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NCFM Australia Liaison Greg Andresen’s Testimony Before a Joint Select Committee Regarding Domestic Violence, Male Victims and Coercive Control

May 24, 2021


1IN3’s appearance before the NSW Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control

The joint select committee was established on 21st October 2020 to inquire into and report on coercive control in domestic relationships. In conducting the inquiry, the committee is to consider the NSW Government discussion paper on coercive control and answer the questions posed in the paper.

The One in Three Campaign provided written submission number 34 to the inquiry, then was asked to appear at the public hearing on 29th March 2021. Mr Andresen, Senior Researcher with 1IN3, appeared before the Committee, along with male victim/survivor Mr Craig Bennett who provided a powerful and moving personal account of his experience of abuse. The Hansard transcript of the hearing can be found here, you can watch a video of the hearing here, and we have also copied in the transcript text below.

During the hearing, several questions on notice were asked of us. We provided written answers to these in a supplementary submission which has just been published on the Inquiry website.

At Jubilee Room, Parliament House, Sydney, on Monday 29 March 2021

GREG ANDRESEN, Senior Researcher, One in Three Campaign, before the Committee via teleconference, affirmed and examined

CRAIG BENNETT, private citizen, before the Committee via teleconference, affirmed and examined

The CHAIR: Mr Andresen, thank you for your written submission. Committee members have it before them and we have had the opportunity to read it. We thank you for providing that to the Committee and for considering our terms of reference. Before I start, if any of the evidence today raises issues with anyone, they can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. For confidential advice, support and referrals related to domestic and family violence, the NSW Domestic Violence Line can be contacted on 1800 656 463 or the Men’s Referral Service can be contacted on 1300 766 491. Mr Andresen and Mr Bennett, would either of you like to make a short opening statement before you take questions from Committee members?

Mr ANDRESEN: I will go first and then I believe Mr Bennett also has something to say. Thank you very much for the opportunity to assist the inquiry today on behalf of the One in Three Campaign. As the senior researcher with One in Three and the author of our submission, I am familiar with the body of research about male victims of family violence. Mr Bennett is a male victim-survivor who is available to provide you with a personal perspective of some of the issues you are -wrestling with in this inquiry. We are both volunteers and we are not legal practitioners so we do not possess – an in-depth knowledge of the law. We do not take a position on whether coercive control should be criminalised. The arguments for and against such a proposal are equally compelling and we do not envy the difficult task you have ahead of you. However, whatever recommendations the Committee ends up making, we would urge that any new – protections be applied equally to all victims of domestic and family violence, whatever their gender or other demographic particulars.

Many male victims already lack the range of support services that are available to other victims and already face extra barriers to accessing support, as we have detailed in our submission. They frequently report being misidentified by police as the primary perpetrator because of their gender. As such, we are concerned at proposals such as 6.18 and 9.10 in the discussion paper that suggest training of police and other frontline services should recognise the gendered nature of coercive control. We agree that statistically women are more likely to be affected than men. However, enough men are affected that police and other services should always make decisions on the basis of the evidence before them and not on the basis of gender. To do so would only serve to marginalise male victims further. Thank you and I look forward to your questions.

The CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Bennet, did you want to make an opening statement to the Committee?

Mr BENNETT: I, Craig Bennett, was married at the age of 30 to a single mum of three boys. She was of Italian descent, though born in Australia. Her mother disapproved of her marrying a “skippy”. They were her words. We went on to have two sons between us. She was very hot-headed and I was constantly on tenterhooks. We went to pre-marriage counselling. On the way home from our honeymoon she told me it was time for me to change and she was going to change me. Nothing was ever good enough in our marriage. In October 2007, I collapsed at work with viral encephalitis. I was hospitalised for two months. I had to relearn to walk , talk, eat and perform basic tasks such as using a knife and showering. I was released from hospital just before Christmas and we went shopping with me in a wheelchair. I asked if I could have some money to get the kids some presents. Her reply was, “A real man wouldn’t be begging his wife for money but would be out working instead of being a lazy”, x-y-z, “laying flat on your back for two months doing nothing”.

This was to be the beginning of a journey of physical, verbal, spiritual, financial and emotional abuse. I was denied a shower chair because “real men do not sit in the shower”. I would have to sit on the shower floor and crawl out and hoist myself up on the toilet to stand up. The number of times she would verbally mock me for not being a “real man” as I was sitting there and say “Why don’t you do everyone a favour and kill yourself”. She would refer to me as “big bad daddy” to the kids because I was “too lazy to work”. She would sharpen knives in the kitchen saying one day she would stab me if I did not go back to work. I had started a commercial cleaning business and worked a second job on a dairy farm.

I have always been interested in writing and I won a competition to write a chapter for a book. The main author would write the intro and concluding chapter. On the Saturday morning I was due to sit and write the chapter she came into the study gloating and said she had cancelled the internet because who did I think I was to win a competition and be published in a book. I lost all my emails and online contacts that morning. I was slapped and punched, spat on and told that even my family wanted nothing to do with me. Can you imagine my horror when I rang New South Wales DOCS domestic abuse hotline and was told by the lady there, I was not really being abused as only men abuse women. Fourteen months later I was to become homeless and living in my Kia Pregio van. The only services offered me was an anger management course. I tried to maintain regular contact with my sons. A number of times I would go to the school to pick them up and find a friend’s mother was picking them up to go to their place for weekend.

I have since remarried to a very kind and generous lady. Thirteen years later I am still on a disability pension although I am much more mobile and active. My ex-wife’s abuse continues. Such as last year she kicked our 17-year-old son out telling him to move in with us. So he did. She then proceeded to phone him every 40 minutes and tell him what he was missing out on. Eventually he decided to go back home. His older step brother was having a birthday party at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. She had convinced him he should be there for his family and he should not miss out—she was going to pay. Upon arriving home she said to him, “Have you got the money for the restaurant. If you don’t, you are not going, because I’m not paying for you.” This is some of my story. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share.

The CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Bennett. We appreciate your taking the time to share your experience with us today.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Thank you for your submission. I have a couple of questions. The first is, I see the statistics you have put in your submission and I have gone and looked at the core of that. I could spend some time going through each of the statistics but I do not think that would be helpful for any of us. I will put this question to you. Why do you think it is that your statistics that you have provided in relation to the number of men and women experiencing domestic violence are so different to what is commonly accepted and what we have had submitted to us from experts and academics in this area?

Mr ANDRESEN: I will answer that question. There is a lot of noise on the line. We are citing statistics from reputable sources as our colleagues across the sector such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] Personal Safety survey and the AIC National Homicide Monitoring Program database. And really great studies by organisations like the Australian Institute of Family Studies and you’re welcome to check those statistics. I suspect that the reason that our statistics differ from most of our colleagues in the sector are that most of them are coming from a perspective of supporting women and children as the victims. They are women’s support services and women’s legal services or the national plan to prevent violence against women and their children. That is fantastic and we support all of those efforts. Because their concern is primarily with females as the victims the statistics that they put forward emphasise females as victims. Naturally our main concern is with male victims whether they are gay or straight, whether they are in an intimate relationship or the broader family network, so the statistics that we emphasise are the ones that demonstrate that men may make up a substantial proportion of victims. I am not sure if that answers your question.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: It does help. I will take you to one example. At the top of page five you say, “The following data is taken from the most recent ABS Personal Safety survey”, which was in 2016. Then you go on to say it provides an overview of the experience of violence by males and females over the past 12 months. I do not see how you could get data from 2020 from a 2016 study. If you could take on notice and show us how you got that data. Did you extrapolate it in some way? That would be useful because looking at that 2016 survey they are not the same numbers. That would be useful.

Mr ANDRESEN: Thank you for the question. I am more than happy to take screenshots of the data and highlight the figures if that would help. Certainly the calculations in that table in terms of percentages. For example, the first line which shows violence by an intimate partner and we put in 35 per cent experienced by males and 65 per cent by females. Those are our own calculations. The raw numbers of 113,900 males affected in the last 12 months and 211,700 females affected in the last 12 months they’re easily found in the excel spreadsheets that make up the Personal Safety survey. I am more than happy to provide all of those documents on notice. For all of the stats in our submission.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: You are saying that “over the last 12 months” is actually the last 12 months of that 2016 survey?

Mr ANDRESEN: Correct. That survey is a very large extensive survey that takes many, many years to both prepare and carry out. So, they cannot be exact figures but the survey was published in 2016 and the survey was probably undertaken in 2015-2016. When people were asked that question it was the previous 12 months prior to taking the survey so it was probably 2014-2015. They are the most recent figures. Unfortunately, with the COVID pandemic the ABS has had to postpone the planned 2020 Personal Safety survey. It is still on the cards I believe but it may not be out until this year or maybe even next year.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: In the interests of time I will move on, but if there are any opportunities for you to give us, on notice, a bit more detail about how the numbers were extracted that would be very useful. Just the second thing, you talk about this study from the UK researchers Powney and Graham-Kevan from the University of Central Lancashire. Do you have the initial data available to provide to the Committee for that study? You have listed it there, but where is your source document for that?

Mr ANDRESEN: The study is literally brand new. The 2,000 or so participants were surveyed sometime in the last two or three months, so those two researchers are still processing that considerable amount of data, they were overwhelmed by the number of people that responded. The statistics that I have provided in our submission are really the first level of brief analysis that they would have published. Not only do they have to undertake a lot more analysis to really get that data in a format to be published, but they will then go through the usual peer review process and that would be published in a journal down the track. So that would be later this year or possibly even next year. But I am in touch with those researchers and would be more than happy to connect the Committee directly with them if you would like to follow up on any of that data directly.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: My final question is just on that. It talks about male victims of coercive control and it says that findings from the Australian participants include the following results. Then the last bullet point says that 60 per cent had sex withheld as punishment. Can you explain to us how having sex withheld is a form of coercive control in your view?

Mr ANDRESEN: I am not the author of the survey, so I am making assumptions as you would be. All I have is the same information they provided. I can imagine that the situation may be something like that the female perpetrator would threaten the male to undertake behaviour that they wanted them to do and that the threat would be, “If you don’t undertake that behaviour, you’re not getting any sex. I’m not going to sleep with you.” That is my imagining of the context of this threat that not sleeping with their partner would be used as control in that sort of way.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Would you view that as coercive control? Is that something that instils fear in a person in a way that would result in them having no choice but to do something? Does it take away their liberty and autonomy?

Mr ANDRESEN: I am sorry. The line is extremely noisy. Would you mind repeating that question?

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: My question was whether you personally would view that as a form of coercive control, if somebody chose not to have sex with somebody that that could instil fear or intimidation and lead a person to lose their autonomy and liberty?

Mr ANDRESEN: Not on its own but, as I am sure you are quite aware, the patterns of coercive control involve a number of abusive and controlling behaviours over an extended period of time and so it is probably the case that that man is being abused in a multiple number of other ways—physical abuse, financial abuse, psychological abuse, threats, intimidation—and that kind of threat about withholding sex would just add to that feeling of that man having no power or no say and being utterly controlled all aspects of his life.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Are you saying a man should have control over whether or not his partner gives him sex? Is that what you are saying?

Mr ANDRESEN: No, I am suggesting that both partners should have control over that and both partners should be able to say yes or no as to whether they want to have sex. Either party should be free to initiate sex and either party should be free to say no to sex. That is the kind of control that I mean. It is not that either should have control over the other person but that both should have personal control and agency in negotiating sex with their partner on an equal basis.

Ms TRISH DOYLE: I want to firstly thank Mr Craig Bennett for telling his personal story. It is always a tough thing to do so thank you, Craig.

Mr BENNETT: Thank you, yes.

Ms TRISH DOYLE: To Mr Andresen, I just want to put something to you and then ask a question. Dr Flood has said that the One in Three claim could be described more accurately as a campaign against efforts to address men’s violence against women. In light of what you have just outlined, do you think that all victims, including the minority of male victims, should have access to laws for their protection?

Mr ANDRESEN: Absolutely. We have always been supportive of all efforts to reduce family violence in the community and that includes of course the majority of cases which involve male perpetrators and female victims. We believe wholeheartedly that all Australians, no matter their gender, no matter their race, no matter their cultural background, their age, their ethnicity or their level of ability or disability, should have access to laws that protect them domestic and family violence.

The Hon. ROD ROBERTS: I too, Mr Bennett, would like to thank you for your fortitude in coming forward today and giving your story. I appreciate it would be hard to do, so we thank you for that. Mr Andresen, I would like to thank you for your fair and open representation of coercive control and domestic violence as it is. In particular, the chart that you were quizzed over indicates—and you said it in your own verbal evidence earlier— that statistically more women than men are victims, and you have not resiled from that fact in the evidence you have presented. I thank you for your openness and your transparency and in particular for bringing to the Committee’s attention that there are male victims of domestic violence and coercive control as well. It is not a completely gendered offence or situation. In particular your recommendation reads:

We urge the Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control to consider the needs of ALL victims of family violence and abuse equally, no matter their gender, geography, socio-economic status, age, ability, sexual preference, culture, race or religion, when undertaking this important inquiry.

Any recommendations made by the inquiry must be applicable equally to victims and perpetrators of all genders, and not be affected by gender bias in any respect.

One could not ask for a more fair and open submission and statement than that, so I thank you for presenting this to us.

Mr ANDRESEN: Thank you, Mr Roberts. I appreciate that. I would just like to add one more thing, which is that I have been listening to the webcast of today’s hearing and I just wanted to expand on some of the statistics that some of the other people gave evidence on during today’s hearing. The Relationships Australia representative quoted a statistic that the Safer Pathways program received 23,000 referrals per year from male victims. I would like to just expand on that. I am not sure if the Committee is aware, but Relationships Australia is just one of a number of providers across the State. Since January 2018 five local support services have been contracted to provide services to male victims of domestic and family violence in New South Wales. The main two providers are Relationships Australia NSW and Relationships Australia Canberra. That would make up the 23,000 referrals as quoted. However, the three other providers are The Family Centre, Interrelate and CatholicCare Sydney.

So the 23,000 referrals is only a proportion of all the referrals that are made each year across New South Wales. We do not have current figures for the total number, but the previous lead agency which used to manage these referrals, which is No to Violence, which you heard from today, received 25,351 referrals from male victims of domestic violence between 1 November 2016 and 30 June 2017. That is an average of 38,000 referrals per year, of which 4,089 were referred to a local support service for case management. That is an average of 6,100 referrals that make it to case management in a year. One other statistical point that, I do not believe, has been brought up just yet—

The CHAIR: Sorry, Mr Andresen. I might ask if you could kindly provide that to the Committee perhaps in writing.

Mr ANDRESEN: Of course.

The CHAIR: We are just getting a little tight for time. I have got one more question from a member, so I might go to that. But we are happy to receive that information from you in further writing through the Committee staff. We have Steph Cooke on Webex. Steph, you had a question.

Ms STEPH COOKE: Yes. Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you for appearing today and for your submission. In relation to men not seeking advice or support when they are experiencing domestic violence, from a rural perspective, what services are available to men in rural and regional New South Wales for them to turn to?

Mr ANDRESEN: Look, there is very little support, unfortunately. Of course, the generic frontline services such as police, GPs, hospitals et cetera are available. In terms of specialised family violence services, the only service that we are aware of is the 1800RESPECT national telephone counselling service and the MensLine Australia national telephone counselling service. There are no telephone counselling services provided by the State to meet that need. Also, the referral pathway for the service which I was just talking about, the Safer Pathway program, is only through the police. So people have to report to the police before they can be referred to that program, which would then give them support by Relationships Australia or one of the other providers. So there is very little in terms of support for these men, except for those two national phone lines.

Those two national phone lines are set up as generic support services for all victims of relationship violence and are not specialised—sorry, the 1800RESPECT phone line is set up for everyone, so they do not necessarily specialise in male victims’ support, only in all victims’ support, so it is not necessarily going to be a problem. It would be great to have a line that specialises just in the issues that males may face. MensLine Australia is a generic line for all of men’s relationship issues, of which family violence may be one such issue. So once again a particular counsellor may or may not have the expertise in dealing with the specific issues that the male is presenting with. Both of those phone lines are set up so that—I believe the model is that a victim would call them and then those support lines would then refer that victim to services on the ground, and those services on the ground for men in New South Wales, including rural men, are almost non-existent, unless that man is prepared to go to the police and then be referred on to the Safer Pathway program.

Ms STEPH COOKE: Thank you for elaborating. Thank you, Chair.

The CHAIR: Thank you. I appreciate your further information. That will conclude this session. If members have further questions, we may send those to you in writing. Would you be happy to receive those and provide written responses to those? If you are, they will form part of your evidence and will be made public also. Could you just indicate whether you would be happy to receive those, Mr Andresen and Mr Bennett?

Mr ANDRESEN: Of course.

The CHAIR: Thank you very much. That concludes this session and concludes the public hearing for today. I thank members and all witnesses who have attended and assisted the Committee today. We do appreciate your submissions and your time. Again, if anything raises issues for you, you can contact 1800RESPECT, 1800 737 732, or the New South Wales Domestic Violence Line, 1800 656 463, or of course the Men’s Referral Service, 1300 766 491. We have completed our hearing of evidence today. I would like to thank all of the Committee members for their attendance and assistance and in particular our long-suffering Hansard staff—I am sure there will be many written submissions provided to you; it is always a challenge with Webex and telephone hearings, but we are very grateful for the great work you do—and of course our wonderful Committee staff for their excellent assistance. I will not name them all just yet. Thank you very much everybody for joining us. We will be resuming tomorrow at 9 o’clock for the fifth day of hearing. Thank you.

(The witnesses withdrew.)

The Committee adjourned at 15:15.

national coalition for men

NCFM Australia Liaison Greg Andresen’s Testimony Before a Joint Select Committee Regarding Domestic Violence, Male Victims and Coercive Control

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