Tuesday, 25 November 2008

"changing" women won't solve the problem

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.


Hugh said...

While I can accept that the consequences need to be worked on, the idea that women need to stop being asked what they want to happen by the court is not something that sits well with me... surely asking the woman what she wants is a bare minimum for recognition that she is the victim, that her needs are paramount and that the abuse hasn't stopped until she says it's stopped?

It's hard to see a system where the women is not asked what she wants as being fair to women.

stargazer said...

hugh, i think you've missed the whole point of the post, which is that requiring women to jump through hoops, requiring them to provide more and more information, requiring them to do whatever will not stop the violence.

also, in terms of the point you object to, what deborah is trying to say is that asking the victim what she wants in court, in front of her accuser who may end up abusing her later that same day or the next day, and who may be using psychological methods of intimidation within the courtroom, is hardly a useful exercise. she's going to say it's stopped in that situation even when it hasn't. she's going to say she wants him back even when she doesn't. it is not a safe environment for her in the courtroom, nor in the few days afterwards. to then interpret her responses as "she must enjoy the violence" is just obscene.

Cactus Kate said...

It's very nice to say that women don't need to change but as a group we do.

We need to accept responsibility and stand up and stop accepting violent men into our lives for as long as we accept them in our lives they will keep coming.

And that means ALL women, not just the abused. If your male friends are violent towards women other than yourself then we get rid of them from our lives as well. Your sons, Uncles, cousins, nephews...everyone. Black list them totally.

Realistically women are choosing to stay with violent partners for fear of poverty if they leave them. This is a conscious choice. Ditto if they are afraid to be alone and single. Again a conscious choice.

The man may threaten to kill them if they leave but are they safe staying with that man? Nope.

I think playing the victim card is not working. Women need to take responsibility for the problem for while I will never accept a woman asks to be treated like this - the woman is the only party who can do anything positively to change the situation and 9 times out of 10 that means packing up and getting out and never having anything to do with that man again.

stargazer said...

ok kate, there is so much bullshit involved in your comments, i don't know where to begin.

first, many many violent men are not violent in the courtship phase so women don't actually have an idea that they're getting into an abusive relationship.

second, the nature of abuse is that the abuser works on diminishing the confidence of the woman, slowly cutting all her friends out of her life and making her feel worthless and helpless. that doesn't happen overnight, it happens over a period of time.

third, the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is trying to the leave the relationship. the threats of killing her if she tries to leave do come true for too many women. try looking up some research in the area my friend, because it seems to me that you are speaking from very little knowledge. at the very least, these women are victim to severe stalking behaviour; the offender does not stay away from them and the dangers they face are very real, not just imagined.

fourth, just because you feel confident enough to walk away doesn't mean every woman will. if you've been out of the workforce for some years, don't have any qualifications, have kids that need to be looked after and have no support systems around you, it really is that much harder to just get up and walk out. if you're a migrant woman with language as a barrier and a lack of knowledge of the services available, it's even harder.

nice to see that you're happy to make women responsible for entering violent relationships, but have no concern in making men responsible for their violence. you just don't seem to get it: it's the violent men that need to change, not the women.

Anna said...

For the love of God, Kate - that's unbelievably naive. As Stargazer points out, women are most at danger when they leave violent relationships. From memory, 50% of murders of women by partners occur when women are trying to leave, or have just left, their relationships. All the middle class personal esteem enhancing self-help book derived feeble platitudes in the world will be very little help against this. You might as well join Oprah's friggin book club as give advice like that - they're equally useful strategies for dealing with violence.

Maybe we should also stop wearing short skirts so we don't get raped. As a person who's political sympathies lie with classical liberalism, you should be very aware of the state's obligation to protect individuals' private property (including their bodies from aggression), not expect them to do it themselves.

Hugh, I share your unease here. I don't think the default assumption should be that a woman experiencing abuse wants to leave her relationship. The corollary of this assumption is that if she stays, she somehow consents to the violence - and of course family relationships are complex and murky things, not just contracts to be cancelled. The issue is really the forum in which you ask the woman her wishes, and how she does it.

Hugh said...

Stargazer, the idea that a woman shouldn't be asked what she wants in court is quite different from the idea she shouldn't be asked at all. I'm wondering though, if that's what Deborah meant, why isn't it what she said?

stargazer said...

sorry hugh, i looked back through it later and saw it wasn't clear. it's definitely what she meant, cos it came out that way when she was speaking. i think it'll be clearer in the final excerpt from her speech, which will come through later tonight.

stargazer said...

and this is really worth a read as well (yes, i'm looking at you kate)


Cactus Kate said...

Oh yes, paint me as the evil middle class "privileged" white woman whose never been hit by a man before. I apologise for not having the necessary experience in having the shit kicked out of me to participate in your debate or having the name Hugh and so be an honorary "safe" woman for the discussion.

Perhaps its just that I actually have eyes wide enough to see when men are becoming controlling, emotionally abusive and violent and I tell these men to sod off very quickly (friends boyfriends inclusive) .....but good luck re-educating men and continuing the "blame game" with the gender. Wives have tried and failed since time began.

"From memory, 50% of murders of women by partners occur when women are trying to leave, or have just left, their relationships".

You think that has anything to do with the relationship actually festering into its most violent time and the man is the most pissed off?

"you should be very aware of the state's obligation to protect individuals' private property (including their bodies from aggression), not expect them to do it themselves".

Coupled with an individuals responsibility to take reasonable care in their life. Staying with a violent abusive man is not such reasonable care.

Entering a relationship with another person is a matter of complete free choice as is staying in that relationship when you have already experienced violence from that person.

For heaven's sake all of these women are better off being single and staying that way until they can choose their partners better. If you know a man well enough to marry him then you should know if he is capable of doing this to you.

All I am advocating is that women as a group shun these violent men and this is the only way their behaviour will ever change....which is what you all actually are advocating - that it is the man who needs changing and not the woman.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you girls are painting us all as weakminded drones who cannot think for ourselves when confronted with an aggressive bully. So what if a man acts nice during "courtship". As soon as he starts displaying aggression towards me or my children it should start ringing FUCKING LOUD ALARM BELLS.

I don't believe for one second all this "not taking responsibility" for this, especially Annas spurious and irresponsible short skirts remark. Christ, you are painting us all as victims when all we need to do is show some commonsense and get the hell away from these violent bastards.

stargazer said...

Wow, you girls are painting us all as weakminded drones who cannot think for ourselves when confronted with an aggressive bully.

sorry, can't see where anyone has done that. there are plenty of women who can walk away easily from a violent relationship. but there are some who can't, for a variety of reasons. these women are likely to have been brought up in abusive house; they are likely to have low self-esteem made worse by the abuser over a period of time; or there may be other factors. i'm really glad that you feel so confident and self-assured, but i'm sorry that you appear to have so little compassion for those who don't.

Oh yes, paint me as the evil middle class "privileged" white woman whose never been hit by a man before. I apologise for not having the necessary experience in having the shit kicked out of me to participate in your debate or having the name Hugh and so be an honorary "safe" woman for the discussion.

huh? can't see where i've painted you as anything. you're the one who's just painted yourself. i engaged with what you wrote; doesn't matter to me whether you're male or female. are you saying that i should refrain from calling you out because you're a woman?

You think that has anything to do with the relationship actually festering into its most violent time and the man is the most pissed off?

no. it seems you're not interested in reading the experiences of women who have been abused, such as in the excellent link posted by ex-expat in a separate post or the one i put in above. of course, it's your choice to refuse to understand these women and their experiences; it's your choice to feel so smugly superior to them.

well some of us have made other choices. such as trying to understand where these women are coming from, trying to help them through their situation, trying to save their lives and their sanity as well the flow-on effects to their children. deborah mackenzie is one of those women and she has written of the reality that she sees in her day-to-day work. i'd rather be one of those who takes that on board and tries to help change the system rather than blame the victim.

yes, it would be nice if all women could immediately identify abusers and walk away. but that's so obviously not the reality of the world we live in.

All I am advocating is that women as a group shun these violent men and this is the only way their behaviour will ever change....

uh-huh. and how do we know if the behaviour has changed. we'll only know if we enter into a relationship with the guy, and what if we got it wrong? oh that's right, we just walk away pretending all the threats are just a joke and the stalking isn't really happening, and... yeah right. if it was really that easy, don't you think all domestic violence would have stopped by now?

Cactus Kate said...


While you are waxing on about how it's not a woman's fault and men are to blame, women like myself are actually doing something about it.

Rejecting these men into our lives as boyfriends, partners or even friends and encouraging our female friends to do likewise. We have a zero tolerance to it.

Perhaps instead of reading about "victims" you should read more about women who have never experienced this violence and analysing why. In most cases it is because we don't accept it in our lives.

But keep talking about it and achieving nothing.

The only good stories are like the one on Roarprawn, where she left the bastard and became as tough as nails because of it.

I don't want to read about women who treat themselves as victims and find every excuse in the book to stay from sympathetic, well-meaning but misguided ears like your own.

Anonymous said...

You know I think CK has some really good points about not accepting violence. I also think that leaving such situations is hellishly hard having been physically/emotionally and mentally beaten down over time.

I have been there my hardest lessons were from women. One ceased to be my friend because I would not leave. Thats was so hard because I was already isolated but she felt she couldn't stand by me being abused any more. The friends that sysmpathised and told me to get out were difficult too because I did need to leave but no one offered any practical support to do so and I had little strength or resource.

In the end some one who said "you need to leave" and then got stuck in and helped with the practicalities of doing so was the answer.

For all the "its not ok" stuff there is still very very little actual practical on the spot help to get out of these situations - this is very much needed when you are simply not able to think objectively about the situation and are often terrified of the consequences.

Heine said...

My wife left her ex husband the day that he got violent.

Her home life was terrible and she got off her ass and got out. If anybody suggested to her that she stuck by him she would be appalled. She took responsibility for her future and I am very proud of her for doing so.

She would, as I do, agree with Cactus's stance on this. Playing the victim and sticking by somebody who doesn't respect you is plain madness.

Anna said...

Have either of you considered what its like for a woman in an abusive relationship to be told that this happens to women who don't 'get off their ass' or 'take responsibility'?

Do you know what it's like for a woman who's been out of the workforce caring for kids to start over, looking after the kids alone while trying to get into the workforce or on the DPB, finding a new home, finding new schools, while trying to meet the emotional needs of scared and upset kids?

Do you know what it's like not being able to find a bed at the local Women's Refuge because they're all full?

Do you know what it's like trying to set up a whole new household without money?

Do you know what it's like getting up to kids in the night by yourself, then working the following day exhausted?

Do you know what it's like to be looking over your shoulder all the time, or to be afraid that you won't get your kids back after their next joint custody visit?

Do you know what it's like to have to move cities because your psycho husband won't leave you alone?

Nope. Didn't think so.

Some problems don't go away just because you say 'no' in a confident assertive voice.

Anna said...

PS Kate, there's no responsibility under classical liberalism to take reasonable care of one's own property. That's the whole point of the state doing it - to reduce the transaction costs amongst other thing.

Heine said...

Anna, my wife most certainly knows much of what you are talking about. How sad that she is in a minority in this world - when she had the guts to get out and get out quickly.

She chose to not be a a victim and I for one am damn proud of her.

stargazer said...

we're all proud of her heine. it's just that sometimes you need support in finding that courage to leave, especially when you're damn tired, suffering from depression etc. and you need to be sure that you will be safe when you do leave. that's where the courts and the police have a role to play, as do social support organisations and an adequate level of DPB for you to live on until you're in a position to work.

that's all we're saying.

Anna said...

I find it really objectionable when people respond to women in violent relationships by asking 'Why did you get yourself in that position in the first place?'.

Jennifer Hand et al did research which found that most women take several attempts to get themselves out of abusive relationships. Support and understanding - not being reminded how inadequate you are to have let yourself become a victim - are what are needed.

You can commend and celebrate women who've managed to get out of relationships without resorting to this sort of 'Why don't you take responsibility' crap. You can also remember that these women aren't the ones who should have to account for their actions.

Hugh said...

I apologise for not having the necessary experience in having the shit kicked out of me to participate in your debate or having the name Hugh and so be an honorary "safe" woman for the discussion.

You want my name, you're welcome to it... if only for the laughs.

Jum said...

Everyone talks about 2nd/3rd/4th generation benefit lifestyles as a reason why people have trouble finding a job.

Now associate that same thinking to the daughter of a daughter of a daughter... who first experienced the violent lifestyle. At what stage should she get off her 'arse' and flounce out the door - at 3 (when apparently our characters that accept violence are set), at 5 when a teacher notices the mother's bruises and the child punching a playmate, or some time in the future when she's already been beaten down with physical/mental/emotional brainwashing or (as suggested above) when someone takes her aside and says 'come and stay at my place. I will house you and your children until you can help yourself.' But we don't because we are afraid. Yet we criticise the person living that life. Weird.

A friend and I have this argument all the time about strong women and weak women. Neither of us has been hit but whereas she seems to think these women are weak, I think they're just trying to survive.

Why is that? Is it because of our personalities or characters - nature/nurture - that determines our different views.
Also, what determines other women's predisposition to invite or allow violence, but in our cases we have a particular character/persona that repels violent partners?

2,3,4 generations ago women had no support. Evidence now suggests little has really changed and often the biggest detractors against survivors are other women. Same as with rape. The woman is blamed.

I saw violence towards women in black and white too when I was about 16. 'They must be stupid if they stayed.' Life experience dispelled that simplistic thinking.

Anna said...

Beautifully put, Jum.

Julie said...

I guess one of the things that frustrates me about social problems of this nature is that we are very good at going on and on about the problem and some people are also good at going on and on about how it is an individual's responsibility to rescue themselves, but actually that isn't working. How do we know it isn't working? Because there are still women in violent relationships. And if all they needed to do was just pick themselves up and leave then surely there wouldn't be a problem?