Domestic Abuse: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
I have denounced in other posts the idea that domestic violence is ‘gendered’ that is, the popular acceptance that most perpetrators are men, and most victim women. I have shown how such view is not only ideologically motivated, but, above all, a complete betrayal of what the women shelters’ movement purported to be in the first place. I have also shown how such view doesn’t even help women themselves, especially lesbians and bi women (far more likely to experience domestic abuse than straight women -a fact we rarely dare talking about...), with the LGBTQ+ community being neglected and re-victimised, in large part because of such hypocritical gendered view.
What I want to tackle here, is one of the most common misconceptions underlying such widespread, yet false, acceptance of the gendered narrative: that of it being supposedly ‘supported’ by statistics. Isn’t it very clear indeed that, according to crime figures alone, women are the vast majority of victims and men that of perpetrators?
And, to clearly understand what on earth is going on with reported figures, we need to clearly understand a few factors surrounding them -from the language we use to how they are gathered in the first place, besides, most importantly, not only what they are telling us but, also, what they are *not* telling us.
What does it all mean?
Governmental figures for part of the UK in the year ending March 2020 show that, in England and Wales, 5.7% of White people reported (please, note my emphasis...) having experienced domestic abuse, as opposed to 3.7% of Black people and 3.6% of Asian. As a result, the government concluded:
‘White people… were more likely to experience (again, note my emphasis...) domestic abuse.’
I deliberately emphasised ‘reported’ and ‘experience’ because, as you can infer, we are facing here our first fallacy: the misleading idea that what is being ‘reported’ reflects in fact the true reality of what is being ‘experienced’. But: is it?
I will, please, ask you here to hold on to that question for a moment, and allow us to move on a bit further…
In the same official report, the conflating of ‘reported’ with ‘experienced’ (used interchangeably and as if the two verbs were synonyms, then) is actually carried through, for example when providing figures for various female demographics. When these figures for women victims are broken down, we are indeed told:
‘White women (7.7%) were also more likely than Asian women (4.4%) or Black women (4.6%) to experience domestic abuse’.
Now, let’s go back to our previous question: is being ‘reported’ the same as being ‘experienced’?
The obvious answer is that, well: no.
For a start, here are to different terms with two different meanings. 'To report' something is not only to experience it, but, above all, to officially bring it out to light; whereas 'to experience' something is merely to go through it, regardless of it being reported or not. The difference in terms matters, and this is where ‘reported’ figures start to show their core weakness.
So far indeed, we have focused only on ethnicity (White, Black, Asians) and women victims being broken down depending on their ethnicities. So far too, we have seen that the conflating of ‘reported’ with ‘experienced’ has led even the government to assume that White women are more at risk of being domestically abused than BAME. So far, then, we have been hurled head on against an assumption which, despite relying on a linguistic fallacy, can nevertheless be felt all around, for instance when it has been translating into how only those organisations supporting mostly White women have been receiving more media coverage, funding, and support than those supporting BAME. I don’t think I am being controversial here indeed when stating that the Muslim Women's Network, the Muslim Community Helpline, or, again, Southall Black Sisters, to name but a few, and regardless of what you might think of their ideology (some abide to the gendered view of abuse, others don't) suffer from serious mediatic and political under-coverage as opposed to others, and so, as a result, still are pretty much very marginalised even within the female sector purporting to support women victims!
These consequences, also, are obviously harmful. The problem is certainly not that White people are more likely to experience domestic abuse than BAME, but that BAME under-report the domestic abuse they are going through (if they even are aware that what they are going through constitutes domestic abuse in the first place!).
Outlining why BAME women are less likely 'to report' than White women is not the purpose of this post. Their reasons range from lack of awareness to cultural taboo, and from institutional racism to everything in-between, with the acronym 'BAME' itself being seriously unhelpful as it lumps in together (under an otherwise racially lazy umbrella term) women whose cultural backgrounds, beliefs, values, and, most importantly, needs, are widely different. The purpose of this post is actually two folds: first, to point to the failure of such figures in taking into account whole set of factors explaining why some demographics are less likely to report their experience than others; then, to demonstrate that, precisely *because* these demographics are less likely to report, they are, in fact, more deserving of awareness campaigns than those that do.
This, in fact, is not only a problem pertaining to ethnicity only, but to gender as well.
When it comes to governmental figures, the conflating of 'reporting’ with ‘experiencing’ carries on indeed when presenting statistics depending on whether victims are men or women. White women, we are told, are:
‘twice as likely as White men (3.6%) to experience (again, my emphasis) domestic abuse’.
If you have, by now, truly grasped the problem in conflating ‘reporting’ with ‘experiencing’, then you should, by now, understand that the above official statement is downright false.
It’s false, because White women are not twice as likely ‘to experience’ domestic abuse than White men, but twice as likely ‘to report’. Terminology matters.
It’s false, also, because it doesn’t take into account the multiple factors that could explain why White men (like BAME women, and pretty much any other demographics who are not White women) under-report domestic abuse when they are victims of it, let alone why they would believe that what they are ‘experiencing’ doesn't constitute abuse to be ‘reported’ in the first place.
I will write a post outlining such reasons within the next couple of months (please subscribe here to don’t miss it!). Suffice to say, here, that using reported figures to claim that domestic abuse is ‘gendered’ (or mostly 'experienced' by White people, let alone White women specifically) cannot offer a true picture of the problem, precisely because it’s a tunnel vision which, well, is everything but a holistic approach.
And yet… Understanding such circular argument at play when interpreting statistics, let alone the difference between ‘experiencing’ something and ‘reporting’ it, is crucial.
Women (especially White women) are not more likely to be abused than other groups (including men, even White men) they are just perceived as such. But, precisely because they are perceived as such ==> they benefit from more campaign of awareness than other groups ==> which encourages them to report more than other groups ==> leading to them figuring in higher numbers than other groups in the official data ==> data which are used even by the government (and the women organisations it partially funds) to claim that women, especially White women, are more likely to be abused than other groups ==> hence are therefore in need of more campaign of awareness than other groups ==> ending up benefiting from more focus and support than other groups ==> feeding further reporting coming from them than other groups ==> hence why they figure in higher number in statistics than other groups ==> so are perceived as more in need than other groups ==> benefiting then from more campaign of awareness than other groups… etc.
If the logic underpinning it all is, here, exposed as being no different in appearance than an Ouroboros snake, that’s because, of course, it is.
But it’s not what we see. What we see when looking at ‘reported’ crime figures are, in fact, two things:
-White women being more likely to report being abused than Black or Asian women, despite Black and Asians women being no less vulnerable in experiencing abuse than their White counterparts,
-men not 'reporting' domestic abuse as much as women do, regardless of how much they, in fact, experience it.
Does it matter?
If the gap between what people 'report' and that of what people claim to 'experience' was marginal, then, no, it wouldn't. The question we should ask now is, therefore: is just gap marginal?
This is a post purporting to debunk the view that domestic violence is 'gendered'. As such, I will not focus on ethnicity (the neglected experience of BAME women) but gender that is, what is 'experienced' by men.
According to the Mankind Initiative, the main charity supporting men victims of domestic violence in the UK, for the year ending in 2020 61% of the men who called their helpline had never spoken to anyone before about the abuse they were suffering, and 64% would not have called if the helpline was not anonymous. That's about 6 domestically abused men out of 10 who wouldn't have sought help otherwise. Put bluntly: if it were not for Mankind Initiative and their anonymous helpline, 6 abused men out of 10 wouldn't have shown up anywhere because, to their own admittance, they did not report their ordeal to these official bodies that matter when collecting governmental data.
Going back to the linguistic fallacy outlined above (the misleading conflating of 'reported' with 'experienced') then you can gauge the scale of the problem: since they don't 'report', they are perceived as not 'experiencing', and therefore... as not existing in the first place! And indeed, by fully relying on such statistics to peddle their claim, this is exactly what the partisans of the gendered view of abuse (not least, most women organisations now controlling the field and having a vested, financial interest in the matter) want you to believe: men are nowhere near 'experiencing' domestic abuse as much as women, because, well, 'reported' figures... In other words: here's a linguistic blunder leading to a complete distortion of a reality.
6 out of 10, though, isn't marginal. Is just gap backed up elsewhere?
There is something hypocritical with whose campaigning for the 'gendered' view of domestic abuse when pointing at crime figures to try and prove that women are most likely to be victims, and this hypocrisy shows itself in one obvious fact that they are, otherwise, very keen to conveniently (as with many other things) sweep under the rug: that of the official bodies offering the crime figures in question perfectly acknowledging that men do, indeed, seriously under-report.
The ONS, for example, reported that, for the year ending in March 2020, half of male victims (49%) failed to tell anyone that they were victim of domestic abuse, with men being 'two and a half times less likely to report than women'.
Obviously, if this was truly the case, then it would show in statistics for crime being reported too. If men really were about 'twice less' likely to report than women, then crime figures for men victims would be about 'twice less' than that of women. This isn't rocket science, but basic maths and common sense.
Was it so?
When looking at concerned figures, indeed, that's exactly what we saw: for that same time-period (ending March 2020) 4% of men and 8.1% of women 'reported' having suffered domestic violence. Does it mean that only 4% of men 'experienced' domestic violence? Not at all. If you take into consideration the 'men are two and a half time less likely to report' when assessing that 4%, then you obtain 8% when multiplying it by 2, or, 10% when multiplying it by 2.5 -either similar to women, or more (more might sound counter-intuitive, yet they are factors that could explain why men, in fact, may be more likely to experience domestic abuse than women... I personally believe such factors to be marginal, but if you want me to outline them in a post, please feel free to let me know).
The pattern is not new either.
Fifteen years before, in 2005, the ONS recorded 6.5% of men and 11.1% of women having 'reported' being victim of domestic violence (the difference in percentage compared to 2020 was mostly due to the age of respondents). Again, 'twice less' men were recorded as having 'experienced' such issue as women. Was it, back then too, because they were 'twice less' likely to report? We can speculate: if we round up the figures, 6% multiplied by 2 gives us 12%, a rate similar to that of women... Is it too much of a coincidence?
I draw here attention to 2005 because, 2005 was also the year when the National Crime Council (NCC) and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published their own report on domestic violence. Their figures, back then too, showed a gender symmetry on the issue -29% of women and 26% of men 'reported' suffering domestic violence. Interestingly, there was a perfect symmetry when it came to physical abuse, with both 13% of men and 13% of women reporting such form of physical violence. Strikingly, though, and more relevantly here, it also highlighted that whereas 1 in 3 women victims had reported the incident to the police, only 1 man out of 20 did. Again, these are far, far from being marginal figures!
But what does that tell us?
'Reported' crime figures are not entirely reliable, simply because they don't take into account such high discrepancies in 'unreported' incidents. The official bodies offering such figures, of course, are aware of the issue, for example when they highlight that men are less likely to 'report' than women. Nevertheless, the language they use when reporting their data remains problematic, leaving a linguistic vacuum for lobbies with vested interests in the topic (both ideological and financial) to engulf themselves in -to their full advantage.
When we conflate 'reported' crimes with that which are 'experienced', though, we completely overlook these factors preventing (let alone explaining why) whole demographics don't 'report' as much as they should. This, by itself, leads to a double whammy.
On the one hand, the demographics having no issue in 'reporting' will be perceived as being the most vulnerable, whereas the mere fact that they do report in the first place is proof to the contrary. White women are the archetypes of such fallacy: they are everything but more marginalised than others, but, precisely because they report more (hence feature in higher number in reported figures) they keep being perceived as such and so keep monopolising the campaigning field.
On the other hand, it gives the false impression that, if people don't 'report' an issue, it must be because they don't 'experience' it to start with. This other fallacy isn't without consequences either, with their problem being thus further exacerbated through a political and institutional neglect, reflected in a lack of awareness campaigns, support, and overall funding, at least as opposed to the White female population.
The result? From BAME women to men (including White men) the populations who need the most support, precisely because they under-report, are the ones receiving it the less simply for.... under-reporting in the first place! That victims are being failed across the board by a whole system, then, shouldn't surprise us, since the whole logic and language underpinning and reflecting the system in question are completely inane.
In the end, then, and as Mark Twain rightly quipped, 'there are lies, damned lies, and statistics'. Statistics are just dry, cold numbers on a paper. Without acknowledging the whole context into which they are gathered, let alone what they are reflecting in the first place (are we talking about 'reported' crimes, or about 'experienced' crimes? How big or small is the gap between both? Where else to look for to get a holistic approach reflecting reality and not a gendered tunnel vision? What cultural, societal factors can explain discrepancies if any?) then they are, of course, meaningless. The mere fact that most women organisations controlling the domestic violence sector rely on such meaninglessness to peddle their point ('domestic abuse is a gendered crime! Look at crime figures!') should, alone, alert us to the weakness of their argument.
Where do we go from here?
Well, it depends on your personal priority.
There is no denying that BAME women (no matter how unhelpful the acronym) have been marginalised by the political whiteness pertaining to the domestic violence sector, let alone the political whiteness of the established femocracy ruling over it all (and itself being deeply embedded within what has been dubbed 'White feminism'). If you are concerned about marginalised women, then, you might want to reconsider which organisations you support when it comes to female victims. Some, indeed, are in far direst needs than the otherwise very powerful Behemoths one can easily think of...
As for men victims, they, too, have been marginalised, the more so in a deeply gendered campaigning sector where ideology took hold against science and common sense. Here too, then, you might want to help supporting them in breaking down stigma, stereotypes, and harmful, sexist prejudices, and offer your support to those battling to do just that. In the UK, I cannot think of any better organisations than the Mankind Initiative or the Paul Lavelle Foundation (Respect is often credited with supporting men victims, but Respect fully abides to the gendered view of abuse, and most men victims who contacted me said that they weren't supported as a result, but, re-victimised by being treated as potential abusers passing off as victims when seeking help => do not support Respect!).
In the meantime, thank you for reading, and, if you don't want to miss on any future posts about domestic violence and other related issues, then please feel free to subscribe here. And, of course, if you think that you can help me with the book I am writing on the topic, then please feel free to contact me too!