Call for Women's Refuge Enquiry
Crisis In N.Z. Family Violence Services
Public Enquiry Overdue: Let's Start With Women's Refuge
by Barbara Faithfull
27th September 2004
Women's Refuge, thirty years established in New Zealand, is widely assumed to be universally respected, and to be the only such agency offering help, counselling and accommodation to victims of family violence. In N.Z. it holds an annual Appeal Week every June, complete with much innovative, and even at times highly questionable, media coverage and celebrity support.
For its 2004 event two All Blacks, Kees Meeuws and Keven Mealamu, and model Nicky Watson, lent their celebrity status to this apparently worthy cause. A public petition, calling for the Government to increase Refuge's funding from 25% of its budget to 66%, was launched in conjunction with the Body Shop, and with much fanfare, outside its Queen Street store.
Yet all is far from being what it seems with Women's Refuge, and many have had deep concerns about its operation and huge amounts of public funding, and even long before this most recent call to have it greatly boosted.
In fact, as far back as 1985 searching questions were being asked in this respect. For example, the N.Z. Herald of 25th September of that year ('No-men Code Splits Refuge Group') reported that the Christchurch Battered Women's Support Group and the West Auckland Refuge had resigned from the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges "because of what they see as its extremist anti-male attitude".
Both groups objected to amendments to the Refuge's constitution and code of ethics, "which state that refuges must actively seek to overcome oppression of women and children in all facets of society". The co-ordinator of the Christchurch group, Doris Church, who had just published a booklet on her grievances with the collective, 'The Future of Refuge in N.Z.', alleged that "the refuge movement is shifting away from its original goal of helping battered wives and their children, and becoming a political movement... We have tried to persuade refuges within the collective that their first responsibility must be to battered women, and not to the political aims of the extremist fringe of the feminist movement."
Next day, September 26th 1985, under 'Funding Women's Refuges Questioned', the Herald reported concerns expressed about this in Parliament the previous day by the Hon. Venn Young, (then) National Opposition spokesman on Social Welfare. He had stated that "The Government should review funding of women's refuges if the original conditions of Government help are not being met."
Mr. Young pointed out that when National agreed to provide $190,000.00 per year to women's refuges, it was on the basis that they offered satisfactory counselling for the family. This included counselling to children and to the person responsible for the violence or abuse, he said. Also this: "The aim of any programme was to facilitate reconciliation between family members, as well as to offer support for wives... The Opposition does not support Government funding for those refuges where separatist elements with no commitment to family reconciliation have taken over."
Similarly in 1987, the Christian-based organisation Women For Life was expressing such concern, although this was only publicised in the small-circulation Auckland "freebie" Howick-Pakuranga Times of 18th May. Under 'Refuges may be worst option', president Mrs. Phyllis Thomas was quoted as saying that in many cases a (feminist) women's refuge "is the worst possible place for battered and abused women".
To illustrate the ideologically-driven nature of Refuge she cited the 1979 book 'He Said He Loved Me Really' which was written by three of Refuge's founders. Known initially as Halfway House, the authors were Joy Florence, Jenny Ruth and Bronwyn Banks. There, opening chapter 13, they wrote -
"Halfway House was conceived by some Auckland feminists as being a tactic towards our liberation. Basically we wished to attack the institution of marriage and to salvage what womanity (sic) we could in the process.
"Our attack was to take two main forms. Firstly, that we would operate a feminist house to offer shelter, support and liberating information to those women who are victims of male violence. Secondly, To gain through these women information that we would then use as a weapon against patriarchal oppression."
Mrs. Thomas was also quoted there as saying: "Many questions should be raised about the anti-male, radical feminist direction of such centres, and the huge sums of money being paid to enable them to carry out their plans."
Highly protective media
As already mentioned, over the years since then many others have also harboured such concerns about Refuge, but invariably they have been stifled, and with the media mainly only conveying a most positive image of the organisation. For example on 30th June last - 2004 Refuge Appeal Week - I wrote to the editor of the N.Z. Herald expressing the view that such (Appeal Week) publicity - which concealed Refuge's ideologically-driven base - was quite misleading of the public in general, and of well-meaning sponsors and celebrities in particular.
I also quoted there from that 1979 book on Halfway House, re its original feminist, anti-marriage and anti-male goals. I concluded: "Surely a more worthy petition would be on behalf of pro-family, church-based refuges and helping agencies which, after all, have been systematically marginalised and largely squeezed out of contention, and not only for public funding, but also as a vital alternative choice for those in dire need of such help."
With that letter not allowed publication, an amount of correspondence subsequently passed between editor Tim Murphy and myself, but all to no avail. In my letter to him of July 29th I itemised some of the pernicious ramifications I see resulting from Refuge's ideological base -
- Refuge's various false and perverse assumptions, such as:
- Denying the very concept of female violence; therefore only females can be victims of domestic violence.
- The belief that females never provoke domestic violence; it is all caused by some vague entity described as "patriarchy".
- The early "separatist" criticism is still valid, because there are no attempts by Refuge at reconciliation of the spouses involved, as originally required for the granting of Government funding.
- Over the years there has been a subtle but systematic marginalising of pro-family, pro-marriage, church-based helping agencies, and the largely squeezing of them out of contention for public funding. Thus Refuge has to a great extent a virtual client monopoly here, as well as a funding monopoly. This, because women in need of such help will mainly know only about feminist refuges, which get virtually all the publicity, and so are generally seen as being the only ones available.
Official help directories aid and abet such marginalisation
This is borne out by official helping agency literature. Take the Department of Court's glossy 2001 booklet 'Dealing with Domestic Violence'. On page 19, under 'People who can help', these are listed in this order, with an asterisk for those with 24 hour emergency phone lines :-
Family Court, the Police*, Work and Income N.Z., CYFS, Women's Refuge*, Stopping Violence Services (feminist aligned Men For Non-Violence etc.), Citizens' Advice Bureau, Rape Crisis* (feminist), Awhina Wahine, Age Concern, Victim Support*, church groups, Maori Women's Welfare League, your family doctor, your family lawyer.
Note the vague, non-specific inclusion of "church groups" - and almost as an afterthought, near the end of the list. Also, that mainly only the police and feminist-based Refuge and Rape Crisis are listed as with 24 hour contact. Yet, in main centres at least, worthy church helping agencies abound, and with some of them also with 24 hour access!
Over time I have made a minor study of such officially-produced directories of helping agencies, and I have concluded that one would have to be blind not to note the appalling bias demonstrated by directory compilers against church-based agencies and favouring feminist-based ones. For example take also the following:-
The 1990 issue of the 'Reach Out' booklet, published by the feminist-based Family Violence Prevention Co-ordinating Committee (FVPCC) c/- Dept. of Social Welfare, Wellington, and supported by the ACC. Distributed free with the N.Z.Listener of 2nd April 1990. In the Contents list of 35 agencies and departments only two were church-based: Presbyterian Support Services (PSS - later to become the James Family) and Salvation Army.
Half a page was devoted to PSS, but the only contact details given were for seven regional offices. Anyone requiring counselling and general family support services was referred to "the phone books" etc.! Salvation Army fared even worse: It was allocated only a 1" double column snippet. It helpfully stated that the various services "are able to provide both crisis and long-term support and counselling for those who survive or cause family violence but followed most unhelpfully by: "Look under Salvation Army in your phone book"!
Now contrast those two pitifully inadequate, apologies-for-listings of church-based services with some of the fulsome and generously itemised feminist-based ones. Top of the Contents list, and first in the booklet was National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges, and with two and a half pages of information, with one and a half pages of it comprising full contact information for 47 country-wide agencies. For Rape Crisis, with over one and a half pages, full contact details, nationwide, were given for 35 agencies.
Another 'Reach Out', published around 1992-93, also published by FVPCC and also supported by ACC. This time 50 names of agencies and departments crammed the Contents page, but, again, only the same two church-based ones as above. Women's Refuge again had a two and a half page coverage, including full contact details countrywide for 49 agencies, while Rape Crisis, with just over one page, had such information for 27 agencies countrywide.
By contrast, PSS was permitted nearly a full page and eight lots of Council contact details countrywide, but no contact details for counselling and general family support services. Those seeking such information were just vaguely informed that these "are available in the following centres" etc. As for Salvation Army, while they were allocated two thirds of a page, and with lists of services offered, again there was only the unhelpful "Look under Salvation Army in your phone book"!
Also around that time, after noting such pernicious and flagrant bias against church-based agencies, I made a point of telephoning the various Auckland church agencies to check out their contact details and the services they offered in the field of family assistance. Some were: The (Anglican) Auckland City Mission, Anglican Trust for Women and Children, Baptist Social Services, Catholic Family and Community Services, Methodist City Mission, plus the PSS and the Salvation Army.
I wound up with information on an impressive array of services available to families in need, with emphasis upon families in crisis, family violence etc. and with a number of them accessible 24 hours also! In conversation with the Baptist City Mission on November 24th 1992 I was disturbed to be told that a particular family refuge of theirs, because it was not on the national (Women's Refuge) collective listing - due to disagreement with the feminist refuge philosophy - did not get Government funding! If the truth were known, I believe this would be a very common plaint of such church-based helping agencies.
So I see ample evidence to support my contention that church-based helping agencies are being systematically and deliberately sidelined and marginalised, and to the advantage of a motley array of others, many being ideologically-driven, blatantly anti-male and therefore also anti-family. Yet invariably they are still Government funded, and, particularly with Refuge, despite flouting its original agreement to also undertake reconciliation of families where at all possible.
Thus, as already mentioned, the average woman in need of such help will almost invariably turn to Women's Refuge, which of course helps boost its numbers of clients, and with this in turn helping to justify greater funding. However, she will, in the main, be unaware of the inherent anti-male and anti-family bias driving such agencies, and therefore unaware also of the deeper ramifications this will have for the quality of assistance she will likely receive.
By contrast, of course, church-based agencies take into consideration the needs of the whole family, including of course male spouses, and whether they happen to be the perpetrator or victim in family violence cases. Yet, ironically, they receive little or no Government funding to support their work, while the feminist-based Refuge, which deliberately flouts its fundamental obligation to serve the whole family, still receives Government funding regardless - and is clamouring for more! Thus, I contend, Women's Refuge has a pernicious, unwarranted and unfair funding and client monopoly in the family violence area.
Then and now
So despite the excuses offered by N.Z. Herald editor Tim Murphy for suppressing my June 30th 2004 letter, and thus protecting Refuge from unpalatable publicity - and especially during its appeal week - I contend that there is undeniable evidence that the earliest warped and rigid ideological thinking driving Refuge then indeed is still in place today, thirty years later. Also, that officially-produced information directing people to family crisis help, whether intentionally or otherwise, still today displays the same pernicious bias in favour of Women's Refuge and to the disadvantage of church-based agencies and society in general.
Moreover, after its Herald rejection, that letter was submitted to the Christchurch Press, where it appeared as leading letter on July 12th last under the heading 'Women's Refuge campaign misleads the public'. Furthermore the manager of the Christchurch Women's Refuge, Annette Gillespie, could only offer the most dishonest, inept and inane nonsense in defense of my criticism, such as -
- "A big thank you to Barbara Faithfull for demonstrating how insidious male values can be in our society. So insidious, in fact, that women often don't realise that they have been conditioned to one way of thinking, and that they have internalised the male position... The most anti-social aspect of our society today is the continued butchering (sic!) of women and children while they remain in their family environment so they can live up to the expectations of the likes of Ms Faithfull." (July 14th).
- "Women's Refuge has always spoken the truth. That's what makes us unpalatable at times." (July 31st).
All part of a wider, ideologically-driven "anti-violence" movement.
Clearly, all the questionable events detailed so far have not occurred merely by chance. To summarise -
- Women's Refuge continues to be heavily funded by the Government, despite straying from its original funding obligations, but with church-based refuges largely excluded from such funding, even though ministering to the whole family.
- Almost complete exclusion of church-based helping agencies, but inordinate emphasis upon ideologically-driven ones, in some official publications which direct people in crisis to available help.
- Over the years consistent news media support and protection for ideologically-driven agencies such as Women's Refuge, and with almost a blanket ban on items/letters reflecting negatively upon them, and even regardless of the validity of the information or viewpoints presented.
- The resultant common, but quite false perception abroad that Women's Refuge is the one and only place in existence for women and children in crisis to go for help, thus denying many women their right to an informed choice in the matter. Thus, also, misleading the general public and well-intentioned and generous public figures who donate money, time and talent to Refuge funding appeals without full awareness of its true anti-family nature being revealed, and therefore also denying them their right to an informed choice on whether or not to participate. So many, many people are being duped in the process.
As mentioned earlier, in my July 29th letter to Herald editor Mr. Tim Murphy, I had set out what I see as the warped and simplistic, ideologically-based analysis of domestic violence which fundamentally influences Refuge's operation. So for some years now Refuge, and all other similarly-aligned "anti-violence" groups, have employed the (American) feminist-inspired Duluth model of "power and control" to rationalise all matters relating to domestic violence.
To compound matters, the myopic thinking that underlies this mere theory is now embedded in N.Z's massive and complex "anti-violence" bureaucracy, including our Domestic Violence Act 1995. Also, most non-church-based "anti-violence" helping agencies, plus the Family Court, other lobby groups and, of course, Women's Refuge. So the official promoting of these kinds of agencies, at the expense of church-based ones in help directories, all starts to make a strange kind of sense.
Modern-day little-publicised criticism of Refuge and the wider "anti-violence" movement
Judge Jan Doogue: "Domestic violence is perpetrated by both men and women... The Domestic Violence Act 1995 and s.16B of the Guardianship Act 1968 were based on the classification of violence within the (Duluth) power and control model. In my experience and that of other Judges, this model does not fit the profile of many cases coming before the Family Court in N.Z." Also: "It is not fair nor just to view all violence as fitting within the classification of the power and control model." And this: "This paper suggests that whilst there are many positive features to the present legislation, the time has come to review the social experimentation arising and the effects and implications of the legislation." (ref 1)
Stuart Birks, Massey University academic: "So when is Women's Refuge going to admit abuse by women, and to move away from the Duluth model of family violence which assumes that it is all patriarchal power and control?... The Refuge has also been keen in the past to suppress consideration of violence and abuse by women. I have yet to see an acknowledgement by Refuge of women's abuse, or the need to vet women who come to them, in case Refuge is actually sheltering and assisting abusers". (ref 2)
Inner City Group for Men: Rare media exposure of the alien, anti-male philosophy underpinning N.Z's domestic violence agencies. In June 2002 the National Business Review reported that the Auckland High Court had ruled against the Northern Region Domestic Violence Approval Panel, which had "dumped" John Binsted's Auckland Inner City Group for Men as an approved Family Court agency. For 15 years it had run anti-violence and anger management courses for men.
"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 model, where men are assumed to be operating from a 'privileged place of power and control'.
"Domestic Violence Centre chief executive Jane Drumm said her organisation opposed Mr. Binsted's group because of the fundamental philosophical disagreement over his approach.
"But many experienced (domestic violence) 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..." Also: "Mr. Binsted said the gender politics permeating the industry is 'just plain depressing'." (ref 3)
Robin Wileman could be virtually describing the N.Z. scene: "The illusion of expertise is particularly apparent in the government-funded domestic violence services in Australia. Their ideologically driven, socio-political analysis of domestic violence has curtailed the options available to their client group, and stymied creativity in the field. An example is the Men's Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes in Queensland, where funding is only available for programmes based on the Duluth model.
"In defending and promoting the only analysis of domestic violence considered correct, the domestic violence collective is at risk of using against those who disagree with them the same coercive tactics of power and control as does their (allegedly) abusive male client group. Professional judgement may be impaired in such circumstances. For example, the Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network lobbied widely throughout Australia against the sale of (Wileman's) book 'How to stop Domestic Violence: A Victim's Guide'. (ref 4)
Erin Pizzey, founder of the world's first modern shelter for women victims of domestic violence in England in the early 1970's, now resident in Florida, U.S.A.-
- "There are as many violent women as men, but there's a lot of money in hating men, particularly in the U.S. - millions of dollars. It isn't a particularly good idea to threaten the huge budgets for women's refuges by saying that some of the women who go into them aren't total victims.
- Author David Thomas, quoting Pizzey in his book 'Men: Not Guilty' - "She is convinced that the debate on domestic violence has been hijacked by activists whose main interests are political and financial." (ref 5)
Bert H. Hoff: In 1999, at the behest of Erin Pizzey, who was concerned at the imminent introduction of the Duluth model to the U.K., Hoff wrote a critique of it, and quoted various authorities, summarising it thus: "Blame and shame, not help. Ideology, not science. It ignores drinking, drugs... serious psychological problems: only one cause, only one solution. There's no real evidence it works. It ignores domestic violence by women. Women who need help can't get it." (ref 6)
Patricia Pearson, a Canadian journalist, concedes she has been attacked for her views, for suggesting that perhaps in some cases of domestic violence it is the woman who is the perpetrator and not the man. "They (some women) think I'm being extremely heretical" etc. (ref 7)
Revs. Sam and Bunny Sewell of Florida, U.S.A. She was a founder of their local women's shelter, but, they explain, they fell foul of it when they sought to distribute scientific information on the domestic violence issue. So they seek to educate the media and others in order to try and correct what they call "a serious misunderstanding" about this issue. In September 2001 I came across an eye-opening but very measured report which the Sewells had posted on the internet from which I compiled a paper for distribution. A few quotes from that Sewell report-
"Much of the women's shelter movement is seriously misinformed about the causes and scope of family violence... the misunderstanding of this issue is so pervasive that city and county governments, the courts, law enforcement, prosecutors' offices, mental health clinics and other tax-supported agencies are now funding programmes based on feminist propaganda rather than responsible scientific studies... Dozens of (such) studies reveal a startlingly different picture of family violence than what we usually see in the media... The truth has been hidden by misleading statistics... anti-male hate groups... the media... Some leaders in the women's shelter movement are fully aware of the broader scope of family violence, but hold fast to the villain/victim dogma. Why? They must retain their power and fundraising base. If they lose their special 'victim status' they will rapidly go out of business. They may also be guilty of fraudulent fundraising."
Quotes from a letter to the Sewells from an unnamed judge who handles domestic violence cases -
"The domestic violence issue has been politicised big time in our area. We judges are ordered to attend 'consciousness raising' seminars where we are harangued by feminist 'experts'... Now we have annual breakfasts honouring judges who co-operate with the feminist 'agenda'... It is impossible to make progress in reducing domestic violence until we recognise that women are violent... As a member of an advisory committee for the local shelter I was shocked at the attitudes of the ladies who ran the centre. The only solution championed by the shelter was to get free from that big bad male... (In contrast to such shelters) Some abuse agency personnel have not accepted the feminist 'party line', particularly religiously sponsored family services organisations... They are eager to have accurate information upon which to plan and implement rational programmes for prevention, intervention and treatment for abusers and victims of both genders."
Christina Hoff Sommers, a Boston, U.S.A. Associate Professor of Philosophy, discusses how two well respected domestic violence researchers, Richard J. Gelles and Murray A. Straus, long highly regarded by feminist activists, "fell out of favour (with the latter) in the late 1970's because their findings were not informed by the 'battery (i.e. violence) is caused by patriarchy' thesis... Gelles and Straus... in both of their national surveys... found that women were just as likely to engage in (violence) as men". Also: "Some researchers manipulate their data to get shocking figures on abuse". (ref 8)
So, given the evidence, no reasonable person would surely deny that the family violence issue has been unscrupulously politicised and exploited, internationally as well as in N.Z. While the whole area relating to family violence services clearly is in crisis, I suggest that a good start to tackling this parlous situation in N.Z. would be to have the underlying philosophy, operations and public funding of Women's Refuge opened up to public scrutiny. Surely those seeking their services, and the wider community in general, deserve nothing less.
- "Domestic Violence: Reviewing the Needs of Children". Judge Jan Doogue's address to the LexisNexis Professional Development 3rd Annual Child and Youth Law 2004 Conference, District Court Auckland.
- Stuart Birks, Massey University, in an e-mail to a N.Z. men's list, Paul's News, 30 January 2001.
- National Business Review 28th June 2002, p.10 : "Panel breaches Bill of Rights over dumping of male anti-violence group" by Nick Smith.
- Reprinted from MENZ Issues, Men's Centre, North Shore, Auckland, Vol.5 Issue 6, July-August 2000 p.4. Wileman was quoted from a paper of his in The Australian and N.Z. Family Therapist 2000, Vol.21 No.1
- Both quotes from 'Men: Not Guilty' by David Thomas included with an article by Pizzey, "Working with Violent Women" (1997) in Menweb
- "What's wrong with the Duluth model?" by Bert H.Hoff 1999 on Menweb
- Patricia Pearson, author of 'When She was Bad: How and why Women get away with Murder', interviewed by Rae Lamb on Radio N.Z. 28 September 1999.
- In 'Who Stole Feminism? - How Women have betrayed Women' (Touchstone 1994) pp 194-195