A new report – Intimate Partner Abuse of Men – has revealed that about one in three cases of domestic violence in Australia are against men. Government-funded public awareness campaigns and different training within the health and welfare sector are needed, it says. Roger Smith comments »..
Domestic Violence Campaigns and Human Rights
I congratulate many campaigns around Australia on raising awareness about the victims of domestic violence. Any measures that assist the victims of domestic abuse and reduce its incidence in the community are worthy of support.
However, as we are all aware, evil does not divide neatly along gender lines any more than it does along ethnic or racial lines. And unfortunately, as we are all aware, there are some women too who behave violently toward their male partners and toward other women as well.
I was the National Research Officer of Relationships Australia from 2005 until 2007. In that capacity, I had the occasion to review much of the research in this area. As you would be aware, the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its Personal Safety Survey, Australia, 2006 (ABS Catalogue No. 4906.0) surveyed the extent to which respondents had experienced physical violence in the home within the previous 12 months. It found that 60,900 men had experienced such domestic violence by a female perpetrator, compared to 125,100 women reporting acts of physical violence by a male perpetrator. That makes roughly one-third of domestic violence incidents occurring within the 12 months prior to the survey involving male victims at the hands of female perpetrators.
In addition, nearly all peer-reviewed academic population-based studies published in academic journals around the world have found that at least one-third of the victims of domestic violence are men. An example is: “Partner Violence and Mental Health Outcomes in a New Zealand Birth Cohort” by Fergusson, Horwood & Ridder published in the Journal of Family and Marriage (vol. 67. no. 5, Dec 2005, pp. 1103-1119). Its key findings were thatmen and women have similar incidence and experiences of victimization and perpetration of domestic violence and that the mental health effects of domestic violence are equally as severe for men as for women.
Civil rights campaigners in the USA in the 1960s, including Bobby Kennedy, often pointed out that blacks did not have a monopoly on poverty. There were many poor whites who were also victims of violence and exploitation. But this did not in any way diminish or threaten the validity of their struggle to help blacks achieve equality and opportunity.
In the same way, I would hope that DV campaigns in Australia could somehow highlight on websites or in other public statements that that they do not condone in any way violence and abuse by women against men in domestic relationships. My fear is that the disproportionate emphasis being placed on just one type of domestic violence (ie. by men against women due to an imbalance of power) is giving a minority of women the belief that they have a licence and impunity by society to behave violently.
I am particularly concerned here about the gender-profiling of offenders in domestic violence laws, as already exists in Victoria and is now proposed nationally by the Australian Law Reform Commission. Gender or racial profiling of offenders in legislation violates Australia’s international human rights obligations since it creates a bias in the minds of judges and magistrates that a particular class of defendants is more likely to be guilty by reason of his gender or race than would be the case if he were of a different gender or race (and likewise the other gender more likely to be innocent).
My fear is that the intensity of the message that only men abuse and only women can be victims will see an epidemic of female-initiated domestic violence in Australia. This could, a decade hence, turn community opinion completely against anti-domestic violence campaigns in the same way that we now view, for instance, elements of the black power movement as extreme, anachronistic and not particularly helpful to the cause of opportunity and equal rights for black Americans.
A society that condones domestic violence conditional upon the gender or ethnicity of the victim is not the kind of society that I want my three-year old daughter to grow up in. All domestic violence – whether committed by men or women, gay or straight, indigenous or non-indigenous – is just plain wrong.
– Roger Anthony Smith
* Roger Smith is a human rights campaigner,
former National Research Officer of Relationships Australia, and a CLA member.
For a copy of the report, go to: