bettina arndt domestic violence
Bettina Arndt (Image: Facebook)

The Senate has passed a motion to strip men’s rights activist Bettina Arndt of her Medal of the Order of Australia after the commentator suggested the murderer of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke could have been “driven too far” when setting Clarke and her three children on fire. 

Arndt has also argued that gender doesn’t play a role in domestic violence, that domestic violence isn’t prevalent in Australia and that men are more likely to injure women in two-way violence simply due to their size and strength.

Here are some findings and misconceptions about her statements.

Violence is not equal 

Arndt quotes the Partner Abuse State of Knowledge (PASK) project, a literature review into domestic violence research conducted by 42 professors across the US, Canada and UK.

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This is a large-scale review which looks into 17 aspects of domestic violence, reviewing 1700 pieces of academic literature.

Representatives from domestic violence advocacy groups Our Watch, Women’s Safety NSW, ANROWs and several academics contacted by Crikey weren’t familiar with the study. It has not received any substantial media attention in Australia, but its sections have been cited on Google Scholar almost 2500 times.

The section of PASK that Arndt quotes, Rates of Male and Female Perpetration, along with other international research, has found both genders are just as likely to slap, push, shove, or throw an object at a partner.

But Dr Michael Flood, a sociologist who specialises in gender and sexuality studies, said there were problems with relying on PASK.

“Firstly, it’s not a study, it’s a literature review,” he said. Many of the papers it reviewed used flawed methodology. 

Most of the literature reviewed in the PASK chapter that Arndt cites uses the Conflict Tactic Scale (CTS), a common method used when collecting data on domestic violence. Participants self-report if they’ve ever engaged in different types of violence against a partner.

“The CTS doesn’t look at the impact, method, history or meaning of the violence … It doesn’t ask if the person was afraid, injured, acting in defence or if the violence had happened before, or happened often. The CTS is widely criticised,” Flood said.  

The CTS also only surveys one person in the relationship, and only surveys those in a relationship.

“We know the time during and after a separation is considerably risky … it doesn’t gather data on that,” Flood said. 

Dr Kristin Diemer, a sociologist at Melbourne University who conducts family and domestic violence applied research, agreed, telling Crikey PASK’s statistics don’t take into account asymmetry of violence — the severity and frequency of violence.

“Women can respond in self-defence and sometimes that will be looked at as instigating violence,” she said. “[The PASK project] asks how many times people say yes to types of physical abuse … when you count up the results, men and women answer equally.”

But, Diemer added, it doesn’t include the context or information about violence over time.

“If we can add all those elements into the actual experience of violence we see real gender contrasts, by both victimisation and perpetration,” she said.

Murder is not ‘inevitable’

In Australia, one woman is killed every nine days and a man every 29 days by their partner. Accurate statistics on intimate partner violence in the LGBTIQ community are hard to come by, but in 2015 the Australian Institute of Family Services reported people in the LGBTIQ community experience domestic violence at a similar rate to those in heterosexual couples.

Arndt writes, “it is important to acknowledge that male violence is more likely to result in injury or death than female violence towards a partner. This is inevitable due to the average man’s greater size and strength.”

But this misses a vital point: domestic violence resulting in death is not inevitable.

As Women’s Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster puts it, “murder is always a choice”.

Arndt writes that “almost a quarter (23.1%) of victims of intimate partner homicide are male — and we hardly ever hear about these deaths”. 

It’s an awful statistic but it’s still important to note gender does play a role — men are overwhelmingly the murderers.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, females comprised around one-fifth of intimate partner homicide offenders, and just 14% of total homicide offenders between 2015-16.

Foster says when it comes to women who perpetrate intimate partner homicide, “these cases are almost always a result of long-term, coercive control. For women, violence is characterised by retaliation.”

Flood said data supported this claim:

“If you just look at the numbers, yes, men are one-third of these deaths. But if you actually look at the data like death reviews, we find every single one of those men was a perpetrator … the woman’s violence was in the context of the history of his violence against her.” 

The question of prevalence

Using ABS statistics, Arndt points to the downward trend of domestic violence over the past 20 years — though she does acknowledge a 5.7% increase in domestic violence reports in NSW over the past 10 years. 

“One in 100 women experiencing this physical violence from their partners is obviously a matter of great concern. But this percentage is very different from the usual figures being trotted out. You’ll never find the figure of 1.06% mentioned by any of the domestic violence organisations in this country,” she writes.  

But the reason those organisations don’t mention the 1.06% figure is that it isn’t accurate according to Foster.

“Just 20 to 30% of women are reporting violence,” Foster told Crikey.  

Over the past year in NSW, her organisation supported 212,000 women experiencing violence. “Extrapolate that out: domestic violence is extremely prevalent in Australia,” she said. 

Here’s the rub: violence and homicide are abhorrent in any form, especially when committed by an intimate partner. Men are victims and face challenges and stigma when reaching out for help. 

But it is possible to advocate for proper services for both genders, without downplaying the role gender plays.

Arndt did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636.

NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify which parts of the PASK study are being referred to.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

Liz
North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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