Sunday, November 09, 2008

A defence for Gilmore?

Kate Gilmore has found a defender. In my last column I criticised Gilmore for claiming that all men are equally to blame for domestic violence. Back in 1994, Gilmore went as far as to claim that:

You can see the tyrants, the invaders, the imperialists, in the fathers, the husbands, the stepfathers, the boyfriends, the grandfathers, and it's that study of tyranny in the home ... that will take us to the point where we can secure change.

Lynn, a uni student from South Australia, submitted a comment on the column. Lynn describes herself as follows:

I have a vivid interest in the dynamics of domestic violence, childhood abuse, poverty and inequality, women's rights and feminism and violence against women, not just locally but on a global scale. I'm passionate about learning and spreading the truth of violence committed against women and children within our community.

Here is the key part of Lynn's case for Gilmore:

As for the comment about it the tyranny of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, boyfriends...consider these numbers, taken from the Australian Institute of Criminology for 2006/06.

63% happen in a dwelling. 69% of females are killed by an intimate partner or family member, and only 11% of females are killed by strangers.

You can see the kind of picture Lynn wants to create here: women are at risk from the men they marry; women are much more likely to be killed at home by an intimate partner than by a stranger. Therefore, suggests Lynn, Gilmore is right to complain about the tyranny of fathers, husbands, grandfathers etc.

I searched the internet and soon came up with a survey from the Australian Institute of Criminology (1999). It's a study of female homicides in Australia from 1989 to 1998.

It contains some really useful data on the issue - data which feminists won't want you to know, as it cuts right through the picture of ordinary women being at risk at home from their husbands.

It's not that Lynn is wrong in her statistics about female homicide. Women who are murdered usually know their attackers: only 14.8% of murder victims were attacked by strangers. When women are murdered it is most usually by "intimates" in their own home.

However, there are a number of important facts to keep in mind.

First, it's uncommon for women to be murdered. This is partly because most murder victims are male (63%). It's also due to the fact that the murder rate in Australia is very low. The very first conclusion drawn in the Australian Institute of Criminology report is this:

It must be borne in mind that homicide is a rare occurrence in Australia, and the killing of women is even less common. (p.37)

When we look at female deaths from external causes, homicide is one of the smaller categories. Women are much more at risk from suicide, car accidents and even accidental falls.

For instance, if we take Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 1997, we find that women are five times more likely to die from self-harm (suicide) than from homicide. Women are also five times more likely to die from accidental falls than from homicide.

It should be remembered too that when the Australian Institute of Criminology talks about women being murdered by "intimates", they don't just mean husbands. Included in this category are:

spouses, ex-spouses, persons in current or former de facto relationships, current or former boy/girlfriends, extra-marital lovers or partners of same-sex relationships. (p.9)

This is a large category of people to consider. It would be useful to know what percentage of homicides are committed by husbands in a stable relationship with their wife, rather than by the many different kinds of "intimates" listed above.

Which brings me to the most significant data. The kind of women who are likely to be influenced by feminist claims on domestic violence are young middle-class women attending university. But it is exactly these women who have the least to worry about.

Why? It turns out that the overwhelming majority of homicides occur among an underclass of people who are unemployed and affected by alcohol. Consider this: in 63% of cases in which women are murdered, both the female victim and the male perpetrator are unemployed. 73% of men who murder women are unemployed. (p.24). Furthermore:

James and Carcach (1998) suggest that almost 85 per cent of victims, and a little over 90 per cent of offenders, belong to what can be described as an underclass in Australian society.

Similarly, in a study of homicides that occurred in New South Wales between 1968 and 1981, it was found that marital violence resulting in death only very rarely occurred in the professional, semi-professional and managerial classes (Wallace 1986). (p.24)

So 90% of the men who murder women belong to a mostly unemployed underclass in Australia.

Alcohol also plays a part in homicide: it was a factor in about one third of homicides committed by an intimate. (p.27)

Therefore, when Kate Gilmore denied in 1994 that "men that are violent are different from every other man in the country" she could not have been more wrong. 90% of homicides committed against women are perpetrated by men from a largely unemployed underclass.

Homicides against women in Australia are rare and they are committed not by powerful men seeking to enforce patriarchal control, but by an underclass of men exposed to "stress" factors such as unemployment, alcohol and poverty.

I am not excusing the fact that these murders occur, but I don't want the average woman to be misled into thinking that marriage to an ordinary, employed male puts her at dire risk of becoming a murder statistic.

The feminist take on violence is way too gloomy. It is also too driven by ideology - by a concern to prove the theory that domestic violence is "systemic" within a patriarchy.

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