©2018 by Domestic Violence Awareness Australia.

THE HISTORY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Feminist theory and Domestic violence.


 

During the past 40 years, feminist theory has dominated the domestic violence (DV) sector in western society and has been the major driving force behind reforms for reducing violence in the home (Houston 2017 p.217, Rizza 2009 p.130).

 

Within this timeframe, the subject of intimate partner violence has been coaxed from the privacy of the family home and into the public sphere (Rizza 2009 p.127). Social theorists recognise that this change in the society’s perception of DV has been largely due to the accomplishments of feminism and should be applauded (Houston 2017 p.219).

 

With feminist theory spearheading the drive to criminalize violence within the home, the feminist movement has also framed intimate partner violence as the result of patriarchal oppression (Houston 2017 p.221). In applying feminist theory in this way, feminism has allowed for the entire expostulation of DV to be allotted exclusively to men (Houston 2014 p.217). This assertion has effectively allowed for other influencing factors such as gender (female), financial or emotional stress, culture, class and substance abuse to be ignored in cases of IPV (Mitchell 2011 p.6, Haselschwerdt, Hardesty & Hans 2011 p.1696).


 

During the past 40 years, feminist theory has dominated the domestic violence (DV) sector in western society and has been the major driving force behind reforms for reducing violence in the home (Houston 2017 p.217, Rizza 2009 p.130).

 

Within this timeframe, the subject of intimate partner violence has been coaxed from the privacy of the family home and into the public sphere (Rizza 2009 p.127). Social theorists recognise that this change in the society’s perception of DV has been largely due to the accomplishments of feminism and should be applauded (Houston 2017 p.219). With feminist theory spearheading the drive to criminalize violence within the home, the feminist movement has also framed intimate partner violence as the result of patriarchal oppression (Houston 2017 p.221).

 

In applying feminist theory in this way, feminism has allowed for the entire expostulation of DV to be allotted exclusively to men (Houston 2014 p.217). This assertion has effectively allowed for other influencing factors such as gender (female), financial or emotional stress, culture, class and substance abuse to be ignored in cases of IPV (Mitchell 2011 p.6, Haselschwerdt, Hardesty & Hans 2011 p.1696).


 

In the 1970s, the newly formed DV sector saw the opening of the world’s first battered women’s shelters in Chiswick, U.K under the guidance of Erin Pizzey (Pizzey 2009 p.53, Pizzey 2014, Steel 1998 p.37), these refuges provided a place of safety for women and children escaping violent relationships. (Rizza 2009 p.127). However, within a short period of time, shelter volunteers recognized that many of these women would routinely return to their violent spouses (Rizza p.127).

 

It was in response to this phenomenon that the first perpetrator programs were developed under the auspices of feminist theory which declared that “men need to control women” (Rizza 2009 p.127, Graham-Kevan 2007 p.214). A decade later in 1981, with the aid of Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) in Minnesota was tasked with the development of a more structured approach to modifying the behaviours of violent men (Gondolf 2010 p. 992).

 

 

 

The result of their work would be christened the Duluth Model, named after the town in which the program was developed (Rizza 2009 p.127). This approach to domestic violence intervention would become the most commonly used program in the western world (Sanow 2003 p.4) and would eventually span over 57 countries (White Ribbon Australia 2018). This program was based exclusively on the dichotomous belief that men perpetrated domestic violence for only two reasons; power and control (Graham-Kevan 2007 p.214).

 

The program would utilise a four-pronged approach in its delivery, consisting of perpetrator programs to prevent future assaults, lobbying for greater criminal interventions, aiding female victims, and working with courts, law enforcement and advocacy programs to ensure the integration of the Duluth doctrine into mainstream society (Graham-Kevan 2007 p.214). It was believed that this methodical tactic for battling DV would push back at the patriarchy with its psychotherapeutic feminist approach (Rizza 2009 p.127).

 

The Duluth model succeeded in many aspects of its approach, by bringing together community organisations, law enforcement and the courts while also succeeding in its integration of domestic violence into the criminal system (Sanow 2009 p.135). However, the model did fail in its effort to re-educate violent men around their anomalous desire for power and control and the program resulted in little reduction in recidivism rates (Sanow 2003 p.4).
 

This less than ideal outcome in re-education was most likely due to the programs oversimplification of the causes behind IPV and future research would indicate that there was a higher chance of decreasing the rates of violence against women if society instead encouraged the patriarchal tenets of western chivalric values that the Duluth model was fighting so hard to abolish (Graham-Kevan 2007 p.215). Rizza (Rizza 2009 p.129) asserts that the Duluth model, despite overlooking mutual partner violence and being unsupported by scientific or empirical evidence was still widely implemented throughout Australia.

Violence within the home continues to hold media attention throughout western society with governments allocating millions of dollars in funding each year to address this issue. In Australia alone, the government has recently pledged support for this sector to the tune of $1.73 billion over the 5-year period between 2015 and 2020 (Brandis 2017 p.28). As violence in the home gains public attention, current government funding is being complemented by ever increasing private donations. In 2016 four major Australian domestic violence awareness campaigns; The Luke Batty Foundation, ANROWS, Our Watch and White Ribbon Australia received a total of $16,862,668 to raise awareness of domestic violence against women in Australia; of which only $1.9 million was utilised in awareness campaigning costs and the remaining $15 million dollar balance was absorbed as company expenses (Edwards & Ward-Ambler, 2016) (Baker, 2016) (Thornton, 2016) (Weston, 2016).

 

White Ribbon is the most prominent of these campaigns and originated in Canada after the shooting deaths of 14 women in 1989 during a terrorist attack at École Polytechnique by a young Muslim student named Ghamii Gharbi (Chun 1999 p.112). The emerging campaign has received overwhelming support from the government since its introduction here in Australia (Seymour 2017 p.1). White Ribbon Australia (WRA) utilises feminist theory under the Duluth model and promotes the ideology that violence in the home is the result of gender inequality, while advocating that violence is a method of control that men ‘choose to use’ in their relationships to maintain dominance over women (Seymour 2017 p.5, Houston 2014 p.245). Indeed, WRA Chief Executive Officer Libby Davies has publicly stated “We stop violence at the source, and the source is men” (Davies 2016).

 

White Ribbon utilises its community engagement strategies in typical bourgeoise fashion by focussing its awareness campaigns primarily on middle to upper class women in an approach that could be described as “too white and too polite” (Seymour 2017 p.9), this approach can leave other minority groups such as Indigenous Australians without suitable representation. Under feminist theory, women are excused for violence within the home and their aggression explained away as the fear clouded judgment of a woman socially pressured into believing that being a wife is to be their greatest achievement (Houston 2014 p.244). The feminist ideology preaches that even a financially independent woman will choose to stay in an abusive relationship due to the inherent sexism of western society (Houston 2014 p.244). This feminist framework also goes on to relieve female perpetrators of their contributions to family violence through the promotion of the ‘victim blaming’ narrative (Houston 2014 p.246) and states that the only reasons women become violent is either in self-defence or due to their efforts to protect their children (Tyson, Kirkwood and McKenzie 2016 P.561).

The governing of the narrative surrounding the DV sector has allowed feminism to take on the role of the bourgeoise and relegate an entire gender to the role of proletarian, this has effectively limited any supports for male victims with full backing from government policy, media reporting and support services (Hoff 2012 p.156). The results of this control can be seen in the release of the Domestic and Family Violence Budget where all available money has been directed towards supporting women and children whilst actively excluding assistance to men (NSW Health 2016). These practical supports include housing options, victim counselling and legal assistance (NSW Ministry of Health 2016), and the denial of these supports for men leave a large proportion of victims homeless, mentally and emotionally damaged and lacking legal representation. This approach to funding DV support programs provides prestige to the federal government as it satisfies the desires of a culturally motivated public that inherently shows these disadvantaged men less consideration (Hall 2012 p.8). Although feminist theory has done a fantastic job of bringing to light the issues and ramifications of domestic violence, there are concerns that the feminist driven domestic violence sector itself is also actively fighting to stop conflicting solutions to domestic violence from being explored (Straus 2007 pp.227-228).


 

Despite feminisms authoritarian approach to domestic violence, numerous studies have still been completed (Straus 2007 p.227, Feibert 2014) which demonstrate startling contradictions to the gendered narrative. This research consistently reveals gender parity in the perpetration rates of family violence (Harned 2001 p.26, Feibert 2014), and go on to determine that men and women have identical motivations for perpetrating violence within the home including, coercion, anger and punishment, rather than the proffered power and control motivation (Straus 2009 p.553, Straus 2011). One statistic that surfaces in many studies is the fact that women initiate violence in anywhere from 70% (Feibert 2014) to 83% of domestic incidents (Capaldi, Kim & Shortt 2007 p.103). This high rate of instigation could possibly be linked to societies acceptance and encouragement of violence by women towards men (Harned 2001 p.281).


 

One of sociologies more respected researchers, Murray Straus, identified significant bias within the gendered DV narrative, and raised questions around how feminist theory has managed to persist for so long despite over 30 years of study which identify more than just the proffered male dominance rationalization (Straus 2007 p.227). Straus Identified seven distinct methods used by the DV sector to ensure that the gendered narrative is not deviated from. Firstly, these methods may supress evidence, where researchers withhold information that contradicts the male only perpetrator anecdotes; secondly, they avoid the collection of data that contradicts the patriarchal dominance theory by omitting the questions in surveys that may lead to conflicting outcomes, or thirdly, they only cite studies that show male perpetration whilst ignoring studies that show gender parity (Straus 2007). Other methods identified by Straus include the fabricating of false conclusions by only focussing on a small part of the data collected in a study or alternatively using the more underhanded approach of evidence created by false citation, or what he calls the ‘woozle effect’ in which a study will be cited under false conclusions, only to be re-cited by other sources from the flawed article (Straus 2007). Straus also describes instances where researchers either had their funding cut or research denied publication because it contradicted the idea that male dominance is the major cause for personal violence (Straus 2007). Finally, he concluded that if all the above methods fail, the sector will harass, threaten and penalize researchers who contradict feminist beliefs (Straus 2007). In addition to Straus’ conclusions, meta-analytical reviews have determined that feminist surveys into domestic violence can be manipulated into showing a gendered result by utilising specially chosen participants from locations such as women’s shelters or men undertaking violence treatment programs to achieve responses that will undoubtedly endorse existing beliefs [1].


 

Evidence of manipulation over the feminist narrative on DV can be found in many areas throughout Australia and have been blatantly referred to in a media release from Our Watch, where the CEO Mary Barry herself recognised the importance of maintaining domination over the gendered view of IPV through media when she was quoted to say, “time and time again, national and international research tells us that the public is heavily influenced by the way violence against women is portrayed in our media”, Mary was referring in this instance to the Walkley Awards, which rewards journalists for maintaining the gendered narrative in their writing of news articles (Our Watch 2016). Indeed, some state governments in Australia have also sought to control the narrative around DV through the release of sanctioned media guidelines, which state that reporters are responsible for shaping public conversation in identifying DV as a gendered issue (Queensland Government 2014) or that reporting should be done to represent a significant gendered dimension (Roberts 2013).


 

Judicial Officer Bulletins have also been found to push the gendered narrative and specifically make mention that the driving factors behind DV are misogyny and the patriarchy as used by privileged men to subordinate women (Buxton-Namisnyk & Butler 2017). The Australian judicial system bias can extend to the sentencing preferences towards woman who murder their children and allows for them to receive a more lenient sentence for the deliberate death of a child based on postpartum depression (Harris et.al 2007 p.85). This gender specific law concerning infanticide is only available to mothers despite evidence that both 10% of fathers and fourteen percent of mothers can be affected by the condition (Scarton 2008 p.83). This reduction in charge effectively reduces the mother’s crime from murder to manslaughter and results in much lower sentencing. In Australia, the age limit for the victim of this defence is 12 months (NSW Law Reform Commission 1997 p.99) but other western countries such as New Zealand have extended this benefit to mothers for up to 10 years (Ministry of Justice 2017). The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) credited 52% of all filicides to female perpetrators over the 2005 – 2015-year period (Australian Institute of Criminology 2015 p.2), a statistic which confirms that females are as equally capable of committing violent acts against other helpless family members and reveals a clear contradiction to the gendered narrative. Judicial prejudice is also present in relation to the punishment for the murder of a spouse, with research from the United states indicating that 12.9% of females will be acquitted of the murder of their partner as opposed to only 1.4% of men, in addition to these figures, females will receive an average sentence of 6 years instead of the 17 years served by male perpetrators.


 

The influence of feminist theory is also present in the NSW police force where their code of practice clearly admits that men make up a significant portion of DV victims, yet goes on to declare that the state and federal governments are resolved to only eliminating violence against women and children (NSW Police 2013 p.15). The Code of practice also states that police are obliged to apply for apprehended violence orders (AVO’s) on behalf of victims, even in the absence of victim consent, and are encouraged not to arrest or charge both parties unless there are extenuating circumstances (NSW Police 2013 p.34). AVO’s are commonly applied to perpetrators of DV based on one party having reasonable grounds to fear intimidation from the other party, or if they hold concerns that the other party will commit a violent offense in the future (NSW Police 2013 p.40). Although this sounds perfectly reasonable, further investigation reveals that male and females experience fear differently. This has been explored in various studies where men and women were subjected to the effects of fear conditioning. In 2009 a study conducted by Merz et. al found that when women experienced fear, their memory enhanced the traumatic event, whereas it impaired the memory of the same event in men (Merz Et al 2010 p.33). This study was again replicated in 2013 and found that in addition to the memory of fear in women being enhanced, it also found that this fear was amplified as the amygdala exaggerated the experience (Merz Et. al 2013 p.2538), these same responses to fear could not be replicated in males.


 

With these studies in mind, this natural manipulation of memory may well affect one of the key factors to the successful acquisition of an AVO and should demand a more in-depth evaluation into who has them auspiciously granted. These combined results of biased policy and fear conditioning could unfairly affect the eligibility of this common intervention strategy based on gender. In discussing the granting of AVOs it should also be acknowledged that advice published in a NSW Judicial Commission survey of magistrates found that 90% of respondents agreed that Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders were often used by applicants in family court proceedings as a tactic to aid their case and deprive their partner of access to children (Incidence and regulation of domestic violence in NSW 2000 p.22). This misuse of judicial authority was also confirmed in a survey of Queensland magistrates of which 74% also concurred that restraining orders are being used as a tactical weapon to control visitation rights of children to the opposing parent (Zimmerman 2015). These statistics indicate that AVOs may themselves be used as another form of domestic abuse to maintain control over an ex-partner.


 

In previous paragraphs, I have discussed behaviour change programs for men and how they have failed to significantly impact the DV perpetration rates of males against women. Prior to the advancement of feminist theory, behaviour change programs for female DV perpetrators also existed and had proven themselves to be highly successful; one such treatment program was the Responsible Choices for Women Program that was run by the Calgary Counselling Centre (Tutty,Babins-Wager & Rothery 2006). This program was designed by an Australian man, Alan Jenkins in 1991 and was directed at the behaviours of women by focussing on violent outbursts and accepting responsibility for one’s behaviour; it also addressed self-esteem and assertive behaviour; improving family relationships through stress reduction, increasing empathy and ceasing the physical abuse of their children (Tutty,Babins-Wager & Rothery 2009 p.776). The program saw significant improvements on almost every outcome that was measured, even though pre-program reports indicated that these women were previously in the clinical range for violence perpetration (Tutty,Babins-Wager & Rothery 2009 p.770).


 

Having explored the causes of domestic violence under feminist theory and identifying that the evidence uncovered indicates that the Duluth approach has been instrumental in bringing this topic into mainstream conversations. The evidence also indicates that there has been a total monopoly on intervention strategies which have allowed for the disregard of not only a plethora of contributing factors, but also encouraged the scapegoating of an entire gender while ignoring the suffering experienced by male victims. By altering the lens under which IPV is both assessed and engaged with; and converting to a less restrictive model such as conflict theory, society may be in a better position to implement more inclusive interventions.

Adam Smith B.Soc.Sc

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