Why focus on violence against women, rather than all violence?

Campaigns focused on violence against women, such as the White Ribbon Campaign, often face two questions: “Why not *all* violence?” “What about violence against men?” So here is why.

Focusing a campaign on violence against women in no way means that this is the only type of violence that occurs, it is the most common form of violence, or other forms of violence are unimportant. It simply means that violence against women is an important social problem that deserves attention.

Like other anti-violence campaigns, the White Ribbon Campaign is motivated by the fundamental belief that *all* forms of violence are wrong, whether their victims are female or male, and whether their perpetrators are male or female.

There are important reasons to have a campaign focused on violence against women, amidst other campaigns focused on other forms of violence, rather than having a single campaign focused on all forms of violence: on violence against women, violence against men, child abuse, and so on.

1) Violence against women has specific dynamics that should be the focus of specific attention. For example, while the violence that men experience often occurs in public and by perpetrators who are not known to them, the violence that women experience often occurs in relationships and families and by perpetrators known to them.

2) Violence against women has specific causes that should be the focus of specific attention. For example, violence against women is sustained in part by cultural beliefs (held by a minority) that men have the right to physically punish their female partners, that males should be dominant in households, that some women ‘ask’ to be raped, and so on. (See the overviews listed here, here, and the reviews of causes or risk factors here.)

Similarly, violence against men is sustained in part by cultural beliefs that if a man’s honour or status is challenged, he must respond with violence, violence between males is legitimate and exciting, and so on. (See the scholarship here on violence against men, including e.g. my short overview.)

If we had a campaign that lumped together these different forms of violence, we would be unable to address the specific features and drivers of these diverse behaviours. And our campaign would be ineffective as a result. So we need a range of campaigns, addressing diverse forms of violence.

Indeed, even in focusing on violence against women, it is valuable to have campaigns and initiatives focused on specific forms of this violence: on domestic violence, on sexual violence, on financial abuse, and so on.

For the same reason, campaigns focused on other social problems such as cancer or tobacco smoking or drink-driving often focus on specific populations and/or specific forms of this behaviour, as well as giving out the general message that such behaviours are unhealthy or wrong.

Campaigns focused on violence against women also receive the question, “What about violence against men?” Yes, the victims of violence often are male. For example, the majority of victims of homicides in Australia, and the majority of victims of assaults in public, are male. And boys and men are most at risk from other boys and men.

There is a serious problem of male-male violence in Australia. It would be great to see campaigns and initiatives focused on this violence, and they could complement campaigns focused on violence against women.

Just as with campaigns addressing violence against women, campaigns addressing violence against men should address its specific patterns, dynamics, and causes. It would be a mistake, for example, for efforts addressing violence against men to focus on the tiny proportion of this violence that is perpetrated by female partners and ex-partners, rather than the much more typical forms of violence that men experience.

By Professor Michael Flood, September 10, 2023.