I read a piece in the Daily Mail about a talented young woman who took her own life despite the best efforts of her family to help her. A very sad story which I wouldn't normally comment on here, except that the statistics at the end caught my attention, namely that in Australia over 2500 people commit suicide each year and over 60,000 make an attempt.
This reminded me of my recent post on domestic violence in which a mother of daughters claimed that "I worry about the most lethal and emotionally devastating threat to each of my girls — being in a relationship."
The mother was claiming that being in a relationship would expose her daughters to the lethal threat of domestic violence. She used the oft repeated, but false, claim that "Recent statistics show domestic family violence claims more Australian women’s lives and causes more ill health than all other well-known preventable risks."
Obviously this isn't the case. About 100 women a year in Australia are killed by their intimate partners (i.e. via domestic violence). Of these about 90% occur amongst an unemployed underclass.
In Australia women are 1 in every 3 of those who commit suicide. That means that about 830 women will commit suicide in Australia each year. Women are 60% of those who attempt suicide, which means that 36,000 women will attempt suicide.
So what is the greatest risk to women? It is not harm by a male partner, but self-harm. Women are 8 times more likely to be killed by self-harm than by domestic violence and 360 times more likely to attempt self-harm than to be killed by an intimate partner.
Of course it is a worthy aim nonetheless to try to reduce the number of deaths by domestic violence. It is a pity, though, that the issue should be framed as one of men oppressing women. The statistics are that 50% of those assaulted in domestic violence cases are male; 30% of those injured are male; and 25% of those killed are male. In 2010 28 men were killed in Australia by female partners.
So women are the majority of victims but men make up a substantial minority. So why focus on women alone as victims?
The answer is that it fits into a certain ideology. According to patriarchy theory, men use violence against women in a systematic way in order to uphold a gender supremacy. The theory claims that masculinity itself was created on the basis of this violent suppression of women. Logically, if you believe the ideology, you will think that the solution to domestic violence lies with all men changing their attitudes toward women and abandoning masculinity and privilege.
We should be encouraging those participating in domestic violence campaigns to drop the ideological approach in favour of a more practical outlook. And a test of this is whether the campaigners are willing to see domestic violence in general as a problem, and not reduce it to a male oppressor/female victim scenario.
There does exist a group attempting to influence the debate called One in Three. I especially like their page dealing with misleading statistics.