We need to talk about men’s violence.
I'm feeling thoroughly disheartened at the moment. A year into this campaign and change is grindingly and appallingly slow. It set me thinking about why this might be - we know our work is valuable; we've generated an enormous amount of support to confirm this. My question is - what is stopping us (as campaigners), and you, (as our supporters) gaining real ground, seeing significant change and eradicating the harm done by holding victim-survivors responsible for abuses perpetrated against them? What is our biggest obstacle?
Aside from the hugely significant issue of structural inequality I feel that we have another, often invisible issue to dismantle along the way - and one that is surprisingly simple to eradicate.
The perpetrators of domestic & sexual violence and abuse are overwhelmingly men. The victim-survivors of this abuse are overwhelmingly women & children. Yet, we remain silent about this perpetrator. We 'other' those abusers - those men 'over there'. They are not like 'us'. We fail to recognise that the men we live with, love, care for, work with, work for and socialise with are part of the problem.
I've been to an event recently where the local Domestic Violence service included perpetrators of both sexes in the presentation. She talked about domestic violence as '"men towards men" "women towards women" "women towards men" and finally, that "primarily it is perpetrated by men against women". Almost as an afterthought.
Further throughout the event, it was clear that naming the issue as men's violence against women was going to be startlingly absent; clearly illustrated by an audience member claiming 'it happens to MEN, too', when discussing a topic that overwhelmingly affects women. As if we can't possibly just talk about issues affecting women.
We had a presentation from a lawyer, who supports parents who have had their child taken from a country of habitual residence, without their consent - most often by the other parent. The lawyer gave us a case study - I'm going to anonymise the details, although she did state that reporting restrictions had recently been lifted.
"Father of X removes child from country of habitual residence without consent of mother. He takes the child to a North American country, where he lives with the child for a number of years. Father and X arrive in the UK on holiday, and X becomes unwell. X is taken to a doctor, and child protection proceedings are started - X is removed from the care of her father and placed under local authority care. She is not allowed to have any contact with her father, and she has not seen her mother since her father took her to North America. Meanwhile, mother is in an African country, and has recently moved to another African country, where she is currently seeking asylum. Both parents are claiming that the child should rightfully reside with them."*
The lawyer stated "this child was taken away from her dad because services made the assumption that because he had white skin, and the child is black, that he must be trafficking her".
As a white woman, I am aware of, but do not experience, the structural racism that is experienced by people of colour. I am aware that services are often institutionally racist, and so it is inappropriate for me to discuss the (racist) assumptions made when a white man is travelling with his black daughter. However, in my experience of child protection, I do know that decisions to remove a child who is subject to international child contact issues would not have been taken on just the facts we were presented with. We know the child was unwell, and that the doctor involved instigated safeguarding procedures. We know that the lawyer used the term 'trafficking' as a suspicion of services - removal of a child would need much more than the 'belief' of a social worker or GP - social workers need to present robust evidence to the courts in order to remove the child. We know that the child is not allowed any contact with the father she has lived with for a number of years. Yet - no mention of why this might be. No mention of why he took the child in the first place. No mention of why he believed that taking the child to another continent was the right thing to do. No mention of how his behaviour could be seen as controlling & abusive. We know that these cases are complex, but we also know that women who remove children without consent often do so to escape abuse, and to attempt to safeguard their children, and men who remove children do this in order to harm the child(ren)'s mother as part of a pattern of controlling, abusive & often violent behaviour.
This event was not a one-off. At a previous event, a public protection police officer stated that they'd been to a 'domestic' recently and "arrested them both!" - the man immediately and the woman later during the day. I asked why the arrests had been staggered & she said "she had a broken collar bone so went to hospital first". The man in this case had a scratch on his cheek. The police officer said they'd had to do "significant investigation" to discover who was the primary perpetrator in this case. I kid you not.
Which leads me on neatly to the glaring, astoundingly obvious omission when we are talking about men's violence against women. We do not name it. We do not discuss Men. We omit men from 'Violence Against Women & Girls' and in some cases, we use an acronym & just say VAWG . We cannot even find the time to say the words 'violence against women & girls', let alone 'men's violence against women & girls'. The omission of men in these cases erases them from the picture. The structural violence experienced by so many women & children becomes invisible, reduced to 'isolated incidents', where the perpetrators are absent from all of the discussion. Almost like the abuses happen by accident, by a mythical creature Who Can Not Be Named.
What can we do about it? As ever, we've come up with some suggestions & would love your views in the comments below:
1. Keep the focus on the perpetrator. If we are talking about men's violence against women & children - say that.
2. Stop saying 'vorg'. It removes both the perpetrator & the victim-survivor - we must name both if we are to tackle this issue.
3. Men - this one is for you. We know we have many men on our timeline - but we know you share our pieces less often than our women followers. Talk to your fellow men about the full spectrum of men's violence against women & girls - from sexism through to street harassment through to rape through to murder.
4. Women - keep talking. If it helps you to keep talking, be anonymous. Our campaign supports your anonymity. We believe you & know it wasn't your fault. The more we talk, the less we can be silenced. Women have always talked - we pass information on to other women by talking, only recently has this been labelled with the judgemental term 'gossiping'.
5. Acknowledge the reality of men's violence against women. Understand that men's violence is committed directly by approximately 15% of the population, but that the remaining 85% of men benefit from this abuse.
6. When we are talking about women, respect that; don't interrupt to discuss issues faced by men. Stop with the 'whataboutery'.**
Any other suggestions are welcome below!
*Case studies of this type should raise many questions with professionals - and they should not be used, if significant information that would affect your decision needs to be redacted. My advice for this lawyer is - use another case.
**Thanks to @WildWalkerWoman for this phrase 🙂