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Archive for the ‘Stats and facts’ Category

There’s a Gordian knot of a conundrum that I’ve been trying to unpick for a long time. I think I may have finally untangled it and reached what I hope you will agree is an unarguable conclusion: The single most effective preventative measure to protect society from sexual and domestic abuse is a picture of a kitten.

You may be sceptical, but let me explain. Over the past couple of decades, access to the internet and other digital communication technologies has increased exponentially to become the most important and influential portal to information, entertainment and media since the invention of television. More than two thirds of Europeans use the internet once a week or more, and we’re still behind the Americans. This, I hope, is uncontroversial.

This revolution has blessed the world with communication and knowledge, but principally it has brought a limitless stash of pornography directly into the living rooms and bedrooms of the developed world.  Much of the human race is now just a couple of clicks away from any manner of nudity, erotica, hardcore fuck films, sadomasochism, bondage, cock and ball torture and enough depravity to make de Sade say sacre bleu!  Whatever individual tastes and fantasies one might have, there is a porn site somewhere that’s just for you. All the evidence is that large proportions of the population, including or especially younger people, have, to some extent, availed themselves occasionally or regularly of the opportunities on offer. I’d furnish you with statistics, but that would require me to Google the word “pornography” and I‘d never get this blog finished. Again, all of this is uncontroversial and so I hope you can take it on trust.

Since the 1960s and 70s there have been enormous efforts made by social scientists and researchers to establish whether exposure to pornography is harmful. Actually cancel that, it is not true. Since the 1960s and 70s there have been enormous efforts made by social scientists and researchers to prove that pornography is or is not harmful, in accordance with their prior assumptions. Pretty much every study that has ever set out to demonstrate harm has demonstrated harm, while virtually every study that has set out to demonstrate that there is no harm has demonstrated that there is no harm. Funny that.

There are genuine grounds for concern about the effects of pornography on the individual and their relationships, in terms of habitual and addictive behaviour, skewed perspectives on human sexuality, blisters on the palms of the hands and so on. But socially and politically, by far the most important question is whether exposure to pornography increases the likelihood that someone will commit violent and sexual crime, most obviously against women and girls. The role of porn, and more broadly a heavily sexualised culture, is cited constantly as a major factor in discussions of sexual and partner violence. In a speech to a meeting this Monday, Jon Cruddas MP placed the issue at the heart of the campaign to prevent violence against women and girls. The NSPCC did the same in relation to sexual abuse of children. A couple of years ago the last government ran a major consultation on domestic violence, and the only causative factor on which they invited comment was pornography and sexualisation.

What such claims ignore is that we are currently in the midst of a humungous real world experiment. If it is true that exposure to pornography is a significant cause of sexual violence and domestic abuse, we would surely expect to see the rates of such crimes rise in keeping with the prevalence of porn. What has happened? Here is a handy graph from the US National Victimization Survey – not reported crimes, but the world’s largest and most authoritative survey on actual trends in attacks over time. I’ve marked the point at which Tim Berners-Lee announced the development of the Hypertext Protocol for the World Wide Web – generally agreed to be the point where this internet stuff began in earnest.

rapedecline_graph

Perhaps there is something unique to the USA there, so let’s look at some different data, the British Crime Survey’s estimates of domestic abuse – again, a large and authoritative victim survey. This time I’ve mapped it against some stats for internet use. I realise they are global, not just UK, but they were the only ones I could find and it would stretch credibility to imagine the British trend has been notably different.DVdecline_graph

It is, as I said at the beginning, a conundrum. For decades we have been told authoritatively that exposure to pornography and the sexualisation of society causes people (or more commonly, men) to become rapists and abusers. And yet at a time when access to and consumption of pornography has increased exponentially, rates of sexual and interpersonal violence, including that against children have been plummeting according to pretty much every available measure.

For a long time, the mainstream feminist and political consensus has assured us that pornography leads to violence and abuse, and they can’t have been lying to us. Something else must be going on. Something has been happening, simultaneous to the pornographic revolution, which has had a powerful enough effect to not only cancel out the harms of porn, but push the overall rates of violence in precisely the opposite direction. So what is it? I propose to you that the answer is kittens. Yes, kittens.

It has been often observed that no matter what random words you type into Google image search, within the first few dozen results there will be a pornographic snap. What must be noted is that the precise same thing is true of pictures of kittens. Try it. What’s more, at least Google has a safe search option which significantly reduces your chances of encountering accidental porn, but there is no kitten filter. Once upon a time kittens were personal things, they lived in a cardboard box under our beds and if we took photos of them we would only rarely show them to special friends. If you wanted to buy a photo of a kitten you had to go to a specialist shop with a name like Athena. Now people are flashing them all over the internet without shame, even setting up webcams so complete strangers all over the world can coo over their kitties. They are ubiquitous, inescapable, and they have undoubtedly saved us from the horrors of Pornogeddon.

Is this credible? It must be. The only other explanation for the available data would be that actually the true causes of violent and sexual crime have little or nothing to do with exposure to erotic (or for that matter violent) media materials, and is much more to do with early socialisation, exposure to and experience of real world violence, emotional neglect, abuse and maltreatment within the family home. That theory would also be in keeping with the available data. Unfortunately it makes for less snappy and sexy soundbites. It’s just so much easier to blame the porn.

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There is a very real likelihood that economic conditions are combining with devastating cuts to services and legal aid to create heightened risk for victims of domestic violence.  It’s something that’s been worrying me and I suspect everyone else with an interest in the topic for several years now. So I’ve had my eyes open for evidence as to the impacts. The official figures for the year 2011/12 are due in January.

But a couple of weeks ago a few agency-based news sites appeared to be presenting some hard evidence.

From www.politics.co.uk

The recession is making domestic violence worse, statistics show.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) claimed to have found a statistical link between the economic downturn and an increase in domestic violence.

Domestic violence has increased by 17% over the period of the recession.

[snip]

In 2011, 2,174 assaults were reported each day in England and Wales – or three every two minutes.

The same statistics appeared this morning in Suzanne Moore’s column in the Guardian.

I wasn’t aware of any new releases from the ONS that could have informed these claims, so I did a bit of digging.

A helpful person at NCDV explained that the statistics had not come from them. They had released figures that their own caseload had increased by 19.6% during 2011, which is in its own right a worrying glimpse of the demands now placed on remaining services, but it offers no clue to the overall extent of domestic violence. (Most obviously, when some services are cut back or closed down, those that remain are likely to see a vastly increased demand.  Alternatively, more effective marketing or raised media profile can lead to an increase in calls and referrals for any one charity or service.)

So where does the claim of a 17% rise, equivalent to 2174 cases a day, come from? I searched on the figures and they appear to be drawn from a Daily Mirror report in July 2011, which quoted the precise same statistics in exactly the same terms. That piece was reporting a parliamentary answer given in Hansard the week before. In response to a question from Gloria de Piero MP, minister Lynne Featherstone released the most recent police reported crime figures. They cover four years, 06/07 – 09/10.

06/07                     07/08                     08/09                     09/10
671,374                 674,756                 766,047                 793,526

 

Although there was a slight rise between the first and second column, and between the third and fourth, the great proportion of the 17% jump happened in one year, between 07/08 and 08/09.

There are several things to note here. The first is that the figures stop in June 2010. So any suggestion that this is new research based on new data is clearly bogus. The second point is that while the global recession began in September 2008, most of the impacts upon the general public did not begin to be felt for months or even years after that. So while it is possible that the rise in domestic violence reports can be attributed to economic conditions, it would seem improbable.

The austerity programme of the current government, of course, did not begin until May 2010, so it has to be entirely irrelevant to these data.

Another point that will be of interest to many of those commenting on Suzanne Moore’s strictly female-focussed piece is that these numbers are total reports, not just women. (Typically police reports are about 10% male victims reporting female abusers.)

It is important to note that according to BCS, which is considered to be a much more reliable (though still far from perfect) guide to the actual incidence of violent crime, there was no rise in self-reported domestic violence in the year to 08/09.  The estimate of physical partner abuse victims (non-sexual) fell from 1,456,000 to 1,137,000 and partner sexual abuse from 541,000 to 466,000. These are big falls, not rises (in keeping with the trend of the past 15 years or so.)

You can always expect some disparity between the BCS trend and the reported crime figures, but the vast disparity in that year suggests to me that whatever was happening, it was unlikely to be a straightforward rise in the number of violent incidents. Could it have been an increased awareness? Was there some very effective public education campaign that year, or a particularly compelling soap storyline? That’s possible. Rather more likely is that there may have been changes in how police recorded their reports. Was there a change in policy as to what kinds of calls would be ‘no-crimed’? Were there any new guidelines introduced for police as to what should be classified as a domestic violence incident? I honestly do not know, but if any readers have theories, I’d be delighted to hear them.

As for the more immediate issue, I believe I can quite confidently state that there is no evidence that there has been a rise in domestic violence as a direct result of the current economic situation and austerity measures. That’s not to say such a rise hasn’t happened, in all honesty I still expect to be confronted with a grim reversal, and we may know much more in January.

In the meantime I’m not convinced it serves anyone well to propagate outdated and misleading statistical claims.

 

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Back in July, I wrote a blog entitled “A dangerous domestic violence myth is born,” which queried the claim made by journalists Alan Travis and Nick Cohen, and criminologist David Wilson, that the ongoing fall in the British homicide rate could be attributed to the simultaneous decline in the prevalence of domestic violence.

The piece was widely shared and republished elsewhere, and remains my most visited page on this blog. I also sent the link to the Travis, Cohen and Wilson, inviting them to respond. None of them did, but I had hoped that the false claim might have been nipped in the bud. I should have known better.

This week David Wilson returned to Comment is Free with his views on the horrific disappearance of April Jones. Before I go further, let me stress that I entirely agree with the meat of Wilson’s argument, which was that abduction-murder of children by strangers is exceptionally rare and should not distract us from the more immediate challenge of addressing violence and murder in the home, where the vast majority of child murders occur.

That said, there were claims made in the middle of his article which I found bafflingly detached from reality. Here’s the relevant section:

On average since the early 1970s, only six children per year have been abducted and murdered by strangers, and while that is still six children too many, this sad statistic is put into perspective when we remember that two children a week are murdered within the home.

But, here’s the good news – the numbers of murders are falling, and they are falling for one specific reason. Partly in response to pressure from campaigners, the police now treat domestic violence much more seriously than they once did. And if a man is hitting his female partner, it is probable that he will be physically, emotionally or sexually abusing his children too. So by insisting that the authorities take domestic violence seriously, we are protecting not only women, but children too.

Wilson uses the figure “only six children per year” abducted and murdered by strangers as a reassuringly low number. It struck me as quite astonishingly high. A check on Home Office crime figures reveals that over the past ten years, an average (mean) of eight children under the age of 16 have been murdered by strangers per year. The vast majority of those were not “abducted and murdered”, they  were victims of stabbings or beatings in parks or playgrounds, drive-by-shootings, deadly robberies and so on. It turns out there are no official statistics on kidnap-murders of the type we are discussing here, so we are dependant upon press reports. A quick (and very unscientific) trawl of Google news reports suggests to me that a more accurate estimate might be six per decade, not six per year.

As for the next statistic, that two children a week are murdered within the home, this turns out to be no more credible. On this we do have home office statistics.   Over the past decade, the number of children killed by a parent, carer or acquaintance averages 49, or fewer than one per week. It looks to me that, in trying to dispel myths, Wilson has vastly over-reported the risks of a child being murdered either by a sadistic kidnapper or by a family member.

I asked David Wilson for his source for these statistics over the magic of Twitter. He told me that his figures come from his own book, Innocence Betrayed, first published in 2002. I will take it on trust that the figures he quotes were once true, but I do find it disturbing that an article which purports to be about current trends depends upon data which turn out to be more than a decade old.

And then we come to my own personal bugbear, the claim that the numbers of murders are falling, and they are falling for one specific reason… the police now treat domestic violence much more seriously than they once did. And if a man is hitting his female partner, it is probable that he will be physically, emotionally or sexually abusing his children too.

There are so many flaws in this claim that it beggars belief. First, lets look at the implication that child homicides are committed by abusive men. The first factual problem here is that, unlike most violent crime, women do kill their children. Around a third of child homicides are committed by mothers (where it is an infant who dies, more than half the perpetrators are female). That alone blows a huge hole in Wilson’s hypothesis. Secondly, I’m unable to find any research that places child homicide typically in a wider pattern of domestic abuse. On the contrary, one of the distinguishing features of one subset of child killers, ‘family annihilators’  – men (usually) who kill their kids before committing suicide – is said to be that they rarely have a history of criminality and the families often appear to be stable and happy before the incident. Of course there are some cases of men who murder their children as part of a wider pattern of violence and abuse, but to attribute the child homicide rate to their behaviour alone is positively fanciful.

There is one final reason to be suspicious of a causative link between declining domestic abuse and the homicide rate of either children or intimate partners. The statistics simply don’t match the pattern.

I have graphed the total homicide rate over the past decade against the rates of both intimate partner deaths and child homicides.

Homicide rates 2001-2011

Homicide rates 2001-2011

Series 1 (blue) is the total murder rate since 2001. Series 2 (red) is the child homicide rate and Series 3 (green) shows intimate partner homicides (both male and female).  It does indeed show a significant decline in the homicide rate (if you’re wondering about the spike in 2002/3, it is explained by the 172 victims of Harold Shipman all being recorded that year). However the overall trend for both intimate partner  and child deaths remains stubbornly flat.

For illustration, I can map on the trend for domestic violence incidents, as recorded by the British Crime Survey. These are in thousands, but fit conveniently onto the same graph.

Homicide rates + domestic violence rates

Homicide rates + domestic violence rates

(Domestic violence incidents  in 000s in purple.) What this shows is that the domestic violence rate and the homicide rate follow a very similar pattern, but as we all know, correlation does not imply causation. I won’t bore you with stats and graphs, but the rates for interpersonal assault and other violent crimes follow a similar pattern. It would be reasonable to conclude that we,  as a society, and men in particular, are becoming less violent in all sorts of ways. This must not make us lose track of the fact that the great majority of victims of violent crime are nether women nor children, but adult males. The risk of violent death in the home for children and adults alike is not the outcome of this trend, on the contrary, it is a troubling exception.

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[The release of Hanna Rosin’s new book The End of Men has sparked a veritable inferno of comment and criticism. Regular readers shouldn’t be surprised to learn that I have a lot of thoughts about the book and accompanying commentary, and over the next week or two  I’ll spell them out in a series of blogs, here and elsewhere.]

—————————————————————————-

“The year is 2012. England, traditionally a land of heroes and great statesmen, is in the grip of a new regime. The country is being run by women. They are the breadwinners, the rulers. Their state police strike terror into the hearts of the subjugated male.  In short, the roles have been completely reversed: It is the man, not the woman, who now wears the frock.”

No, this is not the introduction to Hanna Rosin’s new book, The End of Men. It is in fact the opening of The Worm That Turned, a series of satirical sketches that first ran on the BBC in 1979. You should be able to tell them apart. One is an ridiculous dystopian fantasy peopled by domineering, violent, oversexed dominatrices and deploying hyperbole, sexist stereotyping and fanciful distortion to great comedic effect, while the other stars The Two Ronnies.

Yes, a cheap and easy shot, but not entirely undeserved. The very title The End of Men is so overblown the author apologises for it repeatedly through the book. The subtitle “…and the rise of women” is a far better reflection of the contents, but presumably might be expected to shift fewer units. Since the publicity machine began to roll on both sides of the Atlantic, informed critics have pointed out umpteen instances where factual and statistical claims are either misleading, cherry-picked to fit the narrative or downright false. The sociologist Philip N. Cohen has diligently unpicked her use of US social statistics and found them wanting, Stephanie Coontz has dug further into the economic stats, while  Mara Hvistendahl has done the same for Rosin’s claims about Asian (particularly South Korean) women.  That’s the quantitative side, the qualitative evidence has also been queried with this damning account by one of Rosin’s interviewees which suggests his experiences have been severely distorted to fit the narrative.

I’ll add one little credibility bomb of my own. In the chapter on the supposed increase in female violence and aggression, Rosin states baldly that:

“A recent British study found that women were three times more likely to be arrested for domestic violence [than men].”

From this you might reasonably assume that three times as many women as men are arrested for domestic violence in Britain. I recognised the study she references – it found that where a woman is identified as the primary offender in an incident, her chances of being arrested are three times higher. That tells you something about arresting policies of police officers, but literally nothing nothing about the prevalence of female violence.  (Actually it’s a bit more complicated than that, but never mind). In truth the study found that nine men are arrested for every one woman.

When you know that so many claims in the book are unreliable, it becomes very difficult to trust anything Rosin  says. That is frustrating, because had the research and statistics been reported accurately, the issues she wants to address would have been no less compelling. The relative underachievement of boys and men in education and employment is indeeed a hugely pressing concern. The changing roles of women in the workplace and family may be the most significant sociological phenomenon of our times. The impacts of changing gender roles upon criminality and sexual habits are fascinating.  This pudding has quite enough eggs already.

Rosin adopts the cloak of observer rather than polemicist. In the New York Times, Jennifer Homans criticised the book for being ‘carelessly apolitical‘ but I disagree – a Panglossian acceptance of the status quo is a political stance. A running theme through the book is that if women can learn the rules and play the game of turbocharged neoliberal capitalism, they can succeed in anything and everything. Rosin argues that the continuing predominance of men at the pinnacle of power – in politics, industry, business and culture – is the last gasp of patriarchy and destined to crumble. This betrays a spectacularly naive view of how true power is attained and retained. She also, perhaps unwittingly, suggests that if women of all social classes, nationalities and backgrounds are prepared to put up with sexual harassment and sexist environments in the workplace, sacrifice relationships with their partners and their children and work like huskies from dawn until midnight, then the world is their pearl-bearing oyster. I can’t be the only one to find this message less inspirational than deeply depressing. Parallel to this runs the implication that men’s underachievement is of their own making, not enough males are prepared to devote their lives to chasing every position, every promotion, every penny, whatever the cost to their personal lives. Rosin never explicitly states that modern men are just too lazy, but that is the portrait she paints. For women and men alike, the problem is not that we don’t know the rules of the game, but that the rules of the game stink.

Reappraising and reinventing our gender roles will be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Passing legislation against discrimination and introducing family friendly policies is the easy bit. Adapting our cultures, our identities, our social habits and our deeply entrenched beliefs about the nature and expression of gender will take far, far longer. The End of Men conveys a sigh of resignation about our newly configured world, when what is needed is an alarm call.  It is entirely unacceptable that generations of young men are considered increasingly  obsolete by economics, society and themselves. Rosin seems to recognise this problem while also contributing to it.

The year is 2012, and the worm has not yet turned, although it is certainly wriggling in some very interesting directions. For all its shortcomings, Rosin’s book should be welcomed as a spark to an essential discussion. This is not the End of Men, but it may be the beginning of a vitally important debate.

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Last week the Independent ran a major series of articles on the issue of incarcerated mothers, and the impact of imprisonment on their children.

I’ve always been a strong advocate of prison reform. The old saw about prison being an expensive way of making bad people worse may be a cliché, but is no less true for that. Ludicrous numbers of defendants are remanded in custody pre-trial. The social harm caused by issuing short sentences to non-violent offenders vastly outweighs any deterrent or rehabilitatory benefits,while research into the personal characteristics of prisoners confirms that, for many inmates, prison is not so much a place for punishment and correction as one checkpoint on a circuit of that begins with childhood neglect, abuse and institutionalisation and continues through mental health problems, addiction, homelessness and exploitation. Mass imprisonment is less about individual failings than a succession of social policy calamities.

So I do not oppose efforts made in the wake of the Corston Report, to overhaul policies relating to the imprisonment of women. What I ask is that the same logic be applied to the imprisonment of men. I’m very grateful that the Independent blog editors gave me the platform to make that point at length yesterday.

In that article I point out that in fact only 20% of female prisoners are resident mothers, while the many known harms caused to children of prisoners are taken from research which, overwhelmingly, relates to imprisoned fathers, not mothers. The assumption that ‘woman’ equals ‘mother’ equals ‘loving, responsible carer’ is not only inaccurate but sexist, while the implicit corollary, that male prisoners are less deserving of sympathy and compassion, is little better.

There was one other point from the Independent series which I let pass in my response piece, but frankly it has been bugging me, so I’m going to cover it here. In the piece about grandmothers left (literally) holding the baby, Paul Vallely and Sarah Cassidy note that:

“When a father is jailed, it is likely that his children will remain in their own home with their mother. But only 9 per cent of children whose mothers are jailed are cared for by their fathers. That is, in part, a reflection of the widespread dereliction of duty among many fathers.”

In the Indy leader that launched the series, the anonymous leader writer went further:

“Indeed, it is a staggering indictment of modern fatherhood that only 9 per cent of such children are looked after by their fathers.”

A staggering indictment of modern fatherhood. Really, Independent?

We know from the same article that a third of those fathers are themselves in prison. The survey which produced that statistic didn’t explain the circumstances of the other two thirds. The partners of female prisoners will very commonly share their chaotic lifestyles and troubled personal histories, so without estimating numbers, I’d bet my last penny that the various situations will include:

  • Fathers who were never known or identified
    Fathers who are homeless, in psychiatric institutions or dead.
    Fathers who have been excluded by the mother’s choice to end the relationship.
    Fathers who are violent or abusive and need to be kept away from mother and children alike.
    Fathers who have abandoned their responsibilities and ‘done a runner.’

In addition, and this is a statistical equation you may need to wrap your head around, we know that mothers in a stable relationship are regularly spared custody or longer sentences by magistrates as they are considered the ‘primary carer’ of their children – even if a father is at hand. Without this mitigation, the number of women in prison would be much higher, and so too would the proportion for whom a father takes over responsibility for the kids. (To be clear, I don’t disagree with this policy, on the contrary I’d extend it to fathers and make the policy gender neutral. But it does help to explain the 9 per cent figure)

Yes, of course some of the partners of women in prison are undoubtedly irresponsible or a danger to their children. However those men are no more typical of “modern fatherhood” than the female prisoners are of “modern motherhood.” The fathers, like the mothers, are likely to be living lives that are twisted by addiction, mental health problems, tragic childhoods and all the rest. Can you imagine an Independent editorial saying: “it is a staggering indictment of modern motherhood that half the women in prison are drug addicts and two-thirds do not live with and care for their own children”? It would be crazy, suggesting that such women are somehow typical of the general population. The same assertion can be made about fathers without so much as a blink. Whatever the 9 per cent figure might tell us about prison populations, it tells us literally nothing about “modern fatherhood” far less being a “staggering indictment.”

This type of low-level casual misandry is tiresome and toxic. I believe it is also emblematic of the fundamental logical and political flaws in the debate around women’s prisons. The unthinking assumption is that a woman’s lack of responsibility, anti-social behaviour or criminality invariably means she’s a victim of social circumstance, whereas a man’s lack of responsibility, anti-social behaviour or criminality is a product of his personal weakness or venality. Neither assumption gives an accurate or satisfactory picture of the depressingly messy lives of prison populations, whatever the gender.

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Anyone who follows debates around the statistics on intimate partner violence will know that there are plenty of myths, legends and zombies in circulation. Some of them go back decades. As a seasoned observer of such things, it feels like something of an honour to watch as a new myth is born before our eyes.

Yesterday the official homicide statistics were released by the Office of National Statistics. In keeping with the trend of previous years, there has been another fall in the murder rate, which is great news of course. The manifold reasons and explanations as to why the murder and homicide rate might be falling are complex, and I won’t even begin to cover them here. But in breaking the news for the Guardian, home affairs editor Alan Travis picked up on one explanation, which apparently originates with the ONS head of crime stats,

John Flatley, the ONS head of crime statistics, said two-thirds of murders involved partners or former partners or other kinds of family killing.

I don’t know where this quote was taken from, it is curious that it appears to be a paraphrase rather than a direct quote (ie there are no quotation marks). But pay attention to the phrase “or other kinds of family killing.”

Give or take the havoc caused by the occasional serial killer or spree killer, trends in homicide statistics are surprisingly consistent. The details of the latest homicide statistics won’t be published until January, but unless something truly unprecedented and spectacular has occurred, I’ll assume they follow the same trend as in previous years. For the past decade at least, slightly more than two thirds of murder victims are known to their killer – they are family members, household members, friends or acquaintances, and I would presume this is the category to which John Flatley was referring.

But as so often when journalists report statistics, a game of Whisper Down the Lane has occurred. (Yes, that is the approved, politically correct name for the old kids’ game, according to my own personal PC guru – my 10 year old son in a multicultural primary school.)

Travis’s report was discussed on Comment is Free by the normally scrupulously dependable criminologist Professor David Wilson, who said:

If the vast majority of murders come from within the home, it’s in changes to domestic life and policy that we find the most important factors behind the fall in the murder rate. Compared to 30 years ago, domestic violence is now treated as a far more serious crime.

Wilson goes on to praise innovative domestic violence interventions and adds:

The authorities are not only more aware of violence against women and children in the home but are now more willing to intervene with families earlier to prevent violence escalating.

Meanwhile over at the Spectator, Nick Cohen goes further, praising the success of feminism for the fall in murder rates.

My old friend Alan Travis of the Guardian explains the decline by pointing out that two thirds of murders involve a (nearly always male) partner abusing his (nearly always female) partner or ex-partner. Crime has fallen because society’s attitudes to domestic violence have changed utterly.

All of this would be wonderful if true. Unfortunately it isn’t.

The number of women killed by partners or ex partners over the past decade has hovered very consistently around the 100 per year mark. In 2010/11 there were 94. Since 2001 we’ve had a high mark of 117 and a low mark of 80 (in 07/08), but the overall trend is static.

I repeat, the figures up to June 2012 have yet to be released, but the only way the overall drop of 86 homicides could be explained by a fall in the number of female DV deaths would be for the number of women killed by their partners to have fallen to very nearly zero. If that is true, I’ll be celebrating with the best of them, while gobbling chapeau sandwich.

The whopping great mistake in all these reports (which may or may not originate with the ONS themselves) is to include ‘friends and acquaintances’ as domestic violence casualties. They’re not. Many of these ‘acquaintances’ may be rival drug dealers, for example.  In fact, in 2010/11, the “friends and acquaintances” category was by far the largest subset of the group, accounting for 204 murders – more than twice as many as female DV victims. Every previous year shows the same pattern. The full category also includes children killed by parents; parents (including elderly relatives)  killed by their children; sibling murders; husbands killed by wives and various ‘other’ combinations. Rather than accounting for over two thirds of murders as Cohen claims, in 2010/11 only 17% of homicides were women being murdered by their partners.

The most depressing part of this is not the factual inaccuracy, but that the myth being created is actively dangerous for women. The sad truth is that domestic violence deaths are the one major category of homicide statistics that are bucking the trend on violent crime. They are not falling – they are remaining stubbornly persistent.

Domestic violence services of all sorts are facing horrific cutbacks from local and national government and drop in charitable funding. These services are needed as much today as ever. It is horrifying to think that the establishment readers of the Spectator might reassure themselves with the thought that the need for intervention is less than it was. Cohen’s celebration of feminist achievement is premature, ill-judged and does no one any favours.

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In 1984 a poultry farmer called Sun Guiying became the first Chinese peasant to buy her own car. I still recall the government-authorised photos of her, standing with her family in front of their shiny Toyota. Now we can look back on her beaming smile as a watershed in global economic history. Recently Forbes reported that Chinese women are queuing up to buy luxury sports cars. A third of China’s millionaires are women, and there are now three times as many Maseratis and twice as many Ferraris sold in that country as in the west. Hold that thought.

In a interview with Caitlin Moran published in Slate magazine today, we were told that only one percent of the world’s wealth is owned by women.  It’s a familiar claim. It can also be found in the introduction to Kat Banyard’s Equality Illusion, and last year, in a sobering open letter to mark the recent International Women’s Day, singer Annie Lennox, a UN Ambassador for Women, reminded us of the full version: “women do two-thirds of the world’s work for a paltry 10 per cent of the world’s income, and own just 1% of the means of production.”

I use the word ‘reminded’ with care, because we’ve heard this claim before. It’s been used on previous International Women’s Days, and is regularly quoted by the UN, the World Bank, or anyone who takes their information from that source. Lennox’s letter was printed in dozens of leading national newspapers around the world, and according to Google on the relevant day it was re-published on the internet 10,800 times in 24 hours. So it must be true. Must it not?

Perhaps it was once. The claim goes back to before the first days of the internet, before the earliest of online archives. Indeed you can trace right back to the programme notes for the UN Women’s Conference, Copenhagen, 1980, which references a 1978 International Labour Organisation paper which was no more specific than “according to some estimates…”

Suppose it was once true, back in the mid to late seventies. Could it be that with everything that has happened in the past 30+ years, the massive expansion of the female workforce in the developed world, the economic growth of China and India, the economic liberalisation of Russia and Eastern Europe, all this has made precisely zero difference to the global average wealth of women? It seems unlikely to say the least.

The American sociologist Philip N Cohen has been tracking what he calls the “1%” meme for years. He has dedicated considerable effort to establishing whether the claim could be true.

When we think of the number of dirt-poor, destitute women in the world, you might think it seems credible. But wait. The vast bulk of the world’s wealth is concentrated in a tiny number of hands; hands that include the likes of Lillian Bettancourt, Elizabeth Windsor and Oprah Winfrey. Indeed, Cohen has calculated that just one small specific group – single American women – hold between 1.6% and 3% of the world’s wealth between them. So even if the entire net wealth of the world’s married women, all European, Chinese and Japanese women, every other woman on the planet were precisely zero, the figure still could not be true.

When the World Bank launched its World Development report last Autumn, President Robert Zoellick used the stat in his speech, even though it does not appear in the report itself. Nonetheless the Wall Street Journal and others reported it as if it did.

If the world’s most powerful economic body won’t kill off this zombie, who will? There is plenty of valid, incontrovertible evidence as to the economic, social and political repression of many women in many parts of the world. Depending upon 30 year old factoids of dubious provenance doesn’t make the case for global women’s liberation, it casts a cloud of doubt over even the most reliable statistics. It also traps the debate like a fly in amber, oblivious to genuine progress, change and achievement. Meanwhile the achievements and stories of so many women around the world, those who have followed in the footsteps of Sun Guiying, are erased from the picture, with little remaining but the fading memory of a smile.

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