Wednesday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I like the idea of having these days. White Ribbon Day is a brilliant idea, and I love that so many men are jumping on board to lend their support to this. It's because of awareness-raising campaigns like this and things like Take Back The Night that the statistic at the bottom of the White Ribbon Day article exists.
"What?" you say. "That statistic says that family violence has increased by 15%! How can that be a good thing?"
That figure is taken from police statistics. Police statistics only show the crimes that are reported, the crimes that are followed up, the crimes they are doing something about. It works like this: 40 years ago police would not interfere in 'domestic' violence, and it didn't appear in the statistics. Then along came IDEVW, White Ribbon Day, Take Back The Night and the like, and people became aware that women were getting beaten up by their partners and said "Oi! That's a crime!" In the last 15 years, it has become more and more ok for family violence to be reported, the police take it seriously, there are now support groups and systems to help victims, and the general public is much more aware of it. There have been campaigns on TV and in newspapers, and police have focused on it.
As a result of this, the statistics have gone up. I hold that the actual amount of family violence that's happening has not increased at all, we are simply getting a more accurate picture of the scale of the problem due to this raised awareness. I know that much less violence is reported than happens, but that's slowly changing and I see this as a good thing.
However, there's something I take issue with, and that's this. What is that? That's my search in Google for the equivalent International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Men. As you can see, there are 113,000 hits, and on the first page at least, it's all about women. It's as if there isn't a day for men, or it doesn't deserve to be recognised, or something.
Probably right about now there are a bunch of people rolling their eyes and going "Here we go again, another domestic violence apologist!" Well actually, no, I'm not trying to turn any tables here - but there's a whole lot of violence going on that is not acknowledged, and the people experiencing it are the same people who are perpetrating it on women, and I see that as a HUGE problem. Let's raise some awareness, shall we?
According to this article (p17), which was included in the course readings for my last Criminology course, it stacks up like this:
Men are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime than women - those most at risk being young men aged between 16 and 24.
Men are victims of 83% of assaults by strangers and 59% of muggings.
Then there's this article called 'Nightlife Violence' (Schnitzer et al, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, August 2009, Sage - unfortunately only available online if you pay or have access through being a student). This described a survey of 1,341 people aged 16 to 35 in nine European countries. This article showed that:
28.6% of men had been involved in a physical fight in the past 12 months. The figure for women was 8.5%.
It seems clear to me that men are experiencing disproportionate amounts of violence as part of their day-to-day lives. And yet, it's 'common knowledge' that violence against women is a huge problem, there are marches and awareness campaigns and support groups. We all know that men hitting women is bad. But what about men hitting men? Or anyone hitting men for that matter? Why is this out-of-proportion amount of violence experienced by men not all over the news, why is it more-or-less accepted that men get hit twice as much as women do? Is it because the men are usually being hit by other men instead of one gender hitting the other, and why does that make it ok? And why, when my friend brought this topic up in the context of White Ribbon Day, did a whole lot of people jump down her throat about it, talking about the gender inequality in international violence?
Which is when I got to this article. Sadly it's an excerpt in Google Books and it's the best example I can find, but anyway, it discusses victimisation of men in the context of left realism, using a feminist perspective (which is in itself interesting). Their premise is that:
"Men not only victimise women but they also victimise each other in ways which cause significant trauma, so it is necessary to deconstruct how power is managed between and among men .. it is necessary to take victimisation seriously and consider the experience of men as victims as well as oppressors."
It goes on to consider the way in which "some areas of victimisation are taken seriously - women, the elderly, victims of racist attacks, crimes against the least powerful. Few would wish to take exception to any of this.. uncomfortable though it may be, the reality of the world in which we live is that it is not just the 'least powerful' or even always the 'less powerful' who suffer criminal victimisation." It argues that there is an oversimplified view of victims in which the victim is always the underdog, and that because of this left realism (which, incidentally, has been the prevailing criminological view in Unzud for the last 20 years or so) is unable to be realistic about the position of men, dividing the world into oppressors and oppressed, and labelling all men as oppressors (because of their privileged position in society) unless they can be located within another oppressed group.
The article then discusses stigmas associated with being a victim as a man, the way in which society presents men as uniformly powerful, controlling and non-emotional and the way in which victimisation may affect a man's sense of not only invulnerability but also masculinity. Unfortunately, being a preview, some of the pages with the real meaty stuff are missing, but the general drift is there, and the short discussion sheds some light on reasons why a man who has been victimised may choose not to report it.
So yeah, there's a whole lot of violence out there happening to men, and we either don't know about it or don't care. Either way, violence against men is under-reported too.
So what about intimate partner (domestic) violence then? Because that's the situation in which most violence against women happens. The original article on victimisation from my Crim course shows that women are victims of 73% of assaults involving intimate partner violence. That's a huge disparity - 3/4 of all IPV assaults are on women, and that's why the huge outcry, the raising of awareness, and the public attempts to address this.
So I went and had a look at a report by NZ's Ministry of Social Development from 2007, about family violence. There's a chapter on IPV. Here are some bits from that:
26% of 'ever partnered' women and 18% of 'ever partnered' men reported experiencing some violence in relationships.
'Last year' risks were 3% for women and 2% for men.
On average, 9 women and 2 men a year are killed by their partners.
Verbal aggression, which is the most common form of IPV, is admitted to by 95% of women and 86% of men. Supporting this figure, 84% of women report being victims of verbal aggression, and 90% of men.
Amongst people who reported being a victim of IPV, 27% of female victims thought what had happened to them was a crime compared with 4% of male victims, who said it was "just something that happens."
In terms of gender symmetry, it was found that:
a) women are more often subject to family violence than men, and are more often and more seriously injured when they are victimised
b) women initiate and use violence against male partners at least as often as – if not more often than – men.
We already knew that IPV against women happens, it happens a lot, and it's under-reported. But what this report brought out to me is the amount of IPV against men that happens. I'm sure we all sometimes think "What about men who are hit by their partners?" and some of us probably even know people who've experienced it. I know of two men who have told me of their experiences of being hit by partners. But until I read this stuff I honestly had no idea of the extent of IPV towards men.
And my question here is "WHY THE HELL NOT?" Have a look at the point from the MSD report about why only 4% of men who'd been hit felt that it was a crime - "It's just something that happens?" Isn't this the same line that came out of women's mouths 40 years ago before the awareness campaigns? Do we really train our men to believe that being hit is just a part of life for them and not a crime? And what part of that is ever going to be ok?
Yeah, I know some of you are still rolling your eyes and thinking "Apologist." But think about this. Violence-awareness is not a zero sum game. Raising awareness of the amount of violence men are suffering will not reduce awareness of the violence women suffer. And also, think about this:
We raise our young men to believe that violence is part of life and 'just something that happens'. Statistics show that men on average are victims of considerably more violence than women are. The perpetrators of violence on women are most likely to be men. The perpetrators of violence on MEN are most likely to be men too.
I don't know about you, but I think there's probably a correlation between these things, and I wonder if, in addition to asking questions about why men hit women, and campaigning for it to stop, we should maybe be looking at why men hit men, or why men hit at all, and campaigning for that to stop.
And no, none of what I said can, or should be, equated to 'hitting women is ok', no matter how much some people might want to think it says that. Personally, I think hitting people is wrong. I love the awareness campaigns, they've done a brilliant job, and they should continue.
But where's the one that says the amount of violence my father, my brother, my partner, my son have and will suffer in their lives is wrong and should stop?