DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS NOT A GENDER ISSUE
By Erin Pizzey
Received by email from the author 5 October 2005...
In 1971 I opened the first refuge in the world for victims of domestic violence. I was running a small community project in Chiswick, a London suburb, when a woman came in and showed me her bruises. I took her home that night, and from then on women with their children poured through the door. My little community centre became the first refuge in the world for all victims of domestic violence.
Because from the beginning I was aware that domestic violence was not a gender issue, I opened a refuge for men in North London. It closed for lack of support and funding. I was aware that of the first hundred women who came into the refuge, sixty-two were as violent or, in some cases, more violent than the men they left behind. I wrote up my findings in A Comparative Study of Battered Women and Violence-Prone Women, as yet unpublished. I believe that violence in interpersonal relationships is a learned pattern of behaviour that is acquired in early childhood.
Some children who are exposed to violence at the hands of their primary carers, usually their mothers and fathers, internalise the abusive behaviour and thereafter use violence and abuse as a strategy for survival.
In the refuge, I found I was facing two different problems: Some women were indeed ‘Innocent victims of their partner’s violence:’ they needed refuge, comfort and legal advice, but very quickly, even if they did return to the violent partner on a few occasions, they walked away from the abuse and went on to create a new non violent life style.
Other women were ‘victims of their own violence,’ the majority of them had experienced violence and abuse from childhood. They had a history of violent relationships and often had criminal records. They needed not only legal advice and refuge but also counselling to help them to come to terms with their own abusive backgrounds so that they did not continue to return to violent and abusive relationships or replace the violent partner almost immediately with another one, thus condemning their children to years of abuse.
Women who are not violent themselves find it extremely difficult to share accommodation with women who are not only abusive but also violent to their own children. Very quickly as other refuges opened and screened out the violent women and their children, I opted to take in those violence-prone women and created a huge therapeutic community that sought to help victims who were violent themselves.
I had a reciprocal arrangement with those refuges to take women who had no need for our therapeutic community. We had several important projects, but the most valuable were our second-stage houses where women could move in groups of five mothers plus their children and share with each other until such time as they were re-housed. The group support and friendship in the houses helped very vulnerable women and children find their feet.
Because they were housed within the same general area, the second-stage house was always there to offer support, and the central crisis centre had an ever-open door. Should a woman find herself in difficulty or in another violent relationship, she was always welcome to ‘come home to the mother house at Chiswick.’
MY ARGUMENT WITH THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT
1969 saw the first meetings of the feminist collectives in England. At the same time I was opening my refuge the feminist movement was looking for funding and a just cause. The feminists redefined the Marxist goalposts and declared that it was MEN (the patriarchs), not Capitalism, that held power advantages over women and minority groups (the proletariat), and that all men were now the enemy. Family life was a dangerous place for women and children because men used physical and emotional violence to maintain their power advantage, and women only ever reacted violently in self-defence.
Harriet Harman, Anne Coote and Patricia Hewitt expressed their belief, in a Social Policy Paper called The Family Way: 'It cannot therefore be assumed that men are bound to be an asset to family life, or that the presence of fathers in families is necessarily a means to social harmony and cohesion'. These sentiments encouraged the radical feminist movement to claim that ‘all men and boys were potential rapists and batterers’.
Anna Coote and Beatrix Campbell, in their book ‘Sweet Freedom', believed that ‘they (feminists) saw domestic violence as an expression of the power that men wielded over women, in a society where female dependence was built into the structure of everyday life.’ From their own extensive experience of working in refuges they concluded that wife-battering was not the practice of a deviant few, but something which could emerge in the ‘normal’ course of marital relations, and to
limit any refuge or advice to women and children. Men are not allowed to work in or visit refuges and no men are allowed to sit on any of the Committees of the refuges affiliated to the National Federation of Women’s Aid. Those refuges that do not comply with the Federation’s avowed feminist ideology are refused affiliation. Many of their refuges bar boys over the ages of twelve.
In the mid 1990’s for the first time the British Crime Survey and the Home Office recorded male victims of domestic violence. Slowly it became apparent that academic studies across the world were beginning to refute the findings of the feminist agencies that had such a strangle hold over the refuge movement worldwide. Slowly I was beginning to be asked to talk to various Domestic Violence forums and men’s groups, to talk about the fact that domestic violence was not and never has been a gender issue. A gigantic hoax has been perpetrated and unsubstantiated statistics have been produced to feed a damaging and disastrous political ideology which was now a billion-dollar word-wide industry that discriminated against many innocent men and fathers.
I have recently been sent Donald Dutton’s paper "The gender paradigm in domestic violence research and theory: Part 1—The conflict of theory and data", published in Aggression and violent behaviour, volume 10, Issue 6. In this paper Don Dutton reviews a comprehensive list of literature on the subject of domestic violence.
Because I believe that interpersonal violence is a learned pattern of behaviour in early childhood, I find the arguments of whether men attack women first or women attack men irrelevant. Both sexes are harmed when exposed to violence, and either sex can become a victim or a perpetrator.
Much of the violence can be consensual in other words both partners are violent each believing that the other is the perpetrator. Dutton says that ‘studies suggest that this singe-sex approach is not empirically supported, because both partner’s behaviours contribute to the risk of clinically significant partner abuse, and both parties should be treated.’
In his conclusion Dutton says:’ At some point, one has to ask whether feminists are more interested in diminishing violence within a population or promoting a political ideology. If they are interested in diminishing violence, it should be diminished for all members of a population and by the most effective and utilitarian means possible. This would mean an intervention/treatment approach…’ This was the approach that was practised at the Chiswick refuge where thirty years ago I recognised that for some children, born into violence and sometimes sexual abusive families, unless a therapeutic approach is adopted, many of these children would grow up to repeat the patterns of their parents.
The tragedy for me is that I had a vision whereby people who were infected by dysfunctional and violent parenting could find a place that would give them a chance to learn how to live in peace and harmony. This dream was destroyed, along with all my evidence and projects. The feminist movement resolutely refuted any argument that women should be allowed to take responsibility for their choice of relationships. The image of women as victims, as helpless childish dependents upon brutal men world-wide has damaged relationships between the sexes. The idea that the family is a danger to women and children has destroyed much of our traditional concepts of marriage. The feminisation of the family and Western society has caused men to become outcasts and a source of ridicule in their children’s eyes.
W.H. Auden in his poem, ‘ Another Time,’ wrote:
“I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those do whom evil is done,
Do evil in return.”
About Erin Pizzey
Posted 2005 10 08