“You’re never going to stop domestic violence.” It sounds oddly like a threat, or a political pledge from an extreme party, but it was simply the scoffing of a news presenter interviewing a Member of Parliament on the radio this morning. John Humphreys was supposedly discussing the subject with Yvette Cooper when he made this statement, which should sound utterly bizarre to us. The fact that many people heard it as a statement of fact, as utterly uncontroversial, should make us pause for thought. I’d like to take apart some of the assumptions behind this sentence, broadcast on the BBC’s flagship morning news programme by an interviewer who considers himself the bluff voice of common sense, the representative of people all over the country listening to the radio this morning.
It seems to put domestic violence in the category of a force of nature. It’s just one of those things, like the tides or the laws of supply and demand, which we have to accept and try to either avoid or accommodate ourselves to the effects. But domestic violence is not a naturally occurring substance. It’s something which people do to other people. It has perpetrators and survivors. It’s not like breathing or gathering food, it’s a choice made by individuals to hurt someone else. Generally speaking, we don’t organise our society on the basis that violent actions are basically inevitable. We pass laws and we prosecute crimes when those laws are broken. Would Humphreys have scoffed at the efforts of the Metropolitan Police to reduce the number of guns on the street by incredulously asking them if they believed they could ever end gun crime?
Perhaps Humphries was speaking on a general and statistical level, suggesting that humans are always going to commit some forms of crime and violence. People have always stolen, have always tried to murder one another, have always hated outsiders, have always tried to cheat whatever political system existed to gain power (or to rig the system so they don’t have to cheat.) Who can plumb the matchless perversity of the human heart, Humphries might be demanding. But domestic violence doesn’t seem a suitable comparison to crimes like theft or fraud, or even to human emotions like greed or hate. It doesn’t spring up equally in the hearts and actions of everyone in our society. It is massively disproportionately committed by men against women.
In one study, 89% of those reporting four or more incidents of domestic abuse were women, and another estimated extended patterns of domestic violence by women against men in only 5% of cases (Walby and Allen, 2004; Hester, 2007). This is not to downplay the seriousness of the offence when committed against men, but to point out that domestic violence does not seem to “just happen” for half of the population. It is not a natural human emotion or an inevitable part of social life. A vast proportion of women never seem to have any problem in not attacking, abusing or terrorising the people they live with. This is the reason activists like Karen Ingala Smith insist on using the term “male violence against women and girl”, highlighting the fact that this violence is not just something which develops out of human life. It is vastly committed by one gender against another. Discussing “domestic violence” as if it is a natural condition of people living together ignores the individual acts by men against women which make up the statistics.
If this is the case, then Humphreys must be making one other terrifying assumption. Men are inherently and lethally violent. The figures suggest that two women a week killed by male partners or ex-partners and that this makes up a third of female homicide victims (Coleman and Osborne, 2010). If the line of logic we have followed is correct, then this is just a thing men do. They can’t stop themselves. They batter and kill people just because they’re men. If you genuinely believe domestic violence can’t ever be stopped, then you’re committed to thinking that one half of our society are brutal animals incapable of rational thought or normal behaviour. And it’s probably the half of our society which you fall into. Whilst feminists are told that they hate men, that they demonise them and blame them for all the ills of humanity, they’re trying to put a stop to domestic violence. Because they believe men aren’t like this. Feminists are the “you” whom John Humphreys scoffs at, apparently not part of his culture, who think that this continual wave of assault and murder isn’t some natural and horrific consequence of having men around. As so often, it’s men who reveal a disturbing view of their own gender, whilst feminists are insisting that men aren’t genetically programmed to destroy and terrorise. Men need to believe that domestic violence can be brought to an end, and that the relentless suffering it brings to hundreds of thousands of women can be stopped. Men who tell us otherwise hate us and hate themselves. I can’t see it any other way.