Preventing adolescent relationship abuse and promoting healthy relationships
Media have given publicity to a NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse paper recently prepared by Dr Melane Beres called “Preventing adolescent relationship abuse and promoting healthy relationships”. The paper is an opinion piece citing various research papers of varying quality in support. This may have been lost on journalists who attributed various statistics to the ‘report’s findings’ when in fact they had been findings in other studies merely repeated here.
The main theme of Dr Beres’ paper was that adolescent relationship violence (sexual, physical and emotional ) is a big problem in NZ that needs to be changed, and she made various suggestions about what exactly should be targeted for change and how best to achieve this. She may well be correct in some of what she says though it and the underlying assumptions deserve careful scrutiny and consideration. Although adolescent boys report being subject to significant levels of the same problems reported by girls, Dr Beres clearly lays the blame for such problems mainly on males, maleness and male socialization. There is also an interesting confusion in her paper between gender and racial political correctness, for example implying that if Maori youth were to be taught traditional Maori culture and values this would result in reduced violence.
However, the point of this post is to highlight the false propaganda involved in Dr Beres’ paper and keenly spread by our journalists. Surely it’s not unreasonable to expect that journalists will try to clarify what things mean and will try to convey accurate information about the world? No such luck when it comes to feminist assertions and other politically fashionable stuff.
The Herald article, Radio NZ and other media highlighted the following:
20 per cent of female and 9 per cent of male secondary school students reported having experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the previous year. Most of the behaviour was by a boyfriend, girlfriend or friend.
The trouble is, no definition was given for ‘unwanted sexual behaviour’. These particular statistics came from survey of secondary school students published under the title ‘The Health and Wellbeing of New Zealand Secondary School Students in 2012: Youth’12 Prevalence Tables’. Students were simply asked whether they had experienced any unwanted sexual behaviour without being given any definition of it. Fair enough, if something was unwanted then it’s valid to measure it as such. However, Dr Beres put the resulting statistics forward as if they were equivalent to sexual abuse experiences. That’s a trick for propaganda purposes, and the journalists just supported it rather than ask the simple question “Does the vague term ‘unwanted sexual behaviour’ equate to abuse?” It doesn’t take a genius to think about this for a minute. It seems likely that many of the students who ticked that box were thinking of such things as a petting experience in which they were fully consenting to passionate kissing with a date when the boy put his hand on her breast or under her clothing and she didn’t want things to go any further, so she said no and/or moved his hand away. The boy’s behaviour was unwanted by her but was it abusive? ‘Unwanted sexual behaviour’ could relate to chat-up lines by someone at a party or many other things that only the most irrational ideologue would see as abusive. Aside from that, surveys are known to be very unreliable. It’s unknown how many secondary school students anonymously responding to a survey will be truthful. People may stretch the truth for fun or to promote particular aims; for example girls may want to tick the box because they believe many other girls are being victimized and they want to help provide statistics about this.
21 per cent of women who stayed in women’s refuges were aged 15-19 years.
The trouble is, Women’s Refuge do nothing to verify whether any violence was involved for those women who seek accommodation there. We have no way of knowing how many of them were actually escaping violent situations because WR don’t bother to investigate claims. Further complicating the matter is that people leaving relationships are likely to feel bad and as though they have been mistreated even when nothing that realistically could be called violence was present. Or they may worry that their nonviolent partner might now suddenly become dangerous, given frequent warnings from WR and others that leaving a relationship is the most dangerous time for violence and homicide. A woman who needs temporary accommodation can go to WR, claim she is there to escape someone’s violence, and this will simply be accepted and eagerly added to statistics for future lobbying. One would expect that teenage women will more often be in need of accommodation, for example when they run away from home when parents attempt to limit their freedom or challenge their unacceptable behaviour, or when they have disputes with flat mates and haven’t yet developed conflict resolution skills to work them through, or because fledgling relationships don’t last, or when they haven’t paid rent and are evicted or they run away leaving arrears. Many men who have posted here on MENZ Issues have told of their partners leaving them and going first to WR although there had not been violence but simply because the women had been advised to do so for ‘evidence’ in Family Court to get more of the ‘relationship property’ or to secure the right to full custody and the government money that comes with it. That will apply to a proportion of the teenage women who went to WR. Further, the 21% of WR women who were teenagers will have involved an unknown number of repeat attenders who were counted more than once, because that’s how WR operates. That means the actual proportion of teenage women was likely to be lower than 21%. Teenagers tend to live unsettled lifestyles and might be expected to return repeatedly when they know WR will provide them with a bed. To imply that the teenage proportion of accommodations provided by Women’s Refuge is a valid measure of partner violence is simply false propaganda, and again we might expect that journalists would ask a few hard questions about that; fat chance.
29 per cent of New Zealand secondary students reported being hit or harmed by
another person in the previous year.
Well, ‘hit’ is a reasonably clear definition but even then is not necessarily an indication of abuse. The game of tag involves ‘hitting’ another lightly to make them ‘it’. A hit on the arm may be done as teasing or as a gesture of affection from a mate. Rough and tumble, play fighting and non-injurious hitting when unhappy with someone else’s (possibly abusive) behaviour are all common among the young of all mammals including humans. To claim that ‘being hit’ is a measure of abuse would only be valid if the definition of ‘hit’ ensured this referred to abusive hitting.
Throwing in ‘or harmed’ with ‘hit’ is an example of typical bolstering of figures in advocacy research. A student may have been harmed in a rugby or netball match, or felt harmed by a teacher giving a low mark, or harmed by a car driver’s error causing him/her to ride a bicycle into a ditch, or emotionally harmed by a boy/girlfriend being unfaithful or ending the relationship, among an endless number of possible examples. Never mind, they can all be put forward as evidence of violence or abuse. So much of feminist and advocacy research is beset by the same kind of (unnecessary) scientific weakness and this will increasingly bring feminism into disrepute.
Up to 60 per cent of high school students have been in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship.
The term ‘up to’ is a tried and true advertising ploy as in ‘up to 50% off’ when that may apply to one item in sale while all the others only have 5% off.
Indeed, the 60% figure in the news article comes from a sentence in Dr Beres’ paper that states “Internationally, rates of ARVA (adolescent relationship violence and abuse) can vary widely with reported victimisation rates between 9 and 60% of adolescents…”. Hey, advertising works, don’t knock it! In this instance it was the news article bending Dr Beres’ report for sensational purpose, but one assumes Dr Beres will have had some role in the news article’s wording.
Really, should we be designing social change programs on the basis of shonky statistics and false propaganda? Wouldn’t it be enough simply to provide as truthful representations of reality as possible? That would still give plenty of good reason to call for changes in some areas.
Interesting too that Bradford’s anti-smacking law came into effect about 10 years ago, so today’s adolescents have largely grown up experiencing what was promised to model more respectful and non-violent behaviour and attitudes that would lead to a whole new beautiful way of living. Well, has that worked? What we now see is more prisons being built, more police being employed to manage more streets terrorized by antisocial teenage behaviour, teenagers engaging in many armed robberies of dairies etc, teenagers committing suicide at higher rates, and a neverending avalanche of concerns about disrespect and abuse by teenage boys against teenage girls. Dr Beres’ solution to the problems involves similar starry-eyed ideology to that underlying Bradford’s law and the earlier banning of physical punishment in schools. There is no mention of bolstering parental authority or providing adults with better legal methods to enforce limits of reasonable behaviour in their neighbourhoods. Oh no, such thinking is so male, so power and control, and simply won’t do. Unfortunately, there will be no choice eventually and we face the likelihood that the pendulum swing will then be excessive.