution to their children’s upbringing.

Susan Price, Director

Men’s Rights Agency, PO Box 28. Waterford Qld 4133

Tel: 07 3805 5611 Fax: 07 3200 8769 Email: admin@mensrights.com.au

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