I realise that this post may be considered by many to be controversial, but controversy is not my intention in writing this. My intention is simply to explore a complex and important subject with an open mind. After all, to do otherwise would be to fail to do justice to the subject of domestic violence.
The idea for this post came from a letter to the magazine Spectator Australia, the antipodean ‘arm’ of our Spectator magazine. I came across the letter on Twitter – I can’t recall how, but if you were responsible for it appearing in my Twitter timeline, then thank you. And before anyone says it, yes, I know that the Spectator has a right-wing political stance, but I don’t believe that that necessarily has any bearing upon what follows.
‘Common couple violence’
The letter, which you can read here, was from a man who had worked as a domestic violence counsellor for three years and a couple’s counsellor for eight years. He describes how his employment was terminated last year after he circulated an article on social media and amongst his professional peers which suggested that most domestic violence between couples is a two-way thing. He alleges that he was sacked because the article did not fit in with what he considered to be his employer’s ‘feminist’ agenda, which maintained that domestic violence was always the fault of one party, usually the male – the male, therefore, had to be ‘fixed’, and the female had to be ‘saved’.
I have not read the article (it appears to be behind a paywall), but the letter states that it is by Bettina Arndt, “a respected social commentator on gender issues”, and that it “assembled current international data from research studies and government statistics, demonstrating most domestic violence between couples is two-way”. The letter refers to a particular piece of research which suggests that this ‘common couple violence’ accounts for 80 per cent of all domestic violence. Only the other 20 per cent is perpetrated by just one party.
Striking a chord
OK, I’m not going to argue about those figures – they may or may not be accurate. Whatever, the idea that a great deal of domestic violence occurs as a ‘two-way’ thing does strike a chord. I recall when I was practising many times being told by clients that violence occurred during a heated argument, and was mutual, with each party ‘giving as good as they got’. Only afterwards would one party allege that they were a victim, and not a perpetrator – perhaps doing so with a hidden agenda.
I also realise that this idea may not fit into the domestic violence narrative preferred in some quarters. After all, it blurs the issues, making it difficult to attribute blame and decide how the problem should be addressed. But that should not be allowed to detract us from an inquiry into the truth. If the fault was mutual, then we may have to take a different approach to dealing with the problem.
But there are two other points, also made in the letter.
Firstly, a finding of one-way domestic violence is often assumed to be a symptom of relationship breakdown. However, if the violence was relatively ‘low level’ and mutual, then perhaps the relationship can yet be saved. Perhaps the resources that would have been put into dealing with domestic violence could be better directed towards couple counselling?
Secondly, there is the effect of a finding of one-way violence upon someone who was only involved in a ‘tit for tat’ argument. Suddenly, they are labelled as the abuser. This, in turn, colours much of what follows, including arrangements for their contact with any children, whether they can remain in their own home, and who ultimately is ‘allowed’ to keep the property.
I guess all I’m saying is that domestic abuse is a complex problem, which cannot be resolved by simplistic ‘black and white’ answers, or a fixed, unbending, narrative. Whether most domestic violence is two-way, I don’t know, but we should always be open to the possibility.
I just want to finish by emphasising that nothing I say above is intended to excuse domestic violence. There is, of course, no excuse for it, whatever form it takes.
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