Title Joint Select Committee on Australia's Family Law System
08/07/2020
Improvements in family law proceedings
Database Senate Committees
Date 08-07-2020
Source Senate
Parl No. 46
Committee Name Joint Select Committee on Australia's Family Law System
Page 23
Questioner CHAIR
Hanson, Sen Pauline
Steggall, Zali, MP
Aly, Anne, MP
Responder Mr Andresen
Mr Humphreys
System Id committees/commsen/414ef669-f39c-4875-9e33-88403dd1eea7/0004


Joint Select Committee on Australia's Family Law System - 08/07/2020 - Improvements in family law proceedings

ANDRESEN, Mr Greg, Senior Researcher, One in Three Campaign

HUMPHREYS, Mr Andrew, Social Worker, One in Three Campaign

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

[15:00]

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives from the One in Three Campaign, who are appearing via teleconference. You've lodged submission 383 with the committee. Are there any amendments or additions that you would like to make to that submission?

Mr Andresen : No.

CHAIR: Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses in giving evidence to parliamentary committees has been provided to you as part of your invitation to appear. I now invite you to make some opening comments.

Mr Andresen : Thank you for this opportunity to assist the inquiry today on behalf of the One in Three Campaign. As the senior researcher with the One in Three Campaign, I'm familiar with the body of research about male victims of family violence. Andrew has been involved as caseworker for over 30 years with male and female victims. We're not legal practitioners and do not possess an in-depth knowledge of the family law system.

Thankfully, family violence legislation across Australia is gender neutral. Both men and women make genuine claims, genuine denials, false allegations and false denials of family violence. All the valid issues that have been raised during this inquiry, such as not wanting to raise family violence matters in family law proceedings for fear of being seen as an unfriendly parent, apply to men as well as women. However, only men are discriminated against in policy and service provision.

Health services screen women but not men for family violence. Service providers adopt the Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework, stating that heterosexual males—and only heterosexual males—who present as victims of intimate partner violence are likely to actually be perpetrators. The Judicial College of Victoria's Family Violence Benchbook provides the same advice for members of the judiciary. Safe rooms at courthouses in Queensland are open to female victims and female perpetrators of family violence, while no such support is offered to male victims.

This is an appalling and unjust state of affairs that denies basic human rights to half of Australia's citizens on the basis of their sex. To those who argue this discrimination is appropriate because the majority of victims in family violence are women, our response would be that we do not discriminate in this way on any other issue. We don't deny services to suicidal women because more men kill themselves or deny workplace health and safety programs to women because more men die in the workplace. We have the capacity to support all victims of family violence, whether male or female, young or old, gay or straight, rich or poor, whatever their religion or cultural background and wherever they live. Thank you much, and I look forward to your questions. Over to you, Andrew.

Mr Humphreys : Thanks, Greg. Thanks for the opportunity to appear today. One in Three is an organisation whose aim is to obtain recognition of and support for male victims of domestic violence. I'm a social worker with 30 years experience. Over this time, I've supported male and female victims of domestic violence of all ages. I've found that extensive support and recognition of female victims of domestic violence exists, and I've used those supports many times to protect female victims. I've not been able to access similar support for male victims of domestic violence. This failure to assist men stems from the acceptance of a view that was made very plain to me in my social work training. I was told that men cannot be victims of domestic violence; they can only feel they are. Inquiries in both New South Wales and Victoria found that male victims of domestic violence do exist, but in both states support for men has not been advertised, and accessing this is very difficult. I respond to emails from distressed men which come through to Greg Andresen from the One in Three website. I find that most of these calls are from men enmeshed in some aspect of family law and the court system. I found that the level of distress and the risk of self-harm is made much worse when the man is also the victim of domestic violence. When these men seek help, they of course cannot access women's domestic violence services, and they will very often be told, when they seek help from police, such things as 'Man up' or 'Look at the size of you' or 'What did you do to make her hit you with the frying pan?' I would suggest to the committee that the failure to recognise and support male victims of domestic violence is similar to what has occurred with male victims of sexual abuse. Prior to the royal commission, many people were unaware that sexual abuse of boys was of such a vast and unrecognised scale. Thus, we saw that 62 per cent of respondents to the sex abuse royal commission were men. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Andresen and Mr Humphreys. I will lead off with some questions. In your written submission, under the heading 'What is required to meet the needs of male victims', you refer to a 2010 report Intimate Partner Abuse of Men , which surveyed almost 200 service providers from around Australia and came up with four key recommendations. Those recommendations go to public awareness campaigns, publicly funded services for male victims, integrating services and further training. To what extent have any of those recommendations been adopted and implemented over the past decade?

Mr Andresen : To a very limited extent, we've seen with the first recommendation about public awareness campaigns that there has been a subtle change in the way government funded public awareness campaigns have included male victims. For example, previously all the imagery in TV advertisements was of a man abusing or being violent to a female partner. In some campaigns we'll now see maybe four or five examples of that and one example of the reverse, showing an example of a woman abusing her male partner. There have been limited examples of subtle changes in imagery. We've taken some steps in the last ten years, but they've been very small. There have yet to be any specific public awareness campaigns about intimate partner violence or family violence against men. The only changes have happened to the broad generic campaigns, which used to be all about women but which now in some cases have some imagery of men as well.

The second recommendation was about providing publicly funded services. In New South Wales, some money was given to support male victims of family violence. However, the key service provider that tender was issued to was the organisation No to Violence. The key work of that organisation—and you have heard them present as part of this inquiry—is around working with male perpetrators. I could give the example of how ridiculous it would be if an organisation whose only work was dealing with female perpetrators of violence were given funding to support female victims. About 120,000 men called that service or were referred to that service over the two-year period that it ran. The person that they spoke to was trained and had a framework of dealing with men as perpetrators, so we doubt very much that male victims were given the honest and sympathetic hearing that they should have been given if the service been given to an organisation that specialised in dealing with male victims. So, yes, there have been some services, but we doubt how effective they have been in really meeting the needs of male victims.

The third point is how services for male victims could be integrated with broader services for female victims. There has been some limited improvement in that area as well. For example, there is a housing support scheme in New South Wales where people who are looking for new housing receive a short-term loan in order to get out of a violent situation and into other accommodation. That particular program was only open to women and it's now been opened to men, because it was an easy administrative change to make, I think. There have been some small examples of progress in that area. However, the vast majority of services that are out there for victims of family violence are still only open to women. We've spoken to the women who run many of these services and they are as frustrated as we are when men call the service. Because of their funding agreement, they have to tell the men, 'I'm sorry. We can't help you because we're not funded to deal with male victims,' whereas they would really love to do whatever they could to support the men as victims, but unfortunately their hands are tied.

Lastly, we're not aware of any additional training efforts in terms of education or professionals that have been rolled out to educate them about the specific issues of male victims of family violence. In fact, the issues I mentioned in my introduction—for example, the family violence bench book and the risk assessment framework—are doing the opposite and are educating professionals that male victims are actually likely to be perpetrators. Therefore, they are causing more harm than good.

Mr Humphreys : Could I add something, Greg. I've made a couple of attempts to access help for male victims of DV and, when I eventually manage to find the correct numbers to ring, I find that they follow the mantra that my client would most likely be a perpetrator. That was followed through. What I was trained to do when I undertook the training from the Men's Referral Service or No to Violence way back in 1999, as a call operative for the service, I got a number of calls from men who'd been fairly seriously injured, but I was told by my supervisor that they must have caused this violent event and the woman was only defending herself. I found, therefore, that I couldn't continue working for the service. To actually access any of the helplines that were supposedly set up with the funding in New South Wales is extremely difficult. It now goes through Victims of Crime, but it was originally with women's services, unbelievably, but no-one has advertised where the supports might be. Thank you.

CHAIR: That leads to my next question. Can you posit a reason why there is so little in terms of both information and services for male victims of domestic violence? Is it, for example, because there's a fear that if this is recognised or funded more that it will somehow detract from the situation of female victims, or is it something else?

Mr Humphreys : Can I respond to that one, Greg?

Mr Andresen : Of course.

Mr Humphreys : All the services in domestic violence and the women's services in domestic violence come from—and I'll be blunt—a feminist social theory perspective that patriarchy is the primary cause, and in fact the only cause, of domestic violence, so to admit that male victims exist chips away at that model. That model of course also ignores the fact that significant issues in domestic violence stem from mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury, so there's a whole field there that opens up which is saying that the theoretical model that your service provision is based on is not correct.

CHAIR: Right. I will go to Senator Hanson.

Senator HANSON: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for your submission. What is your opinion about anger management for men and how it's been set up that courts advise them to go to anger management? Do you think that men are advised to get anger management more than women?

Mr Humphreys : Should I answer this, too, Greg?

Mr Andresen : Yes, go ahead.

Mr Humphreys : Yes, I've seen that happen often. I've provided anger management to adolescents and to adults. It very often fails to address the underlying cause of the anger, which can be one of all those other things I mentioned before. I've seen men with a brain injury referred to an anger management course, which is just a nonsense. So, anger management very often isn't successful. Most of the anger management courses related to DV come once again from a powerful feminist paradigm, which may or may not be applicable. There are aspects of it that can be useful, but it tends to ignore the underlying cause for the man's anger. For a lot of very angry men, I found that there had been something like horrible trauma in childhood or a variety of other things that a simple anger management process just doesn't address.

CHAIR: Senator Hanson? Senator Hanson has dropped out. While we trying to get her back on, I might go to Ms Steggall.

Ms STEGGALL: I'm here. I had a message from Senator Hanson. She's asking to be let back on, Chair.

CHAIR: We will do that. Why don't you go ahead while we try to get Senator Hanson on.

Ms STEGGALL: Okay. An issue that came up with some of the previous witnesses was that it is the situation of it always being pitched as feminism versus patriarchy that is to blame for there not being enough consideration given to male victims of domestic violence or men's services. It always seems to be pitched as one or the other, where a rise in consideration of issues impacting women leads to a detraction from men instead of us moving towards being a more considerate society with an equal position for all. There shouldn't be one at the expense of the other. I'm interested that you are pitching it very much that it is feminism versus patriarchy that is to blame for the state of affairs. Can you elaborate on that?

Mr Andresen : On the one hand feminism has brought about many positive changes to society. It was feminism, for example, that first brought the issue of family violence out of the shadows, so to speak, into public consciousness. But, on the other hand, it's the feminist perspective that has brought about the discrimination against male victims of family violence in terms of the policy and service provision that I outlined in my opening remarks. It's not like this is hidden. The people who write those documents are openly feminist and proud of it. It's not like we're making accusations that people wouldn't agree with. They come from a feminist framework. I agree with you that intellectual or ideological arguments about feminism or anti-feminism can take time and energy away from solving the real issues that confront us as a society, and we at One in Three certainly don't identify as either feminist or anti-feminist as an organisation for that reason. I agree with you that it would be wonderful if feminism could raise issues and then incorporate men into those issues, and then we could all move forward, men and women together, as a society, helping everyone. But, unfortunately—and maybe the problem is generalising, because there are lots of different schools of feminism—the people who call themselves feminists who put together documents like the ones I outlined in my introduction are causing much more harm to men than good and really do exclude men from accessing services. I don't think anyone can deny that. It's a very tricky issue. I hope that goes someway to explaining why the 'f' word often comes up in these discussions.

Ms STEGGALL: Something that's come up during this inquiry is certainly that domestic violence and adequate access to services for both men and women is an issue, and the interaction that has with the Family Court system—the delay—adds to that. So, in a practical sense, is it your submission to this inquiry that more resources need to be made available? Then there's the interaction of the social resources with the actual Family Court process in terms of, for example, the impact of delays and the impact of not being able to have access to legal aid, if one party doesn't and the other party does. How do we improve all of that across the board so that we have better outcomes for men and women?

Mr Humphreys : The result of the inquiry back in 2012 in New South Wales, which both Greg and I appeared before, was that in 2016 over $4 million was awarded to male domestic violence services in New South Wales. Since then there's been a round robin of responsibility such that no service has been set up. There's been no advertising of the services that were to come out of that $4 million. So, even in the wonderful case in New South Wales where that funding was made available, the bones of the support system were never put in place. It was only last year, I think, that SAMSN survivors and mates, the only male founded sexual abuse network in New South Wales, was finally awarded some funding, so we're really coming from a long way behind scratch in terms of trying to get things put in place. Even with the well-intentioned aim of the New South Wales parliament to have these services put in place, I don't know whether it's the dead hand of the public service or what; nothing concrete has come out of it.

Mr Andresen : We've always maintained that there are inadequate services and support out there for female victims of family violence. There's absolutely no doubt about that, and much more will need to be done to protect women and children as well as to protect men. The way we would like to see things go is to see everyone treated as an individual rather than labelled as a male victim or a female victim and shunted off to particular services. If an adequate triage system were set up so that any individual that presented as a victim of violence were treated equally, regardless of whether they were a man, a woman, gay, straight or whatever, that triage system could prioritise support in terms of the most urgent and at-risk cases. That may end up being 90 per cent female and 10 per cent male; it may end up being 50-50, but, if we're treating everyone as an individual and not as a member of their sex, then we would see the bulk of resources going to the cases that need it the most and the much less severe cases being dropped down the queue, so to speak. There are the other issues that you mentioned about the Family Court system delays and that sort of thing. Those affect men and women equally. If people were treated as individuals first and foremost, then we could address the other systemic issues that affect everyone rather than talk about how they affect women or men. I think that would be real progress.

Ms STEGGALL: In terms of the way our Family Court system is set up at the moment—we've heard a lot of evidence around the adversarial nature—do you have thoughts on the proposal that it should be a more inquisitorial system?

Mr Andresen : We are not experts in family law. My general comment is that it certainly sounds like a less adversarial system would be better for all involved. It would certainly seem to have the potential for saving a lot of the exorbitant costs that both men and women are subject to going through the system and it may bring down the level of conflict—at least that would be the hope or the ideal—that an adversarial system necessarily generates, and it may reduce the temptation for men and women to make false allegations in order to 'win', so to speak, because the system is adversarial. It certainly sounds like a sensible idea, even though the details of it would need to be nutted out.

Ms STEGGALL: Thank you. I have no more questions.

CHAIR: I'll go back to Senator Hanson.

Senator HANSON: Thank you very much, Chair. Gentlemen, what you're saying about more domestic violence is what a lot of the women's organisations and groups are saying—'Men are more prone to domestic violence than women are.' Those organisations have been set up. The figures I have here show male-dominant domestic violence and male perpetrators. There was a report released in February 2018 saying that one in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence by cohabitating partners since the age of 16, and one woman a week and one man a month were killed by a current or former partner in the two years from 2012 to 2014. In your submission, you say that one male every 10 days, on average, is killed by domestic homicide. Is that correct?

Mr Andresen : Yes; that's correct. The Australian Institute of Criminology's National Homicide Monitoring Program figures are cited in our submission, so, yes, that is correct.

Senator HANSON: I hear what you're saying. A lot of men and organisations have given evidence of the increase in domestic violence. Do you believe that it's being used as a weapon in our court system to stop children having access to parents? It's not just about fathers, but it seems that a lot of fathers are not getting access to their children and domestic violence allegations are being used as a weapon.

Mr Humphreys : That's certainly something that I have seen. Because none of this is recorded, we don't actually know what the level of false allegations is, but that's certainly something that I have seen.

Mr Andresen : We have a page on our website where men can come and tell their personal experience of family violence. There are about 200 stories there. Certainly, a lot of those men have talked about false allegations of violence being used against them. The difficulty is that it's an almost intractable issue. As you know, we want to do all we can to protect genuine victims. The devastation that can be wrought by someone who makes false allegations of violence and abuse is so great. There's no doubt in my mind that, of the 45 men who kill themselves each week in Australia, a proportion is men who have experienced these false allegations, and it's certainly the case with women who are victims of false accusations as well. What tools can we give the family law system to determine which allegations are genuine and which are false? Dr Aly made a very good suggestion at a previous hearing: we perhaps need a form of guideline or process that says that, if a person is presenting with this, this and this, then the court should proceed on the presumption that the allegations are founded. To me, that sounds like a possible avenue for exploration, but, whatever that guideline or process is, it would need to be widely publicised so the victims of family violence would be aware of the evidence they would need to provide in the hope of having their allegations accepted. It also presents issues for male victims of family violence, because they're much less likely than female victims, because of masculinity issues, to tell anyone that they've ever experienced violence and seek support, contact police or be protected by a restraining order. Men are more likely to take it on the chin and try and sort it out themselves than seek external support. There would be less evidence available to those male victims to present to the court to say, 'This is when I told my GP I was being abused. This is when I asked for a family violence order' et cetera. No such system would be immune to attempts to falsify evidence, but maybe it would make false allegations and false denials that much harder to get away with. It's a super difficult issue.

Senator HANSON: What I want to know about is men who apply for a domestic violence order against their female partner. Do you have statistics on how many get a domestic violence order, or are the courts reluctant to hand them out?

Mr Andresen : Those figures are not ones I have to hand, but I would be happy to take that question on notice for you, Senator Hanson.

Mr Humphreys : Could I add that men are also much less likely to come forward because none of the formal supports that exist for women are there for men. It's a bit like saying, 'If we don't do the testing, we wouldn't have a problem.' We're in that sort of situation.

Senator HANSON: I'm fully aware of that. You put in your submission a report that was done in 2001—and I realise it is quite a while ago—about 5,000 young Australians. It's quite interesting reading. Of those 5,000 young Australians, which is a lot, 68.9 per cent were not aware of any violence whatsoever. In relation to male to female violence, the figure was nine per cent, and for female to male violence it was 7.8 per cent. The figures have increased dramatically these days. Female to male violence was nearly on par or there had been no experience domestic violence in the household. Do you believe that to be about the same today?

Mr Andresen : I haven't seen any evidence that those statistics have changed. They are broadly in line with the vast majority of international research that shows that about half of violence in the home is what's called couple violence—where both the man and the woman are using violence—that one quarter is male to female violence and that the other quarter is female to male violence. The statistics you quoted are particularly illuminating, because we were surveying children and what they're seeing in their home. So it's not like we're asking the men or the women themselves, who may have a vested interest in telling the truth or not.

Senator HANSON: Correct.

Mr Andresen : But the statistic which you omitted was that, for the majority of kids, the violence that they were seeing in the home was couple violence—at 14.4 per cent, which is larger than the male-to-female or the female-to-male violence. Not only was it the most common violence; it was actually the most damaging violence to young people—this couple violence where both mum and dad are using violence against each other. That's certainly not a story that we hear very often when family violence is discussed these days.

Senator HANSON: Correct. It concerns me that it has been portrayed that the men are the perpetrators and they're the ones that are committing the domestic violence. I'm hearing this from organisations and groups. Domestic violence can come from both sides—it can be male and female—but they are more prone to take the woman's allegations verbatim and leaning towards giving the children to the mother because they're concerned about the domestic violence occurring in the household. But, from this report, both are responsible for domestic violence. How do we, in our system, deal with the lies and the perjury? What do you believe should happen?

Mr Humphreys : One of the things I would suggest is that we actually need to set up the supports that already exist for women for men as well—for example, when men have to go forward with these issues, they have a counsellor assisting them, and they may have access to a men's legal service, as there is for women to a woman's legal service. There needs to be a men's legal service with these sorts of allegations so that, when a man does gets to the stage of needing an AVO or going to the Family Court, he is being supported, in the same way that many women can access these supports.

Senator HANSON: But what I am talking about is perjury. If they put perjure themselves in their affidavit or they actually perjure themselves in court in the evidence that is given, this is not dealt with in the family law courts. Should we have a system where, if perjury is committed in such a way as to deny the other parent access to the children, there has to be a punishment? There has to be a punishment for perjury that is being committed in the courts, because it's basically done to stop the other parent from having access to or seeing the children completely.

Mr Humphreys : I'm afraid that happens, Senator Hanson.

Senator HANSON: Yes.

Mr Humphreys : It was not all that long ago that I had this happen in a court and I said to the police prosecutor, 'That woman has perjured herself,' and he said, 'People lie in court all the time; get over it'.

Mr Andresen : I certainly think that penalties for perjury are appropriate. Whether the particular penalty you're suggesting is appropriate, I wouldn't want to comment, but certainly perjury should be punished because otherwise people—men and women—feel they can get away with making false allegations and that that serves them a legal advantage rather than leading to a punishment. What we'd like to see, at least as a start, is to remove that bias you talked about. When a woman presents and says, 'I'm a victim of family violence, they are never questioned, they are always believed, they are taken sympathetically with their story verbatim, whether or not it is true, and they are taken through the system always having their story believed. Whereas, all of the support services and the judicial officers in the judicial system have been trained that, when a man comes forward with exactly the same story, the first thing to do is to disbelieve him and to assume that he's really a perpetrator, that he's just thinking as a victim and that, if we unpack his story, really he's the perpetrator. If we can remove that bias from the system—which is not anecdotal bias; it is written in the policies of these training organisations—at least men and women may be presenting on more of an even footing.

Senator HANSON: Do you believe that exposure in the media about the horrific murders of mothers and their children is more widespread than reports of mothers murdering their children or women murdering their male partners?

Mr Andresen : I certainly think there appears to be not only a media bias but also maybe a societal bias in that direction. Certainly, when the absolute tragedy of Hannah Clark happened in Queensland, it triggered off a flurry of media responses and social responses and calls for new inquiries—and all of that was justified. However, a story appeared just last week where a woman set her husband alight and burned him alive, and it barely made the news and there's been very little coverage.

The Australian Institute of Criminology's national homicide monitoring program showed that in the most recent biennial reporting period, 2014 to 2016, mothers killed 20 children while fathers killed 13 children and four children were also killed by mothers' new partners. So, in terms of child homicide, we hear that it is much more likely that mothers are killing children than fathers; yet all of the media stories we see and the outpouring of sympathy, which is fantastic and genuine, for female victims, doesn't seem to happen as much when it is either mothers killing their children or mothers killing their male partners or that sort of thing.

Senator HANSON: You're correct. The statistics on the aic.gov.au website show that of the 284 children killed between 2001 and 2012, 46 per cent were killed by their custodial mother, 29 per cent by their custodial father, 14 per cent by the step-parent and 10 per cent by the noncustodial parent. It is drastic. It is terrible. I have exhaustive questions but I want to say that I hope that your organisation gets the help and support that you need. Hopefully, this inquiry will present recommendations that result in a fair and balanced system for both men and women, both sides, who face domestic violence.

CHAIR: Dr Aly?

Dr ALY: Thank you, Chair, and thank you, gentlemen, for appearing here today and for your submission. After reading your submission and listening to your contributions, there are two things that really stand out to me, and I'd like to kind of explore those two things with you, if I may. The first thing that really stands out to me is that we don't understand domestic violence and we're expecting courts to deal with the phenomenon when there is still a lot of mystery around it and we really don't understand it. What are some practical measures that you suggest that we could implement to increase awareness of the nature of domestic violence, both for victims and for perpetrators on both sides?

Mr Humphreys : First of all, I think we need to get away from the monolithic mindset that only patriarchy is causing this problem. That is the principle that overwhelmingly runs most of the service provision. We need to look at a much more—and I will use this terrible word—nuanced approach where we look at all the factors that cause people to be violent. We need to factor in things like I mentioned before, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injury and mental illness and all these other things that can cause both men and women to be violent. The first thing to do is to adopt a view that is accepting of a wider understanding of what the causes of violence are, and, as Senator Hanson mentioned, a more realistic knowledge base of what's actually occurring.

Dr ALY: What about educating young people? Do you think there's a place for that there?

Mr Andresen : Unfortunately, current relationship education programs are very much framed in the existing paradigm where it's about teaching boys to respect girls and to not hit girls. That's fantastic and well and good and all power to those messages; however, we think that any education about healthy, respectful relationships should be presented in a gender-neutral manner so that we are talking to boys and to girls about being respectful to their boyfriend, girlfriend or partner and teaching them what is okay in a relationship and what is abuse—what is violence. Absolutely, education is a key part, especially because, when you look at the data on what boys and girls and young men and young women are experiencing, they are one of the main demographics where relationship violence and abuse is really fifty-fifty. It's both boys hitting girls and girls hitting boys. It very much goes both ways. So, for that demographic, if a boy is going through high school and he knows he is being hit and abused by girls, but the only message he is getting is that he should respect girls, it's very hard for that boy to respond to that message because of the cognitive disconnect there.

In response to your earlier question about us not really understanding violence, I do think—and we presented on this in our submission—that it's very important that we get the message out there that violence isn't violence isn't violence. There are very different forms or types of violence and levels of violence that happen in the home. The academic jargon talks about coercive control versus common couple violence. It is qualitatively different. Coercive control is where one partner is using violence and abuse—often not even violence; it can be a range of other abusive behaviours—in order to have power and control over their partner and get what they want in a relationship. That has become what we all think of when we think of the term 'domestic violence'. However, that is actually relatively rare. Most violence in the household is common couple violence where people have a relationship conflict that escalates. Possibly drugs and alcohol are involved, and possibly they are not great at managing relationship conflict, so it devolves into slapping, hitting and pushing, and it can also lead to stabbings and homicides. But that does not necessarily indicate a power differential in that couple; it might just mean that that couple needs help with either drug and alcohol, mental health or other issues, or it might indicate that they need to have better relationship skills. The problem we have now, though, is that if someone fronts up to the police or to the Family Court and gives an example of their partner's so-called violence or domestic violence when it is common couple violence, where there is an absence of coercive power and control, it is treated as if it were this severe coercive control where one partner is dominating the other partner. We really need to be able to tease out those differences. That, I think, would be part of the triage system that I mentioned earlier. If we could better identify what's going on in the relationship and what sort of violence it is, and identify the situations where there is coercive control, then those can really be given priority in terms of risk management and protective measures, and couple violence may be shunted off to another stream where the other issues are dealt with.

Dr ALY: Thank you for that. The second point that strikes me is one that Ms Steggall raised. I'm really keen to move away from feminism versus antifeminism, men versus women, perceptions of victimhood versus real victimhood, and the perceptions of guilt. I really want to move away from that because, in my mind, a lot of stuff that's has come out of this inquiry is clouded by that. I think you referred to it earlier as a kind of academic ideological argument about what it is. You mentioned something that struck me with regard to the fact that there is a cultural element here. There's a culture whereby men and boys in particular are told: 'Suck it up,' 'Men don't get hurt,' 'Don't cry,' 'Don't talk about your feelings,' 'Don't complain,' and 'There's no way that you could be a victim of violence.' To me, that's probably more deeply embedded in our culture and we could deal with it through educating young people. Also, in a more practical sense, we could provide those support networks that you've spoken about for men. Women—and I'm speaking as a survivor of domestic violence myself—often don't seek the support networks until it's at a really critical point. I imagine that, for men, that critical point is much more dire than it is for women. Women are probably more likely to access the supports at an earlier stage than men. What are some practical things that we could start doing to get to men before that critical point?

Mr Humphreys : First of all, the human face of most of the services that a man is possibly going to access is nearly always female. We certainly need to start training women in engagement strategies with men. I often say that to engage a woman I have to show her I care. To engage a man I've got to show him I can act. I find men very easy to engage once they know that I'm on the ball in terms of their needs. But, at the moment, the only training that you're likely to see in any of the social service type courses about men will be as perpetrators of domestic violence. We need to get away from the mindset of 'the dangerous male' to one of: how do we engage a man who needs help? Over many years, I've never had any problem engaging men when I come in with that attitude. In the first session with a man, or even before that, I need to show them that I can do something practical to assist or to ameliorate their problem. With women, I've got to show them that I'll take the time to understand their problem.

Dr ALY: Men are from Mars and women are from Venus!

Mr Humphreys : We are different creatures, but that doesn't mean that the human service provider can't help both.

Dr ALY: One of the practical steps is the training of service providers to understand the different ways in which people will want service provision?

Mr Humphreys : Certainly. It's a long time ago that I did social work, but much of the material that we studied in that course was very hostile to men. It was deeply saddening to me, and I haven't seen much change in the ethos of those organisations since.

Dr ALY: Thank you very much for your contributions today, gentlemen. Thank you, Chair. That's all from me.

CHAIR: Mr Andresen and Mr Humphreys, in the absence of any questions from Senator O'Sullivan, I think we've exhausted our questions for you. Thank you for your submission and also for coming along online and discussing it with us today.

Mr Humphreys : Thank you, Chair.

Mr Andresen : Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

CHAIR: That brings our hearing today to a conclusion. I thank all the witnesses who have given evidence to the committee today. I also thank the secretariat, Hansard and the parliamentary recording branch.

Committee adjourned at 15:55