White Ribbon Day

By Legal Eagle

I haven’t had much time to blog lately because of giant piles of exam marking, and also, in the middle of the marking, I ended up catching gastro off my daughter, which wasn’t fun. Fortunately, I’ve finished marking and I’m better too. All is well again. So here I am, back up on my soapbox.

I’ve been inspired to write this post after looking at Iain’s recent post on domestic violence. I agree with him that White Ribbon Day should not be used to suggest all men are violent or abusive. To suggest this detracts from the valid purpose of the day, because it is obviously untrue. It alienates men who would otherwise support an end to violence towards women (and I take Iain to be one of those men). However, with the greatest of respect, I disagree with his post where he says:

Women who goad, nag and belittle their partners must accept some responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

This suggests that domestic violence is a reasonable response to nagging. I would argue that generally, domestic violence is not just an escalation of normal domestic quarrels. It is about power. In an abusive relationship, the victim is someone who has very low self esteem, and thinks that if they just manage to do things “right”, the violence won’t occur. However, the abuser might hit the victim because his dinner is cold or because the victim asked him to turn down the television. The victim blames herself for the violence.

I have used the pronoun “him” for the abuser and “her” for the victim, but I am prepared to acknowledge that this is a generalisation. I knew of a lesbian relationship in which a girl was beaten regularly by her partner. Her friends (including myself) only found out about this when she fled the flat in which she lived with her partner in the middle of the night. A family friend was in an abusive gay male relationship many years ago. I have not heard of a case of a man being abused by his female partner, but I am sure there are circumstances in which it happens. It is far less likely to be reported or openly discussed, because a man in this situation is far less likely to seek help because of the social stigma attached. Heterosexual men are not the only people capable of being abusive.

Further, abuse is not limited to physical abuse. To take Iain’s example of a woman who goads, nags or belittles her partner, it should be stated unequivocally that this is also abuse. It is psychological abuse than physical abuse, but that doesn’t make it any the less excusable. Despite this, I strongly believe that women should not ever be hurt, hit or killed, even if they nag or belittle their partner.

Nevertheless, to get back to the main argument, I think men tend to be more physical in their response to anger than women, and women tend to be more psychological in their response than men. Does anyone remember the school yard? Boys would beat each other up, whereas girls would be much more likely to do the psychological “freeze” out and whisper nasty things about one another. Of course, this is a generalisation: there were cases where girls had violent physical fights (I recall one where two girls pulled clumps of hair from each other) and cases where boys “ganged up” on other boys. But it was rarer that way around.

I also think that it is a biological fact that men tend to be physically stronger than women. So, if a man wants to hit or hurt a woman, he is more likely to be able to inflict significant damage than if a woman wants to hit or hurt a man. This, again, is a generalisation. But the fact that men are physically stronger than women does help explain why many of the defendants in provocation cases are male: even if a woman “loses it”, she is unlikely to be able to kill her partner unless he is asleep or drugged.

Let’s look at some of the cases where a defendant alleged that they were provoked into killing the deceased:

  • a man killed his partner (eg, R v Kumar (2002) 5 VR 193; R v Parsons (2000) 1 VR 161; DPP v Leonboyer [1999] VSC 450; R v Tuncay [1998] 2 VR 19; R v Voukelatos (1990) VR 1; Moffa v R (1977) 138 CLR 601);
  • a man killed his sister’s husband (eg, R v Terry [1964] VR 248);
  • a man killed his ex-partner’s new partner (eg, R v Abebe (2000) 1 VR 429; Stingel v R (1990) 171 CLR 312; R v Quartly (1986) 11 NSWLR 332; Parker v R (1964) 111 CLR 665);
  • a man killed his ex-girlfriend’s friend (eg, R v Vidler [2000] QCA 63);
  • a man killed his daughter’s ex-husband (eg, Masciantonio v R (1995) 183 CLR 58);
  • a man killed another man who threatened his wife and children (eg, R v Peisley (1990) 54 A Crim R 42);
  • a man killed another man who allegedly raped his partner (eg, R v Arden [1975] VR 449);
  • a man killed another man who came around to “sort him out” (eg, Duggan v R [2001] TASSC 5;
  • a man killed a gay man who allegedly made sexual advances towards him (eg, Green v R (1997) 191 CLR 334);
  • a woman killed her husband (eg, Van den Hoek v R (1986) 161 CLR 158; Osland v R (1998) 197 CLR 316; R v Chhay (1994) 72 A Crim R 1; R v Ahluwalia [1992] 4 All ER 889) In the latter three cases, the accused woman alleged that there was an abusive relationship, and that she killed the man when he was asleep or drugged.

You can see that the vast majority of the cases involved men, although not all of them did. Statistically speaking, I think men are far more likely to “lose it” in this way. Generally, women find it more difficult take advantage of the provocation defence because if a woman kills a man because he is abusive or goads her, it tends to be premeditated, not a sudden loss of control. There have been some arguments that the law should extend to defend women who kill abusive partners in a premeditated fashion, particularly after the decision of the High Court in Osland v R (1998) 197 CLR 316. I do not agree. Perhaps I am an idealist, but I think provocation should be abolished altogether. I am just not comfortable with it.

I am also thinking of something which was hotly debated by my class when I studied Criminal Law. Why did almost all of the rape cases involve men as the offenders? I am sorry to be somewhat “gross” and raise this matter, but as far as I am aware a woman would find it very difficult to force an man to have non-consensual sexual intercourse with her from a purely physical and practical point of view. A man may be seduced by a woman, and regret it afterwards, b
ut it is unlikely that he could be raped by a woman. Whereas a man may force himself on a woman without her consent.

So, from a physical point of view, a man is more likely to be able to harm a woman. A man is more likely to be able to rape a woman. Further, psychologically, I think men are more likely to react to with violence when they are angry than women. By saying this, I do not suggest that all men are violent or that all men are should take responsibility for domestic violence. I find that notion offensive, particularly when I think of my dear, gentle husband.

What I am trying to argue logically is that men are more likely to be able to inflict physical violence on women in a domestic scenario than the other way around. It’s just a simple fact of life. White Ribbon Day reflects this generalisation. From that point of view, it is a laudable idea, to raise consciousness about women who are unfortunately subject to domestic violence.


  1. Swarup
    Posted November 27, 2006 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Great power given in 498A , Domestic Violenc Act,2005, they will not stop here.
    Our great LAW maker forget that “we are here to build a relationship, not to break a relationship. To build a relationship we put a lot of pain , sacrifice , but to break a relationship required only two seconds !!!!! ”

    Great !!So called Women liberisation of Indian Society at a cost of Killing the Institution of Marriage !!!!

    Just I try to remember to Mr. Iswar Chandra BidhaSaghar , Mr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy , I don’t know if he alive today what might have his reaction towards such women Liberisation !!!

    Their fight for marriage of widow , education to all Girls , Self employment ,will our Modern Supernakhas will remember or forget ??

  2. iain
    Posted November 28, 2006 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Interesting post as usual LE. And It seems that we agree more than disagree on this issue. When I talked about nagging and goading I was not offering that as a mitigation or excuse but as an example of a toxic relationship dynamic. Sadly I saw this first hand when my brother’s second marriage was on the rocks his then wife repeatedly tried to “push his buttons” and she did not care who was watching. This is not the only example I have seen either. I Know that people do tend to repeat the relationship patterns of their own up bringing so if abuse has been the experience of their childhood that it is often revisited in both the choice of partner and the way that the dynamic works. If the pattern is good its reproduction is not a bad thing at all but no one would think that bad patterns should be repeated.
    I suppose its a bit like the many stories of sexual abuse being repeated through the generations.
    My objection to this campaign is as I have said domestic violence is a human issue and to characterize it as a male problem is to sell short all of the victims what ever their gender. As You can see from my later post about trying to debate the mater at L P that I also think that those who just think in Slogans are just deluded and unwilling to consider the bigger picture.

  3. Legal Eagle
    Posted November 28, 2006 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I know what you mean about toxic relationships. When I was a teenager, I would disagree with anything my Dad told me to do, just on principle. So of course, we always fought. Apparently this was a pattern which had been present from when I was very small (I’m contrasuggestible, I don’t like being told what what to do, I dig my heels in and shout NO! even if the suggestion is sensible).

    It was only as an adult that I realised that Dad was entitled to the same respect for his opinion and suggestions as I would give anyone else. This totally reformed our relationship. I can’t think of the last time we had a fight.

  4. Liv
    Posted November 28, 2006 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Iain said – “My objection to this campaign is as I have said domestic violence is a human issue and to characterize it as a male problem is to sell short all of the victims what ever their gender”

    Read Legal Eagle’s closing paragraph again, Iain. Please.

    And if you intended the provocative statement “Women who goad, nag and belittle their partners must accept some responsibility for the consequences of their actions” as merely an example of a toxic relationship dynamic, you should choose your words more wisely.

  5. iain
    Posted November 29, 2006 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Read Legal Eagle’s closing paragraph again, Iain. Please.

    And if you intended the provocative statement “Women who goad, nag and belittle their partners must accept some responsibility for the consequences of their actions” as merely an example of a toxic relationship dynamic, you should choose your words more wisely.

    Some times when we blog we write of the top of our heads and to be honest I think that I would now enunciate my position much better than I did in my original post.(which was not intended to be provocative) However I think I have made my thoughts on this topic quite clear in subsequent comments both at my blog and at L P. I actually suspect that we are going to be seeing an increase in female violence into the future as the current generation of girls begin to pair bond .The story’s of gangs of girls terrorizing people in public is indicative of a breakdown of female inhibitions against violence since feminists have successfully challenged gender stereo-types (change can be a two edged sword). So like many others I am saying that in a time when the expectations of both genders are changing we have to approach the dynamics of pair bonding from first principles by teaching men and women how to resolve their differences with out violence and that is much bigger than blaming either side of the gender divide.

  6. cherry ripe
    Posted November 30, 2006 at 5:20 am | Permalink


    I’ve posted something of a response to your views at


    if you’re interested – it grew and became far too long for a comment here!


2 Trackbacks

  1. By My very own wing « The Legal Soapbox on May 21, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    […] also believe that when I decry the comments of Sheik Hilaly about rape and I support White Ribbon Day, I am expressing the same basic principle: a strong belief that women have a right to be safe and […]

  2. By Skepticlawyer » Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on July 19, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    […] Presumably the defence of provocation in criminal law reflects a pragmatic recollection of the notion of that when someone is “hot” he is not really his rational self (and yes, I use the gendered pronoun deliberately there). Certainly it is true that people can lose control — whether men who kill their partners should be offered a partial legal defence as a result is quite another question (one that I would answer in the negative). […]

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