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Male victims of domestic violence have rights too

By Roger Smith - posted Thursday, 18 June 2015

Exactly three quarters of a century ago today, on 18 June 1940, an obscure French general made a radio broadcast in a foreign country. Hardly any of his fellow countrymen heard it. Fewer still were in a position to act upon it.

In June 1940, France suffered the worst defeat politically, culturally and morally in its long history. Where it had fought on to final victory in 1918 after four years of utter bloodshed and destruction, the Nazi war machine was able to devastate France and overturn its First World War victory in the space of little more than a month. Nearly one hundred thousand of its best troops lay dead. Millions of civilians were forced to flee. The most opulent and enlightened city in the world was war booty for the most savage, hated-filled yet technologically advanced war machine in human history. Worse still, France's greatest general and hero of the earlier war, Petain had capitulated to the victorious Nazi army and even accepted a new quasi-fascist French government in collaboration with France's new oppressors.

Yet in the midst of utter devastation and defeat, Charles de Gaulle was able to call it there and then and speak for a France in the name of the Free French-not Vichy. In uncompromisingly calling for ongoing resistance to German aggression, he created a nation and her military forces in the midst of the most devastating defeat imaginable. For all intents and purposes, the free democratic French nation did not exist in late June 1940. In the short term context of June 1940, de Gaulle's vision could have been called an abstraction, a mirage or even a lie.


Yet at a cost of millions dead, by 1945 de Gaulle's vision of France, his premature actualisation of a French national resistance to fascism was reality not fiction. His vision and the willingness of his people to see it fulfilled, albeit with great Allied assistance and at incalculable cost, was as real in 1940 as it was in 1945. The concept of a great, a free and a democratic France was far more persuasive and far more real-even in 1940-than the infamy of the defeatist, fascist and collaborationist regime at Vichy.

What has all this got to do with public policy battles in peaceful and democratic Australia? The debates over policy and service delivery are a world away from the blood-soaked battlefields of Europe 75 years ago. But in many ways since the end of the Second World War, we have been playing catch-up and we have been trying to implement the heritage of liberty and universal human rights that are our birthright as a result of the unimaginable sacrifices of that time.

In many respects, that legacy was universalism. It was the recognition, won at incalculable cost, that human rights have no bounds. They are universal and no one can be denied protection or civil rights based on their demography – on their race, religion or gender. We played catch-up in the retreat from colonialism during the 1940s and 1950s. We played catch-up in the struggle for civil rights in the United States during the 1960s. We played catch-up in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. We played catch-up with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the struggle against Communism. We are even now playing catch-up in the present day struggle against the depravity of ISIS.

An intense public policy debate is underway in Australia today about violence and abuse in the home. And the terms of this debate are clear enough. In our quest to protect the victims of violence in the home-where all Australians should feel safe-are we to delimit, qualify and minimalize protection from this abuse based on a predetermined criteria for who we choose to legally protect, who we advocate for and who our services are restricted to?

If we are to believe the overwhelming body of elite opinion and taxpayer-funded activism, the answer is a deafening 'yes'. Protection from family violence and advocacy for its victims MUST be strictly limited to the narrow confines of a heterosexual relationship involving a female victim and a male perpetrator. We must withhold notions of fairness and of the universalism of human rights that our ancestors fought for in the name of a political interest that judges right and wrong based not on the nature of the injury, but on the demography of the victim. Our elites have seemingly decided that male victims either do not exist, or they exist in such small numbers that no services should be provided to them.

The reality is quite different. Everyone knows that abuse and victimhood do not fall neatly along gender lines. Family violence researchers, based on all the peer-reviewed, population-based published academic studies, based on the ABS Personal Safety Survey and Australian Institute of Criminology homicides surveys, know it. The community knows it. They know that it is not only men that commit violence and abuse in relationships. Around one in three of the victims of domestic violence is male. But our elites will seemingly never accept what we fought for-that our values are based on universal protection and that abuse (in its worst form known as 'intimate terrorism') is abhorrent no matter the ethnicity or gender identity of the perpetrator.


The only legitimate argument for withholding services to half the population based solely on their gender identity is that in providing such services and focus, we are somehow depriving services to women who comprise a demographic majority of victims.

Let's give that argument the benefit of the doubt. Must one male victim acknowledged mean one female victim denied services? This doesn't seem to be case for other social problems like suicide or industrial accidents where we would never accept the withholding of services or advocacy for women simply because they constitute a demographic minority of victims. In fact, I would argue that for a reality check every advocate of male victims should spend time at a women's shelter and hear of their suffering. Likewise every White Ribbon Ambassador should spend time speaking with male victims who have no support, no voice and are forced into devastating silence for no other reason than their gender identity. Their suffering is no less real than the female victims that you advocate for. And they suffer in silence. They have no taxpayer funding. They certainly have no Australian of the Year to advocate for them. It would be a rare case indeed if a person of authority in this country would dare even cite their cause.

We have resolved at a political level that this significant minority must receive zero services or government-funded advocacy. Services and support MUST be withheld from minorities based on the spurious argument that providing services universally for victims somehow erodes the rights of victims who happen to fall within a demographic majority.

The idea of non-discrimination in Australian family violence policy and service delivery may therefore be an abstraction in the vitriolic campaigns of the present day. Just as the evidence becomes stronger of the suffering of all abuse victims-even those who do not fall within the dominant paradigm-it seems that ever more funds and media attention will be devoted to silencing them, intensifying their stigma and paradoxically causing ever increasing levels of family dysfunction and abuse. Those who believe that protection and services ought to be restricted to a predetermined subset of victims no doubt also have brothers, sons, husbands, uncles. Would they not want them also to be protected? Or do they consider them robots for whom abuse, physical or psychological, bounces off in some magical fashion?

De Gaulle was right to call it in the darkest days of 1940. His vision of a free France and the Allied vision of a free and democratic Europe even in the darkest days of World War Two was far greater than that of collaborationist, dictatorial and racist Vichy France. So in a totally different realm, we can confidently call it now for the universalists in the family violence debate. Their vision of protection from abuse based on inclusiveness and the idea that no victim be left behind is one that Australians (albeit apparently not the political or cultural elite) already adhere to. It is superior to the vitriol and discrimination of those who would force silence on anyone who dare claim victimhood based on a paradigm other than their own.

The struggle for freedom of expression, and for universalism in rights and protection was fought and won 75 years ago. It is up to the current generation to continue to advocate for it and to implement that victory. Above all, it was a victory for a civil and humane society based on universal dignity and respect where we leave no victim behind. Their sacrifices were not in vain!

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About the Author

Originally trained as a lawyer, Roger Smith lived in Indonesia and East Timor from 1995 to 2004 where he worked in the justice, human rights and trade union arenas.

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