An open secret, a closed door

"I am simply inviting you to endeavour to understand their effect on that Irish public which read of them ‘with something of the feeling of helpless rage with which one would watch a stream of blood dripping from under a closed door'."

Journalist Warren B Wells

We have at present an enormous body of evidence which clearly illuminates the fact that domestic violence, violence within relationships and intimate partner violence are not gendered problems, that is to say women and men both suffer and perpetrate these crimes more or less equally. Here for example is an annotated bibliography of 286 scholarly investigations which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 371,600., the Irish mens domestic violence charity, reports very similar findings, with 29% of women and 26% of men suffering domestic abuse. A further three Irish gender neutral surveys were carried out by The Marriage and Relationship Counselling Service (MRCS), Accord, and Department of Health and Children

The MRCS study found that domestic violence between couples tends to be mutual in a third of the cases (33%), female-perpetrated in four out ten couples (42%) and male-perpetrated in a quarter of couples (25%). The Accord study found that where domestic Violence occurs, (46%) involved mutual violence; in (30%) of cases it was perpetrated by women only and in (24%) by men only. The Department of Health study found, where domestic violence occurs, (50%) was mutual with the remainder divided equally between women-only and men-only perpetration. Again, all of this supports a non gendered basis for policy and legislation on domestic and intimate partner violence.

So, we may ask, where are the equivalent support networks for men, where are the white ribbon campaigns for men, the mens shelters?

Is it really because society doesn't care?

While a generally unsympathetic environment towards male victims of domestic violence may to a certain extent exist, this ignores the role that feminist groups play in stymying support for innocent victims of abuse simply because they are male.

One recent example of such efforts came ingloriously from the Women's Aid UK branch. Upon learning that the Office of National Statistics had released yet another report inconveniently illustrating the realities of gender symmetry in domestic violence, they had the following to say:

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid said:

“Some men experience domestic violence, and they need support. However many more women experience patterns of abusive behaviour, and find it much harder to leave when they do. Publishing statistics on domestic violence which don’t detail the frequency, severity and gender differences is irresponsible, and contributes to a situation where some services have to turn women away for lack of funding, while being forced to pay for unnecessary services for male victims even though not a single man has ever approached asking for support.”

Marianne Hester, Head of the Centre for Gender & Violence Research at the University of Bristol said:

”The ONS statistics show that a considerable number of women and men in England and Wales experience some form of domestic violence from their partners or family members, and that threats and sexual violence in particular are more prevalent for female victims. However, this is only part of the story and the ONS should also publish the figures on repeat victimisation and help-seeking that were available in previous years and showed that women experience much more violence and required more services. While other violent crime continues to decrease, this has not been the case for domestic violence or sexual violence and the explanation is likely to be the extensive cuts that specialist domestic violence services have suffered in recent years”

Of course this misrepresentation of plain reality, in particular in terms of "help seeking" where there is rarely if ever any help to be had for men, and "experiencing much more violence", stands in stark contrast to several responses from journalists:

The Office for National Statistics have published the latest crime statistics for England and Wales. As they do almost invariably, the mainstream media have published selected figures without any trends or historical context, to provide alarming headlines. Typically, the Guardian proclaims “Domestic violence experienced by 30% of female population, survey shows.”

It is true, after a fashion, if one chooses to define domestic violence as any one single adult lifetime incident of emotional or financial abuse, threat or ‘minor force’ by any partner or family member. That is not, however, how most people (including most agencies and academics) would choose to define domestic violence.


If we look at the table which breaks down the experience of all those victims, a rather less dramatic picture emerges.

This shows a couple of interesting things. The first is that only about a third of all victims reported any instance of severe force or serious sexual assault. Of course some forms of non-physical abuse can be devastating and terrifying, but it is important to note that the reality of the data is not quite as dramatic as headlines would suggest.

The second notable thing here, I think, is that while (as most of us realise) female victims of most forms of intimate violence are more numerous, male victims here were much more likely to report having experienced severe force as women. This doesn’t match the stereotype which paints male violence as severe and frightening, and women’s as trivial acts of self-defence.


One final point regards the consequences of intimate violence on the victims. A point I’ve often seen raised in relation to male victims is that compared to their female equivalents, they are less likely to live in fear and terror, less likely to be traumatised, and are therefore in less need of support, protection and services.

Well the CSEW asks a question in that vein, and it turns out that yes – male victims are less likely to have lasting psychological damage from their abuse – but the difference is marginal.

In a nutshell, 4 out of 10 female victims have lasting psychological impacts, but so do 3 out of 10 men. Five women in a hundred feel suicidal, so do three men in a hundred. Yes, there are differences there, but I’d suggest they are not dramatic enough to really operate as justification for any kind of discriminatory policy.

Typically the ratio of male to female serious injuries resulting from domestic violence is 2:3, mostly because men are larger and more powerful, but incidences of violence are nonetheless equally distributed. This is not new or surprising information. Erin Pizzey, the founder of womens shelters (yes you read that correctly, womens) observed early on that the women in her shelters were as likely to be violent as their male counterparts. As a result she was forced to have a police escort with her whenever she travelled, had to have her mail routed through the police to check for bombs, had her dog shot and ultimately was forced to flee the country by feminists. This is why the founder of womens shelters today identifies herself as a mens rights activist.

Locally, male domestic violence victim support group experienced resistance from both government and womens groups (Cleary 2002:42).

Further evidence of the antipathy that womens groups have to the concept of gender symmetry was provided by the CEDAW Shadow Report of the Women's Human Rights Alliance Ireland 2004:

In Ireland the traditional viewpoint that domestic violence is a private matter rather than a social crime has been slow to change. Resistance to moving forward public policy in this domain has been strong and recent years in Ireland have seen a new level of hostility develop towards the issue as vocal groups argue that men are as likely to be victims of domestic violence as women. Our workshop participants find that the net effect of this lobby has been a tendency in policy arenas not to address gender in regard to the issue of violence against women. ... Considerable time and energy are devoted by women's groups and front line services, including those in our consultation, countering this backlash - to the detriment of service provision and the support of women experiencing violence.

This quite baldly says that womens support suffers from any attention being given to the issues of men, ergo any amount of suffering from men is to be discounted.

The methodologies used by feminist groups to reinforce their anti-male perspective are clearly outlined by Murray Straus, despite the fact that he identifies as a feminist himself, and can be found here. These include

A good example of suspect statistics can be found in the most recent attempt to claim that one in four women suffer physical and sexual violence by Sharon O'Halloran, director of Safe Ireland. She apparently "has even called for the Government to establish a high-level cabinet sub-committee to address "the prevalence, complexity and poor response" to all forms of violence against women in Ireland".

The report in question is the Violence against women: an EU-wide survey. If we dig a little deeper into the methodologies used to generate this report however we find the following:

Drafting the questionnaire, it was important to avoid terms such as ‘rape’, ‘violence’ or ‘stalking’, because different women might have different preconceived ideas on the types of violence usually associated with these terms, and the types of perpetrators involved.

Terms such as rape were left out of the questionnaire and it was left to the researchers to decide whether or not rape took place. So if someone answered that they were verbally abused using a sexual slur, it's the researcher who decides if the women was sexually attacked. Essentially the research is predicated on the idea that women don't know what "rape" "violence" or "stalking" mean, and needed a qualified expert to speak for them.

This is a technique that was pioneered by Mary Koss, a feminist researcher who decided that the official unbiased government reports weren't giving her the answers she wanted, so she set up her own surveys in order to adjust the statistics accordingly. Post survey examination of the outcomes however revealed that around three quarters of the women she identified as having been raped did not consider themselves victims of rape, and almost half of them had sex with their supposed attackers after the event identified as a rape had occurred, and continued dating them.

In fact Ireland has a mid-range reporting rate of sexual violence in Europe at 8.98 per 100,000 population, considerably lower than the 26.14 in England and Wales and 46.51 in Sweden, with an 8% conviction rate, a far cry from 25% of the population. Even if the reporting numbers are off by a factor of a hundred, they still don't come close to one in four.

So why would feminist groups act in this way? Is it just to secure more funding? While that may be a factor, they don't conduct unseemly and shameful attacks on other charitable causes who could also be very credibly described as partaking of the pool of available funding.

A more complete understanding of the reasons for these behaviours requires that we look a little deeper into the theoretical underpinnings of feminism. Feminism's foundational theory (and this isn't a theory in any scientific sense, being untestable, unfalsifiable, and mostly made up) is that we live in a patriarchy or patriarchal society.

Patriarchy is a social system in which males are the primary authority figures central to social organization, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. In feminist theory the concept of patriarchy often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women.

Essentially this narrative paints all men as permanent aggressors and all women as permanent victims. Patriarchy theory points to supposed earlier times when women were expected to raise children and stay at home - however even in such relationships, the man was not just expected but required to go out and provide for his family, and often required to give up his life in wars and through dangerous working conditions. A reciprocal relationship existed, which did not favour men in any particular manner. Not to mention that a great many women have worked outside the home throughout history. Patriarchy theory is factually wrong - a far more accurate historical assessment would be to say that the overwhelming majority of men and women were treated equally poorly by a comparitively tiny group of wealthy and powerful men and women.

Feminists point to predominantly male leadership positions, while failing to acknowledge that the men in these positions almost never took actions or enacted policies which favoured men as a class over anyone else. Even in the modern era, women, being in the majority, have the majority of the voting power and hence the majority of the power in society, yet these women for some reason continue to elect politicians based on merit rather than gender, which would be an unusual action to take en masse if there were in fact anything resembling an oppressive patriarchy keeping them subdued.

Despite these facts, patriarchy theory was, is and remains central to feminism.

This is embodied in what is known as the Duluth model of law enforcement, a feminist approach to domestic violence correction. The Duluth Model is based on a "violence is patriarchal" model. The model focuses solely on the men's use of violence in abusive relationships, rather than on the behavior of all parties concerned. This helps the men to focus on changing their personal behavior in order to be nonviolent in any relationship. According to the Duluth Model, "women and children are vulnerable to violence because of their unequal social, economic, and political status in society". It has been highly criticised for being founded on the false premise that men are always the guilty party, which in combination with a mandatory arrest policy, has often led to wrongful arrests of men without due process.

And yet here we can find adoption of the Duluth model (in the face of the enormous body of evidence supporting gender symmetry) among COSC's recommendations to the government, as well as in the policy section of Womens Aid Ireland.

So we can see how gender symmetry in domestic and intimate partner violence strikes right at the heart of feminist theory - if after all women are just as capable of and prone to violence as men, where is the patriarchy? This is the reason for the resistance of feminist groups to acknowledging and deaing with the realities of the suffering of tens of thousands of innocent people in Ireland. This is mentioned by Ruth Cleary in her comprehensive analysis of the recent history of feminism in Ireland.

Emerging evidence would suggest that if there were an acknowledgement of women’s violence to any significant degree by feminist theorists, then the whole basis on which feminist ideology stands, that is the power of men over women, would no longer hold true.

Also in her research Ms Cleary shows us how feminist groups began in Ireland and the routes they took to accumulate power.

The birth of the refuge movement abroad did not go unnoticed in Ireland. The refuge movement began in Chiswick, outside London, where Erin Pizzey opened the first shelter for battered women in 1972. "Sometime later Ms Pizzey requested that a refuge be opened in Ireland, as numbers of Irish victims were travelling to England to avail of shelter there" (Casey, 1987:7). In response to her appeal, the first Irish refuge was opened in Dublin in 1974.

Many groups emerged at this time and these included the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM), which was established in 1970 and Irishwomen United (IWU), which was formed in 1974. These groups sought to raise women’s consciousness about the role of women and adopted new ways of organising. They were involved in direct action tactics such as illegally bringing back condoms through customs from Belfast (kelleherassociates, Nov. 2001:12). These organisations gave rise to a new questioning on previously taboo issues with the result that, "radical feminism of the 1970s spawned a proliferation of self-help groups and organisations, dealing with health, pornography and male violence" (kelleherassociates, Nov. 2001:12).

By far the most significant development in Ireland at this time was the setting up of the Council for the Status of Women (CSW) in 1972 (known today as the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI)).

The Council for the Status of Women increased its base of support throughout the 1970’s, a major indicator of social movement advance. From the outset the Council worked closely with the State, employed a hierarchical structure, had several affiliate members and was a mass based, umbrella social movement organisation (Connolly, 1997: 555).

It is important for this thesis to review the Council’s origins and strategy, in order to comprehend the circumstances that gave rise to feminist ideology dominating public policy in the area of domestic violence in Ireland.

In order to trace the origin of the Council, we must examine the role of The United Nations (UN), which had been laying down the blueprint for these Councils in a series of World Conferences, culminating with Mexico City 1975. Women’s groups, in response to a UN Directive which encouraged all non-governmental women’s organisations to lobby their respective governments to set up a National Commission on the Status of Women (Connolly, 1997: 555).

In 1970 the Commission on the Status of Women was set up by the Irish government. Its terms of reference were to examine and report on the status of women in Ireland and to make recommendations on the steps necessary to ensure the participation of women on equal terms with men in the political, social, cultural and economic life of the country. By 1972 it had issued its recommendations in a report to the Minister of Finance.

Following the report on the Status of Women in 1972, an ad hoc committee of ten women’s organisations formed itself into a council and asked other organisations interested in raising the status of women to become affiliated with a common objective of ensuring the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission’s Reports. The new organisation called the Council for the Status of Women now acts as an umbrella organisation for the many women’s groups. The organisation received almost its entire funds from the state through the office of the Minister for State for Women’s Affairs in order to assist its activities (Department of the Taoiseach, 1987:18).

By 1987 the government was required to report back to the United Nations. The report was prepared by the Department of the Taoiseach and was a statement of progress over the previous fifteen years. What it stated was very revealing. The activities of the Council, it said, were to liaise between government departments and women’s organisations; to press for the implementation of the Report of the Commission; to consider any legislative proposals of concern to women and to examine and contest cases of discrimination against women (Department of the Taoiseach, 1987). What the report reveals is that through the activities of the Council, women’s groups have been placed at the very heart of government, with a mandate to press for the implementation of their agenda by targeting legislation.


Women’s Aid

In Ireland as elsewhere, as we saw in the previous chapter, feminist organisations, such as Women’s Aid, Refuges and Rape Crisis Centres, working with women experiencing abuse, support the "fundamental tenets of the women’s movement that male violence against women is about power and control, and therefore ongoing feminist analysis of existing patriarchal structures is critical to appropriate action"

(NWCI, 2001a): 3).


This brings us to look at one such component within the NWCI, Women’s Aid. Women’s Aid is not merely concerned with women who have experienced domestic violence. It is much more than that, as can be seen from its own definition. Set up in 1976, it defines itself as, "a feminist, service based, political and campaigning organisation committed to the elimination of violence against women by effecting political, cultural and social change" (kelleherassociates, Nov. 2001: 93). Initially, the organisation concentrated on the gradual setting up of refuges around the country, staffed by its own members.

When in the 1980s the rationalisation of the refuge service took place and the State began to fund refuges, Women’s Aid, adhering to the wider brief that had been handed down by the UN to its umbrella body, the Council for the Status of Women, began to work towards political change and became a key player in lobbying for legislative change and policy reform. Its work included targeting Garda Síochána Policy on Domestic Violence, and legislators, in an awareness campaign that would produce the Domestic Violence Act of 1996.



Ireland reflects the international pattern, in that feminist ideology has dominated the field of domestic violence and has heavily influenced policy. With the emergence of the women’s movement in Ireland in the 60’s and 70’s and the feminist organisations that grew out of this movement, public policy and research has tended to focus on female victims of domestic violence to the detriment of other family members. Despite the growing body of reliable evidence, which indicates that men can also be victims of women’s violence, and the findings that mutual violence is the most predominant form of violence, the focus has remained on women as victims.

To understand why public policy is at variance with international and Irish evidence, one must take into account the ideology of international bodies, such as the UN which, through its influence on the women’s movement, became a major player in domestic policy. An examination of the passage of the 1996 Domestic Violence Act through the legislature will reveal how the women’s movement and indeed feminist ideology influenced the implementation of this legislation.

There exists an enormous network of state funded organisations in Ireland which claim to promote the needs of women, crucially as seen through a feminist lens, working according to dubious theoretical and ideological guidelines. According to SafeIreland, over seven thousand women received direct support from their shelters in 2010, and their associated organisations fielded 38,000 helpline calls. As gender symmetry indicates there must therefore also be an equivalent number of men in need of similar services, voices that went unheard, the innocent lives of your sons, grandsons, brothers, fathers, uncles, and friends that not only went without the help of their community but are actively demonised by campaigns such as Man Up and the White Ribbon.

Theirs is the blood flowing under the door.

The Irish public as a whole doesn't appear to have much time for feminism, as Senator Bacik's repeated rejections by the electorate indicate - and rightly so - despite which ideological feminism is alive and well, unelected and without a mandate from the public, in the halls of successive Irish governments.

The time has come to stop ignoring half the problem and highlight the real and deadly consequences of embracing these ideologies. We call on all feminist organisations to discard the harmful elements of feminism and support all victims regardless of gender.

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