We have made a big mistake. Hitting Home is careful, thorough, mainstream scientific research. It may be alarming, but it is not, as we said, “alarmist”. It is a serious attempt to measure men’s attitudes towards, and the extent of, their violence. It is social science, not “hard” science, but it has done its best to attach figures to subjective psychological statements. If it can be criticised, it is for accepting the men’s reports of their own violence at face value, when the biggest problem associated with men’s violence is men’s denial. (“I just gave her a bit of a tap” — and she spent three weeks in hospital.)
One of our spokesmen (sic) publicly admitted to a level of domestic violence that is against the law. On Morning Report, he misquoted a question about male control, “tried to keep her from doing something she wanted to do (such as going out with friends or going to a meeting)” (p 225) as “tried to stop her from doing whatever she wanted…such as driving while drunk or abusing a child.”
We said in our press release that the report paints a disturbing picture of men’s violence “until you examine the fine print”. There is no fine print, nor any of the attempts to hide key caveats or qualifications that the expression implies. We said “the report defines ‘abuse’ to include criticising your partner’s family”. The 2,000 men were actually asked about “putting down her family and friends” (“criticising” is rational, “putting down” is not) in the context of a row or fight. The report did not define “abuse” from scratch, it took its questionnaire items from other such studies, giving references (p 173). Putting down one’s partner’s family in the context of row is psychological abuse because her family is something she has no control over, and is almost invariably irrelevant to the content of the row. A woman will feel compelled to defend her family, and an attack on her family is an indirect attack on her.
We said “you can’t classify the experience of being strangled or threatened with a knife alongside hearing a rude comment about your brother…” This is a misquote, and trivialises what is actually being discussed. The report does not “classify…alongside”, it ranks violence and abuse in seriousness (by inverse frequency of mention), divides them into four levels of seriousness, and reports that the most serious forms of violence and abuse are rare, and “just over half [of the men reporting any abuse] were in fact in the least serious group.” (pp 88-9)
In saying the report “trivialises” domestic violence, we trivialise psychological abuse: a man does not have to be violent to abuse his partner. In one classic case, a man terrorised his wife by getting out his rifle and cleaning it, without saying a word or touching her.
We criticised the report for investigating only men’s violence and abuse of women, yet it pretends to do nothing else. Its subtitle, on the front cover, is “Men speak about abuse of women partners.” It recommends that studies be made of women’s violence to men, and of violence in same-sex relationships.
Two indications of the limited extent of women’s violence:
- There is no felt need for men’s refuges (if there were it would be instantly met by Rotary, Lions and the Round Table).
- Wellington Men for Non-violence ran a flat for men for about two years. It was never used as a refuge for a man fleeing a woman’s violence, only for violent men giving their families “time out”. Studies that claim to show high levels of female violence are methodologically flawed, but be that as it may, this report is not about that.
We accused the report of saying there was no link between ethnicity and violence. It made no such claim, and could not, because it did not ask about ethnicity. (Perhaps it should have, but it says why it did not. The question is not an easy one to formulate, when two people of identical descent may describe their ethnic identity quite differently.) Do we have any evidence that there is such a link?
We said it “flies in the face of other research” in claiming there was no link between socio-economic status and violence. (Since when did one piece of research have to match another? Isn’t this just another way of saying that overseas research couldn’t be replicated here?) It says “We compared our results with a recent review of 52 studies… In no case was there total consistency across all studies reviewed…There are several possible explanations. The spread of social factors in New Zealand may not reflect the same degree of diversity as in America where most of the reviewed studies were conducted…” (p 97).
In fact it does find a weak link between socio-economic status and violence, but only in younger men. It is a truism among anti-violence workers (but apparently unknown to the critics) that domestic violence cuts across class boundaries, and a high court judge or cabinet minister is just as likely to beat his wife as a freezing worker or opossum trapper. Since the report came to this counter-intuitive conclusion by careful scientific study, what do we (who produce no contrary study) think it should do — cook the books?
We said “the contradiction is not surprising when you realise how broadly the report has defined the concept of abuse”. Psychological abuse is a relatively new concept, but it is no wishy-washy, New Age claim: ask any victim. Any torturer will tell you that the “best” torture is purely mental. It is not that the report has defined abuse more broadly, but that our sceptical critics seem unaware how prevalent or serious psychological abuse is.
We said “the deliberate avoidance of any identification of at-risk groups…”. This is simply not true. The report looks at age, education, income, marital status, employment status, and socio-economics status (pp 92, 160-1). We disputed most strongly the report’s statement that “‘in at least one circumstance’ six out of ten New Zealand men say the woman has only herself to blame for being hit”.
We implied that the specific circumstances justified the man’s violence. 36% said a woman is solely to blame if her man hits her for abusing a child. A further 3% said neither is at fault. Do we say they are right to condone his violence, bearing in mind that having their mothers struck for abusing them will do the children no good at all? Role-modelling in non-violence it ain’t.
Thirteen percent said no blame at all attached to a man (7% her fault, 6% neither) who hit his wife for repeatedly refusing sex, 22% (19+3) for yelling at him at the top of her voice, 28% (21+7) for not having a meal ready when she had been at home all day, 30% (26+4) for making fun of him sexually, 50% (48+2) for finding her in bed with another man (p 65). (The reaction of hitting the other man is not canvassed.) These findings indicate high levels of condoning of male violence. Are we not just shooting the messenger?
We criticised the report for its finding that 20% of men think a woman is entirely to blame if a man hits her in “self-defence against a woman who is actually attacking a man”. The actual wording is, “in an argument, she hits him first.” We Skeptics are now on record as thinking it beyond question that once a woman has struck a man, he need take no responsibility whatever for all his subsequent violence.
We said it presented “no perceptible evidence” that New Zealand men have quite a high level of anger and hostility. On pp 44-45 it describes how it asked the men six questions (the Brief Anger-Aggression Questionnaire) devised overseas (and apparently a standard test) and found that New Zealand men scored higher than men in other countries.
We Skeptics have taken information out of context, rewritten it in a biased way, and generally put the kind of spin on it that we so often accuse our opponents of doing, behaving like a tabloid newspaper. One of us called the report “victimology” (what is wrong with studying victims?) when it is a study of perpetrators, and “advocacy science” when it is simply applied social science. The only assumptions it makes that could be called “advocacy” are that domestic violence is an evil, and that men must take responsibility for their violence if it is to be eliminated. In challenging those assumptions, we are effectively taking the side of violent men.
Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. The claims this report makes will come as no surprise to anyone who works in the field of domestic violence. It presents extraordinary proof for them. In attacking it, we have gone way out of our depth. We should stick to the urine-sniffing lamas and medical-advice-dispensing radio psychics that are our forte. This time, we have used the Bent Spoon to flick egg over our own faces.
We should graciously acknowledge our mistake, withdraw the “award” and publicly and unconditionally apologise to the authors of “Hitting Home”. This would be a good example of the kind of rational and adaptable behaviour we try to encourage in others.