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‘Time for a Change’ in how we address DV?

Filed under: Domestic Violence,Gender Politics,Law & Courts — MurrayBacon @ 11:29 am Tue 25th September 2012

Written for FathersCan by Dr. Don Dutton PHD-for national and International distribution

‘Time for a Change?’

What do Chris Brown, Ike Turner, and OJ Simpson have in common? They are all famous men who beat their wives. Chris Brown’s case got maximum exposure on Oprah, Ike Turner was vilified in a movie, OJ got all day/every day coverage at his murder trial. Our ability to remember them as examples of “wife beaters” is called the availability he uristic- we develop these associations largely from high profile media events. Since an availability heuristic- the examples of domestic violence we can call to mind- shapes our beliefs and judgments about an issue like domestic violence, the question is raised whether these media examples are representative of typical domestic violence.

The answer is that they are not. They misrepresent domestic violence in three ways by making the perpetrators appear to always be black, male and acting alone. Reality bites- when large sample victim surveys that ask about domestic violence are done, a very different picture emerges. In the first place, domestic violence is not more common in black relationships than white or other racial groups. Perhaps more surprisingly, the stereotype of the male as a bully and the female as hapless victim is not supported by the data. Surveys from 1989 to 2007 keep finding the same thing; the most common form of domestic violence is two -way- both partners assault each other at about the same level of severity. Women are hurt somewhat more but only somewhat- men get hurt too for the obvious reason that everyday weapons get used, knives, frying pans, and boiling water, amongst other things.

Here’s another big surprise- “husband battering” (where the woman used severe violence against a non-violent man) is about three times more common as wife battering. A recent large sample survey by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta found this but it had been found before and Canadian surveys by Stats Can also find a relative equality in domestic violence perpetration. The media does treat violence towards men differently- the killing of NFL Quarterback Steve MacNair by his girlfriend was hardly covered at all, same with the death of Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry, the killing of London Ontario Police Detective Dave Lucio by his girlfriend Kelly Johnson (also a police officer) was similarly brushed aside. The most famous example of media misandry was Wayne Bobbit whose wife castrated him. He became a running joke for late night comedians. Imagine this happening with the genders reversed.

Controlled studies find that the same action is viewed differently by research subjects when the genders of the perpetrator and victim are varied. If a man does it (for example- asks his wife where she has been) it abuse or control. If a woman does it it’s not. When the first shelter for battered men was set up in New Hampshire, the men reported that when they had called local shelters to ask for help they were told that they were the real batterers. All of these men had been injured. These results are found whether the research subjects are the general public or professional psychologists. When a spousal homicide occurs, the media asks the head of a local shelter why it happens. She will inevitably describe it as another example of violence towards women.

When Marc Lepine killed women in a mass shooting in Montreal, it was presented as an example of male violence towards women. When Denis Lortie shot up the Quebec Assembly the year before, he was simply a madman. The truth is, they were both psychotic. The gender paradigm that shapes our views on domestic violence is pervasive and affects everything from police responses to custody decisions in family court. The problem is the scientific data do not support these beliefs- they were just a political theory that was wrong when it was written and is even more askew in the present. Time for a change!

Professor Don Dutton

Vancouver, BC


  1. Though American, the figures slot very simply into NZ society.

    Personally I would like to see efforts made to encourage the couple to resume the relationship. Some VERY strong agreements would be essential. As would be ongoing support, both male and female! The first winner will be the children, and not just short term, lifetime wins. The lessons learnt by the parents and their children are limitless.

    The only looser I see are the Jackals of society – Lawyers!

    Comment by Gwahir — Tue 25th September 2012 @ 12:05 pm

  2. Purely coincidentally The following report arrived in my inbox:-

    Some Incovenient Truths in Family Violence Stats

    Children more often killed by mothers than any other group of suspects

    Family First NZ says that the Family Violence Death Review just released by the Police reveals a number of inconvenient truths – specifically that children were more often killed by their mothers than any other group of suspects, and that family violence death victims were almost evenly proportioned across male and female adults and children.

    “The popular public perception is that women and children need to be protected from men, but this ‘gender’ focus is misleading. Mothers killed 15 (45%) of the 33 child victims, comprising 10 daughters and 5 sons,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ. “If we’re really serious about reducing family violence, we need to talk about family violence, and our violent culture, and the role alcohol and drugs play in fuelling this environment.”

    “Prominent New Zealand researcher Professor David Fergusson’s research, through the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, found that men and women are equally to blame in dishing out domestic violence and both suffer similar degrees of mental harm. And that’s backed up by government statistics. Ministry of Justice statistics from 2007 show that the prevalence rate for confrontational offences by a partner in 2005 was virtually the same for men and women,” says Mr McCoskrie.

    “The Families Commission’s 2009 Family Violence Statistics Report revealed that 48% of child abuse – including emotional, physical, neglect, sexual and multiple abuse – was committed by women.”

    Family First is also expressing concern about the implementation of Police Safety Orders (PSO’s) after an internal review by police found that police were being instructed to issue more, were sometimes using them to ‘cover their butt’ and, according to support agencies, were sometimes issuing them in low risk situations.

    “The use of PSO’s has doubled in just 12 months to an average of 29 per day. While we acknowledge their usefulness and importance as an extra tool in the war against domestic violence and can allow for a vital ‘cooling’ period, the report suggests that there is much more training needed before they can be classified as serving the purpose they were intended for,” says Mr McCoskrie. “It may also be that families and some parents are being unfairly treated as a result of the PSO’s.”

    Since July 2010, Police have been able to issue Police Safety Orders (PSO’s). The orders are a new option for Police attending family violence incidents where there is insufficient evidence of an offence but action is necessary to ensure the safety of the people at the address. Police are able to order a person off the premises, effective immediately, for a period of up to five days.

    While acknowledging their benefits, the report for the police by Victoria University also expressed a number of concerns about the use of PSO’s:
    * an appropriate risk assessment was not carried out prior to the issuing of a PSO in almost half of cases (46%). This would include determining whether there was a history of at-risk behavior by the offender
    * police were instructed in one area that they had ‘not issued enough’ PSO’s
    * police admitted issuing PSO’s simply to ‘cover their butt’
    * support agencies said that PSO’s were being issued in low risk situations – some victims weren’t expecting or wanting a PSO to be served on their partner – and that this may deter future police contact by person at risk.
    * lack of assistance for the person ‘evicted’

    The report also said that in some cases, PSO’s were issued where there was clear evidence of violence and other stronger action should have been taken. And some police don’t know about the PSO pamphlet outlining information for families.

    “The police media release (which went under the media radar in May), while praising the application of PSO’s, masked the concerns of their implementation with a comment that the report ‘highlighted some opportunities for improvement’,” says Mr McCoskrie.

    “The real concern is that PSO’s have been used at an increasing rate but without an increasing level of scrutiny and checks to see whether their use is warranted and appropriate. The fact that 89% of PSO’s are served on men – despite research showing that men are the victims in 1 in 3 cases – is also an area for concern.”

    Family First is calling for urgent training, evaluation and reporting of the use of PSO’s in order to ensure families that they are being used appropriately.

    “If we want to tackle family violence, we all – men, women and children – need to pledge to stop violence towards men, women and children. This is a family violence issue – not a gender issue,” says Mr McCoskrie.

    Report is here:

    and here

    Comment by Gwahir — Tue 25th September 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  3. Preventing and Responding to Sexual and Domestic Violence against Men A Guidance Note for Security Sector Institutions by CallumWatson DCAF

    This report seems to be recommending a common sense approach. Maybe it can form a basis for putting pressure onto police, to apply legislation in a sensible and common sense manner?

    Comment by MurrayBacon — Fri 6th June 2014 @ 1:56 pm

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