Page 5, 14th April 2000

14th April 2000
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Page 5, 14th April 2000 — There is considerable evidence that female violence against men is

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There is considerable evidence that female violence against men is

as common as male violence against women. It is being deliberately suppressed because it contradicts deeply-cherished gender stereotypes,

argue Simon Caldwell and Bess Twiston Davies We all know the truth about men. For one, they are aggressive and prone to smack females who invariably suffer in silence. It's no secret — just received wisdom everyone knows is true.

The Churches have now put the spotlight on domestic violence with a booklet of prayers and reflections called Breaking the Silence. It is accompanied by a terrifying portrait of violence against women and was inspired by the 1999 declaration by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Bishops' Conferences that "violence against women is a grim fact ... on which the Churches have been silent for too long".

A problem exists with Breaking the Silence, however, and it is this: it appears to rest on some questionably dogmatic and simplistic assumptions about men in general and what defines violence and abuse in particular. These, it seems, are more akin to radical feminism than mainstream Catholicism, and could undermine the campaign's irreproachable objectives.

The initiative was taken up by the Women's Coordinating Group of the Churches Together in England after it was suggested by the National Board of Catholic Women (NBCW). It has the implicit support of all the major denominations, including the Catholic Church. Freda Lambert, president of the NBCW. said the campaign aimed to make parishes wake up to the problem of violence against women. "In the past Catholic women were told to put up and shut up in the confessional," she declares, "but now we have a generation who won't."

She has a good argument. A woman, when not using weapons or attacking a man who is asleep, is generally more vulnerable than a man because of his often superior strength, and it is believed many are locked in violent relationships from which they are unable to escape.

Mrs Lambert continues: "By and large rape is perpetrated by men, trafficking in women is perpetrated by men, pimps are usually men and it's women's bodies that are exposed in the media apparently for men's benefit. So we have sonic justification for saying it's men's fault."

Such crimes may be true of a very small minority of men, but there is a danger in the implication that all men are somehow intrinsically disposed to violent acts while women are incapable of them. It is that innocent men are demonised while those women who are guilty are excused.

AND SO it has to be asked, then, if the campaign is based on the "authentic feminism" urged by John Paul 11 or whether it is an ideology concerned more about power than with justice, equality and human rights.

Violence against women, as described in Breaking the Silence, ranges from serious physical and sexual abuse to vaguer categories of psychological, spiritual, emotional and structural abuse, which when scrutinised may cause dismay.

"Violence is an abuse of power," explains Mrs Lambert. "I would call structural abuse an abuse of power — how priests exercise this power in a parish.

"For instance, we have very strong anecdotal evidence of priests who conic to a parish, and don't like the structures set up by the previous parish priest and his parishioners. He puts an end to it, which according to Canon Law, he's entitled to, but it's leaving people absolutely shattered — and they are the people of God."

Similarly. emotional and psychological violence could be "a statement that a parish priest has made which overruled the wishes of his parishioners without entering into dialogue".

If these contrived definitions were not bad enough, it appears that mounting evidence of serious abuse and gross injustices against men is simultaneously being ignored.

Reliable studies reveal that while one in five women experience violence at the hands of their "partners", so will at least one in six men. Home Office statistics last year revealed the sexes to be equally affected — with 4.2 per cent of men and women reporting assaults in the home, though women were twice as likely to be injured.

Other research indicates that men are attacked more than women. One national survey. led by neuroscientist Dr Malcolm George, looked at nearly 2,000 people out of who 18 per cent of men said they were victims as opposed to 13 per cent of women.

"There is no difference in the propensity of men and women to commit aggressive acts," says Dr George, whose other work has involved dispelling the myth of a link between testosterone and aggression. "In fact a survey in 1998, where both men and women were asked about assault, showed twice as many men as women across all scenarios had been assaulted."

Another survey revealed 38 per cent of married women assaulted men who had never been violent towards them. "Why would a woman assault a man who's stronger than her?" asks Dr George. "It must be because she knows he won't hit back. A lot of arguments about this area are academically flawed. intellectually bereft and morally bankrupt. The real taboo is female violence, and that is something neither men nor women want to face."

So why is the truth being obscured? Writer Melanie

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