Domestic abuse and PHMT: The Problem

In the second in a series of posts examining perceptions and attitudes about the gendered nature of domestic violence, EYE consider why Greenwich Council’s negative stereotyping of fathers is a problem.

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Under the circumstances, it may sound a bit rich but I’m personally not in favour of the increasingly censorious / fainting couch / politically correct culture in the UK where things are withdrawn or banned at the first sign of someone taking offence.

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I reckon that most dad’s will have a thick enough skin to take any offence caused by Greenwich Council’s ‘anti dad’ domestic abuse poster squarely on the chin. That said, I also believe that the extremely clumsy and negative stereotyping is symptomatic of a much bigger and jarringly obvious problem, both in terms of how men are perceived by many domestic abuse professionals and, more broadly, how they are treated by public bodies who are disproportionally funded by their hard earned taxes. Which is why I thought it was worth complaining about.

In fairness, many people working directly with victims of domestic abuse have argued that such a message can be entirely justified because the hard cold fact of the matter is that men are overwhelmingly more likely to be the perpetrators of domestic violence.

On the face of it, there’s a pretty strong argument to back up this position given that Home Office statistics show that two women are killed by partners / ex partners every weeks, that women are much more likely to be seriously injured as a consequence of domestic abuse and that the vast majority of people prosecuted for violent crimes are men.

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Greenwich Council appear to have fully committed to this narrative, to the extent that they didn’t even bother consulting any father’s groups, let alone the main organisation campaigning for the rights of male domestic abuse victims. In fact, whilst they did consult quite a lot of people, the only group of men they they talked to were those convicted of perpetrating domestic violence.

An oversight which means that, if challenged, their decision to proceed with the campaign has the potential to be declared unlawful by reason of a failure to meet their public sector equality duty (PSED) under s.149 of the Equality Act 2010.  Not to mention leaving them exposed to the much more serious accusation of breaching of their statutory duty to protect service users in their Borough from blatent sex discrimination.

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The Equality Act 2010 encourages public bodies to carry out (fair) consultation exercises to ensure they meet their duty to adequately take into account how their decisions affect people specifically protected under Equality legislation.  For the uninitiated protected groups currently includes gay men, disabled men, elderly men, young men, men from ethnic minorities, religious men and believe it or not, men in general.

To use the not entirely accessible language of bureaucrats, they are required to show ‘due regard’ to anyone potentially affected by their decision.  The main reason for this is to help them identify if their decision indirectly discriminates against any protected groups.  If it does this would trigger a much broader duty to ensure that their ultimate action can be seen as a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.

In other words, if men with children who don’t beat their partners could reasonably be offended by a poster suggesting that they are the main perpetrators of domestic violence, then the Council are supposed to ask the question: is there a less discriminatory way (or indeed more effective way) of achieving their entirely commendable aim of trying to protect children and vulnerable adults from incidences of domestic abuse?

For what it’s worth, in my humble subjective opinion, their poster is an example of the sort of lazy stereotyping and direct discrimination that would ordinarily cause public outrage in 2015 if it were directed at any other grouping protected from discrimination by the UK Equality Act.

My argument is simple. The very vast majority of dads in this country don’t abuse their family and the most common type of domestic violence children are likely to witness is actually a reciprocal cycle of dysfunctional and abusive behaviour involving both partners.

John Comber, Greenwich’s CEO respectfully disagrees.  In a spirit of human kindness let’s for now simply ignore the overwhelming (but seemingly politically unwelcome evidence) that the most common manifestation of domestic violence is bi-directional and instead focus only on the data that Greenwich base their defence on.

Over and above their own internal data, Greenwich’s assessment that fathers are the main perpetrators of domestic violence is informed by research from the domestic abuse charity Safelives.

In fairness, Safelives estimate that approximately 100,000 people are at high risk of being murdered or serious injury and that the vast majority in this group are women.

But before we hang our anti dad posters with pride, it’s only fair to also acknowledge that Safelives report that people under 25 are most likely to suffer partner violence and the average age of fathers in the UK is now 32 years and six months.

Safelives also estimate that 2.1 million people in England & Wales experience domestic abuse each year and that 1 in 3 of those victims are male.  This is based on ONS Crime Survey data for England and Wales which actually reports that a higher percentage of married men (2.3%) experience domestic violence than married women (1.8%) and also confirms research showing that men are significantly less likely to report incidents or perceive themselves as victims when experiencing domestic violence. 

So in reality, Mr Comber’s assessment that the majority of incidents are currently committed by men becomes a pretty dismissive disingenuous defence when the broader picture is considered.  In reality the proportion of convicted ‘wife beaters’ within the overall ‘dad population’ is tiny.

I don’t have access to the Council’s internal data so perhaps it significantly bucks the national average.  Trends will vary from region to region, for example in Northern Ireland police data tracking 10 years of domestic killings showed a surprisingly high proportion of male victims. Northern Ireland has had public sector duties since last century, so perhaps that says something about something.

To put Greenwich’s poster into some context recent Metropolitan Police statistics showed that the majority of street crimes in London are committed by black people but you’d need to be an idiot or a racist to sign off on a public service campaign politely asking any black people thinking about snatching someone else’s property to ‘call this number and get some help‘.

More importantly the message the poster promotes is indicative of a simplistic and, frankly, biased view of domestic abuse promoting the popular perception that men should only seen as perpetrators.  Victims who think they won’t be believed or worse are doubly damned and unlikely to seek help, a reality which ultimately undermines such politically expedient efforts to protect children from exposure to violence, no matter how well intentioned they may be.

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The charities core funded to deliver key aspects of the Home Office’s Violence Against Women & Girls strategy recognise that abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual.  They also estimate that the majority of incidents will go unreported, let alone prosecuted.

They acknowledge that Home Office statistics estimate that over 2 million people experience domestic abuse every year and use data such as this to argue for more resources for the services they will provide exclusively to women.

Sadly they are much less inclined to acknowledge the 0.8 million men in that number, or the two men killed by their partner or ex-partner every month or the research that repeatedly shows that the most common type of abuse involves reciprocal behaviour, i.e a cycle of physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual violence involving both partners.

In my experience any attempt to highlight this is either criticised as dangerous, because it may somehow undermine services helping vulnerable women and children, or attacked and ridiculed using childish ‘not all men’ type rhetoric or accusing the messenger of blatant mysogony.

Let’s face it who wants to risk being branded a mysoginst in this brave new politically correct world we all live in?

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And perhaps that’s part of the problem. If we take Greenwich Council’s word that they genuinely do view domestic violence as a ‘gender neutral issue’, then perhaps it’s possible that they simply calculated that a poster directed at ‘parents’ may have drawn much more criticism from social media savvy feminists, thus causing them a great deal more trouble than a handful of dads could ever hope to do in 2015.  After all it’s only been a few months since sexist Sussex Police got their collars felt.

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Ultimately, we simply want to stop domestic violence and if our campaign encourages just one more victim to come forward and seek support, or one more perpetrator to stop and think about how they can change their ways, then I am sure we would both agree that that is a positive outcome. John Comber CEO

So better dads take it on the chin once again than spend a few more minutes trying to come up with an effective message that show’s due regard to all of their stakeholders, regardless of how loud they can shout or how much fear they can generate in the hearts of public servants behind closed doors.

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And while we’re on the subject of closed doors, lest’s take a look at the sort of services these type of campaigns are offering the average rate payer….

Next | The Hope Bench

For the Uninitiated: PHMT

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