Violence by Numbers

People who followed White Ribbon Day a few months ago will remember that WRD was bitterly resented by (a) many members of the public who saw it in impossibly crude terms – but, but, but, you mean men are all mean, nasty people!? and (b) the usual suspects, the MRAs, some of whom actually have an organisation called Men’s Rights Agency in Australia, just to confuse us, I guess. These people have run the line for many years, based on discredited interpretations of the “Conflict Tactics Scale” and other dubious sources, that if only the truth were known, domestic violence against men is an equally large problem but no one will admit it. (The “explanation” for that is that most victims are ashamed to come forward; the thinking behind that, of course, is a whole other story.) Therefore, they don’t accept the premise that women are more likely to be hurt and killed as the result of domestic violence.

A few weeks ago there were reports in the Daily Telegraph and the ABC news about a 159% increase, between 1999 and 2007, in the number of women charged with domestic assaults. Let’s not mince words, that percentage of increase is very very bad! And it just proves the MRAs were right all along… Er, perhaps not.

I noticed that in both articles, the expert chosen for the interview/five second grab was from the Mens Rights Agency mentioned above, which is a pressure group run by a husband and wife team. One was interviewed for the Tele, the other for the ABC.

I went to the web site for the relevant authority (New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics) to have a look at the published statistics which were available there. There was no breakdown of domestic violence charges by gender. I searched every page, every press release, every PDF download – nothing. So I emailed them to ask to be pointed to the relevant statistics. The reply was illuminating, not just for the excel spreadsheets they sent me, but the comment in the accompanying email: the data was prepared in response to a request by the Daily Telegraph.

Presumably, the MRAs (Aust chapter) have issued press releases to or approached both the Daily Telegraph and the ABC, and the Tele, to give credit where due, is checking its sources.

I won’t try to reproduce a whole excel spreadsheet here but I can give you an extract which shows the nitty gritty of what they are describing:


Let me make this clear: Yes, I do think that all things being equal, men and women have an equal propensity for violence. I’m no essentialist and if women are “nicer” across the board, it’s because we’re trained to it from birth. This post is about violence as it is expressed, not as potential.

When I googled this subject, though, I noticed that the SMH had published a much more detailed and less sensational article on this topic back in February 2008, long before the Telegraph announced this “scoop”. Instead of the bulk of quotes being taken from Reg and Sue Price of the MRA (Aust), they interviewed the Bureau Director, spokespeople from Domestic Violence groups and police and criminal justice experts who were not connected to the MRA movement, and who had some qualification to speak about crimes of violence. Read the whole thing, but essentially it shows a very different picture to the one the MRAs present.

The consensus among academics and domestic violence workers is that in the majority of cases, domestic violence is, by its nature, a “gendered” crime – committed by men against women. They say suggestions that women are as violent as men fail to account for more serious injuries experienced by women, the sort of violence they have to use use to defend themselves and the trauma of being a victim of abuse over many years.

The full article gives a better idea of how this plays out in practical terms. Some of it’s due to the fact that some people are coming to see all violence as unacceptable, no matter who it’s from, and that’s a good thing. But some of it seems to be due to women being picked up for trying to defend themselves, an unintended outcome of changes in arrest policies in an attempt to make the system more “fair”.

The MRA Sue Price, on the other hand, was quoted with this rather strange comment:

“I’ve had SAS soldiers in tears because the wife is a black belt karate expert and yet they know that if they even try to restrain her he might be charged with assault and domestic violence,” she said.

I’m in no doubt that this could have happened, but what’s with the plural? Is Price suggesting there is some kind of large cohort or trend of SAS soldiers married to Karate black belt wives? Forgive me if I find the evidence of the professionals in the SMH article more compelling than the MRA anecdote-“data” (besides the fact that anyone who is directly in contact with Reg and Sue Price is a self-selecting MRA sample, anyway.)

But look at the numbers again. Despite the regrettable uptick in numbers for women, even if we discount the evidence that the SMH presents, they still represent 15.29% of such arrests in 2008). In other words, men are still 5.53 times as likely to be arrested for domestic violence as women in NSW. That’s before you address how lethal the attacks were in each case and whether the person was found guilty when brought to trial – and there’s a significant difference.

Let’s look at this, as I sometimes like to do, by turning the argument on its head. The MRAs (Aust. chapter) go on the ABC and the Tele – and whether the MRA tail is wagging the journalistic dog here I don’t know – saying that ZOMG there is a 159% increase in domestic violence charges for women since 1999. Which, as we all agree, is very bad.

Let’s imagine the reaction of Reg and Sue Price if these numbers had been, let’s say, knee cancer figures. Imagine that back in 1999 men had contracted over 90% of NSW cases of knee cancer, and further, that men’s knee cancer is more likely to result in death, for some strange metabolic reason existing in this hypothetical. Imagine I’d gone on the ABC saying “Look, women’s knee cancer rates have increased by 159%, and I see they don’t have dedicated Womens’ knee cancer clinics as they do for men. What are we going to do about it! We want dedicated knee cancer clinics! And we want everyone to accept that women are equally likely to contract knee cancer as men!”

The MRAs would be greatly offended. Firstly, they’d correctly point out that men were still vastly in the majority of knee cancer sufferers. Second, they’d point out that the death rate for the male knee cancer sufferers was higher. Yes, the 159% increase is very, very bad, but for which gender is the knee cancer problem still statistically worse? Five and a half times as bad, and more often fatal?

Here the hypothetical, as with all hypotheticals, falls down, because people are not able to take responsibility for their knee cancer as they would be for their domestic assaults. So, returning to our real example: What is the MRA doing about domestic violence towards women? Given that any increase in domestic violence is very, very bad (Have I emphasised that enough?) why are they latching onto this increase as The Problem Of Our Times while foot-dragging and refusing to support initiatives like White Ribbon Day because any suggestion that men commit the majority of domestic assaults is an insult to all men (and we all know the wimmin are worse but the men are all too chivalrous and nice to unlock this secret, etc.)

Where one group are the overwhelming majority in the perpetration of any form of bad behaviour, whose responsibility is it to take the lead in changing behaviour? Why the mulish resistance to changing the behaviour of the majority? Might we see a decline in the minority group’s bad behaviour when there’s less of that kind of behaviour to learn?

Here’s a truth which the MRAs didn’t mention in their interviews: notwithstanding the percentage of domestic violence charges, in that category more women than men end up dead. And they are not in that table. They’re over in the murder and manslaughter stats. So they don’t show up in those shocking statistics.


Categories: gender & feminism, law & order, violence

Tags: , , ,

23 replies

  1. Veering a little off topic, but you see the same statistical gloss on articles about the increase in female-instigated violence in general. There was a headline in the SMH a few weeks ago – “30% increase in lady violence! (oh no!)!” but on reading the article it became apparent that female-instigated violence was still much less prevalent than male-instigated violence.
    I wish I could actually find the article instead of giving a (biased) summary, but it really shitted me at the time.

  2. So… men are too scared to defend themselves from domestic violence in case they get charged with it (which you mention is already happening to women). Sounds remarkably like “men are too scared to date in case they get charged with rape”?
    I wonder if the problem at the heart of domestic violence really is gender… obviously abusive same-sex relationships would be the minority of a minority, but is anyone collating domestic violence figures for them? Are men any more or less likely to use violence when their intimate victim is another man?

    I commented on this topic, in response to someone’s earlier comment, at Pollytics [see link #26 aka fredex].
    My emphasis was on the change in procedure protocol for police attending DV incidents.
    To KISS, keep it simple, for the police they were instructed to take note of all and any allegations of violence by any at the scene. To make no judgments, just defuse.
    Hence an increase in women as ‘persons of interest’.
    That is the main factor in the statistical change.

  4. There’s a project to open a number of domestic violence shelters for men in the UK (if they all open, it will increase the number of them by three or four times). It’s not, however, men’s groups who are doing this – it’s a feminist group. Men’s groups are more interested in closing women’s shelters or wrecking their anonymity than opening men’s shelters.

  5. DEM
    That is probably correct for some cases, but the MRA story is that there are billions of battered men out there that don’t come forward because of the shame involved in being seen to be battered by a woman. The reason I didn’t go there is that this brings up an entire topic in itself – if you’re so wedded to the gender-based view of what men and women can and can’t do, and so wedded to your world view of men as the physical and social top dogs, that you are paralysed by this shame, then IBTP. As you can see, it would have made an already long post very, very long.
    Sunless Nick
    That was something I meant to say briefly in the post, but forgot – Womens shelters, apart from the obvious reason for having them, are there because feminists built them. I can’t remember reading about one DV shelter instigated by MRA Australia. The MRA way seems to be just to bleat and do nothing. Those second wave feminists didn’t just lie on the chaise waiting for shelters to happen.
    McDuff – That looks interesting, [goes over to read]

  6. Oh and before the inevitable troll comes in to point out my fuzzy wording, “built them” is meant in the sense of building community, the 2nd wave feminists did the work to SET UP the shelters and the system thereof and staff them. I AM aware they were usually existing buildings.

  7. There is a case of this in Dorset now. The council is closing a refuge because it doesn’t cater equally for men and because, says Anthony Wilsdon senior douchebag with said council, “We have identified a need to support more people in their own homes.” WTF? So forcing women to remain in a house with a violent partner is now official policy??

  8. Helen, great post. Thankyou.

  9. For the Daily Telegraph et al domestic violence against women is part of the boring wallpaper of life – hell no one is interested in it.
    But they jump at topics where they can use the hackneyed formula for generating webclicks …wait for it…..setting up yet another a “gender war”.
    god they are so predictable and boring.

  10. Yeah great post. There seems to be a lot of people going to a lot of trouble to construct discourse about how rough and violent women really are.
    Women are also being imprisoned at more than twice the rate of men, these days, with the number of women in the prison system doubling over the ten years leading up to 2006.

    • Women are also being imprisoned at more than twice the rate of men, these days, with the number of women in the prison system doubling over the ten years leading up to 2006.

      Wait, I’m not sure that maths works out. The number of women in prison doubling doesn’t mean that they are being imprisoned at twice the rate of men. It doesn’t even mean that women are being imprisoned at twice the rate that they were 10 years ago. Absolute numbers and rates of incidence are two very different measures.

  11. I thought it was tongue in cheek and just the sort of crappy reporting that the Terror would run with?

  12. Those are two separate statistics, from a Community Restorative Centre training workshop I was at a couple of years ago. The figures are based on the NSW Inmate Census 2006.

    • I’m frankly quite surprised at the assertion that women’s rate of imprisonment is twice that of men. For the rate of increase in imprisonment figures I would not find at all surprising, but absolute rate? I am quite skeptical.

      • Linda, it appears that I am very right to be skeptical. The breakdown by gender from the NSW Inmate Census 2006 [pdf] are as follows:

        Statistical Summary
        Total persons 9775
        Male 9064 (92.7%)
        Female 711 (7.3%)

        There is no way that those figures can possibly be accurately represented as women being imprisoned at twice the rate of men.

      • And here’s the gender breakdown from the NSW Inmate Census 1996 [pdf]

        Total 7691
        Male 7253 (94.3%)
        Female 438 (5.7%)

        So, the whole prison population now is greater by 9775/7691 (127%) – a 27% increase from 1996 to 2006.
        The male prison population has increased by 9064/7253 (125%) – a 25% increase from 1996 to 2006
        The female prison population has increased by 711/438 (162%) – a 62% increase from 1996 to 2006
        So while the rate of female imprisonment has increased faster than the rate of male imprisonment over those 10 years, it has not yet doubled and women are definitely not being imprisoned at twice the rate of men.
        Someone at that workshop definitely got the wrong end of the statistics stick.

  13. I just dug out the entire training package from that work shop, and the figures aren’t quite the same. I don’t have an explanation for that, but I feel that I have to say that the people who work at CRC are an amazingly dedicated bunch of people who are committed to assisting and supporting offenders and their families (in other words, women and their children), with bugger all funding and even less recognition or community support, and the work shop served to enlighten service providers about the issues surrounding offenders and the reasons behind recidivism. This helps people from severely disadvantaged backgrounds to be treated with some dignity by workers at places like Centrelink and Dept. Housing. They work hard to protect and uphold the human rights of the least empowered people in the community. Overall, women *are* being incarcerated at a faster rate than men. I thought that fact tied in with the point Helen was making in her post. I felt that I had something to add to the discussion.
    I’m sorry you felt the need to go to so much trouble to discredit not only what I said but the work of CRC, in the process. It’s really disappointing.
    I hope you enjoy being ‘right’ but I don’t think it’s the most important thing in a discussion like this.

  14. Linda, Tigtog wasn’t at all trying to discredit the work of the CRC. Having been on a few threads of Doom to do with DV or other topics which get the antifeminists going, it’s incumbent on us to not only be very scrupulous with our stats, but be seen to be so. That’s why I spent about a month on this post instead of posting about it immediately, even though I suspected there was something going on similar to what McDuff’s commenter described, and made a point of going to and reading the original stats. I say this not because of an addiction to “rightness” but because if we are wrong, we never hear the end of it.
    Praise the CRC and all who sail in her! Can you provide a link to donate?

  15. “if we are wrong, we never hear the end of it.”
    Yeah I do realise that, and it’s just been reified right here hasn’t it? And I didn’t actually say that I thought tig tog had *deliberately* set out to discredit an organisation that has been operating for over half a century, I just wanted to make the point that her mission to discredit me was also minimising the work of CRC, and the ability to google stats does not make you an expert on an issue.
    “I think someone at that workshop got things wrong!” IS dismissive of their work and a massive display of unexamined privilege.
    Here is a link:
    I’m really too upset and disgusted to participate any further here.

  16. I don’t see where the CRC’s work is being discredited, or where anyone on this thread, least of all Tigtog, is deliberately setting out to discredit another person at all. I’m not sure where the privilege is showing in carefully working out which claims about the imprisonment of women are plausible. Those are pretty hurtful things to say, particularly when they don’t seem to be at all justified by the previous conversation in the thread.

  17. When I read this thread, including Tigtog’s updates, last night, it made me feel proud and grateful to be in the camp where respectful, detailed discussion of the facts surrounding an issue is the way things are done, instead of generalised pronouncements and dogma. I thought: this is how we know we’re on the right side. Because we’re prepared to deal honestly and factually with our argument; unlike the anti-feminists, who deal in myth and unsupported claims. It does a huge disservice to what is most admirable here to characterise it as a “mission to discredit”.


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