Domestic Violence Survey Provokes a ROW

Article excerpt

"{Domestic violence is} behaviour by the man, adopted to control his victim, which results in physical, sexual and/or psychological damage, forced social isolation or economic deprivation, or behaviour which leaves a woman living in fear"

Office of the Status of Women, quoted in Cosmopolitan magazine,

April 1995.

"It is interesting to note that mothers are at least as likely as fathers to use even more serious forms of violence such as kicks, bites, punches and beatings. This is important because family violence is probably the only situation where women are as or more violent than men ... {emphasis added} If men have a genetic predisposition to be violent, one would expect them to be more violent at home than their wives. Yet, an examination of violence between couples and violence by parents toward children reveals that women are as violent or more violent than are men ... While fathers who beat up their children do so on an average of once a year mothers who beat up their children do it more than once every other month."

Behind Closed Doors

Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz,

(US social researchers), 1980

"Why are you so worried about a little bit of wrong analysis ?"

Senator Rosemary Crowley,

Minister for Family Services,

appearing on the documentary

The Deadly Hurt in 1994.

A situation has developed within the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reminiscent of that episode of Yes Minister in which Sir Humphrey Appleby warns the Minister never to commission a study unless he is certain of the results. Internal ABS documents reveal great concern about a proposed survey initiated by the Federal Government's Office of the Status of Women (OSW).

It appears that the survey, originally titled the 'Violence Against Women Survey', owes its origins to The Deadly Hurt, a documentary by Melbourne-based producer Don Praham shown on SBS late last year. Parham questioned various tenets of faith promulgated by OSW, one of which was that 30 per cent of married women in Australia are at risk of domestic violence. This claim featured on an OSW poster a number of years ago and, although the Office claims that it no longer uses the figure, it still appears -- for example, in a 1994 edition of Injury Issues, a medical journal put out by the NSW Department of Health. Those who saw The Deadly Hurt on SBS late last year will remember Senator Crowley's embarrassment when asked to give the source of that figure. Her response included the remarkable quote at the star of this article.

OSW is in fact still defending the figure of "one in three women at risk of domestic violence". In a reply to a letter to the Prime Minister the head of OSW, Kathleen Townsend, said that the figure was the best data available in 1987 when the poster was first published and "was specific to a campaign about domestic violence." She further stated that it came from a 1980 study done in the United States by Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, entitled Behind Closed Doors.

There are two problems with this defence. One is, how can a figure be specific to a given campaign? Surely it is either true or not. The second is that nowhere in Behind Closed Doors does it say that 30 per cent of women are victims of domestic violence. What it does say several times is that women are as likely to be the perpetrators of spouse bashing as they are to be the victims. For example, on page 36 it states that in a given year 12.6 per cent of women will be victims of family violence (very broadly defined) but that so will 11.6 per cent of men. When violence against children is taken into account then women are more likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence than are men. In short, the 30 per cent figure is a lie and one that OSW refuses to withdraw.

FLAWED MODEL: In need of a study to support its claims, OSW at first approached ABS to replicate a study by Juristat Canada which had been published in 1994. …