THE BLOG

Violence Against Women, Domestic Violence and the Problem of Gender Identity

07/02/2016 19:58 | Updated 06 February 2017

Currently the Office for National Statistics cap the number of crimes that one person can report at five. The Office insist the cap is necessary as

"otherwise the sheer number of crimes committed by perpetrators against the same individual would skew the rest of the statistics."

As research by Professor Sylvia Walby evidences, there is only one crime that would be impacted by lifting the cap: domestic violence. Lifting the cap would make the ubiquity of domestic violence and the consistent failure of successive governments and police forces to deal with the issue clear. It would have long-term consequences on financing of policing, housing, and healthcare and would make women's secondary status in political life obvious. The cap disproportionately impacts women who experience the vast majority of domestic violence and erases the sex of the perpetrator: who are overwhelmingly male. The decision to create a cap was not to make it easier for statisticians, but a clear policy of eliding the reality of all forms of violence against women and girls from public awareness.

The cap also functions to inflate the number of men who experience domestic violence making the 1 in 6 men statistic a misnomer. It also includes incidences of retaliatory violence, aka self-defence, where a woman lashes out at the male partner who is physically harming her causing injury to his person, such as a woman scratching a man whilst he attempts to strangle her. The victim, therefore, becomes a perpetrator of domestic violence. In this case, the man's one experience (caused by a woman defending herself which should not included in statistics) is given more credence than a woman who may have experienced 365 separate incidents of which only 5 count in official statistics. Conflating retaliatory violence with the pattern of coercive control that is domestic violence harms women as a class and makes it more difficult to campaign for specialist services for women. The cap makes domestic violence look 'gender-neutral'.

Removing the cap is essential to change public perceptions of domestic violence, however domestic violence does not equal violence against women and girls. It is one part of the continuum that also includes rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, FGM, forced marriage, crimes in the name of 'honour', trafficking and so-called 'austerity measures'. Denying women physical and emotional safety whilst financially penalising them for being born female are acts of state sanctioned violence in and of themselves and make women more vulnerable to other forms of male violence. Austerity measures form the conducive context of male violence.

When the media conflates the continuum of violence against women and girls with one form and uses gender neutral language, it puts all women's services at risk. Currently, the national organisation Rape Crisis England/ Wales has no guaranteed funding after March. Specialist services for Black, Minority and Ethnic women are being decimated. Cuts to ESOL and racist migration policies put women at greater risk because of state-enforced dependence on violent spouses to remain in the UK with their children.

The women's services that aren't closing due to lack of funding, like Eaves, are being replaced by 'neutral' services. Local authorities are increasingly giving funding for refuges to homeless services that do not recognise the gendered reality of domestic violence. In at least one recent case, a woman fleeing an abusive male partner found herself housed in the same homeless facility as the male perpetrator. There have been reported cases of men claiming to be victims of domestic violence solely to be housed in the same facility as their former partner, as well as men claiming to be transwomen to access vulnerable women. None of these are aberrations. They are a direct consequence of the failure to recognise and differentiate between the hierarchical power relations of the social construction of gender and the material reality of sexed (and racialised) bodies.

Women cannot identify out of the biological reality of their body. Pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause exist. Women do the majority of caring because our culture links having a uterus to doing this unrecognised and unpaid labour. Our culture assumes men's inalienable rights of sexual access to women's bodies and their control over (re)productive labour. The judicial system - family, civil and criminal - still view women and children as the possessions of men.

Ignoring the hierarchical social construction of gender makes it easier for local authorities to defund specialist women's services. After all, if anyone can self-identify as male or female, the sex of the perpetrator and of the victims becomes irrelevant. Claiming to be non-binary, however, will not suddenly erase the inequalities in pay predicated on sex (or race or class). Women who do not conform to the gendered identity coercively assigned them at birth have always existed and are always punished - from the 'witch' trials to the corrective rape of lesbian women. This is not a new phenomenon and queer theory is responsible for erasing the history of women's oppression by men. Obviously, this oppression is contextualised by historical location and cultural practice, as well as race, disability, sexuality and class, but the premise remains the same: women are treated as objects and possessions of men who believe they are entitled to control and harm women.

We will not end violence against women and girls by using gender- neutral language or by conflating one form of violence with the entire continuum. Language is powerful. We need to be clear about the sex of perpetrators of violence and of victims and we need to recognise the coercive nature of gendered identity which erases much of the violence experienced by women and girls.