Walter C Clark, Chuck Bird and Nicky McLean criticise Hitting Home for not investigating women’s violence towards men, that is, for not being another piece of research altogether. When biologists can produce papers about the hairs on the legs of one species of fruit-flies, this does not seem excessively specialised. One reason that that was not done is simply money. To have achieved the same accuracy would have required interviewing 2,000 women, doubling the cost.
According to the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, 95 percent of all domestic violence is men beating women. Analysing violence along ethnic lines would likewise have doubled the cost, since presumably only about 200 of the present sample were Maori. It would cost as much again to interview 2,000 Pacific Islanders, also commonly characterised as violent.
Greg Newbold’s references to Maori in prison are disingenuous. He of all people should know that Maori are more likely to be imprisoned not because they are intrinsically more violent than Pakeha but, among other things, because they are disproportionately in lower socio-economic groups and less well-educated, and (in consequence) less able to manipulate the system to produce the outcome they want.
Again, Hitting Home did not look for or find the specific extent of Maori men’s violence against women because that is not the piece of research it was. All that research certainly should be done, but it is to the credit of Hitting Home that it didn’t pretend to attempt it. This was, after all, primarily about men’s attitudes towards violence, not about which men are violent.
As for Bird’s proposal that men be asked if they were abused, what would that prove? The most violent men might also claim to be the most put-upon, so?
Clark’s and McLean’s elaborate discussions of “provocation” are taken care of by the wording of the questionnaire (p 224) which specifies “ways of settling differences”. “Banging the table” (Clark) is not mentioned, nor “restraint of a spouse intent on mayhem with a French cook’s knife.” They seem to think some lower threshold of abuse, one that they think justified, should be ignored. That it is not does not fault Hitting Home, it just shows their places on its spectrum.
Does Nicky McLean really think that a man who thinks it is okay to take a knife to his wife would draw the line at shouting at her? The more items he agrees to, the more abusive/violent he is. There is no suggestion in Hitting Home that the different levels of abuse and violence are equivalent. Obviously the scale is quasi-logarithmic, like the Richter and decibel scales, and hence more sensitive at the lower end. Once that is understood, “number of types accepted” is a perfectly valid measure.
Chuck Bird confuses de-facto marriages with reconstituted families: it is step-parents who are more likely to abuse children than natural parents, regardless of the legal status of the marriage. This seems to be biological and has nothing to do with men’s violence toward women.
Pace McLean, it will be news to co-author Robin Ransom that he is a woman.
Hitting Home does have a significant flaw (as well as the truthfulness problem I mentioned in my main submission), not mentioned yet by its supporters or opponents. The level of non-response is very high, with only 60% of men contacted agreeing to be interviewed. It is hardly a way-out, New-Age supposition that violent men are less likely to talk about their violence than non-violent men. Therefore, Hitting Home probably significantly under-reports male violence and abuse against women.
Hugh Young, Porirua
More Comments on Hitting Home
Definition of Abuse
It could reasonably be expected that the term “abuse” would have been defined and its parameters explained at the beginning of the report. Instead it is not until p.30 that any definition is given — when it is, it is found to embrace a long list of behaviours (physical and psychological) of varying levels of seriousness. This does have the effect of trivialising the subject and of diverting attention from the more serious cases. The data would appear far less confusing and a far greater reliance presumably could be placed on the results if the more serious aspects had been separated from the less serious from the start.
Lack of Balance
On p.31 we are informed that “in this study <@145>domestic abuse’ is used to mean the abuse of women by male partners”. Such a restriction seems misguided given that behaviours in a partnership are never restricted to one partner. And often other people are involved. Such an approach to the subject resembles that of a biologist who decides to study the dynamics of a parasite-host relationship by concentrating on only one of the participants.
Exclusion of Ethnicity
A basic criterion of any survey which purports to be scientific is that all avenues are followed which are likely to provide vital information. If this means disregarding claims that following this or that line of investigation “would lead to unhelpful, inappropriate and insensitive cross-cultural comparisons”, so be it. To maintain that the survey’s methodology was inappropriate for making such comparisons does seem a way of avoiding the issue, particularly when we are informed that an ethnic analysis became a significant issue in the consultations made during the development stage (p.35).
A number of the most puzzling and questionable aspects of the study appear in the section: The findings of Study 1 — a survey of 2,000 men. We are told that “most New Zealand men do not approve of a man hitting a woman,” and that nine in ten do not approve of hitting in any of twenty different circumstances (p.62). It seems this clear indication of a high level of disapproval did not satisfy the researchers. A “ten-point scale of disapproval” was applied from which each man was given “an approval of hitting score”. Suddenly “non-approval” becomes “approval” in relation to hitting a woman.
The conclusion drawn from this questionable methodology is “that New Zealand men do not strongly disapprove of hitting”. Somehow what began as a strong positive has become a strong negative, to the detriment of New Zealand men in general.
On p.98 it is stated: “as in our research, the Dunedin study found that domestic abuse was more likely to occur when the male partner was young and when he was poorly educated, of low socio-economic level, and unemployed”. Yet a major conclusion from the study is that “a man’s socio-economic level, educational level and personal income group give us no clue of the likelihood of his being abusive to a woman partner.” (p.146). Also little is made in the report of the fact that this “finding” was contrary to that arrived at in the majority of overseas studies.
How can questions be “less direct” and, at the same time, “more specific”? (p.35).
Major Conclusions of the Report
There seems no justification for concluding (a) that there is an underlying male acceptance of abuse in New Zealand, and (b) that a substantial proportion of New Zealand women are abused by their male partners, both physically and psychologically (p.21). The results of the survey, particularly when taking into account the wide definition of “abuse” and the suspect methodology, do not warrant these conclusions. It is worth noting that a desire to fit data to preconceived notions is a characteristic of pseudoscience.
The NZ Skeptics Society is opposed to pseudoscience in any of its manifestations. There seems little doubt that vital parts of Hitting Home can be described as pseudoscientific. It is therefore a fair target for skeptical attention. I have to agree with those critics of the report who have concluded that it trivialises domestic violence and conveys a level of abuse perpetrated by men which is not supported by the evidence. I support fully the awarding of the Bent Spoon for 1995 to the report, Hitting Home.
Warwick Don, Dunedin
I have carefully examined the Department of Justice report on domestic violence entitled Hitting Home. I feel that this report fully deserved being made recipient of the 1995 Bent Spoon award.
Robert Woolf, Auckland
Despite the third paragraph of my contribution to the September issue, I would like it to be known that I do distinguish affect from effect (and impact for that matter), and an issue would be assessed rather than accessed, such as men’s abuse rather than man’s. And in the last paragraph I wrote few persons rather than four persons. But otherwise, my scribblings must have been clear enough.
As for the report, I too had to stare long and hard at some paragraphs, including the one quoted by Mr Clark in his letter [September, p.25, first paragraph]. I think the authors mean that when asked about “abuse” people disapprove readily, but if asked less directly about general abuse by being offered specific actions not labelled as abuse, many more say that they might do that, or could understand someone doing it. My bafflement peaked on p.148 of the report with “…most likely to agree with this statement were the non-abusive men” … “a clear relationship between seriousness of abuse and level of agreement with the statement” … “four out of ten in the most serious abuse group agreed…two out of ten in the least serious group.”
After a lot of thought, and checking with my father, I concluded that the paragraph was saved from literal self-contradiction thanks to overlapping definitions of “non-abusive”, “most serious” and “least serious” groups. A plague on the whole business!
Nicky McLean, Lower Hutt
Support for Award
Hugh Young writes, “Hitting Home is careful, thorough, mainstream scientific research.” And later, “It is social science, not `hard science’…”
It seems to me he is using definitions of “careful”, “thorough”, “mainstream”, “scientific”, and “research” which are quite different to those commonly used in the community of “hard science”.
Hitting Home is a muddle. One could give numerous examples but Page 88 is a classic. It lists a “Seriousness of Abuse Scale (SOAS)” although this seems to have become contaminated with frequency. What to make of this sentence explaining the scale? “Where two types of abuse had the same frequency, the one with the lower number of times in the past year was given the higher ranking.”
Some time last year a young couple from next door came to use our telephone. Later the man shot and killed the woman. According to the SOAS that ranks as less serious than “Threatened her with knife or gun”.
Hugh Young seems so certain of things which he cannot know as established facts. “Any torturer will tell you that the `best’ torture is purely mental.” How many torturers does he know? Has he consulted a random sample?
Hugh Young again writes, “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 [sic] trapper.” This gets us to the real point: how do they know? This is just political correctness.
I spent 25 years in teaching where I encountered a number of families where there was violence against children and wives. My experience was that domestic violence was very strongly correlated with socio-economic class and ethnic group. Furthermore most of the serious stuff was inflicted by men.
Now I am quite prepared to be shown to be wrong (I certainly did not encounter a random sample), but this will require evidence; I will not be convinced by a politically correct truism common among social workers. Just how many wives of cabinet ministers and high court judges are to be found in women’s refuges for example?
Hugh Young again writes, “-the report came to this counter-intuitive conclusion by careful scientific study…”. It did not. It confirmed a “truism among anti-violence workers” by means that will naturally confirm prejudices.
The statistic that I found least believable is that 67% of New Zealand men had personal knowledge of physical abuse by a man or a woman. Because this implies that 37% have no such knowledge and I find that incredible. What kind of sheltered life do these people lead?
Jim Ring, Nelson
I enjoyed reading the opposing points of view regarding the Bent Spoon Award, but was surprised to be advised by Hugh Young on p.24 that “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”.
I have personally never seen a scrap of evidence to support that statement and can only conclude that someone has been “behaving like a tabloid newspaper” having “taken information out of context, re-written it in a biased way, and generally put the kind of spin on it that we so often accuse our opponents of doing”.