'Fathers' rights' and the defence of paternal authority in Australia

Feminism’s achievements regarding violence against women are a key target for the fathers’ rights movement. This article provides an overview of the impact of the fathers’ rights movement on men’s violence against women. It documents the ways in which fathers’ rights groups in Australia have influenced changes in family law, which privilege parental contact over safety, particularly through moves toward a presumption of children’s joint residence. They have attempted to discredit female victims of violence, to wind back the legal protections available to victims and the sanctions imposed on perpetrators, and to undermine services for the victims of men’s violence.

Citation: Flood, Michael. (2010). ‘Fathers’ Rights’ and the Defense of Paternal Authority in Australia. Violence Against Women, 16(3), 328-347.

Please see below for the full article, in PDF. A partial summary of the article also is below.

Summary (partial)

The fathers’ rights movement

  • (Separated) Fathers as deprived of their ‘rights’…
  • FR groups overlap with ‘men’s rights’ groups. And have links to conservative Christian groups.
  • An organised backlash to feminism
  • Comprised of angry and hurting men (and women), who’ve come through;
    • Separation and divorce
    • Loss of contact with children

Agendas of the FR movement

  • Re-establish authority and control over ex-partners and children;
  • Win an ‘equality’ concerned with legal ‘rights’ and status rather than the actual care of children.
  • Wind back the legal and cultural changes which have lessened gender inequalities.

Feminist achievements regarding men’s violence against women

  • Efforts to ensure that laws and legal decision-making regarding divorce, separation, and the care of children give proper weight to the need to protect women and children from physical and sexual violence
  • The provision of direct support for women escaping violence, through refuges, crisis telephone lines, and other measures.
  • The establishment of legal and institutional responses to the victims and perpetrators of men’s violence against women. Including to criminalize violent behaviour, impose sanctions on its perpetrators, and establish legal and other protections for victims.
  • Efforts to undermine cultural and institutional supports for violence against women through policy, community education, and advocacy.

Impact of the FR movement; (1) Privileging contact over safety

  • Prioritising fathers’ contact with children, over children’s safety.
  • Family Court practices are exposing women and children to greater levels of violence, abuse, and harassment.
  • Similarities in the emphases of government policy and FR groups…

Impact of the FR movement: (2) Discrediting victims

  • The lie that women make false allegations of child abuse.
  • The lie that women make false allegations of DV and misuse protection orders
  • Other lies…

Impact of the FR movement: (3) On perceptions of intimate violence

  • The lie that domestic violence is gender-equal – that men and women assault each other at equal rates and with equal effects.
  • Men’s versus women’s violence
    • Men’s rights and fathers’ rights advocates draw (only) on studies based on the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS).
    • “Have you or your spouse, in the last year, ever committed… [a range of acts].”
  • Three problems with the claim of gender symmetry in DV
    • CTS authors themselves reject this claim, emphasising e.g. that women experience greater fear and injury and more severe violence.
    • Methodological problems with the CTS:
      • It asks only about acts, and ignores their impact, meaning, and history.
      • It leaves out…
      • It relies only on one partner’s reports
    • Other data finds strong gender asymmetries.
  • Useful to distinguish between different kinds of violence;
    • ‘Common couple violence’: Minor violence, by both partners, which is expressive (emotional) rather than instrumental. Does not escalate over time, and injuries are rare.
    • ‘Patriarchal terrorism’: More severe violence, used by one partner (I.e., asymmetrical), plus other controlling tactics, to assert or restore power and authority (I.e., instrumental). Tends to escalate, and injuries are more likely
  • Men are the victims of DV… There are important contrasts in women’s and men’s experiences of intimate partner violence.
  • Women are far more likely than men to
    • Be subjected to frequent, prolonged, and extreme violence
    • Sustain injuries
    • Fear for their lives
    • Experience a range of controlling tactics
    • Be sexually assaulted
    • Experience violence after separation.
  • Women’s perpetration of violence…
  • Men do underreport their violence… But so do women, at a greater rate.
  • The fathers’ rights movement’s attention to DV is not motivated by a genuine concern for male victims of violence;
    • They focus on violence to men by women, while men are most at risk from other men.
    • They undermine the protections available to female and male victims alike.

Impact of the FR movement: (4) Protecting perpetrators and undermining supports for victims

  • FR groups try to;
    • Wind back the protections available to victims
    • Undermine the treatment of DV as criminal behaviour
  • FR groups;
    • Respond from the point of view of the perpetrators. And act like perpetrators too.
    • Condone and excuse men’s violence, and use it as evidence of men’s victimhood.
    • Act as advocates for male perpetrators
    • Attack community and media efforts to respond to and prevent violence against women.

Conclusion

  • We must continue to;
    • Respond to victims / survivors
    • Keep the issue on the public agenda
    • Engage men
    • Confront the backlash
    • Influence the new politics of fatherhood
    • Do the work of violence prevention