The Secrets & Lies Of White Ribbon

Today is White Ribbon Day. Today you will hear about the number of women killed in domestic violence, but not the men, neither will you hear about the children killed by women. But does that matter? Women’s lives are important in of themselves. Is there any downside to focusing on violence against women, while ignoring violence by women and violence against men?

Yes there is, and here are five reasons why.

Firstly focusing on gender can put people’s lives at risk by ignoring the underlying causes. Consider the murder of Luke Batty. The day after the murder Rosie Batty said “what triggered this I think is a case of his dad having mental health issues, he was in a homelessness situation for many years”.[1] Immediately after Rosie Batty’s statements were aired on the ABC’s 7:30 report a spokesperson from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre was interviewed who stated that the problem was “hypermasculinity”. The coroner did not find that Luke’s murder was as a result of hypermasculinity , he accepted that “Mr Anderson may have had a delusional disorder”.[2] He also wrote “…the focus has been on male perpetrated family violence and filicide. However it is noteworthy that the statistics reveal that mothers account for almost half of all filicide statistics.”[3] Specifically he is referring to the fact that mothers and fathers kill their children in roughly equal amounts,[4] although if we consider only biological parents rather than including step parents, biological mothers are almost twice as likely to murder their children than biological fathers. Clearly gender is not the leading cause of parents killing children. If we ignore the risk to children from women with relevant mental health conditions we put children’s lives at risk.

Secondly we put children’s lives at risk when we leave children in the hands of mothers who have committed violence against their male partners. Specifically we unreasonably ignore the risks posed by women who exhibit controlling and violent behaviour we would consider unacceptable when perpetrated by men. Consider the case of Susie Wang, who was most likely murdered by her mother.[5] The child’s father had been the victim of violence at the hands of the mother, but had nowhere to turn and ended up leaving the family. Soon afterwards Susie was dead, most likely killed by her mother.

Thirdly it diminishes the impact of family violence against men, denying them services, and enabling the perpetrator to blame the victim. We constantly hear about the number of women who have died in domestic violence homicides, yet we seldom if ever hear of the number of men who have died in domestic violence homicides.
The recent Victorian Coroners Report On Victorian Systemic Review Of Family Violence Deaths stated that of the 288 family violence homicides in Victoria between 2000 and 2010, 150 ( 52.1%) of the victims were female and 138 (47.9%) were male. That amounts to 1 female every 24 days and 1 male every 26 days.[6]There are some gender differences in family violence homicide statistics, but these differences are only relevant if we are prepared to discount the lives of men and boys as being less important than the lives of women and girls.

Fourthly the current focus on gender in family violence creates a culture of moral panic, in which we are prepared to forgo the basic human right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial at which the respondent has had all the guarantees necessary for their defence. Here I refer to family violence laws. Consider the situation in Victoria in which intervention orders can be granted in 3 minute ex-parte hearings in which no evidence need be presented and cross examination seldom occurs.[7] In these hearings the respondent is not even present, let alone given the opportunity to defend themselves. In the final trial the rules of evidence do not apply, and the court can use whatever method it sees fit to determine the truth. [8] In addition what determines violence is so broad that specifically any act that causes offence can be considered violence. What constitutes violence is also subjective from the point of view of the applicant,[9] rather than being what might reasonably cause offence or fear to the reasonable person.

Fifthly it creates a culture in which half of the population is demonised – the male half.

Now that I have presented 5 reasons why it is undesirable to making the family violence discussion a gendered one, we should consider the arguments in favour of the White Ribbon Campaign. Last year White Ribbon collected $2.7 million and spent over $3 million. [10] The majority of these funds ($1.6 million) were paid to its employees (52%), while only 5% was spent of advertising and marketing. No money was paid to any family violence victim. The sole purpose of the White Ribbon campaign is to end violence against women and girls “through a new vision of masculinity”.[11]White Ribbon is also expanding its focus to include “an attempt to eradicate sexist language and sexually explicit jokes” in the workplace.[12] White Ribbon is a male lead pro-feminist men’s movement, that believes that our culture accepts violence against women. But there is no empirical evidence to support this assertion. On the contrary studies show that “The majority of Australians have a good knowledge of violence against women and do not endorse most attitudes supportive of this violence.”[13]

If these attitudes do not exist, then the White Ribbon Campaign does little more than to add to the moral panic, justify the ignoring of family violence against men, vilify men generally, and put children at risk by ignoring the underlying causes of family violence and sometimes leaving them in the care of violent women. The alternative is to have a reasoned debate about family violence, that promotes investigation of underlying causes and suitable preventative measures, as well as appropriate laws that take into account realistic measures of risks with appropriate legal safeguards to prevent their abuse.

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2013/s3944396.htm at 1:59
[2] http://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/…/lukegeoffreybatty_085…
[3] http://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/…/lukegeoffreybatty_085…, paragraph 439
[4] Dr Debbie Kirkwood , Just Say Goodbye: Parents who kill their children in the context of separation ( Domestic Violence Resource Centre, January 2013) < http://www.dvrcv.org.au/…/discussion-papers/just-say-goodbye> 16
[5] http://www.theage.com.au/…/suspected-murdersuicide-harrowin…
[6] Judge Jennifer Coate ,Victorian Systemic Review Of Family Violence Deaths (Coroners Court of Victoria, November 2012) <http://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/…/vsrfvd+first+report+-…>, Table 9; 150 female deaths over ten years (3650¸150=24.33); 138 male deaths over ten years ( 3650¸138=26.45)
[7] Rosemary Hunter, Domestic Violence Law Reform and Women’s Experience in Court: the Implementation of Feminist Reforms in Civil Proceedings (2008), at 77, 81–2.
[8] Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) s 55
[9] Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) s 7
[10] White Ribbon 2013-2014 Annual Report <http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/annual-report-2014/>
[11] White Ribbon 2013-2014 Annual Report <http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/annual-report-2014/>,
[12] White Ribbon 2013-2014 Annual Report <http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/annual-report-2014/>
[13] VicHealth, Australians’ attitudes to violence against women, 2013 National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey – Research Summary <https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/…/NCAS%20Summary%20Final.p…>

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Bernard The Benevolent