Christchurch Police, in cooperation with the Canterbury Abuse Intervention Project, have launched a new initiative to combat domestic violence. When Police are called to a domestic incident, if the perpetrator is a first time offender he's given a red card. On the card is information the perpetrator might use - contacts for social services which might help him address his violence.
At first glance, I really liked this. Women's Refuges, protection orders and the Police can help protect women from domestic violence, but only the perpetrators themselves can stop it. Anything which helps them stop must be a good, right?
And then came this comment from the Police Family Violence Coordinator, "The feedback from frontline officers is the guys are saying `good, something for me', which is good." I don't know how to interpret this comment. Are domestic abusers saying, "I need help to address my violence - thanks for giving it to me?" Or are they saying, "Why are women's problems getting all the attention? What about me?" - that sour-graping response to feminism which views gains in women's welfare as somehow being at the expense of men. I'd like to think it's the former position - that at least some of the men who abuse their families want to change and are willing to try.
In the comments which followed the Stuff article about red cards, one woman told her story. She said, "I feel the cards will only increase their [men who abuse] feeling of entitlement. Hopefully any family violence co-ordinator or any person working with such offenders will already know that these men have an over powering sense of entitlement, to be violent, to not be wrong, to control". She wrote about her husband's violence, his ongoing intimidation of her, the uselessness of her protection order and her constant fear.
It seems clear that we can't generalise too much about domestic abusers. Perhaps there are some who lash out in drunkenness or anger, then regret it. Clearly, there are others whose abuse is calculated and sadistic. Will the same tactics to stop the violence of one group be effective for the other? Or will red cards, as the woman who told her story feared, provoke some men into more violence?