following my earlier post, below is a further excerpt from the speech made by deborah mackenzie. this section deals with the myth that somehow women can stop violence against them by changing their own behaviour or engaging more fully with the system.
It seems to me that within the criminal justice system and in wider society there exists a presumption based on a myth about male violence against women that can put women in greater danger when polices and practices are developed from it. The myth is that women choose violent men as partners and do this because:
a/ they like it
b/ they are uneducated
c/ it’s all they know
Underlying this myth is the most poisonous notion that the real way to end domestic violence in our country is to ‘change’ the women who are seen as active in the continuation of domestic violence.
I get to travel the country and talk to a lot of people about domestic violence and time and time again I hear people getting stuck on this idea. More often I hear genuinely concerned people claiming that victims should be made to attend courses to teach them not to choose bad men. I hear judges and lawyers comment that the women mostly want the violent men back anyway so its best to respond to the violence in ways that do not ‘hurt’ the family. I read in the paper that women stay in relationships or return to them even though the man has hurt them, without any analysis of why they might return and this implies that the women must like the violence. I see in government policy such as the review of the Domestic Violence Act a proposal that women be mandated (forced) to attend change programmes.
Underlying all of these responses is the idea that if we can fix the woman we’ll fix the problem. Now hang on a minute! Isn’t it the violence that’s the problem? Isn’t the person who perpetrates the violence the only one who has the ability to stop using it? Certainly that’s what we teach in our men’s stopping violence programme.
But this belief that women in abusive relationships need to change is alive and well out there and in no other place is it more obvious than in the Court response to domestic violence currently, despite there being people who work there with the best of intentions in terms of safety of women and children. There are many ways that institutions discriminate against women in violent relationships, but I’m going to focus on the court today.
Based on the assumption that women are safe when the court becomes involved because now people know about the violence, and on a belief that women need to be part of the change process it is then thought and required that women victims need to be more involved in the court process.
I have spent a lot of time in courts. Last year I sat for 3 months in the Auckland family violence court and wrote an evaluation of it. What I’ve seen is that women are being asked to participate much more and in the following ways
· Tell and update the judge regularly about what they want to happen
· Comment on the offender’s progress in the stopping violence programme
· Be asked directly in court in front of the offender about whether he should get bail or not.
These practices are dangerous and place women in a dreadful predicament. Sometimes women will use the spotlight placed on them by the court to protect themselves for the future. It’s safer to say you want him back and you want the charges dropped and be seen to be his supporter, than to say you are completely terrified, he’s going to hurt you and the children when you know he is coming home after court and the judge won’t be sitting in your lounge keeping you safe.
In my view the court should not put women in this risky position, but it should accept safety and risk assessments from community advocates who then take responsibility for supplying information to the court instead of the women having to shoulder this burden.