Tuesday 10 February 2015: piloting a training course and resource pack on responding to women who use intimate partner violence
It's part of my job to question received wisdom and commonly held thoughts on gender and violence. And to look at the evidence and try to make sense of both. So here are a few thoughts on the question of women and intimate partner violence.
Q: aren't women just as violent as men?
A: the evidence suggests otherwise. Yes, some women use violence and yes, some men are victims - and both need help to deal with this. That's why at Respect we run the national Helpline for male victims (Men's Advice Line) and why our national advice and referral line for people worried about their own use of domestic violence is for men and women (Respect Phoneline). There is also sometimes violence abuse in same-sex relationships. But the overwhelming majority of victims are women who are abused by a man.
Q: what evidence is that?
A: the British Crime Survey is flawed but it's the only national prevalence survey we have to go on and it shows year after year that women are the majority of victims of domestic homicide, stalking, rape and sexual assault, post-separation violence, chronic long-term abuse and violence causing fear and injury.
However, that argument, about amounts and comparisons doesn't help us to get to what actually helps men, women and children to live free from domestic violence. Neither do unhelpful assessment processes which assume that victims never use violence as self defence or resistance - most of us, faced with long-term abuse, would try to do something to protect ourselves or our children, or would react out of desperation or fear with violence at some point. Too often, victims, mostly women, have ended up arrested or held responsible in child protection or contact processes for violence they used to protect themselves or their children. Others have been held responsible for violence their partner has used against them, because they "failed to protect" their children - instead of focussing on the person who caused the harm. This doesn't make children or their parent safer. It makes things worse.
I've been fortunate enough to have a role for a quarter of a century in working out how to end and prevent this abuse. We've found out, through rigorous analysis of research, practice and reflection, that it's more helpful to focus on working out who does what to whom, and with what consequences. This helps you to work out how to respond more effectively to protect and support people who need it, and hold to account those who are responsible, but also to help victims using violence to find other ways of responding and managing the situation.
Q: so are you saying that all women's violence is self-defence or protection?
A: no, not at all, there are definitely some women who use violence and abuse and aren't victims.
Q: so where does this all get us?
A: so far, we're at an early stage of working out how we respond to different groups of women, and men, who perpetrate domestic abuse. I convened a seminar last November for researchers and practitioners working on this topic to share what they've learnt. It looks like there are women who use intimate partner violence who make an active choice to do this. And others who feel that they've been put in a position where they have no alternative choice, or for whom the damage of past abuse has lead them to feeling completely void of any choice, perhaps through traumatic damage.
Some outstanding work done in the US by Lisa Larance and her colleagues has provided us with an excellent programme for use with women who use intimate partner violence - I've been testing this out with an organisation running a pilot programme for women in the North East. In the training I ran in Nottingham earlier this month, practitioners tried out some of the activities and said they could see them being really useful. It also threw up some challenges for work with men using abuse.
I'm leaving Respect this month to take what I've learnt hopefully into parliament. This will include an understanding of the complexities of the connections and tensions between gender and violence and how we promote gender equality that helps all of us to live safe, full and happier lives.
Saturday 7 February 2015 - Role of women parliamentarians to end violence against women and girls
I was privileged to be a keynote speaker at the women's conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Association (CPA) who had chosen "Ending violence against women and girls" as a theme, and asked me, in my twin capacities as prospective parliamentarian and expert on this topic, to present on prevention strategies.
My full presentation is here.
I was delighted and inspired by so many dedicated women parliamentarians determined to use their influence to bring in far reaching legislative and social changes to help prevent and end violence against women and girls.
Why does this matter? Because violence against women and girls is one of the main causes and consequences of gender inequality. It directly affects up to 50% of women in some countries and is one of the major causes of death and disability for women under 44 in the EU.
Yes, violence also affects men and boys as well and when we challenge the cultural, structural and legal features of our societies which support violence against women and girls we will also be helping to end violence generally. I've also been involved in setting up services for male victims - an example is the work I've done at Respect to support the Men's Advice Line.
One key part of my presentation was the evidence base for what contributes to violence against women and girls. In 2009, the European Commission published the interactive model showing the results of Dr Carol Haggeman-White's massive meta-analysis of research on a range of forms of gender based violence.
Key contributory factors are gender stereotyping, a culture of impunity, strong codes of masculinity. If we want to end violence against women ending the cultural factors is critical.
Examples of how this has been done include banning strip clubs and other so-called sexual entertainment venues in Iceland, criminalising the demand side of prostitution in Sweden and the work done by the organisation I currently work for, Respect, in setting up domestic violence perpetrator programmes. All of these measures aren't just about employment conditions, although these are obviously relevant and important - they are also to help make sure that we challenge a culture where women and girls are treated as for sale and as sexualised objects.
This isn't just an ideological plea - it's based on evidence but also on experience.
How many men and women worry about their daughters going out on a Saturday night in town? How many of us would insist that they don't take a taxi home alone? How many of us know a woman who has been sexually harassed or groped in public? How many of us would prefer not being caught near a strip or lap dancing club late at night, fearing the sexual harassment and assault that tends to occur around these venues after men leave?
Parliamentarians, both men and women, can use their leadership to influence legislation and to be examples for change. They can use their voice and influence to stand up for the need to end violence against women.
Changing a culture of impunity requires brave, far-reaching policies as well as individual change in behaviour change programmes. I was excited by the prospect of these women parliamentarians taking these messages to their own countries.
I'm even more excited by the potential to help achieve this as a parliamentarian in Westminster, to help continue the excellent and pioneering work by so many Labour women MPs before me. From Jo Richardson seeing in legislation in the 1970s on domestic violence, to Seema Malhotra, the Labour Party's recently appointed spokesperson on preventing violence against women. Bridge Phillipson has done a huge amount to push the issue in parliament. And of course we've had amazing leadership from our current Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and from Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary in the last Labour government reforming the law on domestic homicide, rape and prostitution. The current cohort of parliamentary candidates includes three of us (me, Purna Sen in Brighton Pavilion and Jess Phillips in Birmingham Yardley) with decades of practical front line experience campaigning against violence against women and girls.
I'm so proud to be a feminist and a Labour party prospective parliamentary candidate.