The new Coroner’s Report on domestic violence homicide (Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review 2018) ‘proves’ that domestic violence is a gendered crime. The majority of reported homicides involved a male killing their female intimate partner (79.6%). The press is ablaze with this new indictment of masculinity: “Men kill women in four of five domestic violence homicides” (The Guardian); “A ground-breaking new report on murder in Australia has provided overwhelming proof of the gendered nature of domestic and family violence” (SMH). Neither the media nor the Coroner’s Report alert us to the fact that the definition of domestic violence homicide used in the report excludes two major categories of domestic violence homicide where perpetrators are almost exclusively female.
Domestic Violence Victoria describe the report as “the most robust and reliable data on intimate partner homicide that has ever been released in Australia.” I argue that the report is one of the most gender-biased pieces of government propaganda ever released on the question of domestic violence. The factual claims made in the report are not even false, but the way the filters (the terms of reference) are set gives an utterly distorted picture of gender distribution in domestic violence homicide. It is indeed an art to tell lies by presenting only the truth (but not the whole truth). The report sets up the conclusions right from the start, by limiting the definition of domestic violence homicide to just a narrow subset of domestic homicide.
“The Consensus Statement sets out the processes for identifying and classifying domestic and family violence homicides, taking into consideration the case type, the intent, the relationship between the deceased and the homicide offender, and the domestic and family violence context of the death. To establish this minimum dataset, each domestic and family violence death review process identified cases from their existing databases that met the following criteria:
- the death was as a result of a homicide that occurred in Australia between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2014;
- the homicide victim and homicide offender were either in a current or former intimate partner relationship;
- there was an identifiable history of violence between the homicide victim and homicide offender; and
- the coronial or criminal proceedings in that homicide were complete on or before September 2017.” (P6)
The problem with this definition, according to a study of 149 murders by Dr Belinda Parker, is that “females were most likely to commit homicides for gain and love but fall victim to jealously and thrill homicides” and “in every case examined “the female killers were not the victims of abuse by their husbands.”
According to the Coroner’s Report, if a female kills her husband to take his house, or to punish him for having sex with an ex-girlfriend, that does not count as domestic violence homicide unless she had physically beat him up on prior occasions and if this was reported to the police or if someone had witnessed the assault. It is insinuated in the report that homicides that are not preceded by earlier incidents of violence are differentiated by “situational factors” such as “an acute mental health episode”. Is not a murder of a partner or a child already a case of domestic violence? Or is there a separate category, called domestic murder without domestic violence that we are not being told about? I take this definitional manipulation as a glaring proof of gender-bias.
“The Network recognises that the existence of an intimate or familial relationship between a deceased and offender does not, in itself, constitute a domestic and family violence homicide. In these deaths, other situational factors determine the fatal incident, such as the offender experiencing an acute mental health episode. These deaths do not feature many of the characteristics known to define domestic and family violence, such as controlling, threatening or coercive behaviour; having previously caused the other person to feel fear; or evidence of past physical, sexual or other abuse.” (p42)
Another noteworthy omission is the exclusion of filicide (child homicide) committed by one of the parents/guardians. The study of Dr Belinda Parker cited above, shows that “victims [of female perpetrators] are either very young, aged between 1 and 9, or were over 50…” so filicide is a category that could significantly shift gender distribution in relation to domestic violence homicide. It is alarming that domestic homicides of children do not count as domestic violence homicides in the Coroner’s Report.