Violence and the invisible sex

The Home Office claims that violence against women and girls costs £40.1 billion a year. That’s a very big claim.

 It’s almost as much as is spent on the total UK defence budget (£42.1 billion), and about half the education budget (£79.9 billion). Can domestic and sexual violence against women, abhorrent as it is, really cost that much, or has the figure been inflated to justify Government policies?
These include plans to teach children about the evils of wife-beating from the age of five, under the rubric of “educating children and young people about healthy, non-violent relationships”. Teachers will also be given guidance on tackling “gender bullying”.
The £40.1 billion figure was cited recently in Saving Lives, Reducing Harm, Protecting the Public, a Home Office publication, which gave as its source the Pre-Budget Report and Comprehensive Spending Review for 2007. So the authority for the figure rests on another Government document.
 The Home Office has carried out research to discover the true figure. One estimate, published in 2005 in Economic and Social Costs of Crime against Individuals and Households, found that the total burden of crime in 2003-04 was £36.2 billion. Sexual offences and violence against the person together represented 60 per cent of this figure – just under £22 billion. That includes offences against men as well as women.
In September 2004, the Women and Equality Unit published a study by Sylvia Walby of the University of Leeds that calculated the cost of domestic violence, including rape, at £5.7 billion: made up of £3.1 billion for legal, court, NHS, social services and housing costs of £3.1 billion, and loss to the economy of £2.7 billion.
That is much lower than either £40.1 billion or £22 billion. The difference is accounted for by human and emotional costs, which are reckoned by Dr Walby as £104,300 for each serious assault or rape. The figure is arbitrary, and open to argument. However, if we accept it as reasonable, the total costs of domestic violence and rape against women, on her reckoning, totted up to £13.9 billion. Puzzlingly, in these tables, the costs of rapes appear to be counted twice, once under rape and assault by penetration (37,000 cases) and once as rape (28,000 cases). Discount this and the total would be £2.9 billion lower.
So where does the £40.1 billion figure come from? Whatever its source, it now forms part of the “narrative” of violent crime - to use a favourite New Labour word - as if constant repetition would make it true.
The second part of the narrative is that women are uniquely vulnerable to violence, and that it doesn’t happen to men, unless they are the type to get involved in fights at the pub or outside football grounds. Harriet Harman’s wife-beating lessons do not include violence against men. It doesn’t happen, apparently.
So firmly entrenched is this belief that funding for men’s and fathers’ organisations is routinely turned down. The Charity Commissioners even refused in 2000 to register a men’s and fathers' organisation on the grounds it was against the law to discriminate against women whereas it was still not illegal to discriminate against men.
For ten years men’s action groups and lobbyists have sought the same support for male victims of domestic violence that has been afforded women via Women’s Aid and Refuge. They have consistently been refused, on the grounds that men are a minority of domestic violence victims (10 per cent or less) and therefore didn’t qualify or justify a diversion of funds. This attitude remains unchanged, in spite of the Government finally accepting British Crime Survey figures which have been telling them for years that a significantly large minority of victims, in the region of 30 per cent, are male.
Crime figures are notoriously tricky, so perhaps ministers simply don’t believe what their own figures tell them. Let’s look overseas.
In 2006 the Australian Government published In Matters of Personal Safety, a report recording the levels of violence experienced by men and women. The survey defined violence as including “any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either physical or sexual assault”. It concluded that 5.8 per cent of Australian women experienced violence so defined in the 12 months prior to the survey, as did 10.8 per cent of men. The figures are summarised in the two flow diagrams below:
The source for these charts is Personal Safety Survey 2005, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). available here.
It quickly becomes apparent that 94 per cent of Australian women had not experienced violence, in stark contrast to the claim often made that “1 in 4” women are victims of it. The figure for women is in line with the Home Office Survey of 1999 (HORS 191), which put the proportion of women in England & Wales who had experienced violence at 4.2 per cent.
Over a ten-year period (1996-2005) the Australian data shows just over half of all men experienced some form of violence compared with only 40 per cent of women. If violence is an expression of the human condition, we can expect similar patterns in Britain, which makes the attitudes of successive ministers look absurd.
Is there any chance of a change? Or will we, in the next ten years, continue to see men’s organisations routinely and repeatedly refused funding for projects identical to those where women's organisations successfully apply? Ministers minds are made up: please don’t confuse them with the facts.