Is domestic violence gender-based violence?

11 Feb

Domestic Violence


Domestic violence is usually included in the umbrella term gender-based violence, that is, violence that is directed against a person because of her gender, and violence that reflects inequalities between men and women.

Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, (IPV) and family violence are defined in Australian federal and state government policy released in 2011 as gender crimes, committed overwhelmingly by men against women and their children.

As the majority of domestic arrangements in our culture are heterosexual, that seems an obvious conclusion to draw. However, look at any one of a number of world-wide studies on domestic violence between same-sex partners and you’ll find the similarity to heterosexual couple violence, not only in occurrence, but also in performance.

Domestic violence is about power and control between men and women, women and women, and men and men. If we lived in a culture in which same-sex couples were as prevalent as heterosexual couples, it’s safe to assume the incidence of domestic violence would hardly vary.

My point is that to define domestic violence as gender-based is inaccurate and unhelpful, particularly to those in the LGBTI community whom it excludes. Many researchers suspect a current under-reporting of same-sex couple violence, perhaps in part due to that definition. The proportionally equal rates of domestic violence in hetero and LGTBI communities suggest the violence is not gender-based, but an outcome of couplings in which one party exerts control over another using violence, regardless of gender.

Framing domestic violence as a gender-based problem does little to help combat the issue, as decades of failure to reduce the figures suggests.

It’s sometimes argued that LGBTI couplings mimic the heterosexual and the abused party in LGBTI relationships is “feminised” by virtue of being abused, therefore the abuse is still in that sense gender-based. This argument has a ring of making the evidence fit that leaves me unconvinced.

Our problem is that the need to exert power and control over others is endemic in our culture and manifests itself in a multitude of ways, from school bullies to violent intimate partners. My concern is that in making gender the focus in domestic violence we’re allowing ourselves to be distracted from the core problem, and as long as we do that we are unlikely to find workable solutions.

As long as our dominant couplings are heterosexual, there’s no reason to think women will not continue to bear the brunt of domestic violence inflicted on them by male partners. But does that make intimate couple violence gender-based, and ought we to be addressing it solely from that perspective?

We need to have adequate protections in place for people needing refuge from violent domestic situations, and our Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has cut funding to women’s services that will in the next couple of weeks severely curtail these protections. It is not always to our advantage to have domestic crimes against us defined as gender-based.

21 Responses to “Is domestic violence gender-based violence?”

  1. Cranky Pants Noely (@YaThinkN) February 11, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    This is something that has always bothered me. Every time it is discussed there will invariably be one person in the room who will jump up quickly saying “But men can be victims too”, which is clearly true, BUT the discussion was on ‘FAMILY’ violence, not violence against women, though for some reason, it will automatically connect in many people’s mind to a ‘female’ thing?

    A. This is not helpful at all to any victims, as your gender should not matter, a victim is a victim.
    and B. Sadly, with the attitude to women that is far to prevalent in our society, as soon as it is linked to being a ‘female’ thing it is automatically de-valued. As we see in society now…
    OMG One Punch, fix it,
    OMG Bikies, fix it,
    2nd woman dead in just one week MYEH 😦

    I won’t even start on the ‘victims’ who are the kids in these intimate relationships, many are scarred for life, yet they are also forgotten.

    Jen, this piece should be spread far & wide, as you say “making gender the focus in domestic violence we’re allowing ourselves to be distracted from the core problem” and you are dead right!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. doug quixote February 11, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    An excellent article, as usual.

    But whilst “violence” is the thing targeted, as being an attempt to dominate one’s partner regardless of gender, the activity of the designated “victim” is overlooked. it is possible to dominate a partner without ever using violence: the art of the put-down, the snide comments, the bad-mouthing to friends, relations and especially the children . . . a partner can be dominated without a fist or a knife ever being shown.

    This is not to condone the use of violence in possible response to that sort of domination, but often the dominated partner’s only way of responding, of (trying to find a non-combative term!) fighting back is to use violence. Violence is seen as the final recourse after discussion and argument are exhausted, but the dominated partner may know from long experience that physical violence is the only recourse that will work, that has a chance of working.

    For me this is all theoretical; but do I have a point?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 11, 2015 at 8:48 am #

      It is possible to dominate another using all kinds of techniques, physical violence is perhaps the easiest one to prove, and the most evident to others.

      Only way to fight back? I can see how someone could feel that, and react violently. Couple dynamics can be hellish.


      • PaulS February 11, 2015 at 11:47 am #

        I have read all of the “family violence” related posts on this site since I found it and have even had long replies written out but have been very hesitant to post and indeed deleted them because of the over the top attacks I usually get when I say I am a man and have been a victim of violence from a female.

        As others have said, it started out as mind games, she stated she was going to kill me without even touching me, she nearly did. Depression is an insidious beast, especially with someone skilled feeding it.
        When I attempted suicide and was hospitalised I found a group of men who were in a similar position and by talking about it with others I discovered what buttons she was pressing and learnt to recognise them and ignore them.
        This is when the situation changed from mental violence to full on physical violence. She was furious that mind games stopped working. She was going to a womens violence support group (as part of the act that she was the victim) and was getting all the very awful details from real violence victims and telling everyone, and I mean everyone, that this is what she was suffering from. She went to my work, the clubs I was in, all our neighbours she even got on a plane and flew from Victoria to Queensland to tell a cousin of mine. She was very determined to trash me.

        How does a man clear his name of something like this? I can tell you now that you can’t. After 20 years I still have former freinds, blank me. Life moves on of course but I still have to leave the room when the violence against women adds come on.

        Violence against women is terrible, violence against anyone is terrible, you are right the discussion should be only about the violence.

        Liked by 1 person

        • samjandwich February 11, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

          Well I’ll support you here Paul. I’ve had a similar, if less prolonged and intense experience to yours, and have heard many many similar stories from other men. Sensible people can’t make this stuff up, nor can they dismiss it when somebody else tells them about it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jennifer Wilson February 11, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

            Thank you. xxxx

            Liked by 1 person

            • samjandwich February 11, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

              And thank you too! Many people have been badly treated by others. Perhaps it’s because we’re such social animals that it becomes so hurtful and confusing – because we know the person had the option (technically at least) of not doing it, but they decided to do it anyway. Not only is the act itself hurtful, but it also mucks up our sense of self trying to contemplate the possibility that the person causing harm might have had completely justifiable reasons for doing it, and that those on the receiving end are in the wrong. And when we finally come to the realisation that yes *they* were wrong, anyone who has any faith in humanity is presented with the dilemma of trying to find a way to understand what they were thinking, perhaps with the ultimate aim of forgiving them, and thereby clearing some sort of spiritual imbalance? Perhaps it helps to think about the instances when we’ve harmed someone else, and subsequently tried to figure out how to forgive ourselves?

              But then you knew that already didn’t you?! *-)

              For me the most useful question is, why can’t people just be nice to each other?

              Liked by 1 person

              • Jennifer Wilson February 12, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

                You really do have a most beautiful nature, Sam, every time I read one of your comments I feel my harshness melt under the influence of your considered generosity.


        • Jennifer Wilson February 11, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

          Sorry to be so long responding, PaulS, have been off line.

          I know of other situations such as yours. I am glad you decided to post a comment. It can’t be easy. I hope the response from samjandwich is of some comfort to you.

          All the best to you.


  3. samjandwich February 11, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

    Thanks for this Jennifer.

    This is quite a complex and vexing topic and I’m increasingly wondering how I might be able to clear a few years out of my schedule in order to do it justice. The indications from LGBTI relationships are certainly interesting, but it seems to me there are all sorts of opportunities for further research on the kinds of relationship dynamics that co-occur with domestic violence.

    One thing I can say is that I too have never been convinced by the gender angle, as it seems to me to be largely a political position… which may well have been an important one to adopt in the early stages of anti-domestic violence activism, but in having been transposed to the mainstream in an attempt to develop a systematic explanation for why male-against-female violence is so prevalent it is placed in the position of automatically making false assumptions about what goes (or what should go) through other people’s heads. Clearly however there are plenty of people around these days who are espousing explanations for domestic violence which are somewhat broader than the contention that it is a function of patriarchal masculinity.

    And dare I say it, maybe this is what Tanveer Ahmed was getting at by his sleights against “radical feminism” – ie that he was trying to point out in an extremely ham-fisted (and clearly Murdochian) way that the debate has moved on somewhat from the examination of the personalised experience of one cohort, now that the evidence base around the phenomenon of domestic violence is growing.

    I do wonder whether one way forward would be to look at the internal dynamics within relationships, on the understanding that there are issues of power and control going on. I also think it might be useful to consider things like individuals’ attitudes towards intimate relationships and to interactions between people generally, and how the formation of same is linked to things like childhood experiences, trauma, or dysfunctional thinking styles, emotional development etc, people’s feels around their relationship’s positioning vis-a-vis the rest of society, how much control/self-awareness people have over themselves when they’re being violent etc etc.


    • Jennifer Wilson February 11, 2015 at 8:14 pm #

      I absolutely agree with your last paragraph, Sam. The internal dynamics within relationships are the key to the problems of violence.

      I am also somewhat wary at the prospect of heterosexual dynamics being imposed on LGBTI relationships, as a an assumption that those relationships necessarily emulate the hetero. It seems to me some LGBTI positions are attempting to avoid the pitfalls of hetero gender roles.

      As well, LGBTI relationships experience all kinds of pressures heteros don’t, so they should never be assumed to be imitations, IMHO.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paul walter February 17, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

        Intrigued at this:
        ” … some LGBTI are attempting to avoid the pitfalls of hetero gender roles”.

        It is very Counterculturalist stuff, I think the likes of Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich would have adored it.

        I like the adventurer spirit.


        • paul walter February 17, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

          ps, I like the way samjandwich observed the corrosive affects of msm/consumerism/ tabloidism that end up reducing, to the point of misrepresentation, what these sorts of issues can be about as to alternative possibilities for develping “living” outside of a constricting outlook not questioned by its subjects.

          The wedging of gays and conventionals in an unhelpful opposition was always going to be distractive for all concerned and recalls the hate mystified conservatives felt as they began to split earlier Rainbow Coalitions trying to bring about a change in the adversarial, conditioned self limiting, zeitgeist of late, commodifying consumer capitalism.


  4. paul walter February 17, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    The Guardian is running a story on Tanveer Ahmed, in the wake of accusations of plagiarism aired on Media Watch last night.

    The airing that Tanveer Ahmend’s article in the conservative “Australian” newspaper got on MW, perhaps gives this thread new relevance, given last week’s prescient article and conversation here on Ahmed’s “take” on domestic violence and how that may have come about…starts to look Murdoch tabloid shabby and Dr Wilson may have been onto something only a good bullshit detector could detect.



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