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.