The White Ribbon Foundation is an organisation that works to prevent male violence towards women – a goal that is extremely worthy and worth supporting. The White Ribbon website states that “all forms of violence are unacceptable,” however in 2009 the organisation issued a document to it’s male Ambassadors which used erroneous ‘facts and statistics’ to downplay, diminish and report incorrectly about male victims of violence. These Ambassadors use federal government funding to take the White Ribbon message into regional, rural and remote communities. These significant errors could have led the Ambassadors, and through them the general public via federal funding, to be misled about the nature and dynamics of interpersonal violence in Australia.
Some of the dangerous myths about violence circulated in the document include claims that men are less likely than women to experience violence within family and other relationships; that we don’t yet know the impact of violence on men’s overall health; and that there is no evidence that male victims are less likely to report domestic violence than are female victims.
Men’s Health Australia – Australia’s primary source of information about the social and psychological wellbeing of men and boys – contacted White Ribbon with its concerns about this document. Men’s Health believes that violence prevention is not a competition: that governments and NGOs can work to prevent violence against women and violence against men. We believe it isn’t necessary for White Ribbon to downplay, diminish or report incorrectly about male victims of violence in order to highlight the tragedy of female victims of violence. The horrific statistics about violence against women speak for themselves.
Men’s Health Australia are fully supportive of all attempts to reduce violence against women. However we believe it is essential that a high-profile organisation such as the White Ribbon Foundation provides its Ambassadors and the general public with an accurate picture of violence in Australian society, especially when in receipt of federal government funding. It is only when we start with an accurate picture of violence that we can take the necessary steps to reduce its incidence and impact. If we start with an inaccurate picture, our violence-prevention strategies are bound to be less effective, and could potentially cause harm – especially to children.
White Ribbon’s initial response to our concerns was five months of silence. Once we pursued the matter we were sent a response to our concerns written by Dr Michael Flood – a White Ribbon Ambassador and Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Wollongong with a long involvement in community advocacy and education work focused on men’s violence against women. This response failed to address our core concern: that it isn’t necessary for White Ribbon to downplay, diminish or report incorrectly about male victims of violence in order to highlight female victims of violence.
In addition, Dr Flood’s response:
- Failed to address a number of our specific concerns about statistical and factual errors
- Contained more errors than the original document when responding to other specific concerns
- Resorted to ad hominem attacks in an apparent attempt to discredit Men’s Health Australia
- Failed to successfully challenge any of Men’s Health’s specific concerns.
Fortunately the White Ribbon Foundation appointed a new CEO, Libby Davies in early 2011, who appears to have adopted a fresh approach to working with men’s organisations. Men’s Health met with her in May 2011 and discussed ways in which our two organisations might be able to respectfully co-exist in the future. Some ideas floated included:
- To agree on a common set of statistics/data on which to base our work
- To both issue media releases in areas where we overlap (e.g. genuine respectful relationships programs for boys and girls)
- For both organisations, as much as possible, to avoid gender competition in our work (i.e. ‘men vs women’ thinking) and simply lobby for our respective constituents (e.g. instead of saying “women experience x times as much domestic violence as men”, just say “x% of women experience domestic violence” and likewise for men).
On 11th March 2012, the Fatherhood Foundation’s weekly e-Newsletter titled The High Cost of Being Right re-published our November 2010 media release. As a result readers have contacted us questioning the veracity of Dr Flood’s response to criticisms of White Ribbon materials made by Men’s Health Australia. We felt it appropriate to respond, not in any effort to attack the White Ribbon Foundation, and certainly not to ignite any gender competition, but simply to set the public record straight. This document is that response.
We are hopeful that this issue will now be put to rest and that White Ribbon and Men’s Health can move forward to work side-by-side to reduce all violence in Australia. White Ribbon’s core concern is preventing male violence against women; Men’s Health’s core concern is preventing violence against men and boys (by men and women); other organisations are working to prevent child abuse, elder abuse, lesbian domestic violence and other forms of violence and abuse. There should be no competition for victimhood – all victims of violence and abuse deserve services and support.