Commissioner Ken Lay’s Professional Misconduct

Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay gave an emotive and hyperbolic speech, titled  “Breaking the pattern of family violence is everyone’s responsibility” at the November 26 National Press Club session on Elimination of Violence Against Women. The audience acknowledged it with much tearful head nodding as Lay portrayed desparately crowded women’s shelters overflowing with “the bruised battered and raped.”  It’s worth reading the transcript before proceeding.

Describing the “size of the problem” he reiterated Stott Despoja’s one-sided citation of the Australian Data and echoed UN claims of an epidemic of violence against women whilst ignoring the fact the world wide men are more frequent victims of violence and account for 80% the deaths from violence.

Citing police statistics on calls to DV  “incidents”  Lay fails to elaborate on the breakdown by gender of perpetrator or other demographics. Not surprisingly the full Victoria Police report on Crime Statistics 2012/2013 is no more informative when it comes to “family incidents” despite gender breakdown being presented in aggregate and individually for most other “crimes against the person.”

Recently the Herald Sun Newspaper obtained statistics that indicate 21% of these incidents involved a male victim, not an insignificant proportion, considering the systemic and institutionalised bias against male victims in Victoria.

He supplemented those obscurations with the following statement:

 “For Australian female GPs*, a recent survey found that 50% had been sexually assaulted.”

*GPs are General Medical Practitioners, often termed Family Physicians in the Americas.

Really Ken? Where did you get that data?

Most likely from popular media coverage of a survey of female GP’s exposure to sexual harassment, not sexual assault, a distinction one might expect a police commissioner to comprehend.

The mainstream media reported on a small survey described in a letter to the editor in the October 2013 edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.  It was not submitted as an original research paper, which would need to be more significant in its scope and pass more rigorous standards of peer review.  The letter was based on responses to a survey of female GP’s only, offered a $20 gift card to participate and attracting a mere 180 respondents from the 600 canvassed (a 30% response rate) hardly representative of the 25,000 plus GP workforce. The letter remains restricted access behind the MJA paywall making fact checking more difficult for the public. [1]

Most tellingly the letter provided absolutely no context for the incidents reported.  Doctor’s encounters (just as police encounters) sometimes involve unpleasant, angry, difficult, intoxicated, mentally ill, upset, obnoxious, sexist and inappropriate and even grubby people.  As a GP and longstanding supervisor of GP registrars in training my observations tell me that such traits are not gender specific nor are they only experienced by only one gender in practice.

More substantive gender inclusive research such as this 2005 open access study found that found 63 % of GP’s have experienced violence in the previous 12 months including some serious physical assaults (2.7%). Notably the study examined the clinical setting, perpetrator and doctor characteristics to give a more nuanced picture of the challenges facing health care workers in dealing with such clients.

Is the conflation of harassment with assault and elevating the findings a small non-representative gendered survey to national prominence in a keynote speech a simple error or a deliberate misrepresentation? You decide, but it’s not the first time Lay has spruiked this figure and I doubt we will see a correction from him any time soon.

Commissioner Lay relates a story of a young policeman confronted with a female victim of longstanding intimate terrorism.  As distinct from common couple violence that is most often bidirectional, intimate terrorism is the most severe but least common form of domestic violence.  Still if you wish to embellish and polarise the domestic violence issue, painting all victims as women experiencing the most severe variety of abuse, following the use of a statistic that one in three women are victims is a good place to start.

By the way, despite the scarcity of research into male victims of intimate terrorism a ground-breaking study by Denise Hines of Clark University in 2010 suggests that as with other forms of DV it is a gender symmetrical problem. These disturbing cases from the UK are certainly consistent; along with the most recent British Crime Survey that finds married men are more commonly victims of domestic abuse than married women.

Addressing “victim blaming” Lay tracks back more than a decade to cite an example the tragic child kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.  A 14-year-old girl, kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused by a married couple that paraded their victim in public with her face covered whilst police mounted an intense operation to locate her.  I immediately saw the similarities between this case and that of an adult woman, trying to escape an abusive relationship, confined to her suburban concentration camp, by a patriarchal power and control freak, unbeknown to the authorities.  Perhaps the fact that there was a male and female perpetrator in the Smart case escaped commissioner Lay or perhaps it just was assumed that the women had no agency or culpability for her actions.

Kens ultimate message is that women should be told, “I believe you” when they report domestic violence. However it is certainly not the State of Victoria or the Victorian Police Services policy that male victims be believed. According to State Law, Judicial Guidelines and Police Policy if male victims even exist they must be exceptionally rare. In fact it is not difficult to conclude that the authorities attitude is one that deliberately attempts to justify, excuse, minimise and hide the existence and experience of male victims of DV.  Meanwhile female accusers are granted protective orders without proof of wrongdoing and routinely use these to gain leverage in family court and child custody matters.

The Victorian Family Violence Protection Act 2008 is the legislation governing the approach to family violence in Victoria, the preamble to the act makes this unsubstantiated claim:

In enacting this Act, the Parliament also recognises the following features of family violence (a) that while anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of family violence, family violence is predominantly committed by men against women, children and other vulnerable persons;

This falsehood enshrined in law contradicts the contemporary research on partner abuse, child abuse, and abuse as experienced in the LGBTI community.

Women for example have long been known to be the predominate demographic responsible for child abuse, a fact Australia has since the mid 1990’s attempted to conceal by not releasing data on the gender of child abusers, rather using non gendered terms such as parent, step-parent, caregiver etc.  Requests for release of such data under freedom of information legislation have been repeatedly refused but in one rare case when Western Australia released such information it confirmed what always has been known in other western countries.

The Victoria Police Code of Practice for Investigation of Family Violence echoes the Family Violence Protection Act; despite apparently gender-neutral wording the introductory details make the conflation of family violence with violence against women clear:

The key determinants and contributing factors to the perpetration of violence against women are:

                  >  unequal power relations between women and men

                  >  adherence to rigid gender stereotypes

                  >  broader cultures of violence.”

The guidelines contain a requirement to identify a predominant aggressor and recommendation for “no drop” type prosecution, without a complaint and when a formal complaint is withdrawn.

But the most egregious and misandric guidelines (as recently pointed out by AVFM follower Gwallan in his comment to this post) are to be found in the Victorian Judicial College’s ‘”Family Violence Bench Book.”

Rather than believing a male victims story, this document advises that any male reporting abuse by a female partner must be assumed to be lying most likely as a ploy to conceal their own abuse of their female partner.  Again sexual double standards and gender inequality are at the heart of policy and guidelines, while those representing the establishment, preach the addressing of gender equality as a core principle in reducing violence (against women).

Perhaps the most extraordinary advice Commissioner Lay gives is in relation to advice from parents to daughters about rape.  Citing a recent polarized debate amongst feminist groups over advice to daughters to moderate their alcohol consumption to help reduce the risk of rape the best Lay can offer is to tell your daughters, rape is not your fault it’s the rapists fault.

Of course such a platitude will be little value to a victim who may otherwise not have ended up a victim, but when it comes to gender issues Lay seems to think conforming to feminist dogma and rhetoric trumps real prevention. The overt hypocrisy is evident from a cursory view of the Victoria Police website which promotes preventive behaviors such as locking up to prevent burglary and car theft etc. and not one statement could I find stating that if you are burgled “it’s not you fault,” there is “just one person responsible for theft: the thief.”

Yet commissioner Lay and hypocrisy walk hand in hand. In my view Victoria’s top police officer whilst claiming to have “a professional obligation to reduce harm” applies that obligation in a gendered and uneven manner. This should be considered professional misconduct. I would go so far as to say Commissioner Lay is a disgrace to the uniform he wears, a gender bigot, bereft of any demonstrated concern for male victims of family violence or violence in general.

That he is so widely touted as a shining light, hero of anti-violence and pro-gender equality campaigner is a sad reflection on the Australian communities media and government induced ignorance of these issues.

[1] If you would like a copy of the full letter for personal study email me at gregcanning@gmail.com

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