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Senator Leyonhjelm asks questions about the "Let's Stop It At The Start" domestic violence ad campaign

Excerpt from Official Recording of Community Affairs Senate Committee Proceedings from the Australian Parliament on 01/06/2017 at 13:25:00.


Transcript as follows:

CHAIR: We will kick off again and commence with questions from Senator Leyonhjelm.

Senator Seselja: Mr Pratt has some additional information for Senator Pratt and the committee.

Mr Pratt: In relation to a few questions about 1800Respect, there are a couple of comebacks. One is there are no male counsellors answering calls on 1800Respect. We can also confirm that specialist gambling counsellors do not answer 1800Respect calls.

Senator PRATT: I appreciate the feedback to us in a timely way on both matters.

Mr Pratt: It is a pleasure.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I asked at the previous estimates some questions about the violence against women campaign. I am assuming I have the right people.

Mr Pratt: Yes.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I asked in particular about the research that informed that campaign. That research was undertaken by the TNS consultancy. It stated, without giving any citations, and I quote here:

There is strong community support for the cessation of extreme violence against women. A significant barrier to achieving this change, however, is low recognition of the heart of the issue and where it begins. There is a clear link between violence towards women and attitudes of disrespect and gender inequality.

At the last estimates, I put a question on notice for a citation about disrespect and gender inequality being the heart of the issue. The question—I did ask it at the last estimates—was taken on notice. In response, I received a reply in SQ17/150 that was six paragraphs. The first four paragraphs advise of ABS statistics indicating more partner violence against women than against men. I assume the department is not intending to argue that these statistics are measures of disrespect or gender inequality or show that disrespect and gender inequity are at the heart of the issue. Am I right in that assumption?

Ms Bell: The campaign is based on a range of research, including international and domestic research. It includes the World Health Organisation's Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women: taking action and generating evidence as well as ANROW's research for the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey. A variety of these research pieces go to one of the key elements of violence against women, being disrespectful behaviour and gender inequality, which is why the campaign takes a primary prevention approach to these issues in order to break the cycle of violence.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Well, you did not quite answer my question, but you did refer to the WHO report. Your written answer on notice referred to the WHO report. Your answer cites studies supporting violence against women as a consequence of gender inequality. Are you arguing that the WHO report indicates that, of all the factors, gender inequality is the heart of the issue?

Ms Bell: No. In the campaign, we do not argue that gender inequality and disrespectful behaviour are at the heart of the issue. They are one of the contributing factors. The COAG decision, when the campaign was commissioned, supported that premise. However, it is not the only contributing factor to violence against women.

Senator LEYONHJELM: What else does the WHO report suggest is responsible for violence against women?

Ms Bell: I actually do not have the full details of that report with me. I will have to take that on notice.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Well, I might know the answer to that before you need to take it on notice. The WHO report lists individual factors—low income, low education, sexual abuse, parental violence, antisocial personality, harmful use of alcohol, illicit drug use and acceptance of violence. It lists relationship factors—multiple partners and fidelity and low resistance to peer pressure. It lists community factors—weak community sanctions. And it lists poverty and societal factors—traditional gender norms and social norms supportive of violence. So in none of those does it actually nominate gender inequality as a key contributor. The sixth paragraph in your response refers to an unpublished 2007 paper by Michael Flood and a report of a survey by VicHealth, which was commissioned by your department. The lead author is named as Anita Harris. I am assuming you are familiar with both of them. Did the unpublished paper by Michael Flood support the contention by TNS consultancy that disrespect and gender inequality were more important contributors? Did it compare them to other contributors, such as poverty, alcohol abuse and drug abuse?

Ms Bell: Senator, I am not aware it gave it any greater importance in that research, but it is, once again, one of the contributing factors, which is why the campaign has focussed on it.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Did you have a copy of that 2007 paper by Flood when you prepared your response to my question on notice?

Ms Bell: My understanding is that we did because it was part of the desktop analysis done in 2015.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Are you able to provide a copy to the committee?

Ms Bell: I can take that on notice.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Thank you. Did the survey compare the contribution to violence against women of disrespect and gender inequality against other factors, such as poverty, alcohol abuse and drug abuse?

Ms Bell: Are you referring to the ABS survey?

Senator LEYONHJELM: No. The VicHealth survey that you cited in your response to my question on notice. The lead author is named as Anita Harris.

Ms Bell: I would have to take that on notice.

Senator LEYONHJELM: You will have to take that on notice. In fact, we found that the survey only measured reported attitudes to violence—attitudes, in other words. I do not think it substantiates the argument, but you can take it on notice as to whether you think it determined or indicated any relative importance of those contributors. I would like to go a little further into that survey. That survey, which you cited as a reference source and to underpin the violence against women campaign, states that it is an area of concern that only 60 per cent of young people agree that violence against women is common. That raises the question: can you definitively say that violence against women is common?

Ms Bell: The 2017 national community attitudes survey found a strong relationship between attitudes to gender inequality and attitudes to violence. Some of the research showed that one in four young people is prepared to excuse partner violence and one in five believes there are circumstances in which a woman bears some responsibility for the violent behaviour. That research formed the basis of the primary prevention approach for the campaign when we targeted the influences of 10 to 17-year-old children.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I guess the question, though, is whether violence against women is common. If it is not common and if there is a perception that it is not common, you could hardly expect young people to say that it is. I mention that because the most recent ABS Personal Safety Survey indicates that 1.5 per cent of women reported experiencing violence by a partner or ex-partner during the previous 12 months. I suppose it depends on your definition, but I am not sure that 1.5 per cent would qualify as common, in my definition.

Ms Bennett: It is certainly more than is preferable, is it not?

Senator LEYONHJELM: Indeed. Indeed, it is. I am not suggesting that violence against women is acceptable or desirable or anything other than something to be avoided. What I am questioning is the commitment of taxpayers' funds to a program where, as I raised last estimates, the fundamental assumption is that there is a clear link between violence towards women and attitudes of disrespect and gender inequality. There is a 2013 United Nations quantitative study on male violence against women in Asia and the Pacific by Fulu et al. It indicates that low gender equitable attitudes are less important factors in explaining intimate partner violence than nearly every other factor listed, including the number of lifetime sexual partners, childhood abuse or neglect, a lack of education, food insecurity, oppression and alcohol abuse. Do you consider this UN study to be a credible source?

Ms Bell: I am not privy to the detail of that study so I cannot comment on it.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I would like you to take that on notice. Tell me how you regard that in terms of credibility relative to the other sources which you have relied on in which attitudes of disrespect and gender inequality were regarded as at least as important as other factors, if not more so. If the United Nations quantitative study on male violence against women in Asia and the Pacific is an accurate reflection of the situation in Australia as well, a policy response that focuses on disrespect and gender inequality and does not focus on the other factors that the UN study identifies as key contributors to violence would be inappropriate. It would be misdirected, would it not?

Ms Bell: I think we are making an assumption. We have quite considerable evidence that supports this campaign. We have not used the particular report that you are talking about so I cannot do a comparison. But, based on a COAG agreement to this campaign, which is based on considerable evidence, both domestic and international, we have enough of a supporting basis for this campaign to go ahead. The evaluation of the campaign shows the success of the campaign and the fact that it has reached the primary target audience and has changed perspectives on the issue. The traction that the campaign has only got with only one phase of advertising is quite considerable. We got 41 million views of the ad domestically. The research also shows that we have reached our target audience as predicted, and we have 69 per cent understanding the messaging and people acting on it. We have had 450,000 visits to the website and over 20,000 downloads of material. We are now going into a phase to investigate how we extend that campaign and get even further influence.

Senator LEYONHJELM: All right. That is based on the assumption that the heart of domestic violence against women is disrespect and gender inequality. So you have achieved, by those measures, a degree of awareness. Presumably, you consider that indicates a success. How much higher would those figures be if you had addressed the issues that the United Nations quantitative study found are equally, if not more—in fact, they said more—important as contributors to domestic violence? How much more successful could you have been?

Ms Bennett: We cannot possibly take a hypothetical thing that we did not do and then have a look at what outcome it might have had. It is not possible to do that.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I appreciate that. I am suggesting that there is a danger—and I am suspicious—that you have selectively taken the evidence rather than taken it as a whole. Ms Bell has said there is a

considerable amount of evidence. I hope you have given me the evidence in response to my question on notice at the last estimates. If there is other evidence that I have not received that underpins the basis of that campaign, I would like to see it.

Ms Bennett: We have provided—

Mr Pratt: We will go and further explore whether there is any other source of evidence—

Ms Bennett: That was used.

Senator LEYONHJELM: That would be good. I would like to know, because what you have sent me so far does not do it justice, in my view. I suspect that the program is misdirected and it could be more successful if it were redirected. This is my final question, because the Chair is going to wind me up in a moment. I wonder if you agree that the literature on partner violence splits into two camps; they are referred to as the patriarchal perspective and the family conflict perspective. Is that a reasonable assessment? Are you familiar with that idea?

Ms Bell: I am sorry, Senator, I am not. It has not gone to part of the work we have done for the campaign. It may be in a program or policy.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I might put a question on notice for you for that one. It might be a bit unfair. I will leave it there. Thank you very much.

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Reader Comments (5)

Dear 1in3,
Senator Leyonhjelm appears to be misrepresenting the UN quantitative study to which he refers. He states that this report "indicates that low gender equitable attitudes are less important factors in explaining intimate partner violence than nearly every other factor listed, including the number of lifetime sexual partners, childhood abuse or neglect, a lack of education, food insecurity, oppression and alcohol abuse".
This is incorrect. Instead, the report in fact emphasises that gender inequalities are central in explaining men's use of violence against women. "Overall, the study findings support existing theories on how underlying gender inequalities and power imbalance between women and men are the foundational causes of violence against women. The findings go further to show how men’s use of violence against women is also associated with a complex interplay of factors at the individual, relationship, community and greater society levels. These factors cannot be understood in isolation and should be understood as existing within a broader environment of pervasive gender inequality. Consequently, simply stopping one factor—such as alcohol abuse—will not end violence against women.
"Finding: Intimate partner violence was largely driven by factors related to gender inequality and harmful, hegemonic masculinities within the relationship space. In particular, violence was strongly associated with controlling behaviour, quarrelling, depression, having transactional sex and multiple sexual partners and experiences of child abuse, among other factors." (p. 4)
Associate Professor Michael Flood

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Flood

Senator Leyonhjelm has it right. The contributions to DV of factors such as alcohol / substance abuse / personality disorder / mental illness and social stress offer a far better explanatory framework for understanding, preventing and responding to DV than the simplistic gender-based model so beloved by those in the DV Industry. For example, the ABS Personal Safety Survey in 2005 reported that in all incidents of violence between males and females alcohol or other drugs were involved at least 50% of the time.
As to the issue of social stress and poverty, Julie Peoples (2005) examined the relationship between domestic assault and disadvantage in NSW, and found that 5 factors were significant independent predictors of the recorded rate of domestic assault within a postcode. Taken together, these five factors explain 61 percent of the variation in the rate of domestic assault:
· the percentage of Indigenous people resident in the postcode;
· the percentage of sole parents under 25 years of age resident in the postcode (as a proportion of the total number of families);
· the percentage of rental accommodation in the postcode that is public housing;
· the male unemployment rate; and
· the level of residential instability in the postcode (measured by the proportion of residents who had a different address one year ago).
(Peoples, J, 2005, “Trends and patterns in domestic violence assaults“, in Contemporary Issues in Crime & Justice, No 89, October, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney).

I must add that it is indeed interesting that those witnesses (Ms Bell, Ms Bennett) to the enquiry who had responded to Senator Leyonhjelm's earlier questions on notice had provided references to documents with which, we subsequently find, they are totally unfamiliar. It does lead one to question their scholarship, or their veracity, or their respect for the intent of the Enquiry.

Thanks 1 in 3 for maintaining an objective and committed questioning of the sad and damaging social phenomenon of DV. Your willingness to examine this dispassionately is refreshing, as for too long we have been subject to the disingenuous and facile ideology of the White Ribbon Organization, its hangers on and other bastions of misandry.

Best wishes

Micheal Woods

June 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMicheal Woods

The ABS study showed only 1.5% of women experienced violence. this is a very low number and surely it would have to be much higher for the claim that there is an "epidemic" of domestic violence against women, to be credible. Also considering the ever expanding definitions of "violence"to include verbal, emotional and even financial abuse , and the percentage of women actually physically injured is so low that it really is not a problem.
If a similar ABS study was done for men the results might be about the same , but nobody cares when men are victims of violence.

September 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen Lydon

The feminists claim that disrespect for women and gender inequality are the cause of domestic violence does not stand up when you look at the statistics. In the ABS survey only 1.5 percent of women reported being victims of domestic violence, this meant that a huge 98.5% of women were not victims of DV. If the feminists are right then it must be assumed that these women would also suffer "disrespect" and "gender inequality". So why are they not also victims of domestic violence?

September 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen Lydon

Would Michael Flood like to elaborate on what he calls a "power imbalance" between men and women . I assume he means that men have power over women and are abusing it. This may be the case in some poor countries but here in the west, considering the massive campaigns over decades to lift women up and push men down, surely it is now women who have power over men.

October 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen Lydon

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