Whatever happened to Erin Pizzey?
Remember Erin Pizzey? Back in 1971 she opened Britain's first shelter for battered women in Goldhawk Road, West London. She founded the charity Refuge and set up other shelters despite official hostility, eventually winning over the government and being praised by Jack Ashley in the House of Commons in 1975 as follows:
"The work of Mrs. Pizzey was pioneering work of the first order. It was she who first identified the problem, who first recognised the seriousness of the situation and who first did something practical by establishing the Chiswick aid centre. As a result of that magnificent pioneering work, the whole nation has now come to appreciate the significance of the problem".
So why does her name appear nowhere on Refuge's website, not even in the section dealing with its history? (See here, noting especially paragraphs 11 and 12!) And what is she doing now?
Well, not long after opening her first women's refuge Pizzey realised that domestic violence wasn't just about men battering women, but that women also abused men. Sometimes the female victims of violence turned out to have been far from passive victims but to have been dealing out violence themselves: of course in a women's refuge she was only seeing one of the victims in such cases. In other cases women were abusing their male partners and not suffering violence themselves. Pizzey co-authored a research study Comparative Study Of Battered Women And Violence-Prone Women (with Dr. John Gayford of Warlingham Hospital), subsequently turned into a book Prone To Violence. And something interesting happened: the women's movement rounded on her. She and her family received death threats (her family pet was actually killed). Eventually she was forced to emigrate to New Mexico for her and their safety. She was, as we have seen, written out of Refuge's history. Without wishing to sound like a conspiracy theorist, in 1997 a search of all libraries world wide which could be accessed via the Inter-Library Loan scheme (which is all academic libraries and many others) turned up only 13 copies of Prone To Violence. The Library of Congress didn't have one until the person doing the survey donated them his own. Should you wish to read it, it can be found online in its entirety here. Pizzey's own description of this time was published in the Scotsman in 1999.) By 1997 she felt safe enough to return to Britain, where she continues to write (these days fiction as well as non-fiction).
Having realised that domestic violence is not simply a gender issue, Erin Pizzey has continued to work with its victims and is now a patron of the charity Mankind Initiative. Let me quote here what they are about:
The ManKind Initiative is committed to:
•Ensuring that all victims of domestic abuse receive the help that they need.
•Removing gender, sexual orientation and race as barriers to receiving help.
•Ensuring that all children witnessing or suffering from domestic abuse access the help that they need.
•Challenging gender specific policies as they are counter-productive to solving the social problems of domestic abuse.
•Ensuring that safe houses are made available to all victims.
•Removing gender politics from the issue of domestic abuse and ensuring that men and women work together.
As part of this work they have published a report Male Victims of Domestic Abuse: The Challenge They Face (available here). A few facts from it:
- at least 40% of victims of domestic violence are men
- 1 in 6 men will be victims of domestic violence at some time in their lives
- in the UK there are over 470 refuges for women but only two dedicated refuges for men, one of which is specifically for gay men (with the other one being in Wales).
So far so good, but much remains to be done, especially in Scotland where I live. Not only do we have no shelters for male victims of domestic abuse, there is as yet no Scottish regional branch of the Mankind Initiative. Which is not to say that nobody else is tackling the issue, or that nobody is trying to bring it to the attention of the government. Here, for example, is a petition calling on the Scottish Government to ensure than all publicly finded actions recognise that men as well as women can be victims of domestic abuse. Anyone can sign it, and I urge all my readers to do so, and to bring it to their friends' attention.One of the organisers of the petition is a friend of mine and drew my attention to this new blog. The hope is that it will provide a forum where Scottish male domestic abuse victims and their supporters can discuss issues and co-ordinate action. Watch this space.
A reader has pointed out to me (via email) that not only does the Refuge site show the way in which you can be edited out of history for telling unpalatable truths, it also begins with a dodgy statistic. Paragraph #1 at the link above states that:
Domestic violence kills more 19-44 year old women than any other cause, including cancer, traffic accidents and war
That may seem a little exaggerated - and it is. Here is a link to a BBC radio programme which discusses the statistic in some detail (listen from about 1:45 to 10:45). I'm not suggesting the exaggeration originated with Refuge, but they certainly haven't corrected it. As for Refuge's paragraphs #9 and #10:
Any woman can experience domestic violence regardless of her age, background, income or education
Any man can be an abuser, whether he’s a high court judge, teacher or mechanic
(emphases added by me)
.....those simply perpetuate the falsehood-by-omission (what the legal profession terms suppresio veri) which my post - and the linked petition - is attempting to put right.