Asking some awkward questions about FGM

Female genital mutilation is always an abhorrent obscenity. In its more invasive forms it carries significant implications for health and, most obviously sexual health. I have no quibble with the Home Affairs Select Committee that the failure to protect girls in the UK from the practice is a national scandal. We have victim testimony and medical case studies to confirm that girls born and raised in the UK, who should have been under the protection of our welfare and justice systems, have been subjected to this gruesome form of violence.

That said, I have longstanding and lingering doubts about some of the evidence that is always produced when we discuss the nature and extent of FGM in the UK. I stress at this point that from hereon in, this blogpost will be asking questions, not providing answers. However the questions I ask are, I believe, much bigger and more important than anyone is currently crediting. I raise them here not to be a contrarian bellend with an eye on a column in Spiked, but because it concerns me that the FGM prevention agenda could have serious unintended consequences that I will return to at the end.

Media coverage of the new MPs report typically repeat the claim that up to 170,000 women in the UK may have been subjected to FGM and 65,000 girls are currently at risk. The former statistic comes from a piece of research by Julie Bindel earlier this year, the latter is a longstanding estimate originating in research done for the charity FORWARD by Efua Dorkenoo in 2006.

And yet despite anecdote and assumption, actual documented incidents of girls from this country being ritually mutilated, either in this country or being taken abroad for the procedure, is scant. The Association of Chief Police Officers told the Select Committee that in the last five years the police had dealt with over 200 FGM-related cases nationally of which 11 had been referred on to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration. Of the 69 referrals made to the Metropolitan Police Service in 2013, only 10 were recorded as an FGM offence, the others included unfounded concerns and cases where the cutting had happened before the victim had moved to the UK. Health professionals also report seeing many mutilated women but, again, in almost all cases the mutilation appears to have predated UK residence.

Is it credible that a problem on the scale reported could throw up so few confirmed cases? Earlier this year a Channel 4 News Factcheck blog explained very clearly how the prevalence statistics were calculated.

“Estimates of prevalence like this are more like educated guesswork than hard science. There are ranges of uncertainty built into every stage of the process.”

To be fair, the Dorkenoo report is very frank about some of the research’s own limitations. This is reflected, to an extent, in the MPs’ report, but the way they acknowledge this is typical:

“Yet, apart from a small number of high-level statistical analyses and anecdotal evidence, we have very little information on the children who are most at risk, and even the extent to which the cutting is occurring in this country or by taking girls abroad. Meanwhile, as many as 170,000 women in the UK may already be living with the life-long consequences of FGM. We welcome efforts by the Government and others to draw a more accurate picture. However, even in the absence of precise data, it is clear that the extent of the problem is very significant”

In the absence of precise data, is it really clear? I’m not so sure. (Of course, in one sense any extent of FGM, even one case, is significant, but I don’t think that’s really what they mean.)

To understand the doubts about the prevalence data we are given, consider first the phrase “65,000 girls are at risk of FGM.” What does that mean? Simplistically , it means they were born into communities where FGM is practiced, but what risk does that carry? Is their risk of being mutilated 1% or 99%? When we are talking about prevalence and incidence, ‘at risk’ is an almost useless phrase. A quick read of the research reveals that the phrase ‘at risk’ is applied to any girl born to a woman born in any country were FGM is practised, including those where the practice is close to universal and those where it is a comparative rarity. Averaging out such risks would be meaningless, so it is impossible to say what magnitude of risk we are talking about here.

Look at the Dorkenoo paper closely, and other issues arise. The research uses census data for women who were born in countries where FGM is practised and is quite explicit that the research did not control for ethnic or cultural variations within that country. The single largest group within their data are Kenyans, who provide almost a third of their estimated total for women who have been mutilated. However, the British-Kenyan community is by no means typical of the population in Kenya. A large proportion are Kenyan-Asians, mostly of Hindu-Indian culture, who were expelled after the Kenyan Immigration Act of 1967. Rates of FGM among that community are (I would presume) pretty much zero. Other people who will have told the census they were born in Kenya include many white stragglers from the colonial era (Richard Dawkins, Cristina Odone and Peter Hain MP were all born in Kenya). Even among ethnic Kenyans in the UK, large numbers are educated middle-class professionals, especially doctors and nurses, and it is reasonable to presume that (while of course not exempt from risk) they are significantly less likely to be practising FGM than representative samples of the generally poor and uneducated Kenyan population, from which the risks to British-Kenyan girls are extrapolated.

One other serious question mark hanging over this research relates to how migrant communities behave. As acknowledged in the select committee’s report, there is evidence that the behaviour of (at least some) immigrant communities to the UK begins to change soon after they arrive in this country. It is by no means self-evident that a family of North African origin are going to stubbornly retain all the cultural habits of their former home when they begin a new life elsewhere.

And this is where the first of my wider concerns comes in. Anyone who regularly reads comments on social media or blogs knows the extent that FGM can be instrumentalised in entirely different debates. Despite a minimal theological connection to Islam, and widespread practice among Christian and other religious communities in parts of Africa, it is regularly used as evidence of the barbarity of Muslims. Those who would impose a fascistic monoculture upon this country use widespread FGM as evidence of the failure of supposed multiculturalism and the evils of cultural relativism and political correctness. A narrative holding that large numbers of savage dark-skinned foreigners are whisking their daughters out of the country to have their vaginas sewn up or their clitoris excised grips with troubling persistence in the public imagination.

There is a lot about the FGM debate which reminds me of the inflated concerns about sex trafficking about a decade ago. Who can forget Denis Macshane standing up in the House of Commons, waving a copy of the Daily Mirror and insisting that there were 25,000 sex slaves on the streets of Britain? The campaigning and false statistics drove two massive nationwide police operations which ultimately resulted in the rescue of a very small number of genuine victims of trafficking, rape and false imprisonment. Yes, such victims did and do exist. However the main victims of Pentameter I and II were entirely consenting, freely operating foreign-national sex workers who were rounded up by the hundred, torn away from their lives and summarily deported

Just as there really are victims of appalling sex trafficking, there are also victims of female genital mutilation. I do not doubt that there will be girls in this country who are either subjected to the cruel practice here in the UK or perhaps over the summer holidays they will be taken out of the country, with or without knowledge of their impending fate. Just one case is one too many, but whether such cases number in the dozens, the hundreds or the thousands must make a huge difference as to the policies we instigate to address the problem. If the problem were much more rare than we are led to believe, then it could cause considerable harm to place communities from Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and other FGM-practising countries under intrusive practices of surveillance and suspicion, while having little or no effect on the problem. If there are indeed thousands of cases each year, then it might be entirely justified to initiate more wide-ranging policies.

What concerns me most about the lack of strong research into the prevalence of FGM is not just that we do not know the extent of the problem. It is that it seems everyone involved knows we are clueless about the extent of the problem and they seem to have little genuine desire to find out the truth.

Everyday sexists or exceptional sickos? Observing hostile public masturbation

Laura Bates this week devoted her Everyday Sexism blog on the Guardian to the issue of men masturbating in public, specifically as a means of harassing women. Based on the contributions submitted to her website and over Twitter, she made a convincing case that this is one of the more common forms of harassment women experience, and her correspondents made a convincing case that it is also one of the most disturbing and frightening.

Beneath the line, an interesting and at times furious debate erupted. Some commentators, mostly men, I suspect, suggested that this should not be considered a form of sexism, it is instead the work of ‘sickos’ or ‘the local lunatic.’ Others, mostly women I suspect, responded that the men they had encountered behaving like this had been wearing suits and ties and showed no other sign of being mentally ill or generally disturbed. Some suggested that the experience is so common that it must be a large proportion of men who are doing this. This opinion, needless to say, was not well received by many men.

It was a debate that raised a lot of really interesting and important issues, and I thought they might be worth unpicking. My initial sense is that public masturbation is not a thing – it is several different things. Examples quoted in Laura’s piece include men masturbating when alone in a train carriage with a woman and leering at her; a woman discovering ejaculate in their hair from someone sitting behind her in a cinema; frotteurs rubbing themselves against a woman in a crushed tube train; people catching someone hiding in the bushes and masturbating while watching them in secret and even a man walking down the road, apparently unperturbed with his penis in his hand.

While these have an obvious superficial similarity, I’d suggest that they are actually all different phenomena and may have very different forensic profiles.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to focus on public masturbation, with the intent or expectation of being seen and eliciting a reaction. This is clinically classified as exhibitionism, which is a very common form of paraphilia. As long ago as 1973, JM McDonald noted in the original textbook that fully one third of sexual crimes reported to police were exhibitionism of some sort. A Swedish survey of the general population found that 4.1% of men and 2.1% of women admitted that they had, at some time in their lives, experienced sexual arousal by exposing their genitals to strangers. This suggests that the behaviour, while only performed by a small minority, is not freakishly unusual. It should be noted that despite those survey results above, the incidents which are reported to police (a rough proxy for incidents which could be considered threatening or traumatic) virtually all offenders are male. Adult male victims are almost unheard of. Child victims are roughly evenly divided between boys and girls.

Paraphilias (as sexual disorders are described in the psych literature and textbooks) are not generally considered to be mental illnesses, although – like personality disorders – they fall under the remit of mental health professionals when they begin to cause harm or distress to either the individual or those around him/her. So an exhibitionist, even a compulsive, repeat offender, is not necessarily ‘mad’ or mentally ill. Paraphilias also appear throughout the population, and there is some (albeit disputed) evidence that they are slightly over-represented among better educated, higher social-class individuals, which would validate the point about offenders wearing business suits.

However this gets complicated when one notes that exhibitionism, like other paraphilias, often appears in a pattern of comorbidity with mental illnesses, personality disorders and neurological disorders – spanning everything from autistic spectrum disorders to temporal lobe seizures.

The final piece in this puzzle is that exhibitionism also commonly appears in a pattern of co-morbidity with other paraphilias and sexual offending behaviours. So a persistent sex offender who commits contact offences – up to and including rape – is reasonably likely to have a history of other offences that include exhibitionism. It is also true that a small number of offenders commit these offences prolifically, so there will be far more women who have encountered such behaviour than there will be men who have committed it.

The sad but inescapable truth is that most people who display hostile paraphilias begin their ‘careers’ in perversion at a young age, usually still in childhood. A large proportion have been victims of childhood abuse of some sort, often but not always sexual. This does not make their behaviour understandable, acceptable or forgiveable.

Without getting lost in philosophical debates about free will and determinism, paraphiliacs have responsibility for their own beliefs, their own behaviour and their own values. The vast majority of victims of child abuse do not go on to abuse others. Most people with atypical sexual desires or who respond to unusual sexual stimuli find safe, non-abusive expressions for those urges and desires, ideally with an enthusiastically consenting partner or at least a rich fantasy life.

One can be mentally ill, one can be a misogynist, and one can be or neither, or both. I don’t think it is any kind of a stretch to include this type of behaviour under the banner ‘everyday sexism.’ It happens commonly enough and undoubtedly has a heavily gendered dynamic in the overwhelming majority of cases. On the other hand, the people committing the offences probably are not ‘everyday sexists’, they are what the textbooks call ‘deviant’ or disordered sexual offenders. There is no contradiction there.

So are these offenders damaged, disturbed, mentally disordered individuals or are they women-haters, sexists and misogynists? I’d hazard an educated guess that most are both. 

—————

Some more reading I found useful today:

Niklas Langstrom (2010) The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Exhibitionism, Voyeurism,and Frotteurism

Sex and Sexuality: Sexual Deviation and Sexual Offenses. Ed Richard D. McAnulty, M. Michele Burnette

Lee et al, 2002 Developmental risk factors for sexual offending   

 

The Fishin’ Around Friday Open Thread

There have been several of our recurring themes around the news this week.

As a few of you were discussing in the last open thread, Rhiannon Brooker has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years for making false rape allegations against her ex-boyfriend. Most people’s attention was captured by the frankly outrageous comments from Women Against Rape (WAR) who campaign vociferously against any prosecutions for making false allegations of rape. It’s a bizarre position to hold, seems to serve no purpose other than making feminism look entirely unreasonable, and I really don’t understand why the Guardian, in particular, give them so much airspace on this issue.

One thing that struck me about the coverage of the case, though, was the focus on why she had done it, what her motivations might have been. Was she trying to create a cover story because she was  about to fail her Bar exams (as alleged by the prosecution) or was it an inexplicable act committed in the midst of an emotional breakdown and immense stress and pressure,  as her defense counsel maintained, or was there some other more mysterious explanation?

My point is that we very rarely ask these questions about other criminals. If someone commits an assault or a rape we don’t agonise over why (usually) he might have done it. I think our desperate search to find an explanatory framework comes down to our collective difficulty in conceptualising the fact  that sometimes women can do really bloody nasty things out of spite.

Which leads me on to the  next topic on my radar – the study by Elizabeth Bates and Nicola Graham-Kevan which was reported at the Forensic section conference of the British Psychological Society yesterday. I’m not entirely sure what is new in it, all of it seems reasonably familliar to me, but the interesting thing in the light of recent debates on this site is that they found evidence to suggest women are more prone to show aggression to their partners than to non-partners of their own sex, whereas men are less likely (than women) to be aggressive towards their partners but more likely to be aggressive to other people of their own gender.

So they are the main things I haven’t found time to write about this week.

What else have we missed?

How I learned to stop worrying and love their #ListeningToMenFace

Poehler Fey

There was a moment when I was browsing the #ListeningToMenFace tweets over the weekend when I wondered whether it might be considered genuinely harmful.

If you’re a twit-refusenik or somehow missed it, this was a hashtag under which women, mostly but not entirely from feminist corners, posted photos, animated gifs of the faces they make when men talk to them. Some were posed selfies, most were celebrity grabs.

After laughing my way through the first few dozen entries I saw, the sheer weight of numbers began to wear me down. Had it become, I asked myself, something of a misandrist parade? An opportunity for women not just to strike back against the prevailing winds of patriarchal social mores but to gratuitously elevate a one finger salute to half the population of the planet?

I scratched my chin, cocked my head in a moment’s contemplation, then came to the following conclusion: “Ally…. get a grip and stop being such a butthurt bucket of toss.”

So yes, we can add the #ListeningToMenFace to the ever lengthening list of Fucks I Could Not Give. The key flash of realisation for me was that if so many women could identify with the joke and feel motivated enough to join in, there was a real and genuine itch there which needed to be scratched. And truth be told, looking at the photos, the videos and the gifs, a pretty hefty hunk of them looked rather familiar. Not only can I conclude that a lot of different women have shown me their #ListeningToMenFace over the years, I can add that on most occasions it was probably entirely deserved.

We live in a society where relationships between men and women – whether intimate, emotional, social or economic – are governed by myriad expectations, assumptions, habituations and complex etiquette. This means that, to some degree, most of us talk slightly differently to people of a different gender. Many of us might like to to think that we are immune to such habits. Most of us would be wrong, I think, but even if it were true, we all still interpret the other person’s words and behaviour through a lens that is coloured by their gender.

If we ever build a society free of restrictive gender norms, we might find ourselves in a position where the notion of a #ListeningToMenFace or indeed a #ListeningToWomenFace has no purchase or meaning, no humorous or satirical kick. As it is, I get why #ListeningToMenFace is funny. I also get why a #ListeningToWomenFace tag can be funny too, and if anyone expects me to argue it is different when men do these things about women because power relations blah blah, then sorry – a bit of gentle, impertinent ribbing of women by men is similarly lodged in the fattening file of Fucks I Could Not Give.

And of course it didn’t take long for the first such tweets to appear. The one truly saddening and worrying thing about this minor kerfuffle is that this evening when I looked, the top image under #ListeningToMenFace was this endearing photo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (above), the top image under #ListeningToWomenFace was the serial killer Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. A bit of gentle ribbing was answered by a reminder of brutal misogynistic violence. As the meme would have it, this is why we can’t have nice things.

I will not, however, allow that kind of unpleasantness to spoil anyone’s fun. As an original contribution to the #ListeningToMenFace game, I must pay tribute to my favourite fictional woman of recent years – Chloe O’Brian from 24. Without wishing to downplay her vital role in preventing umpteen biological weapons attacks and nuclear explosions, or to ignore her technical brilliance, but for all that her true genius is in pulling a #ListeningToMenFace. I mean, look.

chloe_listening

 

And it wouldn’t be right to leave you without my own #ListeningToWomenFace. I did contemplate a gif from Scanners of that dude’s head exploding, but while I have had a few days like that lately, it really wouldn’t be accurate. The truth of my #ListeningToWomenFace is probably something like this:

ghostbuster

 

 

Can we finally nail down those male victim statistics?

Dear Anna

I’m genuinely grateful for this post on your blog Economista Dentata which delves into the ONS statistics on domestic abuse. After the week I’ve had, I really hope this gives me the opportunity to establish some recognised consensus as to the best available knowledge on some controversial questions, and the fact that you identify the sources of your claims and ‘show your workings’ (forgive the cliché) gives me hope that this could be a really constructive exchange. I hope you would be willing to consider this an ongoing dialogue, so I will make no apologies for asking you some questions and I’ll very much look forward to your answers.

I will go through what I take to be your main points, if you think I have missed anything significant or misrepresented your points, please correct me, I assure you it will be inadvertent.

Before diving headlong into some data, let us clearly define our terms. In theONS definition, domestic violence has a narrower definition than domestic abuse….

The two terms are not interchangeable – domestic abuse covers the entire x- axis: domestic violence excludes non-physical abuse. As the title suggests, Mankind’s video focuses on the physical, but over and over, the statistics Ally cites refer to all abuse. The effect is to muddle the eye of the reader.

 

I willingly accept that the ONS draws a distinction between ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘domestic violence’ – the latter being a narrower category which excludes non-physical abuse. You make a valid criticism that I use the two terms interchangeably without clarification, which could cause confusion.

However as you know, I was addressing points made by Polly Neate from Women’s Aid. Women’s Aid, and indeed the Home Office, define domestic violence as:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

psychological

physical

sexual

financial

emotional

That was also the definition I was using (for the record, it is one I accept and agree with.) You will notice that this definition of domestic violence is wider than the ONS one, indeed it is pretty much identical to the ONS definition of domestic abuse.

So I hope you would agree that by the definition quoted above, the claim made by Mankind Initiative about the percentage of victims of domestic violence who are male is not categorically inaccurate.

Are we agreed so far?

That said, it is fair to point out that we now have two operating definitions of domestic violence, one which includes non-physical abuse, and one which doesn’t.

It is important to note that victims can experience more than one type of abuse. Unless I’m missing a trick, it is therefore impossible to know from the figures on your graph (and here) exactly how many men and women were subjected to domestic violence by the strict ONS definition.

Your graph is partnered by this ONS table (click to enlarge)

Table 4.11

There were 700,000 male victims of domestic abuse and 1.2 million female victims of domestic abuse last year. We do therefore know how many men and women were subjected to each of the subcategories of abuse.

If we’re to be exact with our sums, I make it 37% of victims of domestic abuse are men, not 40%. I’ll accept those corrections.

From Table 4.11 we can also say that:

Men make up only small percentages of sexual violence and stalking victims. No argument from me there, although they are much, much smaller groups than the non-sexual abuse category.

There were 392,000 male victims of non-physical (emotional and financial) abuse (56% of 700,000) and 612,000 women (51% of 1.2m). That means 39% of victims of this type of abuse were male.

We can repeat this calculation to find that 329,000 men and were subjected to threats or force compared to 588,000 women, so 36% of victims of this type of domestic abuse were male.

Within that category:

17% of those subjected to threats were male.

31% of those subjected to minor force (‘pushed you, held you down or slapped you’) were male.

41% of those subjected to severe force (‘kicked, hit, bitten, choked, strangled, threatened with a weapon, threats to kill, use of a weapon or some other kind of force’) were male.

Looking at those statistics, especially the last one, while we can probably agree that it is never possible to capture a complex phenomenon like intimate partner abuse in a single statistic, would you not agree it is reasonable for a campaigning charity like the Mankind Initiative to tell a general, public audience that 40% of victims of domestic violence are male?

If not, can I ask you directly, what do you think would be a reasonable calculation, from all available evidence, of the proportion of victims of domestic abuse / violence who are male?

 

–—————–

 

We might all want to take a breather here, before I move on to your next point!

 

–—————-

So, to the data: there are several sources for this, which rather unhelpfully from our viewpoint have different methodologies. This notwithstanding, the ONS is pellucidly clear in its Summary and throughout: “Women were more likely than men to have experienced intimate violence across all headline types of abuse asked about.” Note: they do not say the likelihoods are of a comparable magnitude.

Yet this is the argument, that over and over again, Ally, in his defence of Mankind Initiative’s video, tries with more or less subtlety, to push.

I have very little to say about this beyond the fact that it is not true. I’ve said (and continue to say) that men make up a significant minority of victims of abuse but nowhere, in my recent blog or anywhere else, have I ever said that men were equally likely to face abuse. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has the Mankind Initiative. 40% versus 60% is not “comparable magnitude” of likelihood. I simply do not know where you have got that from and I would respectfully ask you to withdraw it, or at least explain what it is I’ve said to give you the wrong idea, so I can be careful not to say it again.

–———–

Ally says: “If you go to the Women’s Aid page of statistics, the very first fact stated there is that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. This statistic comes from the exact same ONS data set from where we get 40% of victims being male.” (Ally’s blog)

But, seeing as 40% of domestic violence victims in the UK are men…”(HuffPo)

Not only is that NOT the first fact stated on the Women’s Aid page

Whoops, my fault. It is the first statistic quoted on the domestic violence page of the Women’s Aid website. I hold my hand up and apologise for the error.

but he has compared a statistic about domestic violence to one about domestic abuse, in order, it seems, to minimise the violence women suffer and exaggerate that suffered by men.

See above. I maintain that according to the definition of domestic violence used by both the Home Office and Women’s Aid, it is not inaccurate to say that around 40% of domestic violence victims are male.

The time frames are also different: Ally cites Women’s Aid ‘in her lifetime’ – but the ONS data refers to reported incidents in the last year; the sample sizes are not the same: Women’s Aid’s statistic refers ALL women in the adult female population not the percentage of victims referred to by the ONS.

This is a fair point, in that I did switch between annual and lifetime figures, which is sloppy. However the Women’s Aid statistic of lifetime prevalence does indeed come from the BCS/CSEW – the exact same data that provide annual figures. To be accurate, the latest CSEW gives the figures of “30% of women and 16.3% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.9 million female victims of domestic abuse and 2.7 million male victims” – which is slightly more than one in four women. But the key point is that this estimate refers to victims experiencing any one incident, not a repeated pattern.

As this page demonstrates, Women’s Aid themselves acknowledge that the “one in four women” figure (like the “one in six men” figure) is indeed based on single incidents, not repeated and prolonged patterns. So while I didn’t make my case very carefully in the original blog, the point very much still stands. Women’s Aid use single incident statistics when they want to demonstrate how commonplace domestic violence against women is, then discount single incident statistics when they want to claim domestic violence against men is rare.

–———-

Ally and Mankind also leave unaddressed that men will be perpetrators of violence against men in relationships, as well as being victims (it’s worth noting that of all incidents of all kinds of violence in society, the majority are committed by men); domestic violence and abuse against men will not take place solely in heterosexual relationships (the same caveat, of course, applies to women).

It is true that some partner violence against men can occur in same sex relationships, as of course can some partner violence against women.

Thankfully, the ONS have also considered this so we do have the data (albeit the most recent is from 2008/9) It is here, on Page 76. I appreciate the table is sideways on the pdf, so to save you some contortionism, the main points are that partner abuse victimisation among:

  • Heterosexual men = 4.1%
  • Heterosexual women = 5.9%
  • Gay/ bisexual men = 8.9%
  • Lesbian/bisexual women = 17.3%

I would advise not reading too much into the gay / lesbian / bi categories which can be complicated by all sorts of factors (not least margins of error with small groups). The key statistics are the first two. Among purely heterosexual populations, there are (very slightly more than) four male victims for every six female victims. Another way to put that is that about 40% of heterosexual victims of partner abuse are male. If we include same sex relationships in the analysis the proportion of victims who are male does not go up, it falls.

–———–

His attempt to redefine domestic violence by volume of incidents a victim suffers is puzzling at best: to quote Mankind’s own slogan ‘ViolenceisViolence’ whether it’s once or a thousand times.

Forgive me if I’m being dense here, I don’t understand this point. I think you may be referring to my responses to Polly Neate’s attempts to redefine domestic violence by volume of incidents. It was her doing that, not me. She appeared to be suggesting that domestic violence is only real domestic violence if it happens repeatedly, as a pattern.

If you’re puzzled by that, hey, join the club. I quite agree, #ViolenceIsViolence whether it happens once or a thousand times.

–—

In order to end male violence in society against women, we need to understand and name the problem.

 

I don’t disagree with that. At no point have I denied male violence, and I am on a lifelong mission to attempt to understand it. I’m also quite happy to name male violence as male violence.

However male violence is not the only type of violence in society and I have spent much of the last week fielding angry attacks from those who would appear to demand that I accept it is, against all evidence to the contrary.

 

Ally Fogg calls himself an ally to feminists.

 

Actually he doesn’t. I am sometimes called that by others, but believe me, I’m called a lot of worse things too.

 

 

Tackling the facts about the World Cup and domestic abuse

With the World Cup approaching, as predictable as a catastrophic metatarsal fracture or an unfathomable miss by Lampard, the police have issued warnings of a sudden spate of domestic violence incidents coinciding with every England game.

Equally predictably, voices from the manosphere shout “HOAX” and suggest that such claims are a fabricated, bogus defamation of men and their (ok, our) harmless hobbies. The rebuttals tend to recite the well-known case of the Superbowl domestic violence myth or, slightly more pertinently, an article by Christina Hoff-Sommers published at the time of the last World Cup.

As someone who loves drinking, loves football, and especially loves drinking my way through the World Cup, I would love to be able to reassure everyone that all these stories about drunken British football fans beating their wives (or, on occasion, their husbands) are an urban legend. Sadly they are, with a few caveats, very largely true.

Since Hoff-Sommers wrote her piece last time round, this research was published by Kirby et al which does demonstrate a large and significant effect. Yes, it is drawn from a localised sample, which can raise issues, but otherwise it seems sound and does address many of the problems which have cast doubt over previous claims in this area – for example controlling for seasonal variations in domestic violence rates.

A few years ago, a Scottish football supporters’ webzine investigated claims by Strathclyde police about a spike in violence on Old Firm match days (that’s the Glasgow Rangers-Celtic local derby, overseas guests). They requested the figures and, with great fanfare, proclaimed the police to be either mistaken or dishonest. There was no noticeable difference in DV incidents on Old Firm match days.

I submitted my own FOI request and got the raw data. At first glance, they appeared to be correct. There was no match day effect. However something peculiar happened – while there was not a significant rise in DV reports on match days, there was a very large rise the day after match days.

After a few phonecalls with a helpful Strathclyde Police data analyst up in Glasgow, we established that there was one data set drawn from the informal daily incident log, which ran with police shifts, ending at 5am. However the data released on request was the official recorded incident data, which ran midnight to midnight. A large proportion of the “match day” domestic violence incidents were happening between midnight and 5am, and were not showing up in the daily statistics. It was a salutary reminder that not only do we have to keep a close eye on those who release and act upon official statistics, we have to keep a similarly close eye on those who seek to debunk official statistics, even through such channels as the Freedom of Information Act.

As I mentioned however, there are caveats. We should bear in mind that there are more police on duty on match days. They may, therefore, be more likely to catch couples who are brawling / assaulting each other in public. These cases will show up in the statistics. It is also possible that the publicity and warnings surrounding domestic violence on match days is, to an extent, effective. It might encourage victims to call for help when otherwise they would not have done.

Most significantly, however, we should bear in mind that it is not only football matches that cause such spikes in domestic violence. The figures also rise a lot on bank holidays and (of course) occasions such as Christmas and New Year. Last month Manchester saw its worst weekend for domestic abuse this year, worse even than New Year. Why? Apparently for no other reason than the sun came out and people got thirsty. An exercise I have always wanted to undertake (remind me sometime) would be to access domestic violence data for occasions such as royal weddings or the Queen’s Jubilee, when a national holiday and street parties are actively encouraged. I strongly suspect we would see the same effect, although for some reason the media seems reluctant to highlight those risks.

There is one final point that must be made about this research. A couple of recent papers in medical journals by Zara Quigg and colleagues (here and here)  have examined emergency department injury data on World Cup match days. Once again, the effect is there – a significant rise in admissions should be expected. What is less often mentioned is that the great majority of injuries are to men, with young adult males (18 -34) alone representing more than half of all admissions. The gender difference in hospital admissions which exists every weekend does not narrow on big match days – it increases.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I do not doubt that this is overwhelmingly men’s violence against men. From a male point of view, this is our problem. However there is a widespread assumption that such casualties are self-inflicted – lads going out, looking for a fight and coming off worse. That can happen, but research into street violence shows that a lot of incidents are unilateral or the result of several assailants attacking one victim. No level of violence is a tolerable level of violence.

I support and endorse campaigns which highlight the increased risks of partner abuse around football matches. The myths on this score are propagated not by police and charities, but by denialists. Having said that, I’d like to see a little more acknowledgement that the risks are not only faced by women.

On that note, I wish you an enjoyable, successful and above all, safe World Cup. It’s Samba Time!

The entirely Fact Free Friday open thread

So what’s on your mind folks?

If you’d like an oblique strategy starter, you could have a listen in to yesterday’s BBC Woman’s Hour, which was a special edition to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of Joan Smith’s book, Misogynies. As a couple of you already noticed, it also includes a very brief cameo from me round about  the 40 minute mark.

Inevitably, as the last segment, our time was squeezed, and of the two or three key points I wanted to make, I actually made none. Still, as carnation has noted, I am (apparently) more Scottish than I look on the Radio.

A quick scan of the hashtags after revealed that I ruffled a few listeners’ feathers by having the audacity to offer some reasonably up to date and accurate statistics about violence against women.

On a similar note, I could only sigh and decline the argument on this rather strange response to my last blog. It left me thinking of only one thing:

homerfacts

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#ViolenceIsViolence: Watching the reactions

I am not a fan of advertisements or public service broadcasts which purport to be scientific experiments. I’m not convinced that 8/10 cats really do prefer your Kangachunks over other products, nor that some actress really does feel like the appearance of wrinkles has been reduced after six weeks of using inventyserum oxide. I’m particularly cynical about hidden camera exercises which catch the reactions of oblivious passers-by and which can only be produced by editing down endless miles of footage into a few seconds of final cut.

So while I’m a great admirer and supporter of the work of domestic violence charity the Mankind Initiative, my heart didn’t exactly leap when I first saw their new online ad to support a campaign they call #ViolenceIsViolence.

I will now hold up my hand and say I was wrong. The video has been viewed six million times in little over a week, sparked widespread debate across mainstream media in Britain and across the world. Many online discussions have focussed on double standards and asked readers to speculate on the question, what would you do? Almost instantly it has become one of the most effective pieces of campaigning for men’s issues I’ve ever seen.And the reactions have been telling. By that, I do not mean the reactions shown in the film, they speak for themselves. I mean the reactions from across the spectrum of gender politics and domestic violence campaigners.

First, the good news. I have seen many supportive comments from individual women and feminist groups, including local Women’s Aid charities, who have been happy to express unequivocal support for the message that #ViolenceIsViolence and violence is wrong.

I’m more baffled by the reaction of American blogger and manosphere-watcher David Futrelle, who picked up on a Spanish academic’s blog to ask the question: Is the Mankind Initiative’s #ViolenceIsViolence video a fraud?

Using the type of forensic analysis which in the good old days t’internet used to establish that the moon landings were fake or that Woody Woodpecker shot JFK, David demonstrates that the two minute campaigning video must have been (wait for it) EDITED! He then goes on to demand that the Mankind Initiative and the company who made the video release the original, raw footage so that he, or whoever, can go through analysing it frame by frame to verify its authenticity.

Why would anyone want to do this? Does David Futrelle or anyone else really deny that society generally reacts differently to female on male violence than to the reverse? Among my own original, ill-aimed gripes at the video, was a sense that the point it was making was so glaringly obvious it verged on the banal. Do you need to be convinced of how differently people consider female on male violence? Try reading a newspaper. Try reading social media whenever there is a factual or fictional case on the TV. The Mankind Initiative’s video provided a short, sharp, easily understood illustration of a long-established fact. Was the video a fraud? No David, it was an ad.

So far so silly. Far more troubling was the reaction of the leading national domestic violence charity, Women’s Aid and their chief executive.

Polly Neate initially published an article on the Daily Telegraph, then followed it up with an appearance on BBC Women’s Hour. Neate did make one good and important point, which is that intervening in public incidents of domestic violence can be dangerous and counter-productive for all involved, a point which I agree should have somehow been acknowledged in the video. The rest of the article was shocking, notably her implication that the success of this video might put women at risk. In particular, she took issue with the statistic which appears on the last frame of the film, that 40% of victims of domestic violence are men.

Mankind’s video ends by showing a statistic that 40 per cent of domestic violence is suffered by men. This figure, while it does come from the Office for National Statistics, can be misleading. It’s important to remember that domestic violence, the type of abuse where you are living in utter fear of your partner, isn’t a one-off incident: it’s about ongoing and repeated violence. Women make up 89 per cent of those who experience four or more incidents of domestic violence.

It’s also really important to recognise that in the remaining 11 per cent, men are more at risk when they are in same sex relationships. Quite simply, proportionately very few perpetrators of domestic violence where there is ongoing abuse are female. Despite this, female perpetrators are three times more likely to be arrested than men. As men commit 96 per cent of all violent crime, it is difficult to understand why these statistics are so hard to accept.

 

There are so many problems with this it would be tedious to list them all. Every single statistic above is questionable, dated or downright false, so I will restrict myself to one key point. If you go to the Women’s Aid page of statistics, the very first fact stated there is that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. This statistic comes from the exact same ONS data set from where we get 40% of victims being male. If by domestic violence we mean ‘ongoing and repeated violence… those who experience four or more incidents of domestic violence’ then more than two thirds of female victims of DV simply disappear – they don’t exist. The figure of 89% comes from Walby and Allen‘s analysis of the 2001 British Crime Survey. If we were to use the ‘four or more’ condition to define domestic violence, from that same study, only 32% of victimised women qualify, meaning that the number of women who are a victim suddenly drops from one in four to around one in 13. Women’s Aid cannot have it both ways.

In practice, Women’s Aid do not restrict their services to women who have been subject to acts of physical violence four or more times by the same perpetrator. On the ground, quite rightly and importantly, they help women (and in some cases men) who have been subjected to all kinds of physical, emotional and psychological abuse, including those who have been victims of a single incident. It is highly dishonest to pretend that the only victims worthy of consideration are those suffering repeated, severe violence.

Much worse is to come, however. Neate continues:

It is totally understandable that organisations want to highlight the issue they are campaigning on, to increase their profile and encourage people to support their cause, but campaigns such as these influence important decisions that affect survivors. We have been told by local Women’s Aid federation organisations that they are funded locally on the basis they have to provide services to male victims, and they are rarely used despite putting time and money into promoting this.

 

The first thing to note here is that there is not a shred of objective evidence that any women have suffered or been denied services because funding has been diverted to provide services for male victims. When challenged by Mankind Initiative’s Mark Brooks on Women’s Hour, Neate failed to provide any details, reverting to ‘well it’s what we’ve been told.’ Secondly, if it is true that some local Women’s Aid organisations are finding there is low take-up for services aimed at men, it could be because an organisation called ‘Women’s Aid’ with a history of denial with regard to male victims and some profoundly problematic attitudes going all the way to the very top might not be the most appropriate organisation to be providing services to men. Just a thought.

Most significantly, however, we must compare and contrast the attitudes of the two charities on this front. Every time I have heard Mark Brooks speak on the media or in public, he has gone to great pains to stress that he believes there should be more funding for female and male victims, and that it would be obscene to argue that women should be deprived of any services in order to provide them to men instead. He wants to join with all domestic violence charities and campaigns to demand more and better services for all victims, irrespective of gender. Women’s Aid will not return this courtesy.

I cannot conceive of any other charity that would actively attack the campaigning and fundraising work of another. We do not see lung cancer charities running attack pieces against effective breast cancer campaigns. We don’t see Water Aid asking people not to give to Aids charities.

Domestic violence services of all types have struggled against devastating funding cuts over the past four years. People in need have been deprived of interventions that could offer vital, even life-saving support. If that trend is to be reversed, it will only happen by everyone who cares about the issue joining as one and demanding help for those in need. It cannot help to have one charity turn on another in an ignominious display of one-downmanship.

Open thread: Would you like an open thread?

The other day HetPat regular Carnation left a comment suggesting that this blog (can I presume to call you all this community?) might benefit from a weekly open thread, and whenever conversations are running too far off topic, I (or others) could politely suggest the conversation is moved there.

Personally I have no strong opinions either way. If we were to do it, I would probably be even more hands-off with the moderation than I am on regular threads – I would continue to come down hard on overt bigotry – whether misogyny, misandry, homophobia, racism, transphobia etc – but if two commentators are viciously tearing strips off each other with equal culpability, I’d be tempted to leave them to it.

What do you think?

And while we’re about it, anything else on your mind? Whether relating to this blog, my moderation policy, suggestions for future topics etc, or just anything passing across your transam that may be of interest to others?

Spill yer branez below.