Challenging claims about gendered violence

The increase in the numbers of women being proceeded against by police in Australia for violence related assault is probably due to a number of factors.

First, men are probably becoming more willing to report women’s violence against them. We know that men have historically been up to three times less likely than women to report the violence they experience [1]. Perhaps this is starting to change.

Second, police appear to be applying the law more fairly and justly. In the past it was the largely the case that whenever police attended a family violence scene, the man was arrested by default, based on nothing more than his sex. More recently some police have started addressing this discriminatory gender bias and have been arresting perpetrators of violence not simply on the basis of their sex, but on the evidence before them. We note that this does not yet occur across the board: the ‘old school of thought’ still exists in some police circles where male victims are told to ‘just get over it’. More training of officers around this issue is still required.

Third, the socialization of young women appears to have changed. Young women are increasingly likely to consume alcohol at harmful levels. There was a doubling in the rate between 1998-99 and 2005-06 of hospital admission for intoxication for women aged 15-24 [2]. Young women also appear to be increasingly likely to use violence (especially when inebriated). Numerous recent news stories have reported on this phenomenon:

A Sydney Morning Herald article [3] in August 2009 reported that in 2006, police in Victoria were called to more than 3500 family violence incidents in which children were the perpetrators. One in three involved girls, mostly aged 12 to 17. Police also revealed that attacks by boys against their parents rose 19 per cent between 2003 and 2007, but attacks perpetrated by teenage girls grew 30 per cent in the same period.

A Daily Telegraph article [4] in June 2009 reported that the number of women who have been charged with domestic violence-related assault in NSW has soared by 159 per cent over the past eight years. The figures, from the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics, show 2336 women faced court on charges of domestic violence in 2007, mainly for bashing their husbands, compared with just 818 in 1999. Although the number of women prosecuted for general assault remained stable between 1999 and 2007, there was an increase of 11 per cent a year in the number of women prosecuted for domestic violence. During the same period, domestic violence charges against men rose by 2.3 per cent a year.

Recent Nine News articles reported on two incidents of extreme female violence in just one small corner of South East Queensland, over a 12-hour period on July 14, 2011. In the first [5], a 19-year-old woman was charged with murder after allegedly running her car into her boyfriend and crushing him against a house in Brisbane, following a dispute over a pet. She fled the scene and was apprehended on the Gold Coast. The man was on crutches at the time with an injury. In the report, family members said their relationship had always been volatile. A charge of drink driving against the woman was upgraded to one of murder. In the second incident a woman attacked her partner, firemen, paramedics and the media in the street during a house blaze. Her partner reported he had gone to see a doctor to get stitches in his head after she head-butted him, and when he returned, found the house ablaze and he was attacked again.

“She not only destroyed me when we were together, but stopping me from seeing the kids – my life was not worth living then” ~ Steve


It would certainly make sense that female violence is on the rise, because on top of the age-old schoolyard rule that “boys shouldn’t hit girls,” we have had forty years of anti-violence campaigns telling people that only male violence against women is wrong. Just a few examples of recent campaigns include the Federal Government’s Violence Against Women: Australia Says No campaign, the NT Government’s Stop the Hurting, Start the Healing campaign, the Tasmanian Government’s Safe at Home: Tasmania campaign, the SA Government’s Don’t Cross the Line campaign and the Federally-funded White Ribbon Campaign. We haven’t yet seen a single government-funded campaign in Australia telling people that female violence is just as wrong.

Males make up at least one in three victims of family violence in Australia. Some will argue that, while this may be the case, there are differences between the male and female experience of family violence, specifically that:

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  • Men’s perpetration of intimate partner violence is more severe, and more likely to inflict severe injury
  • Women’s perpetration of intimate partner violence is more likely to be in self-defense or a pre-emptive strike against a violent male partner
  • Men’s violence towards women is most often an attempt to control, coerce, humiliate or dominate by generating fear and intimidation, while women’s intimate partner violence is more often an expression of frustration in response to their dependence or stress, or their refusal to accept a less powerful position
  • Men who are violent in intimate relationships typically underreport their violence
  • Male victims of intimate partner violence are far less likely to be afraid or intimidated than female victims.


These claims are not supported by reliable data. [7] To summarize:

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  • Overall, women are injured more than men, but men are injured too, and often seriously
  • The overall physical and psychological effects of intimate partner violence are similar for men and women
  • Women and men who use intimate partner violence hurt their partners in similar ways (kicking, biting, punching, choking, stabbing, burning, etc), however men are as likely or significantly more likely than women to experience assaults using a weapon
  • Men and women bear similar intentions when using intimate partner violence, leading to similar results when their average differences in physical strength are taken into account (such as when weapons are used)
  • Children witnessing intimate partner violence by either their fathers or their mothers are more likely to grow up to use violence themselves
  • Self-defense is cited by women as the reason for their use of intimate partner violence (including severe violence such as homicide) in a small minority of cases (from 5 to 20 per cent)
  • In a study where self-defense was given as a reason for women’s use of intimate partner violence in a large number of cases (42 per cent), it was cited as a reason for men’s intimate partner violence more often (56 per cent)
  • Reciprocal partner violence (which makes up approximately 50 per cent of all intimate partner violence and is the most injurious to women) does not appear to be only comprised of self-defensive acts of violence
  • Men and women initiate intimate partner violence (both minor and severe) at around the same rates and women are equally likely or more likely to perpetrate violence against a non-violent partner


Being totally defeated and too frightened to leave my son alone with this monster, I remained and capitulated ~ Peter

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  • Dominance by either partner is a risk factor for intimate partner violence (both minor & severe). It is the injustices and power struggles that are associated with inequality in relationships that give rise to violence, not just the inequality of male dominance
  • Both husbands and wives who are controlling are more likely to produce injury and engage in repeated violence
  • Coercion (control and domination) is a frequently cited reason by women for their own use of intimate partner violence, and by male victims for their partner’s use of intimate partner violence
  • Even in research samples selected for high rates of male aggression (such as shelter samples), women sometimes report using comparative frequencies of controlling behavior
  • In a large recent Canadian study, victimization by repeated, severe, fear-inducing, instrumental violence (often called intimate terrorism) was reported by 2.6 per cent of men and 4.2 per cent of women in the last five years. Equivalent injuries, use of medical services, and fear of the abuser were also discovered, regardless of the sex of the perpetrator and the victim
  • Both sexes tend to over-report minor acts of violence they commit, under-report serious acts they commit, and over-report serious acts they suffer
  • The same results are obtained regarding the relative frequency of men’s and women’s violence regardless of whether men or women are the ones being questioned
  • Males are taught by sex-role conditioning not to admit fear, making it appear that women are more fearful simply because they report fear more freely than men
  • Women and men have different perceptions of danger and use fear-scales quite differently. Women are twice as likely as men to fear death from a partner, when the actual probability of being killed is the same. Women may over-react to objective threat, while men probably under-react
  • Men have rarely had their fear of female violence assessed. One of the few studies to do this found that a substantial minority of male victims of intimate partner violence feared their partner’s violence and were stalked. Over half the men were fearful that their partners would cause them serious injury if they found out that he had called the domestic violence helpline.


In my relationship with Deborah, I didn’t like to admit that I was scared – in fact it took me a long time to admit that I felt scared and was affected by her abuse. That admission was challenging to my own identity as a male. I could not even admit to my close and supportive friends how much her behavior was hurting me. ~Mervyn

Sexual Profiling of Offenders and Victims

Of much concern is that the Key Objects of the NSW Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 state that “domestic violence is predominantly perpetrated by men against women and children.” As you have seen from the above statistics, this statement is clearly not supported by the available data with regard to adult victims of family violence. And as far as children go, the main perpetrators of child abuse, neglect and homicide are not men, but women [8].

This amounts to sexual profiling of offenders and victims in NSW family violence legislation. Gender or racial profiling of offenders in legislation violates Australia’s international human rights obligations since it creates a bias in the minds of judges and magistrates that a particular class of defendants is more likely to be guilty by reason of his or her sex or race than would be the case if he or she were of a different sex or race (and likewise the other sex more likely to be innocent). A society that condones family violence conditional upon the sex or ethnicity of the victim is not the kind of society in which we want our children to grow up.

To make a protection (i.e. freedom from violence) through government law dependent on the victim’s gender could be construed as violating some of the most fundamental and cherished principles of international human rights law. Articles 2, 4 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Australia became a party in 1980, and which in turn reflect the rights set out in Articles 2, 7, and 16 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are quite explicit and uncompromising in prohibiting discrimination based on sex. Article 26 of the ICCPR, in particular, guarantees “to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as, inter alia, sex”.



[3] See






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