Wednesday, 26 November 2008

put the blame where it belongs

a final excerpt from the speech by deborah mackenzie, of which you will find the first two posts here and here. this section of her speech covers an abused woman's lack of agency and the unrealistic expectations placed upon her.

...the mistaken belief that victims of domestic violence have agency within the relationship leads the court to often wrongly involve the victim in the response to the violence thereby seeing the couple as the problem rather than the violence. I’ve sat in the criminal court on many occasions and heard judges recommend the couple attend couple counseling. This action affirms the belief that women are somehow responsible for the violence - the violence is a result of a communication problem or a problem in her like gambling, her drinking or drug use or her mental illness.

Couple counseling is mostly unsafe for women in violent relationship. A woman described her experience of counselling to me:

So from the beginning the violence was ‘played down’. I don’t want to
sound like I was completely clueless and unable to speak, because I was able to
articulate carefully what the problems were, it was just that I moulded what I
would say to make it seem more palatable to my boyfriend, and also to the
counsellor –It was far too unsafe for any real disclosure.
There is more and more talk out there about using restorative justice as a response to domestic violence crime. Once again there is a presumption that if women would only participate more in the justice system the problem of the violence would be solved. As with couple counseling there is a presumption that participation in restorative justice is safe. I doubt its ability to end domestic violence and the risk is greater than the potential...

What seems more important and safe to me is for NZers, particularly those in decision making roles to explore the beliefs they hold about women in violent relationships. I think it’s really important to isolate exactly why we want women to participate more...

We tell women to disclose, to come forward and yet how do we protect them? We try and force them into programmes to change their attitudes and behaviour, we force them to come to court and tell a room full of strangers about how they feel and what they want to happen to the offender who is sitting there in front of them and will most likely turn up at their house after court, we tell them to go and get help for their part of the problem, signaling that their symptomatic behaviours, like drinking, drug abuse or mental health issues are a cause of the violence rather than a reaction to it.

We place the blame for the violence on women’s shoulders when we openly expect them to manage the violence, control the violence and end the violence...

But when we know that intimate partner violence and controlling behaviours engender confusion, isolation and a loss of identity for women why on earth do we carry an expectation that women will be able to get away from the violence, control the violence or change the violence…?

Having a tertiary qualification is not enough to safeguard women against domestic violence as domestic violence crosses socio economic barriers. However, being educated about domestic violence, controlling behaviours and warning signs might make a difference, but it is a rare experience for most girls and women in NZ.

Nowadays young women report that cultural messages abound that undermine women’s identity, sexualize them for the benefit of men, denigrate them and value them as trophies rather than as full human beings.

Women and girls are educated but we are educated to be available to men, to appeal to men and to be passive and this education through media representation and common discourse does nothing to prepare us to ‘resist’ or to challenge controlling or violent behaviour in our male partners. Why then do we expect victims of domestic violence to be able to:
1/ identify a relationship as being abusive
2/ know what to do
3/ get out of the relationship

It needs to be the responsibility of the community at large to respond to the violence while simultaneously supporting the victim... [T]he focus of domestic violence responses should stay on the violence against women and not on women’s supposed role in its continuation.

1 comment:

Julie said...

Thank you so much for publishing these extracts Anjum, they are a timely reminder.

I hadn't really heard of Preventing Violence in the Home until I saw their advertising campaign about NZ's biggest morning tea, and did one at my workplace in June. I'm really glad I did that now, having read Deborah's wise words over the last few days.