Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Violence against women, statistics and ignoring gender.

This post was triggered by a discussion on Twitter with a man to whom I gave the benefit of the doubt, but who turned out to be a troll.

I had tweeted about how Clare’s Law – the new legislation that gives people the chance to find out if anyone has reported their partner for violent behaviour – could not really be effective when refuges are closing and the safety net for women leaving violent men is being slowly ripped apart. This was in light of a report from Women’s Aid who had a ‘snapshot’ day to show the problems women seeking refuge face. They recorded that on one day, 155 women and 103 children were turned away from refuges because there was no room.

This man on Twitter got in touch to remind me that 1 in 6 men are victims or survivors of domestic abuse too.

This is true, and it’s a statistic from the Walby and Allen report which also found that 1 in 4 women experienced domestic violence and abuse in their lifetimes.

The Walby and Allen report – and these two stats in particular – are hugely important in shaping our understanding of how widespread domestic abuse is in our society. The fact that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience at least one incident of intimate partner violence should always be a wake up call to all of us.

What these two statistics on their own don’t reveal is the gendered nature of on-going domestic abuse – and how women are more likely to experience repeat incidents of violence that can take place over many years.

The 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 statistic covers all incidences of domestic abuse – including one-off incidents. When we look at the repeat incidences of domestic abuse however, we see that women are far, far more likely to experience on-going violence.

The Walby and Allen report reveals that 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence (1 in 4 women) did so four or five (or more) times, compared to 11% of men. Women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence. These stats from the report are helpfully summarised on the Women’s Aid website.

(Ironically, the Twitter troll called those stats ‘Christmas Cracker Statistics’ despite the fact that they came from the same report that he quoted the 1 in 6 number from. At that point I blocked and moved on with my day.)

We know that, according to the Dodd report from July 04, domestic abuse has the highest rate of repeat victimisation. A woman will on average experience 35 incidents of violence before she calls the police, and still less than 40% of domestic abuse crime is reported to the police. We also know that 2 women a week will be killed by a violent partner – constituting nearly 40% of all female homicide victims (Povey, (ed.), 2005; Home Office, 1999; Dept of Health, 2005).

Bringing up the numbers around repeat incidences is not to diminish the horror and cruelty of one incident of violence. One incident is one too many. I just want to talk about repeat incidences because, on many occasions, I hear the 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 stat quoted in an effort to try and smudge our understanding of how domestic abuse is still an issue of gender-based violence. And this is really important.

Increasingly I feel there’s a gender blindness going on when we talk about violence against women and girls. For example, last week I wrote an article for Open Democracy about sexual harassment in schools – a form of bullying overwhelmingly committed by boys, with girls the vast majority of victims. In response to my article, I was reminded on Twitter that girls take part in this kind of bullying too.

Now, of course girls bully too. But it is undeniable that sexual harassment in the classroom – from non-consensual upskirt shots to groping to sexually degrading name-calling – is a gendered issue. It simply is. If we try to deny the gender element, if we refuse to name the fact that sexual harassment in schools is overwhelmingly boys harassing girls, then we can never solve the problem. We can never take the action needed to reduce levels of harassment and sexual bullying.

In that article I quote research from the NSPCC and Bristol University regarding violence in teen relationships. Just as before, we see a real gendered difference when it comes to repeat offending. The study found that 25% of girls and 18% of boys reported physical violence, and 1 in 3 girls and 16% of boys reported some form of sexual partner violence. For severe physical violence the numbers were 1 in 9 girls and 4% of boys. Girls were more likely than boys to say that the violence was repeated, and that the repeated violence either remained at the same level of severity or worsened.

Another example of refusing to see gender was in the recent Children’s Commissioner report on ‘child on child abuse’. Again, all the evidence in the report points to the fact that this is a crime where girls are overwhelmingly the victims and boys are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. Yet most of the reporting of the report talked about ‘child on child’ abuse. The gender of the majority of the perpetrators and the victims was not acknowledged.

Now, perhaps there is some sensitivity needed when we talk about crimes committed by children against other children. It runs the risk of generalising about young men in a culture that already demonises ‘youth’ so horribly. But if we ignore the gendered element, if we refuse to talk about how these are crimes committed against girls and women because they are girls and women, then again, how do we tackle it? How do we address the causes? How do we tackle the perpetrators, and how do we tackle the lack of accountability, when we refuse to acknowledge that the problem is male violence against women and girls?

If you go back to that report by the NSPCC and Bristol University – 1 in 3 girls report sexual violence from a partner. One third of 16-19 year olds have experienced sexual violence from a partner. This is not ok. We have to talk about how this is a gender-based violence issue.

This post started out as a chance to explore what domestic abuse stats look like when we compare one-off and repeat incidents. It’s ended with a plea to not deny the reality of gender-based violence – where women and girls are victimised because they are women and girls. If we don’t look at gender, if we don’t look at why gender-based violence happens, then we can’t stop it. We can’t pretend this isn’t happening to women and girls because they are women and girls. It is. And as long as we ignore it, it will continue to.

This, by Karen Ingala Smith, is a very important read on the statistics around gender and reporting domestic abuse.

This post was first published here - thanks to author for permission to cross post.

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2 thoughts on “Violence against women, statistics and ignoring gender.

  • Hecuba says:

    Indeed the problem is pandemic male violence against women and girls not ‘gender based violence’ or even ‘violence against women and girls.’ However, naming the sex of perpetrators is a big no no because we must not ‘upset mens’ sensibilities.’

    Refusal to name which sex is committing violence against women and girls only serves to reinforce the lie that male violence against women and girls doesn’t exist because it is individuals committing said violence not males.

    Once upon a time feminists named the problem as male violence against women and stated male violence against women and girls happens because males have to reinforce their pseudo male right to dominate and control women and girls. However, this fact was swiftly challenged by men as supposedly ‘man-hating because not every male commits violence against women and girls.’

    However, whilst not every white woman or man condones or promotes racial hatred of non-white women and men this does not mean whites are not accountable and yet because the issue concerns male on female violence unless and if every living male is committing violence against women and girls then male violence against women and girls doesn’t exist!

    I do not recall feminist research uncovering widespread numbers of girls subjecting their male peers to sexual harassment. Neither do I recall girls routinely ‘touching up’ male peers and trying to pull the males’ trousers down. However, boys are increasingly subjecting their female peers to male sexual harassment and male sexual assault. The latter is a crime but because it is boys committing these crimes within schools then the issue is considered irrelevant because ‘boys will be boys!’ However, all girls have the right to an education wherein they are not routinely subjected to male sexual harassment/male sexual violence within the school environment. Interesting is it not that racial insults within a school setting are viewed by the school authorities as ‘racial hatred’ whereas pandemic male sexual harassment/male sexual violence against girls within a school environment is not an ‘issue!’

    Male deniers and their female supporters continue to make false claims of symmetry between male on female violence and female on male violence. So therefore if boys stand on their heads then apparently girls also stand on their heads! The last sentence is nonsensical but this is precisely what the male deniers are claiming ‘that females commit violence against males in equal numbers as males commit violence against females.’

    So the issue isn’t ‘gender’ it is enactment of male power and how mens’ Male Supremacist System condones/promotes/justifies/excuses male violence against women and girls. The central reason why so many males are committing violence against women and girls is because this is the most effective way of maintaining male domination and male control over women and girls. In other words the issue is enforcement and enactment of male political power over women and girls. But this fact mustn’t be publicly stated because it would ‘upset the men.’

  • vicki says:

    My daughter was sexually assaulted at her primary school last year aged six in a four month campaign of sexist violence and intimidation which the headmaster refered to as ‘play’. My daughter’s glasses were smashed, her cardigan ripped, she stopped eating due to be pushed over in the dinner queue, she was called gendered hate names, she was punched, kicked and tripped up banging her head into a wall where she was concussed. The teachers put her in a special needs therapy class and told her repeatedly that nothing was happening, the school was a happy school or that the boy hadn’t meant anything … after punching her repeatedly in one attack and tripping her up the following day. This went on for four months til I finally managed to get her a place in another school. The doctor wrote to the school twice about the harm being done to my daughter but the school simply ignored this as they didn’t want to acknowledge the chauvinism apparent in these attacks. The problem with having a culture of male supremacy is that all the other chauvinists will cover up chauvinist violence done to females or children, and victim blame in order to maintain the culture of male superiority. Hierarchic violence has this in common and you see it with racist and homophobic societies too. Male supremacy is inheritantly biaised and men and women should be screened for such attitudes before being allowed to oversee or work in any public institutions for dangerous attitudes such as chauvinism in the same way they are for racism or homophobia.