Earlier, this week the Victorian State Government released the terms of reference for its Royal Commission into family violence. This Royal Commission is a very strong step forward in the battle against what is one of our most shameful scourges: violence in the home. I fully support it, and commend Premier Daniel Andrews for launching it. The Age, however, ran a story with the headline: Yet violence is not the leading cause of death for women under 45. Suicide is, followed by transportation accidents, followed by accidental poisoning. The breakdown of the cause of death statistics can be found here.
The claim that violence is “leading cause of death” comes from a 2004 cross-sectional study into women’s health funded by the Victorian government. The study stated that violence was a leading contributor to ill health, disability and death in young women, not a leading cause of death. Whenever this claim is repeated it suggests that homicide is the leading cause of death for women under the age of 45, so it should be corrected and stated accurately. A more detailed analysis of where this claim comes from, and the flaws within the original study can be found here.
In the very same week, Fairfax continued their campaign against men by publishing the following article – NSW Police fail victims of domestic violence with flippant social media post The author of the piece refers to this post from the NSW Police on their Facebook page –
The post states – Last year 1 in 5 domestic violence assaults that NSW police responded to involving intimate partners were for male victims. The NSW Police Force has zero tolerance for domestic violence. You make the call – we’ll make it stop.
It’s a pretty straightforward post from the NSW Police Force. It is devoid of any political agenda, except to perhaps alleviate some of the stigma that male victims of violence may feel when reporting abuse to authorities. You would assume that no person who is interested in gender equality would be offended by such a post from a law enforcement agency. You would assume wrong. Jenna Price, Fairfax columnist, was offended, calling the Facebook post “deliberately misleading”, “offensive” and “flippant”. The title of the piece went so far as to accuse the NSW Police of “failing victims of violence”.
From her article, it became apparent Price was offended by the suggestion that women commit partner violence against men. The article stated –
there was no indication of the number of men who were victims of partner violence from other men. It is widely accepted that one in three gay men are victims of abuse in relationships and that these assaults contribute significantly to the statistics but the police post failed to mention that.
Generally people who are not homophobic and government agencies do not profile criminal behaviour according to sexual orientation. Why should the NSW Police Force? Yet overlooking same-sex violence was not the crux of Price’s offence. The real reason for offence was explained further on when she lamented –
Why imply that women are the perpetrators [of violence] when there’s plenty of evidence from multiple sources demonstrating that it’s just not the case (and it’s clear from the ambiguity of the post that the writer knew that men are perpetrators against their male partners)?
Plenty of evidence? What about the evidence provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics? The ABS in their Personal Safety Report of 2012 state that while women are more likely than men to experience violence by a partner, 5.3% of all men aged 18 years and over have experienced violence from a partner by the age of 15.
On Twitter, when asked about this inaccuracy, Price clarified her point:
But what are “other sex partners” other than men? And what exactly is Price saying when she says that “women do not perpetrate violence”, and that gay men make up the bulk of perpetrators (and victims) – but that women perpetrate violence against “other sex partners”? What exactly is Price’s charge, and how is the NSW Police force being “offensive”?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics collects data on personal safety – including intimate partner violence. Of interest to us is Table 6 in the Personal Safety Survey: Experience of Violence Since the Age of 15: Relationship to perpetrator by sex of perpetrator. The table states that 1.139 million men in Australia have experienced violence at the hands of a partner. Of these, the majority are female. To be precise, 427,000 have experienced violence at the hands of a female perpetrator who was a previous partner and 295,000 have experienced violence at the hands of a perpetrator who was a previous girlfriend or date. This information can be found in the data cubes here. The ABS is considered the most reliable source of statistics in Australia.
In not consulting publicly available data from the ABS, both of these Fairfax articles make egregious and mendacious errors. It begs the question – why aren’t empirical statements checked by this major news organisation before publication? Is this not something that we expect Fairfax journalists to do?
*Thanks to reader Nate for help clarifying the statistics for this blog.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4906.0 Personal Safety Survey, Australia, 2012. Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 11/12/2013
“The health costs of violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence: A summary of findings“, VicHealth, Carlton South, Australia, 2004
Holden L, Dobson A, Byles J, Loxton D, Dolja-Gore X, Hockey R, Lee C, Chojenta C, Reilly N, Mishra G, McLaughlin D, Pachana N, Tooth L & Harris M.“Mental Health: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health.“, Report prepared for the Australian Government Department of Health & Ageing, June 2013.
Vos, T., Astbury, J., Piers, L. S., Magnus, A., Heenan, M., Stanley, L., … & Webster, K. (2006). Measuring the impact of intimate partner violence on the health of women in Victoria, Australia. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84(9), 739-744.