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002: Intimate Partner Abuse of Men Workshop - Part 1

We feature highlights from the Intimate Partner Abuse of Men Workshop held on Wednesday 16 June 2010 in Perth, Western Australia. The workshop was aimed at service providers plus anyone who works with victims and perpetrators of family and domestic violence, and considered the implications for service providers of the Edith Cowan University Intimate Partner Abuse of Men research.

In this, the first part of the workshop, Dr Greg Dear explains the methodology of the study.

html#ixzz0n5xrz7qv Listen now (MP3)

Dr Greg Dear: Okay. My main brief for this opening presentation is to explain the – give you an overview of the methodology and the rationale for the study, the background to it. But I’m actually going to step away from that topic for a little bit and go a little bit further into the background than I was asked to.

Those of us who have worked or who do work in the family violence field will be very familiar with the sort of, the two pain pillars, if you like, of understanding the dynamics in abusive families and families where there are ongoing patterns of violence. First is fear and intimidation, and the second is a term that has arisen over the years, power and control.

Intimidation is often more about terror than simple fear. Control, power and control, is not just about being in charge, but is about subjugation and humiliation. It’s about the abusive use of power rather than the – and the coercive use of power as opposed to the power that exists in all relationships, sometimes in healthy ways involving negotiation and assertiveness and sometimes in unhealthy ways.

There’s a couple of things that I thought I knew and was confident in knowing and have known for many years and most people who have interacted with the family violence field, family law field, violence field generally over the years seem to know these things as well. I’m just going to throw them up as questions though.

Okay, is it really violence, if there has been an ongoing pattern of emotional, social, and financial abuse, both controlling and intimidating, but no physical assaults – no physical abuse. For many years I had a competent answer to that question and I think I still do. I’m not going to ask for a show of hands but just leave that as a question rather than as a statement.

Is it domestic violence if on one occasion he pushed her and threw a coffee mug, not at her, in the heat of an argument, but there is no ongoing pattern of power and control and no fear on her part?

Is it against the law for a partner in a relationship to verbally abuse, belittle the other, including humiliation in public, causing intense shame and depression in the abused person? Perhaps I should restate that question, as “should it be against the law?” It’s against the law to do it in the workplace, I’m not allowed to do it to students, we’re not allowed to do it in a whole range of public areas, junior football coaches, netball coaches aren’t allowed to do it to their players, parents aren’t allowed to do it from the sideline. Is it against any rule or regulation, formal regulation of society, to do it in a relationship? As I said, maybe the question is better put as, “should it be against the law?” 

A couple of anecdotes that I’ll try and get through quickly. Actually I will do a show of hands on this one. Who has knocked down the back half of their house in order to build an extension? Anyone here had a massive renovations in their house while trying to live in it? Okay, I thought there might be more people than that. Perhaps the rest of you have repressed that traumatic memory. But for most people, it is a terrible experience.

I’m going to give you a little anecdote: my daughter, when she was three-years-old, she’s now 16, but this is still clear in my mind. We were having a dispute with our builder when we were building an extension out the back of our house and luckily we had an architect overseeing the project. And he said the only way to pull this guy into line when you get to this point is you make a formal complaint with the Builder’s Registration Board and they’ll come out and they’ll make him do what needs to be done.

So, we had this meeting at half past six in the morning. The builder was there, his foreman was there, one of the other subbies was there. The architect was there. He had an architectural student on placement with him, part of his training, and he thought this would be good to come out to see what happens at these dispute meetings. So, that’s five men, I was there. The guy from the Builder’s Registration Board came along and he had a companion as well and an assistant. So, that’s eight blokes standing around outside the backdoor of the shell of our extension, half past six in the morning chatting about, I don’t know, probably the football game on the weekend or something like that. Chatting about anything other than what we were there for. And my daughter, three-year-old, a little blonde thing, wanders out the back door, she grabs hold of my leg, she’s looking at all of these blokes, and then she walks past me to the circle of men there and she’s sort of standing up looking at them and they’re all sort of looking down at her and, “ahhhh.” And all of that. And she turns to me in a big loud voice and she says, “Daddy, which one’s the builder man that we think is fuckered?”

Now, we weren’t aware of just how heated some of our discussions were getting when we thought she was asleep, but obviously not. And the man from the Builder’s Registration Board says, “Well, that’s broken the ice.” 

So sometime later, friends of ours who had also gone through a similar experience; I won’t say it publicly, but if any of you are planning an extension I can give you the name of a builder not to use. But, we were chatting about some of our experiences with another couple who were going through it. And this couple mentioned something in one of their arguments that surprised both Mary and I. In the heat of an argument, she had lashed out at him because he was being obstinate about something, they couldn’t come to an agreement, and she took a swing at him. And she’d actually clipped him over the jaw. Now, it didn’t hurt, he wasn’t worried about it; he wasn’t scared of her. She was shocked by what she had done, and it brought the argument to a new level where they actually sat down and they thought, “Okay, this is how much each of us are hurting and upset and stuck in our position.” And they managed to resolve it. But they sort of mentioned that, sort of half-laughing about it sitting around after dinner having a few drinks.

Is that domestic violence? There was no fear, he wasn’t worried about it; he didn’t see himself as a victim of domestic violence. He had never hit her. If he’d taken a swing at her and clipped her over the chin, would have we looked differently at it? Perhaps, if she had been terrified by the incident and it had left her from that point on wondering when it was going to happen again? 

Okay, the next anecdote is a family court case that I worked on some years back. This seven-year-old boy was temporarily in the care of his maternal grandmother. Both mom and dad were heavy drug users, significant problems, lots of violence in the relationship, and this boy told me when I was interviewing him about his concerns that mum would kill dad or dad would kill mum. He told me about incidents when dad used to get angry and throw things and he told me about incidents where mum used to go at dad with a knife and they day that she hit him over the side of the head with a fry pan and he had to go to the hospital. Now, this little boy was terrified that his mum would kill his dad.

The third one is one is what I call “The kitchen incident,” of another man who I interviewed sometime back in a different context, whose ex-wife, who had a number of mental health problems, had the children that Sunday and she had returned them. She started an argument with him at the front door and he went inside the house, she followed him in. She wasn’t actually meant to come into the house; that was the agreement they had. And she started to knock everything off of the kitchen bench, off the kitchen table. She started to throw things around. He phoned the police, and the police arrived about 10 minutes later and he went out to see them. By that stage she was sitting on the front verge. When the police arrived she told them that she was scared of him and that she needed them to take her to a place of safety. She’d dropped the kids off with a taxi and the taxi had gone by that stage. So, the police took her and the children and it took him a month to find out where they had gone.

Now, I hear many stories like that and once I drill down and investigate I come to the conclusion that the police did the right thing and that there’s two sides to every story. Interviews with neighbours and other witnesses on how things turned out in the end, other people who knew the family, verified that man’s account of the incident rather than her account.

The fourth dot point, I won’t dwell on, but there’s many, many cases where quite violent and in some cases seriously violent men speak mostly about “she’s violent too” without being able to substantiate that claim. In the criminal court, I’ll never forget the man who I was interviewing and doing evaluation on for a pre-sentence report, it nearly killed his de-facto, stabbed her many, many times, but he was absolutely aghast that she wasn’t charged as well because “That bitch had hit me first in front of my fuckin’ friends. What does she expect to happen next? You start a fight you fuckin’ finish it. I tried to finish it. But anyway.” Is that mutual domestic violence?

A Parole Board evaluation of a woman, who in the end was charged for assault and also for firearm offences, but she’s coming up close to her parole date and I was doing a risk assessment and other broad psychological evaluations of her for parole purposes. She told me that, yes, she did try to shoot him. But basically she knew from the look in his eye that he really meant business this time. She could tell, just from his demeanour and the tone of voice when it was going to be a bit of smack around to put her in her place and a proper beating. Some of which involved things like, tying her by a chain behind a car, dragging her three or four meters through the bush before getting out, untying the chain from the car, not from her, and letting her know that he would drag her for a lot longer next time she did something like that, and deserved it.

The final anecdote is a man that I did an evaluation on for immigration purposes. He had met his wife when she was studying in his country; she had gone there to study. They met, they developed a relationship; he had a young son at that stage when they met, about 18 months old. The mother of that boy had died. They developed their relationship and anyway she returned to Australia and they wrote to each other, he had come over to visit, she went back to his country. In the end, they decided that they would get married. He came out here as a sponsored - on a sponsored visa. In the end, he left that relationship because of the level of domestic violence that she was directing towards him which included things like smashing some of his possessions that were prized cultural artifacts of intense cultural importance and also religious importance to him; some of them very rare that had been handed down. He was an artist and he was a cultural artist as well as a contemporary artist from his part of Africa.

So, she has to smash his possessions, she became quite fanatical in her religion and decided that television was not part of what was to happen. His English was limited; she had complete control of the finances, of who he could mix with, who he couldn’t mix with. In the end she put him out of the house at one o’clock in the morning and he had to find somewhere to go.

In the end, he left that relationship for fear of what would happen to his son, that the abuse was starting to be directed at his son and she withdrew the sponsorship of his Visa. So he was about to be deported. His son was doing very well at school, loved Australia. He wanted to stay.

In the original discussions as one of the groups tendering for this research, a lot of the discussion was around, well how prevalent was this? Is men’s experience different to, similar to, how does it differ from women’s experience? What are the prevalence rates? What’s this “one in three” business that we hear? What are some of the other claims and counterclaims? We thought there were not enough Australian data in order to design that study. It was way, way – going to cost way, way more than the sort of budget that The Men’s Advisory Network was likely to get from Lotteries West. So, our pitch as one of the people tendering for it was that we need to step right back and we need to do something much more exploratory with a focus on, what makes it difficult for men, or is it difficult for men, to expose the abuse. Because unless we understand that, we’re not going to know how to collect the sort of epidemiological data that other people were interested in because we can never be sure that our survey methods in the way that we’re asking questions in large-scale studies are going to uncover what it is that we’re trying to uncover if we’re going to get true prevalence estimates. Do we even know what men mean when they report being the victim of domestic violence? Do they mean the same thing that we mean?

Okay. In the end, we got the tender and we put together the study that you’ll hear about. The most important bit really, is the bit that Emily is going to be talking to you about, which is the first phase of the study. We decided on the grounded theory approach, which is basically where you set aside all theoretical and philosophical assumptions and you get rich data that are unled much as you would in an investigative interviewing. And through analysing themes that emerge from those data, you put together the shape or the model, you build a theory from the ground up. Now, of course, we’re aware that you don’t need to build a theory from the ground up for domestic violence - intimate partner abuse - but we thought rather than impose theories that have largely been derived from studying women’s experience as victims and men as perpetrators. Rather than assume it’s the same, or assume it’s different, let’s put all assumptions to one side and see where our data lead us.

That leads to what we call purposive sampling, which is, we need to hear from men who are prepared to talk about it. Now, there’s a bit of a catch-22 in that. If you are interested in what makes it difficult for men to disclose the abuse, and you talk to men who are prepared to, or who have already disclosed it and are prepared to put their hand up. But based on some other experiences and other research we’ve done in sensitive areas, some of the research I’ve done in women who are both mothers of young children and daily amphetamine users, they don’t like disclosing that to all and sundry. We thought that we would be able to find people who would be willing to speak to researchers and who, even though they might have already put their hand up and been identified as male victims, they would have gone through a period of time where that disclosure was delayed. So, they could tell us about what delayed them.

We also, what’s important in sampling in this sort of study is not to have a sample that’s representative of all male victims, or all men, but rather to have what we call, purposive sampling where you get diversity so that you get the different stories that can emerge. And you keep interviewing until you’re not getting any new themes in your data. With some research I’ve done on women’s experience of domestic violence and on the role that they see in their partners alcohol use in incidents that they’ve suffered, we often reach saturation in sometimes as few as six or eight or 10 interviewees. So we thought we’d probably go for or end up with a similar sample size.

We also thought it was important to triangulate the data by not only speaking to men who report being victims, but to speak to significant others. And in that sample, we have a couple of siblings, sisters, we have a young man talking about his parents’ relationship, we have a new partner – I’m not sure who the others are. Anyway, Emily will fill you in on that. And we also spoke to a small number of service providers who were keen to tell us about their experiences in these areas. So, that’s what we mean by purposive sampling.

We ended up with a total sample of 28. We wanted to reach saturation in our data with the male victims as well as with the total sample. We actually reached saturation after the 10 interviews, but we had another five men who had we’d already said we would interview, who had contacted us and we’d got back to. And another waiting list as well if we needed more. So, we finished off those additional five interviews even though, technically we didn’t need them.

And then the second part was the survey. I’ll tell you more details about that later. And that was the survey of nearly 200 service providers, just over half of them from Western Australia, the rest of them from other parts of Australia. And that was really to build on and check the findings that were emerging from the first part of the study.

So, I want you to reflect on those issues. This is not a piece of research where we’re trying to say, how prevalent is this? What is it like for men versus what is it like for women? Where are the similarities? Where are the differences? This is about starting a dialogue as to “how do we understand?” We know that male victims exist. We don’t know if there’s many. We don’t know a lot about them. This is about starting at the beginning to understand, from the victim’s perspective and most victimology research starts out with exploratory studies followed by larger victim surveys. So we are really at the beginning here.

I’ll hand you over to Emily who will tell you about the first part of the study.

Listen now (MP3)