Tags: good idea at the time

24 Aug 2008, Comments Off

Thread of Doom

Author: Helen

Who’d have thought a Thread of Doom would develop over a small qualitative study of partner rape conducted by Womens Health Goulburn North-East– a small, rural organisation studying events at the coalface.

Sure, the little poem at the beginning of the report: it probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but nah. Bad poetry should be stamped out tirelessly, and probably doesn’t have any place in a piece of writing which needs to present itself as serious, because it’s just handing a weapon to people who want to mock and deride.

But Nick was much more troubled by the fact that it’s a qualitative, not quantiative, report – not many lovely statistics (except some basic breakdowns and information from other sources), no equations, bar graphs, oh noes! As a business writer and economist, Nick feels that this consigns the report eternally to the intellectual dustbin. But many commenters don’t agree.

(T)he report itself seems to me a perfectly respectable piece of qualitative research. The methodology looks to be an appropriate way of eliciting the experiences and understandings of a particular group of people (spousal rape victims in Victoria’s Goulburn valley), existing research is decribed thoroughly and both the women and people from responding agencies (especially police) are interviewed thoroughly on an individual basis by 2 researchers and in focus groups, and later counselled/debriefed.
As others have noted, several of the comments seem to misunderstand the nature and purpose of this sort of qualitative research. The comment about a “hopelessly biased group of subjects” is especially misconceived. They are seeking to elicit the experiences and understandings of a particular group of women, so accusations of sample bias are by definition irrelevant.

and

There seems to be some confusion over what this report is about.
It’s not a piece of research for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, but a self published report from a health NGO in rural Vic. For that, it’s not a bad effort.
As for a “hopelessly biased group of subjects”, I think someone is missing the entire point and misunderstanding the relevancy of bias.

But the thing about the report which really raised the Gruen ire was the opening paragraph of the Executive summary – a preamble to the report sort-a-thing. Here it is:

Women who are raped or who suffer domestic violence are somehow thought of in the popular imagination as a stereotype. According to this, the women are asking for it, dressed inappropriately, provoking it – responsible for it. While this is clearly uninformed, our sample provides yet more evidence that any woman is vulnerable to rape. We do not need to be a certain ‘type’ of woman, or to behave in particular ways, or to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The vignettes which follow this Executive Summary provide the evidence for this. Further evidence is found in the diversity of women who participated in this research.

Nick parses this in a way I find somewhat fanciful:

So there you go – rape really is on the end of every wolf whistle. I guess, if I wasn’t tapping away on this keyboard, I could be raping someone right now, and unless there’s something wrong with the research methodology it’s overwhelmingly likely that I wouldn’t even recognise what I was doing as a crime.

In other word, Nick read the paragraph as saying that all women everywhere are at risk of rape at all times from all men everywhere, but particularly from Nick, who, along with all blameless family men everywhere, is the target of this insulting report!

It seems pretty clear to me that what the paragraph is trying to say is that (1) with respect to rape in general, there is a tradition of victim-blaming in our society, as well as most of the others of course, (2) therefore, by providing more evidence of rape within marriage, this report shows that women are at risk even when behaving “cautiously” within a nuclear-family norm; hence, “any woman is vulnerable to rape”, not just scantily-clad women out on the tiles.

So, the thread of doom unfolds. (Oh look over there! Lesbian violence!)

I’d commend Nick and some of his commenters to a couple of posts which are becoming classics in the blogosphere: Sometimes, Conversations with my Man are Instructive, by Ilyka Damen (a story about another Thread of Doom), and Dear Ladies, please stop getting yourselves raped… by Melissa McEwan. As well as that report, of course.

As for “find a worse piece of research”? That’s easy. Here’s lots. (H/T to Barista.)