Friday, 28 November 2014

Why I Didn't Wear a White Ribbon

     I see that another special day and another good cause has come and gone: the United Nations' White Ribbon Day, 25 November. People were encouraged to wear white ribbons to protest violence against women. T-shirts bearing slogans like "Stop Violence Against Women" were worn at demonstrations. Groups of men were encouraged to get up and swear never to offer violence to women, and to speak out if they ever heard of it from others. The statistics quoted were quite frightening: 52 women murdered per year - one a week - by a current or previous partner, amounting to three-quarters of those women who had died by homicide, with one in three women a victim of violence in their lifetimes. I myself know women close to me who have suffered horrifying violence from their husbands. This is obviously a very good cause. So why do I refuse to get involved?
     For a start, I don't like the coercive nature of such campaigns. It is drunks, not sober citizens, who take the pledge, but when a sporting club is called upon to swear not to offer violence to women, what sort of pressure does that put on the one who doesn't think it necessary? It also suggests that if you decline to wear a white ribbon, then you are condoning violence against women. As far as I am concerned, it should be taken for granted that I, like every other decent person, am against all antisocial behaviour without having to say so.
     Secondly, it is a waste of time. It is preaching to the choir. I don't hit women - or men, for that matter - and don't know anybody who does. (I know some victims, but not perpetrators.) Even if I did know any, what makes you think that these riff-raff would take any notice of a wowser like me?
     This brings me to the third reason. There is a sinister unspoken undercurrent throughout this campaign. It carries the strong suggestion that this is widespread cultural phenomenon which needs to be changed when, in fact, it involves actions by a minority of deviates who know full well that they are violating community norms.
     Lets take a look at the homicide statistics. The most recent, detailed ones I was able to find were in the report by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) for the reporting years 2008-9 and 2009 -10. (There are later reports, but I couldn't find any so detailed). In that two year period there were 89 women killed by an intimate partner. That's 44½ per year; the figure of 52 is probably much earlier. In contrast, 33 men met their deaths at the hands of an intimate partner. However, if we look at the bigger picture, the total number of female homicides was 175 (that makes the proportion killed by an intimate partner 51%, not three-quarters), while male victims of homicide numbered 366 - 2.1 times as many!
     So why aren't we coming out into the streets demanding an end to violence against men? What's so special about women? Indeed, why are we concentrating on just one major aspect of violence against women: that committed by a partner? For that matter, instead of asking why 51% of murdered women are killed by partners, we might ask why there are not a whole lot more killed by other people.
     For the last question, the answer would appear to be the proportion of highly emotional interactions. 88% of the offenders were male. Now,human beings are primates, and just like chimpanzees and baboons in this regard: not only is the male of the species more aggressive, he is more aggressive to his own kind than to the opposite sex. Men get aggressive in lots of situations: workplace disputes, fights over women, drunken brawls, gangland war, to name just some. Where would a woman fit into this scheme? To put it bluntly, for the average violent male, the only woman important enough to be worth killing is the one he is sleeping with.
     On the other hand, the strongest emotional interaction for a woman is likely to be with her husband or lover. 71 of the offenders were women. Since 33 men were killed by their intimate partner, that would amount to 46% of those killed by women.
     But there are a few elephants in the room. The first is the vast over-representation of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the statistics. They represented 60 of the victims, or 11% of the total, including 25 intimate partners (the figures did not distinguish for sex in this case). If you remove them from the equation, the homicide rate for the rest of us is much lower. All right, these are victims, but for offenders it is even worse: 82 individuals, or 13% of the whole, were indigenous, and so were nearly 60% of those they killed. In fact, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, the rate of offending was more than five times the rate of the general population. Of course, I don't wish to minimise or disregard the terrible effects of violence on these dysfunctional indigenous communities. I merely wish to point out that it is not going to be changed by a lot of white men in white cities wearing white ribbons for a day.
     The second elephant is the ambiguity of the term, "intimate partner". Were these people actually married to their killers? I raise this issue because of the well established fact that domestic violence is more common in defacto relationships, and violence against children much more common. Yes, there are some particularly nasty husbands - I could give examples. Nevertheless, a woman is more likely to be bashed or raped if she is single, divorced, or living in sin than if she is married. Again, I don't wish to discount the violence in these relationships, but merely to point out that the solution is not to go around preaching about "violence against women", but to promote marriage - all the more so because of the well established greater propensity of divorce and unmarried parenting to produce violence and dysfunction in the next generation.
     Third, the really big elephant: the quoted figures are all very low. One woman murdered every week sounds terrible until you remember it comes from a population of 23 million. The overall homicide rate is just 1.2 per 100,000, which is among the lowest in the world. It is just a quarter of that of the United States, and on par with other First World Western countries. Not only that, it is the lowest recorded by the AIC. In the twenty years between 1989-90 and 2009-10, the rate had fallen 16%. If offenders, rather than victims, are considered, the male homicide rate fell from a 1992-3 high of 3.8 per 100,000 to 2.5, while the female rate remained more of less steady at 0.4 per 100,000. We are winning the war on homicide. Why hasn't this been publicised?
     What about the statistic of one in three women being victims of violence? Figures like this tend to be quoted and requoted without anyone knowing their origin. When the origin is known, often all that is cited is the summary, without any reference to the methodology. So even if we know the source, how can we be sure of its accuracy?
     In this case, it comes from the report on the 2005 Personal Safety Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), according to which 4.7% of women and 10.4% of men had suffered violence in the previous twelve months. You will notice, again, the much higher number of male victims, whom nobody worries about. However, on closer reading, you will also discover that "violence" doesn't necessary mean violence. It also includes attempted and threatened violence. When only genuine "physical assault" is included, the figures are 3.1% and 6.5% respectively.
     Not only that, but the situation is improving. For women the level had dropped 60% from 1996 to 2005. More people was also saying they feel safer in more places more often. Again, we are winning the war on violence, but nobody seems to notice.
     The ABS also estimated that 39.9% of women and 50.1% of men had suffered violence at least once since the age of 15. Here, presumably, if the source of the much-quoted figure of one in three women - without, or course, mentioning the one in two men.
     But remember: violence is not necessarily violence. The figures for actual physical assault are 11% of women and 22% of men. However, to even it up, 17% of women but only 4.8% of men have experienced sexual assault. (The two categories cannot, of course, be added, because it is quite possible, and indeed probable, to be a victim of both types of assault.) The fact that the lifetime prevalence is not quite four times the twelve-month incidence suggests that a lot of victims are repeat customers, so to speak. This would appear to correspond to what we know intuitively. Many people will be assaulted only once, or never, but there are certain relationships which are habitually violent. Also, there are some people who seem to court trouble by their lifestyle. When you hear about drunken brawls in the Valley or the Cross, you just know that it is not an isolated incident for many of the participants. Just the same, one of the statements by the ABS does not really harmonize with the rest of it: that since the age of 15, only 0.9% of men and 2.1% of women experienced current partner violence (in the broadest sense of the word).
     What you will not find in the report is any discussion of severity. Sexual assault is defined as an act of a sexual nature carried out against the person's will, but excludes mere unwanted sexual touching. Feel free to let your imagination wander over the range of behaviour this might include. However, the fact that almost one in twenty men claim to have been a victim would suggest that it is not limited to full penetrative rape. Physical assault is defined as the use of physical force with the intent to harm or frighten. It might be as severe as being bashed unconscious, or it might be a simple as a slap in the face.
     I am reminded of a site when a woman told how her husband had spanked her after she threw a cup of hot coffee at him (!). Was this domestic violence? she asked. The answer, of course, is Yes. According to the definition, they were both guilty of physical assault, and they should get over it. This is not the way reasonable people handle their differences, but let's not pretend it is part of an invisible culture of brutality.
     So, how serious are the actions labelled physical assaults? I don't know of any figures for Australia - for some reason, nobody ever asks for them - but they do exist for the United States which, you will remember, has four times the homicide rate of Australia. Christina Sommers summarised the research of Gelles and Straus thus:
They distinguish between minor violence, such as throwing objects, pushing, shoving, and slapping (no injuries, no serious intimidation), and severe violence, such as kicking, hitting or trying to hit with an object, hitting with the fist, beating up, and threatening with a gun or knife - actions which have a high probability of leading to injury or are accompanied by the serious threat of injury. The vast majority of family disputes involve minor violence rather than severe violence. In their 1985 Second National Family Violence Survey, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, they found that 16 percent of couples were violent - the "Saturday Night Brawlers" (with the wife just as likely as the husband to slap, grab, shove, or throw thing). In 3 to 4 percent of couples, there was at least one act of severe violence by the husband against the wife. But in their surveys they also found that "women assault their partners at about the same rate as men assault their partners. This applies to both minor and severe assaults."
     Gelles and Straus are careful to say that women as far more likely to be injured and to need medical care. But overall, the percentage of women who are injured seriously enough to need medical care is still relatively small compared to the inflated claims of the gender feminists and the politicians - fewer than 1 percent.   [Christina Hoff Sommers, 1994, Who Stole Feminism?, pp 194-5 of the 1995 Touchstone edition. Emphasis in original.]
     In 1993 the Commonwealth Fund asked the same questions as Gelles and Straus in a telephone survey of 2,500 women. In the previous twelve months, 3% of the respondents said that their husband or defacto had thrown something at them, 5% pushed, grabbed, shoved, or slapped her, and only 2% had kicked, bitten, or hit her with a fist or some other object. The figures for being beaten up, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or had a knife or gun used against them were each zero. [op cit, p 196]
     It would have been interesting to know how many of their menfolk had suffered the same thing at their hands. Sommers also pointed out that the Commonwealth Fund then completely misreported the findings in order to make them sound far, far worse than they really were.
     Nothing in the ABS figures for Australia are inconsistent with a similar range of severity, especially when you consider they cover all "violence", not just domestic violence. Indeed, it would be amazing if it were not so. So what conclusions can we draw?
  • The problem is not violence against women, but violence per se, with men being more affected than women.
  • The situation is getting better, not worse.
  • The situation is nowhere near as bad as it is portrayed. There is no widespread culture of violence against women. Rather, there is a deviate minority - admittedly, a fairly large one - which has deliberately decided to violate the accepted standards of society in this regard.
     The United Nations started this campaign ostensibly in response to the very real plight of women in the semi-civilised parts of the world. Of course, this will really go down well with the Islamic State, Boko Haram, or the sections of South Africa where a quarter of the men admitted to rape! One wonders why they ever bother with these campaigns. They should know by now that they can only have any effect in the countries which need them least.
     Meanwhile, back in our own society, the activists talk as if they come from another planet. They pretend we don't know that boys are taught early in life never to hit a girl, that wife-beaters have been a despised fringe group since at least the days of The Taming of the Shrew, when Kate reminded Petrucchio (unnecessarily, as it turned out) that if he struck her he would be no gentleman. In fact, as this video shows, society is much more tolerant of female violence against men than the reverse,
     Waving placards reading, "Stop Violence Against Women!" is all very well, but they never say how. Violence has always been a part of human nature, and I suspect that, in our attempts at reducing it, we are now approaching the point of diminishing returns. Still, the activists would be doing something useful if they would tell us where the Government is dragging its feet, or could offer any useful suggestions as to how the current laws could be better administered and enforced, or better provision could be made to assist the victims or rehabilitate the offenders, or - a radical idea! - reduce violence against men.
     Instead, they carry on as if, by continually preaching to the converted about a mythical "culture of violence", the typical wife- (or more likely, defacto-) beater is going to say: "Gee! You mean people disapprove of my bashing my old lady? I never knew that! I suppose I shall have to put it on my New Year's resolutions list - or at least try giving it up for Lent."
     On a related topic, some bright spark said, "Why don't we just teach men not to rape?"
     What a great idea! And while we are at it, perhaps we could teach men - and women too - not to steal. After all, they just do it because they don't know any better, don't they?
     Update: The results for 2011-12 are now available. For this two year period the number of women killed by an intimate partner was 83, compared to 26 men. Thus, not only was the "one woman killed per week" statistic (still being quoted in 2015) false, but it was lower than in the previous two years. The total homicide was also lower.
     The Personal Safety Report of 2012 indicates that the incidence of violence is still going down.
      Here is a similar comment about the situation in the UK.
     Further Update: Although I said I could not find any evidence of the severity of domestic violence in Australia, I have now found this summary in a 2006 article:
     But is it true? For evidence, let's take a quick look at a major, official research project carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Women's Safety Survey (1996). This survey was commissioned by the Office for the Status of Women. Some of the staff at the ABS complained at the time that it was advocacy research designed to inflate the level of domestic violence. Even so, the survey found that in a twelve month period about 2.6% of women experienced an incident of violence from a married or de facto partner. Of these 2.6% of women, about half experienced milder forms of violence such as threats or pushing or grabbing (and of the approximately 1.3% of more severe cases about 50% involved alcohol abuse). What this means is that in a twelve month period 97.4% of men desisted from any conceivable form of violence against their partners, including threats. When you consider the amount of alcoholism, drug use, mental illness and family breakdown in society, the figure of 97.4% of men not even committing a single instance of a threat is a creditable one to men.
     Needless to say, these figures are very similar to those quoted for America. And that, of course, does not include violence by women.