How Is Violence Against Women Different From Violence In General?
Violence against women worldwide is a top-of-mind focus for many in today’s societies. Every day we hear of a bashing, rape or murder of a woman or women, and there’s no wonder it’s a topic of some concern. But every time it is brought up as something we have to tackle and change, there is inevitably someone who will say something along the lines of “Yes violence against women is terrible, but men are the main victims of violence!”
Yes, this statement is true, men are the main victims of violence, be it in social settings or at war. Men are also the main perpetrators of violence, at a staggering 80% of all cases overall. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the men are more violent than women. But the statement above changes the focus of the problem of violence against women, and derails the conversation from being specifically about one topic, instead making it a broad statement which includes men in the victim category. Inevitably, when people point out the fact that men are victims of violence more than women, it’s an attempt to shift the focus away from the problem that is violence against women, instead choosing to water down the problem to the point where it seems insurmountable. The problem here is, violence against women is in fact very different from violence in general, and here are just a few points as to why this is the case.
Firstly, noting that 80% of violence in general is perpetrated by men, at least that amount of violence against women is also perpetrated by men. In a survey by ANROWS (Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety) in 2012 uncovered these key statistics about violence against women in Australia.
Since the age of 15:
1. One in five women had experienced sexual violence, as compared to 1 in 22 men.
2. One in six Australian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner, as compared to one in 19 for men.
3. One in four women had experienced emotional abuse* by a current or former partner, as compared to one in seven for men.
4. One in three women had experienced physical abuse, as compared to half of all men.
*The definition of emotional abuse is subjective, but for the purposes of this article the level of emotional hardship suffered by man and women is said to be substantial enough to cause lasting trauma.
The comparison of one in five women as compared to one in 22 who have experienced sexual violence is quite a marked difference, and is the first of many points that shows how violence against women is in itself a problem unique to women. It is interesting to note also that the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a government body, says that rather than one in 22 men experiencing sexual violence, the figures from a 2005 audit suggest that only 0.6% of Australian males have experienced sexual violence. That’s close to one in 1500. I am aware that the figures given by the 2005 report are ten years old, but I don’t expect that we are becoming more violent in this way in such a short period of time.
A very common counter argument put up by men’s rights activists (MRAs) and men’s right’s advocacy groups such as A Voice for Men (AVfM) is that men are also abused by current or former partners. While this is true (undoubtedly men are victims of these kinds of violence too), the overwhelming difference in the numbers and the nature of this violence is very different. While men who report violence by a partner often say it was a one-off or relatively infrequent event, the women who report these acts of violence also report that it is part of an ongoing cycle of violence by their partners, often on a daily or weekly basis. Often it’s a systematic form of abuse, and the males, generally physically stronger than their female counterparts, have an advantage in these situations.
Add to this the emotional abuse from current or past partners experienced by women, and we have a large proportion of the female population who are abused. These may not be the same people, but I’d say that most if not all women who are physically or sexually abused can be added to the list of those who are emotionally abused by partners.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies have very similar statistics as those from ANROWS. I don’t place a lot of faith in telephone surveys, however, this study of 6,677 women between 2002 and 2003 ave these findings:
- Over half of the women surveyed (57%) had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence over their lifetime.
- More than a third of women (34%) had experienced this violence from a former or current partner, although violence from a former partner was more common, and more likely to result in women being injured and feeling that their lives were in danger.
- 12% of women reported experiencing sexual violence by an intimate partner (current or former) over their lifetimes, including instances of attempted (3%) and completed (6%) forced intercourse (i.e. rape).
- Women who had experienced sexual violence by their intimate partners were also likely to have been physically abused by them (73%).
- 18% of women reported being sexually abused before the age of 16: almost 2% of women identified parents (fathers in all but two cases) as the perpetrators, while a further 16% identified someone other than a parent. The results suggest that the risk of sexual violence in adulthood doubles for women who experience child abuse.
- 27% of women reported sexual violence by non-intimates such as other close family members, relatives, friends, colleagues and strangers (although a number of women reported violence from both intimate partners and others). 7% of these women reported attempted forced intercourse and 4 percent reported forced intercourse over their lifetime.
- Only 1% of the women surveyed identified having been raped by a stranger.
All of these findings are based in Australia, but if we look to a broader world-view, we see similar alarming statistics. This PDF from the United Nations shows some very troubling data about the prevalence of violence against women abroad. While in Australia this table suggests that just over one in four women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime, and almost half of women have experienced physical or sexual violence overall in their lifetime, places like Samoa and Uganda report almost three quarters of the female population being abused at some stage during their lives. No doubt there is a cultural aspect to these cases, as there is here in Australia.
Violence in Australia often involves drugs. Alcohol is the most common drug involved, and is often blamed for a loss of control by those who perpetrate the violence. A lot of violence on the streets happens late at night and under the influence of drugs, where people may be hyped-up by their experiences that evening. While men are more likely to be the targets of non-sexual violence, such as a fight in a bar or club, women are more likely to be the victims of sexual assault. Statistics show that women are more likely to be abused or sexually assaulted in their own homes than on the street, and are more likely to be sexually assaulted on the street than men by a figure of one to The sexual nature of this violence is yet another aspect of violence against women that sets it apart from violence in general.
Another statistic that sets violence against women apart form violence in general is outlined in this 2003 survey, where 47% of male homicide victims knew the perpetrator, while 81% of female victims were acquainted with their murderers. Also up to 50% of assaults and murders of women were perpetrated by ex-partners.
While I can cite as many surveys and statistics as possible, there is still an element who see the heavily weighted numbers as an affront to their manhood. They see this as blaming them personally for violence against women, and are insulted that I make these claims. They will also claim that this is not a problem, and that it is accepted that men are both the major victims and perpetrators of violence, because “boys will be boys”. This is, of course, laughable, and misses the point completely.
The biggest problem we have here, apart from the violence itself, is society’s reaction to violence against women. The message to women is “Don’t go out at night by yourself, don’t get drunk, don’t trust men, secure your drink, don’t get raped, don’t get murdered.” This has been jokingly (but poignantly) described as the crime of “being female and in possession of a vagina in public”, and of course this is the wrong message. We live in a society that tells women to be afraid of men, because men are incapable of controlling their urges, and this is also the wrong message. As I said in a previous article, this problem stems from men, and can only be tackled if everyone admits this. But the problem is not just with the men who perpetrate violence themselves. It stems from a deep-seeded gender-role allocation as assigned by the society itself, where men are to be hard and forceful, and women are to be gentle and submissive. We are all party to this, affected by this from birth, and influenced by this every day, as is illustrated in this survey by White Ribbon Australia. In Australia to date in 2015 (as at May 2), 35 women have been murdered at the hands of men, and many ore have been assaulted and raped by men. We don’t (and won’t) ever see these statistics reversed. And while I’m aware this is not a situation of men versus women as if it was some kind of team sport, the statistics show that the problem of violence against women stands out as unique in the spectrum of violence in general.