Authors Broady TR, Gray R and Gaffney I.
Review Date December 2014
Citation J Interpers Violence 2014; 29(14): 2610-2629
Approximately one in five women experience violence enacted by their male partner in Australia. Men’s violence against women has serious implications at the individual, interpersonal (e.g. family), and community levels. Intervention programs aimed at reducing violent behaviour among perpetrators play a vital role in society.
Much of the literature on men and violence has focused on external and behavioural influences (e.g. socioeconomic status, substance use/abuse); there is a need to also investigate intrinsic personal characteristics such as gender equity attitudes, self-esteem, mastery (extent to which people see themselves as being in control of their lives), and psychological distress as intervention programs can appropriately address these.
This study aimed to investigate specific characteristics that influence men’s inclination to behave violently in both men who attend a domestic violence intervention program and those in the general community.
Men attending a domestic violence group-based intervention program run by Relationships Australia NSW were invited to participate in the research. Confidential surveys were distributed to group members by a research officer who was not associated with the clinical work of the groups to be completed within the first three weeks of group attendance. The survey consisted of demographic questions and four scales: gender equity scale, Rosenberg self-esteem scale, mastery scale, and K6 scale of psychological distress.
Participants’ responses were compared to previous research conducted on men residing in the general community.
A total of 85 men from 14 different groups in New South Wales agreed to participate. It was not clear as to how many man volunteered to be in the intervention program and how many were mandated to do so. Age ranged from 21 to 59 years (mean: 40 years) and 72% identified with an Australian cultural background. Almost half of participants (45%) reported a low income ($A0-$A599 per week). Approximately one third (37%) were married, 21% were in de facto relationships, and 26% were separated from their partners.
Gender equity 55% of participants’ scores fell within the low range of support for gender equity and only 5% lay within the high range. Compared to an Australian community sample, a higher proportion of men reported low support for gender equity and a smaller proportion of men reported high support for gender equity.
Self-esteem: The mean score was 28 (out of a possible total of 40) which fell within the normal range (25-35); however, this is significantly lower than the mean score found within the general Australian community (approximately 31).
Mastery: A total of 15% had limited mastery, 69% moderate, and 15% had high levels of mastery. Compared to a U.S. general community sample, the present sample had a much smaller proportion of respondents reporting high levels of mastery.
Psychological distress: Within the study sample, 58% reported low levels of psychological distress, 27% medium, and 15% high. Compared to an Australian national sample of government and private sector employees, a larger proportion of men exhibited medium and high levels of psychological distress.
Participants in the current study displayed lower support for gender equity, lower self-esteem, lower personal mastery, and higher levels of psychological distress compared to community samples. The authors note that these characteristics are just a few of many variables that contribute to men’s violence against women; however, they believe these four to be of particular note as they can be addressed within the context of a group-based intervention program.
Points to Note
- Domestic violence is at epidemic proportions in Australia and while most recent research focuses on external and behaviour influences, little is known about intrinsic personal characteristics of men who enact violence. This is important given that these are the variables that can be targeted through intervention programs.
- At the commencement of a group-based program to reduce domestic violence, participating men displayed lower support for gender equity, lower self-esteem, lower personal mastery, and higher levels of psychological distress when compared to community samples.
- The authors state that they did not include a measure of physical violence due to self-report issues, and to keep the focus of this study and future related studies as being about personal growth within participants. However, this exclusion makes it difficult to assess whether these four characteristics are in fact associated with men who enact domestic violence.
- The authors of this study failed to interpret the findings with respect to the wider social structures of gender and power within which these men live. The individual characteristics of men do not occur in a vacuum void of sociocultural and political influences; it is unhelpful and inappropriate to ignore this.