Erin Pizzey: That awkward moment when you open a battered women’s shelter and then get run out of the country by feminists. Oh, and some comments on explanation vs justification.

Sorry for how long this one took – Christmas interruptions (fuck baubles (I should probably stop saying that soon)), as well as a lot of reading. On with the show!

Erin Pizzey has not had a terribly easy life. I won’t be covering a complete history here, but it’s not too hard to find. Links will be provided below for a more complete picture. One of her main achievements is having started one of the first domestic violence shelters.

She grew up in what I guess would be called a dysfunctional home. Both her mother and father were abusive, which did impact on the children. According to her, her mother hated her, which at least meant she always knew where she stood.

Her history with feminism is somewhat checkered. Her original contact with it was based on a desire to interact with other women, but she was somewhat disquieted by the messages being sold by the group she came in contact with. It all came to a head when she threatened to (and did) contact the police about a plan to bomb the retail store Biba. This chain of events led to her leaving/being forced out of the movement, and then starting the shelter.

She started the shelter in an empty home; legally, they were squatting (at least as far as I can tell – I can’t seem to find the full text of the Simmons v Pizzey (1979) case). But the house was there, the house was not being used, and there was a group of people who needed a house. Sensible, if not strictly legal, reasoning prevailed. She was regularly praised by parliamentarians for her pioneering work (see below for links to her mentions in the UK Hansard).

(Edit: Having read/listened to things a bit more carefully, I’m not certain this is entirely accurate.  It seems the issue was more overcrowding, though I guess by and large the point still remains with regard to practicality vs strict legality.  It was the refuges after this one, made necessary due to sheer numbers, that were squatting)

Pizzey also wrote one of the first books on domestic violence (Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear) which had for many women a profound affect (effect? You decide!) – even credited as being the inspiration for another woman starting similar programmes in Alaska (and possibly generally, but I can only remember having read that – I can’t find the source, and it’s wouldn’t be the first time I’ve conflated bits of information accidentally).

However, Pizzey made a fatal mistake – she asked questions. She asked the women coming through about their personal lives, and found that some of them, in fact most of the early ones, were violent to their partners as well. It is true that there were women who experienced violence but were not violent themselves, but there were more who were in mutually violent relationships. And she told people about it. Quelle horreur!

Note: I should here indicate that most of what I say regarding what will follow is sourced from Pizzey’s own comments on this period. I have applied for a library card which will hopefully allow me to do a search of newspapers during the period to see if they wrote about it (being from 30 or more years ago, they don’t tend to show up on a google search), but given both that there are stories of other people who made similar comments receiving similar threats, and that I have not seen an actual refutation, I feel comfortable mentioning it here.

For this, Pizzey and her family had to put up with protests if she was speaking at places, being put under police guard, receiving death threats and bomb threats, culminating in the receipt of a package which caused the police to want all her mail diverted to them to be examined.

After this, Pizzey and her husband decided to leave England for her and her families safety, heading to Sante Fe. She would here again help women trying to escape hostile homes.

Today, she is back in England, where she still advocates for solutions to domestic violence, based on proper research. It is her belief, which from what I can tell, much of the literature seems to back up, that the predominant cause of domestic violence isn’t gender (there are some, but it is not most), it is a host of factors such as substance abuse and/or personal family histories of violence. As well this, she is raising awareness of male victims, some of whom are in the same position as the non-violent battered women (the article linked to below by Maurice Vaughan has a story of his own personal experience of having a male victim; the relevant bit is summarised better below. I’m not certain of if I can quote it, as I had to pay to access it, so instead I ask that you trust that I’m not making it up).

This of course dovetails nicely into some comments on sociology, and the difference between justification and expectation explanation (noticed this mistake like 7 days after – woops!). How convenient!

Historically, the only centrally controlled way to try and change societal norms was the law and religion, which were pretty incestuous at the time for us Westerners. Why was there strict liability for controlling a fire many years ago, even if a gust of wind is what caused it to destroy property? Because they didn’t have a very efficient fire brigade, so the best hope was simply to frighten the bejesus out of people with “if that fire fucks up and burns down the street, guess who’s paying the bill? Fire responsibly.” Why were innkeepers strictly liable for the theft of possessions of their guests? Because it was unbelievably difficult to track down the thief, who likely absconded into the night, and because the innkeepers a) were the ones who could improve security, and b) could increase their fee to accommodate the costs (A Historical Introduction to the Law of Obligations, Ibbetson, D, 2002; though I’m fairly sure I’m also using some articles and or the lecturer’s comments during the course it was used in).  Naturally, this didn’t stop either, but it was the best they could do with the (by today’s standards) limited tools that they had.

For more social issues though, the law is notoriously bad at actually affecting social change, or at least its (and only its) intended social change, which can often lead to horrible consequences. For a more mild version of this, see the first post – separating a wife’s property from her husbands lead to a complete revising of the theory behind income taxation (some 40-50 years later). For a more tragic version, we can look at abortion laws. When abortion is illegal, some women may be diverted from it, but some will also simply be forced to use unsafe spaces or try to do it themselves, obviously drastically increasing the risks of permanent injury or death. Furthermore, you then have the courts acting as a Sword of Damocles over any doctors who are just trying to do their job in looking after their patients; can she get through this pregnancy? Is an abortion necessary for her own health? And the question every doctor loves to have to think about, “will the law agree, or is it going to do unpleasant things to me the writing of which would be indelicate?”

Making abortion illegal has all of these unintended consequences, and if you try to make it more subtle (ergo, add in more words and clauses and exceptions and exceptions to exceptions and exceptions to exceptions to exceptions (we need to go deeper) it also becomes more difficult to work, and the unintended consequences can become even worse. The law is a mace, not a surgeon’s scalpel.  The subtlest it tends to get is when it hits you from behind.

Furthermore, when you’re talking law, you’re talking justification. You’re talking about rights and wrongs, and how far one person’s rights should go before they become a wrong. Aspects of blame and fault and innocence are a necessary aspect permeating laws. You can’t really step back from that; after all, if you’re using the law the result is going to be usually either forking over money (if civil) or some form of “punishment” or mandated process (if criminal) if someone doesn’t follow it, so rights are and have to be fundamental to any revision.

But this comes at the expense of simply an explanation. If a fight happens, the law wants to know who started it, who used what force, did they need to use that for their own defence, and so on and so forth. It may ask why it happened, but that’s just so they know if one of them is provoked or something. It doesn’t care about the why for itself, just in so far as it helps with their judgment of fault; in so far as it impacts on the justification.

So now we come to the difference between explanation and justification. Explanation is simply why something happens. Nothing more, nothing less. Just finding out why. Justification is about whether it is right. It wants someone who has performed a prima facie wrong to make it a just thing to do. Lets look at three examples within the context of one situation: someone hitting someone else. The person who did the hitting is asked about why afterwards.

Answer A: I hit him because of the sound of the number purple.

Answer B: I hit him because he looked at me funny.

Answer C: I hit him because he was beating up his wife and I knew I could stop it.

Answer A is neither a justification nor an explanation. It simply doesn’t make sense; the reason provides us with no understanding of why the event happened. It is repugnant to our sense of reason.

Answer B is an explanation but not a justification. Whereas the first one would leave us looking at the person bewildered, this one would have us facepalming. Yes, we can see that someone might hit someone in that context (it explains the event) but it does not justify it. That said, in knowing the reason why, on top of whatever punishment goes along with it, maybe we should also get the person into anger management.

Answer C is both an explanation and a justification. We can see that someone in such a situation would likely hit someone else, and we can also see that it is right that it be done. Unless the person used excessive force, we wouldn’t punish the person, and we wouldn’t think the person needs some form of counselling.

Author’s Note: whilst I’ve made it gender neutral now I wanted to mention something interesting that happened while writing this. Despite using “person” and not specifying the gender in the scenarios for the subject, in the extended comments on B and C, I immediately jumped to using male pronouns for the person; furthermore, in Answer A, I did not stipulate genders. But sexism against men totally doesn’t exist, amiright? No preconceived notions at all. Certainly not in that third scenario.

A justification always builds off of an explanation, but an explanation does not always lead to a justification. The laws questions need to be asked – we need to know who should bear responsibility. But they are not the only important questions. Now we come to sociology.

Sociology doesn’t care about justifications. In fact, a sign of a bad sociologist is one who cannot separate themselves from their own ethical judgments (sufficiently). It only cares about the why. It sought to fill in a gap – the law and those who wrote it would often just use their own understandings of incidents, or just make one up, and then base the system of it. Sociology said no, we don’t actually know this, but we now have the methods and the technology to find out, or at the very least make our knowledge better.

In other words, sociology is just about the explanation. Why do people behave in the way they do? What causes them to behave in that way? How do those systems and behaviours arise?

Let’s have a look at a particular (and not entirely unbiased (but that is for another time (can you tell I like parentheses?))) situation of this. A stronger male and weaker female, who are both aggressive. I’m willing to bet that no matter how much counselling you give a guy, if he goes back to a relationship where he is being hit, or some other form of domestic abuse is occuring, and the counselling he’s received hasn’t been based on this type of a situation, he’ll probably fall back into old behaviours eventually. Again, this isn’t to say that it is right, it’s just saying that it is. Would you rather sit back moralising about who is to blame or actually get the shit to stop? If the latter, then, upon the assumption that the man’s behaviour is (non-ethically and/or legally) influenced by the woman’s actions and her own anger management, then they both should get some help. To reiterate, the man was still at fault, and the woman is by and large innocent (in this particular scenario, and assuming the man is not similarly injured by her (or injured at all I should say)), but in order to get the violence to stop, they both need some help. This is true even if the two people separate – you still don’t want them to end up in other relationships doing the same thing.

There are few things which frustrate me more than society’s incessant refusal to look beyond the ethical judgment and realise it needs to behave otherwise if it wants the situation to get better. This stupidity is all the worse when it is applied to inherently private situations, cause guess what? All it does is make the situation worse. Now, the person also needs to make sure they aren’t found out, which I’m willing to bet pretty much always makes things worse. But hey, at least we all get to feel good about ourselves in the mean time.

It becomes even worse when we begin criticising positing a fact and/or argument grounded in at least some research, not on the ground that the fact or argument is wrong, but because they “might hurt someone” or are “problematic”, or might make someone feel like they are being judged, or can’t come forward. These arguments have no place here. If these are problems, then the appropriate response is not to criticise raising the point at all, it is to work to get people to understand that they need to stop with the moralising bullshit and let society just try and understand the problem, so we can work on making everything better. Hiding the truth, or making it impossible to discuss, simply makes things worse.

Some Research on or related to Domestic Violence:

Domestic Violence, Gender, and Counselling: Toward a More Gender-Inclusive Understanding by Nathan Beel (2013)

Well worth a read, but some quotes nonetheless:

“If Johnson (2011) is correct that males are over-represented as intimate terrorists, it begs the question why domestic violence is framed as gendered violence without qualifiers in spite of his admission that intimate terrorism ‘probably represents a small part of all the violence that takes place between partners in intimate relationships’ (p. 290). This is in contrast to situational couple violence, which is ‘by far the most common form of couple violence, and… is roughly gender-symmetric in terms of perpetration’ (Johnson, 2011, p. 290). Framing the entire issue based on the exceptions is misleading.”

And the one which caused me to have to leave the computer for a few minutes:

“She stabbed me with a knife, and I didn’t even defend myself, and after I got out of the hospital two weeks later, the court tells me to go to a group they say is for victims. It turns out to be for batterers and I am expected to admit to being an abuser and talk about what I did to deserve getting stabbed” (Hines, et al., 2007)

Sex Differences in Aggression Between Heterosexual Partners: A Meta-Analytic Review by John Archer (2000)

Rethinking Domestic Violence by Dr. Donald Dutton (a book)

Dr Donald Dutton’s Website

Dutton, D.G. & Corvo, K. (2006) Transforming a Flawed Policy: A call to revive psychology and science in domestic violence research and practice.  Aggression and Violent Behavior, 11(5), 457-483 [Full Text Version]

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s Wikipedia page, for a summary of his works relating to violence and army training; interesting as it relates to male violence.

Critiques: Erin Pizzey and the Forbidden Narratives About Domestic Violence by Maurice Vaughan

Mainly just for a story from the Author of his response to a male victim who was a client of his; didn’t feel it was urgent, didn’t go through all the resources and legal rights available; accepted the man when he said it was under control. Also was the link through to most of the other articles.

Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence in Australia by the AIC

News/commentary on some research:

How Common is Female Domestic Violence Against Men?

Research Findings on Domestic Abuse Offenders Revealed – Hampshire Constabulary Domestic Abuse Project Reduces Reoffending

Sources about Erin Pizzey’s life:

A Fighter in Exile by Brian Deer 1986

Domestic Violence Can’t Be a Gender Issue by Dina Rabinovitch

When Andrew Marr Accused Me of Being a Terrorist it was like a Bomb Going Off in my Chest by Antonia Hoyle

Our Male Victimizing Myths Live On by Barbara Kay

Children Who Witness Abuse ‘More Likely’ to Suffer as Adults

Meet Alaska’s Pioneer Woman

My Interview with Erin Pizzey at JudgyBitch

On Domestic Violence No One Wants to Hear the Truth

Meet Erin Pizzey: Founder of the First Domestic Violence Shelter at AboveTopSecret

Erin Pizzey’s Website(s):

“Revelations with Erin Pizzey”

Some Pieces by Erin Pizzey

Why I Loathe Feminism… and Believe it will Ultimately Destroy the Family

The Situation for Womens Refuges is Desperate but We Need to Start Admitting Men Too

To Say Emotional Abuse is as Bad as Violence Insults Every Battered Wife

Note: Whilst I personally don’t agree that in fact it is not worse, I do think we have to think about the issues with bringing the law into this. Private matters have always been the scourge of our legal system, so whether it can even fairly deal with these types of cases in any way which preserves justice is a real question. Other methods which don’t come with so much historical and technical baggage may provide better and more manageable solutions in practice.

Some Pieces which Quote Erin Pizzey
David Cameron Criticised After Attacking ‘Runaway Dads’ by the BBC

Pioneering Domestic Violence Advocate Who Refused to Discriminate Leaves Lasting Legacy by PR Newswire

Why do Men Find it so Hard to Admit They are Being Abused by Their Partners by The Independent

Erin Pizzey in the Hansard:

Battered Wives July 1973

Battered Wives and Children July 1974

Battered Wives Right to Possession July 1975

Domestic Violence Bill February 1976

Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech November 1976

Disruptive Children and Young Persons June 1977

Voluntary Organisations Wolfenden Report January 1978

The Family May 1978

Violence in the Family June 1978

Active Citizenship May 1989

Women’s Refugees March 1992

Domestic Violence July 1993

Women’s Refugees July 1995

Family Law Bill Lords March 1996

Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Bill December 2003

Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Bill June 2004

Elder Abuse July 2004

Changing Attitudes within the English Parliament:

Some comments in 1996

Some comments in 2014


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