Remembering My Hat

14th September 2009

Surprise! Domestic violence still gendered

I’ve just read this new piece of research on the gendered nature of domestic violence within heterosexual relationships:

Marianne Hester (2009) Who does what to whom? Gender and domestic violence perpetrators Bristol: University of Bristol and Northern Rock Foundation

It’s basically confirming what Women’s Aid have been saying for years; that women may sometimes perpetrate domestic violence against men, but it’s not the same. The violence is typically not as bad, it’s much more likely to be a single incident rather than repeat incidents, it’s not part of a pattern of coercion and control. Depressingly, she finds that women were three times as likely to be arrested as men, despite the fact that the main form of abuse women used was verbal abuse.

I recommend having a look at it, if you’re at all interested in these topics. It’s reasonably clearly written, only 19 pages, available as a pdf, and, for OU colleagues always on the look out for case study material, it contains several useful case studies.

Things that struck me about the findings include:

She found that over the course of her longitudinal study (2001 – 2007) the police became more likely to check whether they had identified the correct person as the perpetrator when the woman was originally identified as such. Some police appeared to be looking at the context and longer term pattern of violence and using that to identify a primary aggressor (or an initiator and a retaliator). I find this encouraging. It sometimes feels as if the new pressure to provide gender-neutral services means that all the feminist insights of the last 40 years of DV campaigning are being lost. This counterbalances my pessimism.

One of the case studies concerns a woman victim whose children had been removed by social services to live with their grandparents. She was reported to have said that

She doesn’t always ring the police because Social Services have told her if she has more domestics she won’t ever get her children back

I would be willing to bet a small sum that that’s not actually what the social worker said (at least, I very much hope not!). I imagine that they said something along the lines that the children were not safe because of her partner’s violence and that unless she could protect them from him, they wouldn’t be placed back with her. But you can see how that sort of response combines with the common notion that ‘social workers take your children away’ to mean that she heard it as a threat. It’s a real challenge for those of us involved in social work education to equip students to work in the context of that idea about their profession. It’s so tempting to just get annoyed with the idea that Social Workers Want To Take Children Away, but that’s a way of not really engaging with it. We need to help Social Workers to develop ways of actively countering that notion in the minutiae of everyday work.

I also took the paper as a salutary lesson in the merits of quantitative methods. It is so powerful to see the statistical patterns across a reasonably large longitudinal data set. Although of course I’d still want to interrogate the discourse in which I am inscribed which finds numbers peculiarly convincing and persuasive…

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