More on family violence

This post offers more thoughts on the gender aspect of the family violence. The recent case reported in The New Zealand Herald:

which prompted me to write it is unusual in a number of ways.

Firstly, physical abuse is typically perceived as something which goes on in the lower socio-economic quarters. This is because the stress associated with financial pressures pushes people over the edge (or so we are told). However, the linked case happened in a very affluent family. I do not believe that someone possessed of 250.000.000 NZ dollars can be under any great financial pressure.

Secondly, the abuser in this sad example is a woman and the victim is a male. This goes against what we have been conditioned to believe – that the physical end of the family violence spectrum is primarily a problem of men. As demonstrated below, the assumption is  wrong, but this is the general impression fed to us by the media and NGO’s.

Thirdly, and quite tragically, it is very rare for men to publicly acknowledge that they are physically abused by women and seek legal protection. It is deemed to not be a “male” thing to do. In this case however the man involved did the right thing and, when he felt physically threatened, obtained a protection order. This court order was broken by his wife which has directly led to her arrest. Kudos to Mr Olliver for his courage in asking for help.

Let me now quickly recap the somewhat surprising conclusions of my previous post on family violence, published last year:

The overall incidence of partner-on-partner abuse is roughly equally split between the genders (with some research suggesting that women are responsible for more than a half of all cases). The same holds true for initiating physical aggression – it is not true that women merely respond with violence to being attacked by men. But what is true is that women are overrepresented as victims at the extreme end of violence. Although both genders are equally likely to physically attack their partners, women are a weaker sex and will be worse for wear in these exchanges. Also, men are less likely to report being abused than women.

These days one has to be very careful with the terminology because “violence” can mean just about any hostile act within the context of a partnership. In the deep past family violence meant a push or punch but at present all of the following goings-on are included:

  • Threats to take the kids/hurt the kids
  • Threats to hurt pets
  • Damaging property/walls/possessions to scare you
  • Stalking, following, checking up on you, possessiveness, excessive jealousy
  • Making you isolated and alone
  • Blaming everything on you, making you feel everything you do is wrong
  • Name calling and put downs, e.g. humiliating you in front of friends
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Using unsafe driving to frighten you
  • Making you feel scared
  • Controlling what you do, how you spend money (controlling your choices)

Nasty as they are, these appear to be in a somewhat different category  than an all-out physical aggression. However, groups like White Ribbon (dedicated to the eradication of violence against women and children) from whose website the list has been copied:

believe they all count as “violence”. This inflation of the term was actually driven by the NGO’s which were keen to flash shocking stats to attract attention (and funding). If, say, 50% of partners have a verbal exchange now and again but only 5% actually have a go at each other, depending on the definition of “violence”, its incidence can be reported as either 5% or 50%. 50% sounds really scary and is more  likely to shock people into making a donation. But, do all types of “violence” have a similar impact on the victims? Again, let us see what the White Ribbon movement have to say about that:

Violence is not just physical. Psychological/emotional violence is a very common form of violence experienced by women and children. Many women say it is the worst kind of abuse. (…) No violence is tolerable

To sum up the stance of the White Ribbon movement, all violence – physical, emotional and verbal – is equally serious and must be eradicated. So, how do they justify the fact they only target violence against women and not against men? They can not be expected to solve all social ills but should at least acknowledge that their scope includes less than 50% of all violence in New Zealand. This is where it gets interesting. The stats indicating that women are at least as likely as men to be violent are so inconvenient that White Ribbon have compiled an essay explaining why, well, all violence is NOT the same:

Many studies have shown that in the context of heterosexual relationships, women are as violent as men. (…) The results are consistent. Women slap, push and hit their partners as often as men do. But is counting slaps and pushes and hits enough? Are all “slaps” equal? Is one person’s “push” pretty much the same as their partner’s “push”? Do all “hits” carry the same meaning? (…) Many men in stopping violence programmes will report being hit by their partners. Mostly, they are probably telling the truth, at least part of it. But a useful question is “Are you afraid of her?” (…) Are women as violent as men? A more complete answer is that yes, some women may be violent, but nearly all batterers are men.

There is a lot of common sense in the above summary and it confirms the conclusions of my previous post. The problem is it does not fit well with the White Ribbon message that no violence, no matter what its flavour, is tolerable. It also does not align with the feminist premise that men and women are the same and should be treated the same. This is what makes the statistics based on the doctored definitions of “violence” almost useless in describing the problem. Men and women are not the same, do not act the same and, due to the physical imbalance between the genders, their actions will not have the same consequences. This should be recognised if we are to make progress in understanding and stopping family violence.

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