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.