Page 5, 14th April 2000

14th April 2000
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Page 5, 14th April 2000 — Women aren't the only victims
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Women aren't the only victims

Phillips, who tackled what she calls "gender feminism" in her book, The Sex-Change Society, believes the political establishment, under the aegis of Baroness Jay and the Women's Unit, chooses to treat violence as an exclusively male phenomenon, with the Home Office last month making £.6m available for violence against women campaigns.

Studies which suggest otherwise, argues Phillips, are deliberately suppressed because they contradict deeply-cherished gender stereotypes. "There is a significant attempt to keep these reports out of the public eye," she says.

But if the Churches are serious about their intentions to "break the silence", surely it is crucial to first establish the whole truth; and not to merely indulge in the swapping of one set of prejudices for another.

This may include an uncomfortable acknowledgement of the roles cultural changes are playing in creating huge numbers of unstable, transient and unstructured unions between females, for whom aggression is seen as ever more acceptable, and growing numbers of males, who are simply disenfranchised and unsocialised; who grow up without a stake in society.

Here, at the nub of the problem, may be the area where efforts could best be focused.

For it is a fact that most gender violence is between lovers, cohabitees, separated couples and, most significantly, couples who are separating, rather than those who are married and who, ironically, are the very people most

implicated by the term "domestic violence".

Yet, although research by both the American and British governments shows that stable marriage is the safest place for women, Anne Forbes, director of CASC — the Catholic Agency for Social Concern (of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales) — still tells the launch of Breaking the Silence that "wife-beating" is no longer a matter for a shrug of the shoulders.

Worryingly, it may now be the case that blameless men are being smeared by flawed domestic violence campaigns; ideologically tainted by virtue of their gender and marital status — and this, in turn, may be leading to injustice.

Derek Kay of Families Need Fathers, for example, says even if a man is a victim of violence, he will get no sympathy from the police, who are more likely to order him, rather than his partner, to leave the home. He added that when allegations of violence were made in divorce cases, the man almost always lost out because family courts were now so biased in favour of women. "In the majority of cases, allegations of domestic violence are accepted on the women's word alone," he explains.

The law often decides the regularity with which an absent father may see his children, if at all. And if a women alleges, however falsely, that her partner is violent, she has an excellent chance of shaping such decisions as well as keeping the children, house and all the assets. If criminal proceedings follow, the man may lose his liberty too.

So who is oppressing who? Research has proved that stereotypes about aggression and gender fall far short of reality. Some men and some women are capable of incredible violence. It makes perfect sense, therefore, to campaign against all violence and for justice in general. Yet here we have the Churches on the one hand upholding the family, while on the other apparently supporting moves to demonise men, including priests, when it is clear the courts and public policy are already dangerously loaded in favour of women.

Since Breaking the Silence is supported by the sort of selective data that sustains gender prejudice, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that those behind it have signed up to some of the most crude and discredited tenets of gender feminism, an extremist creed which exalts the autonomy of adult females over and above all other values.

It must be wrong for the Churches to allow the reality of violence in the home to be hijacked to advance an agenda which is not only hostile toward men, children, the "nuclear" family and marriage but one which is also scorned and repudiated by the majority of women who love their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers.

EVEN if bishops have urged their flocks to fight violence against women, why should Church groups push something so at adds with other aspects of

Christian teaching?

The NBCW and CASC are faced with a difficult task: how to campaign for justice without creating new injustices, amid deep hurts on both sides. But it is one to which they must apply themselves assiduously if they are to maintain the Church's tradition of helping all the innocent and oppressed — rather than siding with the already powerful, privileged and unrepresentative few.




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