What an extraordinary episode of Australian Story this week. It featured Australia’s first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson exposing her own family’s violent history.
The programme was a classic example of the misleading, distorted way the issue of domestic violence is being dealt with in this country. It’s hard to imagine a more striking illustration of our society’s determination to focus only on aggression by men and whitewash women’s role in family violence.
I wrote about this in The Australian earlier this week but for those of you who missed it, here’s what I had to say about the programme:
I pointed out that in graphic detail Fiona Richardson revealed her tragic family background at the hands of her violent father. Almost the entire programme focussed on this chilling story: her brother hitting the floor “like a bag of spuds” after a punch from the drunken father, the family living in fear of the man’s violent attacks.
In the whole programme there was only the briefest mention of the other side of this story, the reason Richardson’s mother Veronica Power gave for her attraction to such an aggressive man. “I thought beating was normal because my mother always beat me,” said Power. That’s not all. She mentions in passing that her violent mother, who had five husbands, required her to “spend time” with a man who was her current partner’s son, a man 20 years older than Power who was 14 at the time. He groomed her and took her virginity.
So the violent grandmother sets up her teenage daughter to be groomed for sex by this much older man – a man with whom the grandmother apparently also shared an intimate relationship and the man who ultimately became Richardson’s father.
How come this extraordinary story of the sexual exploitation of a daughter by her violent mother only rates the briefest mention in a programme in which the father’s behaviour is examined in endless detail? Here we have a Minister of Family Violence whose own story illustrates the truth about family violence – namely that most families with a history of violence include female as well as male perpetrators.
As one of the Ministers responsible for implementing changes in response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations, one might have thought Richardson’s family history would prompt more enlightened, less gender-biased consideration.
That seems unlikely. Like almost all the major players in the domestic violence scene, Richardson seems determined to downplay the role of female violence and perpetuate many of the lies and distortions which dominate discussion of this issue in Australia. “Family violence is the leading contributor to death, injury and disability in Victorian women,” is the leading statistic in a report on a Family Violence Index released under her name last year. As I pointed out last year in an article on dodgy DV statistics (Silent Victims) this claim is totally wrong. Our best source of data on the subject, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), shows the top five causes of death, disability and illness combined for Australian women aged 15-44 years are anxiety and depression, migraine, type 2 diabetes, asthma and schizophrenia. Domestic violence doesn’t even make the list.
Yet the same false statistic is endlessly trotted out by politicians, including Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on this week’s Australian Story. All of the key government bodies working on domestic violence and media sources such as the ABC have been presented with evidence that they are using a wrong, misleading statistic – a truth they choose to ignore.
As I have written previously, particularly in my article Silent Victims on domestic violence last year, there’s a constant stream of lies and misinformation being promoted in the current cultural dialogue, where the deliberate use of wrong statistics is used to promote men as the only villains. The reality is very different. Over 1700 articles in peer-reviewed journals conclude show domestic violence is not a gender issue, both women and men are actively involved in most violence in the home, women often initiate violence, and it isn’t simply self-defence. Even though physical violence by women causes fewer injuries, it is by no means harmless with women more likely to use weapons and men sustaining a third of the injuries from partner violence.
As Victoria Power could tell us, most children growing up in violent homes are cowering not just from their fathers but their mothers as well – all available Australian data clearly shows women are the major abusers of children.
This week we’ve also seen the report from the Victorian Commission into Family Violence which sadly does little to correct the current distorted debate. I’ll be writing about this at some later date.
The Royal Commission was exposed to expert opinion arguing that they needed to take a less biased approach to this complex issue. Experts like psychologist Peter Miller who is Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction at Deakin University. Miller argues for the need for evidence-based approaches which would include addressing contributing factors such as alcohol, drugs and mental health – issues commonly downplayed by those determined to see DV as simply related to gender inequality.
It was interesting to note that Fiona describes her father as “a good man” with “oodles of charm. “ Yet with alcohol that all changed – “when he was drunk, he was a very different man.” Alcohol-related violence is a factor in a third of domestic violence incidents reported to police and two-thirds in Aboriginal communities, reports Miller who has encountered enormous resistance to doing proper research into alcohol-related domestic violence, as key organizations with access to domestic violence victims have not allowed research to be conducted and he has had constant difficulty attracting research funding.
There’s a long way to go before the real causes of violence in the home are properly addressed in this country. But I will be doing my best to move the debate onwards. Please contact me if you have any material that might be helpful.