A couple of people have sent me links to a petition that has just gone up on the government e-Petition site.
I’m happy to point you towards it, and make your own mind up as to whether you want to sign or not. I’ve decided I won’t, and I’ll explain why.
Here’s the text:
With statistics revealing 21 men and 94 women are murdered by a partner, ex-partner or lover in 2010 – more than 2 a week, it is time to ask HM Government to raise awareness of this ‘invisible’ crime in a “Prevention is better than Cure” approach with a greater public awareness of what Domestic Violence is.
Let us, collectively as a proud and just nation, lobby the Government to adopt a minimum one year duration UK nationwide campaign – national press, media, advertising, PR, events etc – to inform ALL in our Society as to what exactly Domestic Violence is so that we can all identify what this abhorrent crime is and so, safeguarding ourselves and those we know.
Let’s equip everyone with the information as to what Domestic Violence is, it’s characteristics, it’s negative impact on all effected by it so that we can help ourselves, help others when needed.
Knowledge is Power – and we might just save someone’s life.
I think I understand what the petitioners are saying and wholeheartedly agree with it. It echoes strongly with a piece I wrote about Justin Lee Collins for the Independent last week, in which I argued that domestic violence can take many different forms and we’ll never properly get to grips with the problems until our institutions and systems wake up to this.
The reality is that the phrase “domestic violence” masks a diverse and complex range of phenomena and behaviours. When we quote figures that, say, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be a victim of partner violence, such statistics can be objectively true and yet disguise more than they reveal.
The article concluded like this.
Until we can develop a more nuanced, evidence-based understanding of the true nature of domestic abuse, the arguments are destined to continue and both victims and perpetrators who sit outside the expected pattern will be denied the interventions they need.
Unfortunately on the same day, Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge, had a piece on Comment is Free that was an almost perfect illustration of the point I was making. She gave a precise and narrow definition of domestic violence as follows:
Let me be clear: domestic violence involves the repeated, habitual and random use of intimidation, whether by physical or verbal aggression, to force a woman to submit to her partner’s demands. Domestic violence is systematic, purposeful and patterned behaviour designed to gain control of a woman.
I’ll trust regular readers will immediately spot the biggest problem with this – victims of domestic violence are not exclusively female, and perpetrators are not exclusively male. There’s a more subtle problem, however, which is that the coercive-controlling violence she describes does not describe a large proportion of domestic violence, which can be situational, mutual, occasional, reactive or seemingly random. As I said in the Indy piece:
“Although charities such as Women’s Aid still hold coercive-controlling violence to be the archetype of domestic abuse, and it is indeed often the most devastating form, it is far from the most common. In his influential work the Typology of Domestic Violence, criminologist Michael P.Johnson reported that in survey studies, only 11% of male abusers matched the profile of an ‘intimate terrorist’; fewer than half of men appearing in court did so, and even in women’s shelters, where one would expect to find victims of the most severe and sustained abuse, the abusers of more than a third of women did not match the description.
While it was long assumed that, unlike situational and mutual violence, coercive controlling abuse was an overwhelmingly patriarchal and male-perpetrated offence, recent studies by researchers like Nicola Graham-Kevan has suggested that female abusers can also display similar characteristics“.
As the two quotes illustrate, there is massive argument and debate about what exactly we mean by domestic violence, among academics, frontline professionals and interested observers like me. I don’t know (and I don’t think anyone else can know) whose definitions are being referred to in the petition. I acknowledge that the petition includes mention of male victims, which is immensely encouraging, but that is not the whole issue.
I will not be signing the new petition because, sadly, I’m almost convinced that if it were to become policy it would be used by the likes of Refuge to duplicate much of the downright false information about domestic violence that has circulated for 40 years or more. When there is a call to create campaigns that are drawn from the full range of academic research and clinical experience, and which reflect the complex nature of domestic violence perpetration and victimisation, and the full range of circumstances, environments and psychological triggers from which abusive behaviour can arise, then I’ll willingly sign and shout it from the rooftops.