No! Family law issues are not killing 21 fathers a week
STATISTICS are awesome things.
They give a sense of legitimacy to pretty much every part of Australian life.
Without them, we'd have no idea about cancer rates, the road toll, immunisations, population growth, education outcomes and myriad other important issues that impact us daily.
Statistics are also vital tools used by governments, not-for-profits, charities and businesses when making decisions about where to direct cash and resources.
Sadly though, these little numerical wonders can be a double-edged sword.
Anyone can take a figure and, with a little clever marketing, turn it something that most of us might believe.
The Australian Brotherhood of Fathers, the #21fathers movement, started by men's rights activist Leith Erikson, is a perfect example of this.
The catchy memorable hashtag is based around the claim that 21 men are suiciding each week because of family law issues such as child support and domestic violence orders.
Erikson is pretty good at the big sell. He has a professional website overflowing with basic family law advice for men and hyperlinks to well-known mental health organisations.
The site even asks us to help "fund” the ABF's work by buying #21fathers branded merchandise or becoming financial members.
ASIC shows the ABF is not a charity or incorporated association but a business name owned by a discretionary trading trust.
Leith Erikson did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
The #21fathers message is spread strongly via social media but there's also a strong presence in the community with #21fathers t-shirt wearing followers often thronging at family law courts or handing out #endalldv balloons at community-based domestic violence awareness events; and vehicles plastered with #21fathers livery driving along busy thoroughfares.
There are even photos of Erikson with high-profile politicians.
Everything about the #21fathers brand is so polished, so legitimate that it's pretty hard to believe it may all be built on rocky foundations.
Over the past few weeks, I have searched high and low for a source of information that backs up the ABF's 21 fathers claim and despite my best efforts I haven't been able to find it.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics - Australia's key data collection agency - confirms it has no material to show a link between family law processes and suicides.
In fact, the ABS has no data that links suicides to any particular issue.
Mindframe, Beyondblue, Lifeline and many other mental health organisations all said the same thing.
At its heart, the #21fathers campaign is structured around the premise that most women "fake” domestic violence to "win” in the family court.
Instead of offering suggestions to help men cope with mental health problems and stress, the ABF tells blokes in crisis to fight back by "not consenting” to any legal orders.
Instead of confining himself to offering suggestions that help men cope with mental health problems and stress, Erikson has suggested they self-harm as a form of political protest.
"Don't hide away in a dark corner. Take yourself down to your state and federal members' office and let them witness your final act in person,” Erikson recently posted on Facebook.
"One week where we see 44 men hack, slice, shoot, stab, hang or overdose at a MP's office and laws would change. It's bad enough they give up, why hide it?”
What does this all add up to? 21 male suicides a week are brought on by women and it's up to those women to go without child support payments so they can potentially save the lives of 1092 men a year.
ABS death and mortality data does show 3027 Australians took their own lives in 2015.
The data shows that six men a day suicide - or 42 men a week.
Linking 21 of these deaths to family law issues is naivety at best and downright dangerous at its worst.
If the #21fathers movement is successful, this statistic could lead to wider funding and policy implications.
Along the way, the statistic dupes the unwary into believing one section of society is actively destroying another section of society.
This in turn builds distrust and hate towards women, especially those who are openly facing domestic violence and child support problems.
Mental health and suicide experts agree the decision to end one's life is not something that happens in a vacuum.
The Mindframe website says depression, psychotic illnesses and eating disorders increase the risk of suicide while people with alcohol or drug abuse problems are more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the community.
It's really hard to fathom why any organisation dedicated to the betterment of men in Australia is compelled to build their campaign on this statistic.
Especially when countless researchers across the country can confirm the odds are already stacked against blokes in so many ways.
For example, the Australian Institute of Criminology's Homicide in Australia report for 2012-14 reveals 64% of Australian homicide victims were male and 88% of all killers were men.
In other words, men are more likely to kill other men.
We also know men generally die younger; they succumb more often than women to preventable diseases caused by smoking, drinking and over-eating; they make up the majority of the Australian prison population; and they are even the most prominent gender in Australia's road toll.
With hard-hitting realities like this, it's time to for all Australians to focus on finding solutions to fix the problems that are really killing our country's blokes.
- For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. For 24-hour mental health support Lifeline on 131 114 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.
- Sherele Moody is a journalist with News Corp and the founder of The RED HEART Campaign, which focuses on reducing violence against women and children.