Comment: 'Coward punch' outrage eclipses domestic violence

We all know about the media campaigns to put an end to alcohol-related street violence - but why do they seem to eclipse similar campaigns on domestic violence?

Alcohol-related street violence has dominated the headlines lately. But where are the sustained campaigns and front pages determined to put an end to domestic violence?

Sometimes the sexism that still exists in society raises its head in such a blatant yet nefarious way as to boggle the mind, and we’re going through one such moment right now.

Since the recent, tragic death of Daniel Christie after being belted in Kings Cross recently, the Sydney papers have launched a campaign that would best be described as ‘rabid’ to try to ‘crack down’ on the ‘culture of alcohol-fuelled violence’ that ‘we see on our streets on Friday and Saturday nights’.

The concern for the young men (and yes they’re overwhelmingly, if not entirely, men) is no doubt sincere. But the demands for action are both misguided and sexist.

Crime data is showing that assaults, even alcohol-related assaults in places like Kings Cross, are plummeting in frequency. Recently released data from the NSW government shows assaults in that area specifically dropped by 25% in the most recent six month period.

But this doesn’t stop the papers on their crusade. Front page after front page exhorting Barry O’Farrell to take action, including the frankly ludicrous ideas of mandatory minimum sentences and making alcohol an aggravating factor in sentencing, are being trotted out. And in what surely must be close to a first for peacetime, the Prime Minister was gifted the front page of the Sydney daily tabloid to have a free political kick on the issue too.

Most instructively regarding this blind spot, when the data were made available to the Sydney Morning Herald, rather than incorporate it and take a more considered stance, they labelled the data ‘bewildering’ that it didn’t sit with their gut feeling and the reports from doctors and nurses for whom it is likely even one alcohol-fuelled assault is one too many (and fair enough).

However, the numbers of men who are subject to these assaults (or ‘coward punches’) on a Saturday night, seem to pale into insignificance with the number of women in Australia who are subject to violence in the home at the hands of a male partner. I say ‘seem to’, because we don’t even keep accurate data on this.

Here is the ABS page on domestic violence, a cobbled-together collection of loosely associated pieces of research. But it’s hardly comprehensive or even targeted.

When it comes to violence against women, not only do we not seem to care, we don’t even seem to want to know. In Victoria alone in 2011, police attended 40,892 instances of family violence – and the best estimate is that 60% of violent incidents go unreported. So let’s say that in Victoria alone there are about 100,000 violent incidents in the home in a year. The vast – vast – majority are perpetrated by men against women.

Here are some money stats from probably the best resource – the 2005(!) Personal Safety Survey:

  • Just under half a million Australian women reported that they had experienced physical or sexual violence or sexual assault in the past 12 months.

  • More than a million women had experienced physical or sexual assault by their male current or ex-partner since the age of 15 (some women may be counted twice if they experienced both physical and sexual assault.)

  • 37.8% of women who experienced physical assault in the 12 months before the survey said the perpetrator was a current or previous male partner and 34.4% said the perpetrator was a male family member or friend.  Most incidences of physical assault against women in the 12 months prior to 2005 were committed in a home (64.1%.)

  • 33.3% of women had experienced physical violence since the age of 15.

  • 19.1% of women had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

  • 12.4% of women had been sexually abused before the age of 15, compared with 4.5% of men, between 1996 and 2005. There was an increase in the reporting of sexual assault to police from 14.9% to 18.9% between 1996 and 2005 and there was an increase in the reporting of physical violence to police from 18.5% to 36%.

  • 64% of women who experienced physical assault and 81.1% of women who experienced sexual assault still did not report it to police.  The proportion of women aged between 18 and 34 who reported experiencing physical violence has decreased but the proportion of women who reported experiencing physical violence after 45 increased over the same period.

Where is the newspaper campaign? Where is the Prime Minister (and Minister for Women, don’t forget) scoring points and looking concerned for the welfare of our daughters? Where are the demands for mandatory minimum sentences against domestic abusers? Who is calling for men to stop going to pubs at night and drinking so heavily to protect themselves from violence, as we always call on women to do when a rape is reported?

They’re nowhere to be seen. But when our precious boys are occasionally belted outside the pub – an event that is increasingly unlikely – it’s all outrage systems go.

This is the nefarious nature of this sexism. The response is all too easily ‘don’t accuse me of sexism, I’m just worried about blokes getting beaten to death.’ But that’s where we’re at today. Sexism is increasingly less obvious, it’s easier to elide the old ‘keep her in the kitchen’ buffoonery of yore. Today it’s insidious; sexism by omission. We will jump to action when our boys are hurt while on the turps. When our girls have their heads smashed against the wall when their husbands get home drunk and wound up – not so much.

And it’s a goddam travesty.

UPDATE:

After a cursory glance at the newer, 2012 ABS data (which I couldn’t find because please Tony Abbott give the ABS some money to fix their website), and Victorian Police data, it turns out recent data on violence against women in the home is even worse today. Whereas it was 40,000 cases in 2011, it has gone from 40,000 to 50,000 to 60,000 in the past 3 years. While better reporting may be at play, that is undoubtedly only part of the explanation. Again, where is the insistence that Barry O’Farrell recall parliament to pass draconian new laws?

UPDATE 2:

The Herald Sun campaign ‘Take a Stand’ (along with its excellent opening editorial) has also been brought to my attention. While it’s clearly an excellent initiative, the fact that no one seems to know of its existence versus the screeching, flailing front-page-a-thon of recent weeks around ‘coward punches’ remains, to me, the central problem.

[Ed: There is also The Daily Telegraph's ‘Man Up’ campaign.]

Ed Butler is a recovering economist and novelty blogger of the never-lamented Things Bogans Like. This article is an edited version and was originally published on AusOpinion.com.

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