UNSW suspends domestic violence study over breach of ethics

Originally posted on April 20, 2014

I spotted this over on A Voice for Men:

An online ‘domestic violence study’ has been ordered offline by the University of NSW Human Research Ethics Committee.

Flyers published by the survey organisers have been ordered destroyed.

The study, being conducted by the Gendered Violence Research Network, White Ribbon Australia and Youth Action NSW, was found by the Ethics Committee to have breached the University’s code of ethics.

The decision comes after a national coalition of men’s health advocates made a formal complaint to the University claiming the survey was gender-biased, poorly formulated and misleading. They argued it could not achieve its stated aims and any consequent findings would be unreliable and likely to mislead the public.

Chair of the Ethics Committee, Professor Heather Worth, found that a quote on the original flyers claiming that “childhood exposure to intimate violence increased the likelihood of intergeneration violence particularly amongst boys” was incorrect. The ethics committee has ordered that the flyers be destroyed and replaced by a new flyer that has correct information, including any quotes.

That is an impressive win for men’s health advocates in Australia. The country is notorious for its poor treatment of abused men and boys. To see anyone admit that the language was biased and incorrect is astounding. To see them pull the posters as a result is monumental.

AVfM also quotes Greg Andersen, Men’s Health Australia spokesman:

We congratulate the University for investigating our complaint so speedily and acting upon these ethical breaches. It is essential that domestic violence research, especially that involving young people, is conducted properly.

The incorrect statement in question was lifted directly from current White Ribbon ‘Fact Sheets’ that haven’t been corrected. The University’s investigation determined that some of the methodological issues raised in our complaint would be dealt with in peer review of the findings when the authors submit publications for review. We trust that White Ribbon Australia plans to subject this study to the rigours of the peer review process prior to publishing any reports on its website. It is regretfully common that much gendered violence ‘research’ makes it into the public domain without going anywhere near peer review challenge.

We will see whether any of the questionable material is challenged or removed. Andersen is correct that biased research often makes it to the public domain without much scrutiny.

What is unlikely to change is the thought process that led the White Ribbon group to use such problematic language. To my knowledge, there is no research stating that boys exposed to domestic violence are more likely to become more violent than girls. The research shows that both boys and girls are negatively effected and both have a similar chance of becoming abusers. Likewise, the available research shows that most children who witness domestic violence do not become abusive. It is more likely that witnessing the abuse will increase the children’s chances of becoming victims themselves than turning them into abusers.

The only reason anyone would use the gendered line in the poster is to play on the common trope that abused boys will become abusers. It is good that this was challenged, yet even better that the challenge was taken seriously. That cannot be ignored or diminished. It is unheard to see any group have their posters pulled for an inaccurate statement about men and boys.

Let us hope that more challenges to biased language are treated with the same concern.

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3 thoughts on “UNSW suspends domestic violence study over breach of ethics

  1. Brilliant! It’s about time we stopped the insidious myth that male abuse survivors grow up to abuse others. Same reason I was reluctant to disclose my own abuse.

    In fact, I asked my therapist about this misconception, and he reassured me that it’s not common. Apparently, if a male abuse victim goes on to abuse others himself, it’s often because of a misunderstanding or misconception from having these experiences at an early age and if they’re the only experiences of ‘affection’ that the victim has known, sometimes they think it’s normal and go on to do it to others because they don’t realise it’s not normal.

    And even then, it’s not guaranteed for them to respond in this way.

  2. I got in an argument with someone a while back who claimed that White Ribbon helped boys too. I quoted the “about” section of a half-dozen websites of theirs to show that no, they really don’t.

    Last time I heard, James, being a victim of or witnessing abuse as a child makes one more likely to become both a perp and a victim, regardless of gender.

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