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Best of 2013: Domestic violence reality check for the 'manosphere'

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Woman with black eye weeps as a male hand covers her mouthDomestic violence is a crime in which, overwhelmingly, the victims are women and the perpetrators are men. A recent 11-year summary of domestic violence trends in Victoria by the Department of Justice found that nearly 80 per cent of victims were female and over 90 per cent of perpetrators were male.

Yet lately it seems that there has been a subtle shift in community perception. Whenever the topic of domestic violence is raised in the media, talkback radio, online comments and letters to the editor are suddenly flooded with demands that we acknowledge that men, too, are victims. According to a VicHealth report, one fifth of the community now believes that men and women are equal perpetrators of violence in the home.

The 'battered husband' claim has flourished within the online space known as the 'manosphere' where aggressive men's rights groups blame women, and more specifically feminism, for everything from high unemployment rates and shorter male lifespans, to false rape allegations and poor family court outcomes. The time has come, they say, to knock women off their pedestal.

Groups such as One in Three claim that as many as 50 per cent of domestic violence victims are male, and that women are as physically aggressive — if not more so — than men. According to one men's rights group website, feminists (or femo-nazis, to use the term preferred by many) 'invent fake domestic violence' so that they can continue to control, dominate, destroy and extort from men. Males, says another site, are facing increased hostility and being portrayed as the perpetrators of 'evil'.

There is no doubt that some victims of domestic violence are men. No one disagrees that this abuse is unacceptable and unforgiveable, and that these men are equally deserving of resources and support. But to suggest that domestic violence is a gender-equal crime is plainly incorrect, and dangerous.

These groups cherry pick studies with dubious methodology. The studies they cite have been repeatedly refuted for an approach that does not differentiate between the type and context of violent acts (for example, between a push in self-defence and a push down the stairs, or between a single act of retaliation and years of ongoing abuse). The research has also been criticised for interviewing only one partner in the relationship, and for ignoring post-separation abuse, which accounts for a very large percentage of intimate partner violence.

And of course it blatantly contradicts the vast majority of studies on the topic, such as the ABS report that showed that less than five per cent of men who experienced violence in a 12-month period were assaulted by a female partner or ex-partner.

Men's rights groups claim that such statistics are meaningless because males are less likely to report domestic violence. A study by the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse directly addressed this concern, stating that 'the evidence is that men tend to over-estimate their partner's violence while women under-estimate their partner's violence by normalising or excusing it ... men upgraded women's violent behaviour while women discounted or downplayed their male partner's violence'.

Furthermore, research consistently shows that 'men's violence is six times more likely to inflict severe injury and is more humiliating, coercive and controlling. Women's violence is more likely to be expressive in response to frustration and stress rather than purposeful with the intention to control and dominate.'

Danny Blay, executive director of No to Violence, explains that the arguments used by men's rights groups 'seem appealing and credible because they simplify something that is actually quite complex. But they've fudged the numbers dramatically. The thing about this issue is that it is quite personally affecting. When you hear figures like one in three women will experience family violence at some in their lives, you immediately start reflecting on your mother, your sister, your relationships and it's a hard place to be.

'It's much easier to say, 'it's not men's responsibility, it's equally women's fault'.'

The misrepresentation of domestic violence as gender-neutral is dangerous for a number of reasons. Firstly, this 'what about men?' campaign wastes precious air time and column space that Blay believes would be better spent 'having real conversations about family violence — examining the figures, exposing the myths and getting the stories out from behind closed doors'. Secondly, it raises suspicion about all domestic violence claims by suggesting that women routinely exaggerate or invent abuse.

But finally, and perhaps most dangerously of all, the claims of men's rights groups downplay the amount and impact of domestic violence on women. By characterising violence as mutual or a two-way street, they trivialise the ongoing, severe and sometimes fatal nature of domestic violence.

A compelling reminder of its devastating effects can be seen in the recent report of the Victorian Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths. It found that over half of all homicides in the state occurred within the context of family violence. Of intimate partner homicides, females accounted for more than three quarters of the fatalities; in just under half of the cases where the deceased was male, a history of family violence was established which identified the deceased as the perpetrator of that violence.

Men's rights groups are using domestic violence victims as pawns in a larger game that seems to be less about protecting males or females from abuse and more about discrediting women and promoting other ideological ideas.

Statistics show that men are at most risk of violence not from women, but at the hands of other men. If men's rights groups cared about male victims, they'd be addressing male-male violence. If they cared about all men, they'd be advocating for the most marginalised in our society, including gay men, Indigenous men and refugees. And if they really cared about putting an end to domestic violence, they'd advocate for egalitarian relationships and examine concepts of manhood in which violence is seen as acceptable and seeking help as shameful.

Sarah McKenzieSarah McKenzie is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. She has published articles in The Age, Herald Sun, The National Times, Canberra Times, The Drum, The Punch, Crikey and more, with a particular focus on science, the environment, social justice and feminist issues. This article was originally published on 12 September 2013.

Domestic violence image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Sarah McKenzie, domestic violence, violence against women, manosphere



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It's hard to respond to an article in which the columnist participates in a decades old "big lie" campaign.

Rod Van Mechelen | 05 February 2014  

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