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Domestic Violence Panel Breaches Bill of Rights

Panel breaches Bill of Rights over the dumping of male antiviolence group

By NICK SMITH

An antiviolence counselling service has won a court battle against a government-funded quango that tried to run it out of business.

The High Court at Auckland ruled that the Northern Region Domestic Violence Approval Panel breached the Inner City Group for Men's right to natural justice.

The panel had arbitrarily dumped the Inner City Group, which for 15 years has run antiviolence and anger-management courses for men, as an "approved" Family Court agency, a breach of the Bill of Rights, the court ruled.

The court drama has revealed a behind-the-scenes fight for funding control, with philosophical battlelines drawn over whether feminist ideology should dominate anti-violence programmes.

Most approved agencies adopt the "Duluth" method, where men are assumed to be operating from a "privileged place of power and control."

Only a couple of independent agencies dare stray from the prescribed method and John Binsted's Inner City Group was the only one not to employ female facilitators, one of the reasons it was blackballed.

Now back in business after a yearlong, panel-imposed ban from Family Court referrals, Mr Binsted, who also operates the Manukau Group for Men, estimates he has lost more than $300,000 in loss of income, market share and legal costs.

Family Court referrals were essential because it was the only body to "pay what the service is worth," he said. "Family Court subsidises the other guys in the group."

While Mr Binsted's groups were out of business, panel approved agencies and believers in the Duluth method such as Saftinet set up in competition.

Where once he employed an office manager and ran six groups with "highly trained professionals," now there is one group and Mr Binsted.

The National Business Review spoke to four people who work in the anti-violence industry and two psychologists, none of whom would be named for fear of falling foul of the panel and other industry players.

Mr Binsted: "No one wants to disagree with them or say anything because they hold so much power - power which is without accountability."

Mr Binsted sought a judicial review with the pro bono help of Mary Scholtens QC.

The panel folded, admitting it had breached the group's right to natural justice and reinstating the group's approved status. However, a later hearing to award costs was unsuccessful.

Both the Inner City and Manukau groups have operated since 1988, back in the days when such groups were derided as woolly-woofter liberals and male apologists "and the guys coming to the groups had suspicions about us," Mr Binsted said.

Mr Binstead said he had no complaints about the courses and certainly he is well-regarded by other industry veterans. But he did not use the Duluth method, which was a feminist perspective on men with anger-management problems, because "we can do it better ourselves."

"Some of the women working with battered women had their suspicions about what we were doing," Mr Binstead said. "[We are] accountable to other women's organisations while recognising we have our own experiences and our own way of working."

Domestic Violence Centre chief executive Jane Drumm said her organisation opposed Mr Binsted's group because of the fundamental philosophical disagreement over his approach.

"We work for an organisation whose sole purpose is to increase safety for victims of violence and we don't think that that safety is enhanced by the services that John Binsted provides."

The dislike of Mr Binsted's methods was not gender specific, with plenty of men siding with the Duluth method, she said. While Duluth was feminist-based, the primary goal was the protection of women and children, she said.

"It's definitely a model developed by feminists and it's definitely a continuation of that model [to say] that violence, power, control are perpetrated by a society that allows it to happen, a society run by men for men's purposes. "Within that, most men in the world do not assault other people."

But many experienced industry players say the whole area of addressing domestic violence is in crisis because of the zealous interpretation of the Duluth method. It is more concerned with a "shift in structural power" than trying to get men to confront and change their behaviour, they say.

"One provider in Hamilton - she didn't care what happened [to the men] in the room," one said.

Panel-approved agencies in Hamilton, the North Shore and Auckland city at times seemed to emphasise punishment rather than an attempt to empathise and change behaviour, this person said.

Another veteran talked of the need for men's groups to "link with women's groups" to receive the panel seal of approval. The protection of women and children were paramount with no emphasis on rehabilitating men, was the view.

However, former panel member and psychologist Suzanne Blackwell said that in her time - which featured only one member of the present panel, Susan de Silva - the women "were thoroughly professional and top-notch." Mr Binsted said the gender politics permeating the industry is "just plain depressing."


This article copyright by The National Business Review,
Published June 28th 2002 p 10
Reproduced here with permission.


Next: Other Articles on Domestic Violence from MENZ Issues.