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Is domestic violence a gender hate crime, and why does it matter?

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, (IPV) and family violence are defined in Australian federal government policy as gender crimes, committed overwhelmingly by men against "women and their children."

A gender crime is a category of hate crime.

Hate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a particular social group, usually defined by race, religion, class, ethnicity, nationality, disability, age, gender, gender identity, social status or political affiliation. In hate crimes people are attacked because of who they are.


Government policies designed to reduce the incidence of DV and IPV are founded on the feminist analysis of these crimes as gender hate crimes that occur in the overarching context of a patriarchal hegemony constructed of unequal power relations between men and women, and adherence to rigid gender stereotypes that position women and children as the property of men.

The latest 12-year National Plan to Reduce Violence against women and their children released earlier this year by the Gillard government does not address female perpetrated domestic violence, IPV, and family violence against women and children. It is based on an ideological perspective that either does not allow that women are violent in families, or claims that if they are, their violence is considerably less than that of men, occurs in the patriarchal context and as a consequence of patriarchal values, therefore is not as serious or as frequent as that inflicted by men on women and children.

The National Plan defines domestic violence solely as "violence against women," that is, a gender-hate crime, as follows:

1.The term violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. 

2.The National Plan targets two main types of violence: domestic and family violence and sexual assault. These crimes are gendered crimes – that is they have an unequal impact on women.

3…the majority of people who experience this kind of violence are women - in a home, at the hands of men they know.

The Plan also states that interventions to prevent DV, IPV and family violence "must be undertaken in the context of unequal gendered distribution of power and resources," and that two of its goals are "controlling macho, aggressive and ultimately violent behaviour," and "holding men accountable for their behaviours."

The Plan's bias is indisputable.


What the research says

A cursory search of the literature will reveal a plethora of international and some domestic research that challenges the feminist paradigm of DV, IPV and family violence. An Australian example is this 2009 paper by UWS lecturer Michael Woods titled "Domestic Violence in Australia." Critiquing government "desktop" research on which DV prevention policy papers are based, Woods notes:

The basic framework propagated by these papers that will direct legislation, policies and services for years to come is a gender paradigm. Yet gender as a central construct in any explanatory framework of DV has been demonstrated comprehensively as inadequate – it does not accord with the evidence from major international and local studies.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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