Shifting the Gaze…

Image courtesy of Simon Howden

As I am about to pack my bags and head to another summit on how to keep women and children safe from violence I begin to wonder when will I attend a summit on how to stop perpetrator violence.

While the term male violence comes loaded with trolling from men’s rights activists we know that the data clearly shows the vast, vast majority of  perpetrators of domestic violence are from male intimate partners. While this has been documented and substantiated time and time again the now defunct ABC Fact Check arm was still asked to examine whether this was true.

Their results even handedly stated;

Fact Check’s survey of domestic violence data in Australia showed that one in six women and one in 20 men have experienced at least one incidence of violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15.

However, the national dataset is not able to identify the frequency or severity of victims’ experience of violence, a shortcoming that could obscure substantial differences in how men and women experience of domestic violence in Australia.

Yet even with this in mind it can be argued that repeated violence is experienced by women in their home. While for men, as their research uncovered, are more likely to experience violence outside the home with other men.

In an article for InDaily I noted that if we were to get serious about tackling domestic violence we needed to address what is at the heart of it – male violence.

And as Dr Sarah Wendt said:

“I actually think we really need to be honest about who’s perpetrating this violence and it is predominantly men…We need to be looking at men’s violence, naming it as men’s violence and therefore understanding it and how we reduce and eliminate (it).”

Last year I attended Adelaide’s White Ribbon breakfast, apparently the largest in the country with 1200 packed in to the Convention Centre to hear Rosie Batty speak. And as I looked around the room I saw the majority of attendees were women. Even my own table of ten people had only two men on it. At $65 a head it is not a cheap bacon and eggs, and with such a high attendance it is clearly a significant fundraiser. Coupled with paid accreditation and donations White Ribbon is one of the most effective awareness raising organisations in the country and with a net revenue of $3.6m in 2014-15 you could call it a successful enterprise.

But how do you measure success?

Changing attitudes is a slow and long process. And while changing attitudes in young men will not see an impact on domestic violence for another generation, 14% of their work is in changing workplace attitudes with men in the private and public sector. In that financial year 60 organisations and 230,000 people began that process – or almost 1% of the Australian population.

In my three years as a board member for a women’s domestic violence service I have seen White Ribbon grow from strength to strength. More men now, than ever before, are wearing that White Ribbon on their lapel and taking the oath to stop violence against women. Yet what strikes me is that the demand for our service has not fallen, we are still averaging around 400 women a week in emergency accomodation of one kind or another in Adelaide alone. That number has not fallen in three years, in fact it has gone up.

So where is this disconnect?

I have looked at men’s perpetrator programs for The Wire and it is complex work. You are dealing with cohesion, power, control and victim blaming. Attitudes that are entrenched and do not go away with a six week program. When I asked how do they measure success no one could really answer me.

Is a successful perpetrator program one where a man leaves his ex-partner alone and never harasses her again or is it when the demand for our service has completely dried up?

Until we address the heart of the problem this crisis will not go away.

And whenever we hit a crisis we see government’s create new portfolios, the Minister for Child Protection, the Minister for Water Security etc. Perhaps now is the time we had a Minister for Perpetrators.