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Anne Else: It Sounds Better If You Call It IPV

Letter from Elsewhere with Anne Else

It Sounds Much Better If You Call It IPV

I put my winter woollies away last week, so I should have known that trouble was bound to follow. By Friday, the weather and the news had both turned nasty.

We’re much more impressed by sudden disasters than by everyday common or garden misery. The media can’t portray stuff that goes on and on for years, like caring for a disabled child. Nor can it show stuff that just keeps happening, day after day, all over the country, like the socalled road toll, or violence against women. It’s just not news, is it?

So I wasn’t very surprised when the finding (by the largest study of violence against women ever undertaken in New Zealand) that one in three New Zealand women have experienced “intimate partner violence”, otherwise known as IPV, made only a brief ripple in the media. But I was taken aback by the despair I felt when I heard the reports.

I’m one of the lucky two out of three women who have never experienced violence, sexual or otherwise, from a male partner. But I know too many other women who have experienced it to believe that it could never have happened to me, or that they were somehow responsible for it happening to them.

This latest study, the largest ever undertaken in New Zealand, is part of a 10-country study for the World Health Organisation on violence against women. Its findings are consistent with past surveys. What’s new is the comparison with similar countries – New Zealand rates worse than the USA or Australia – and the association between past episodes of intimate partner violence (even just one) and current ill-health effects.

Let’s spell out what the results mean. One out of three is a lot of women. While there may be a small group of female partners involved, women are suffering this “intimate partner violence” overwhelmingly at the hands of men – and a very large proportion of men. A fair estimate would be that at least one in four men have at some point been violent to their female partners.

Yet the Ministry of Health responded to the study by saying it “serves as a reminder that family violence continues to be a major health issue within New Zealand”. It went on to talk about its Family Violence Prevention Strategy and the importance of reducing interpersonal violence. Not once did it refer to men, or even to women – though there were a few clues, like the fact that the first consequence of “partner violence” it noted was “low birth weight babies”.

Having a look at what Scoop has posted in the past about this issue, I went to the very first site listed for “domestic violence”, www.endabuse.com. It went straight to great stuff for fathers, giving them advice on teaching their boys about non-violent behaviour and how to relate to girls and women, and inviting them to join an organisation for fathers who want to help end abuse against women. But it’s an American site.

I’m sure everything that’s already being done here is helpful and worthwhile. But the strange reluctance to mention the “m” word feels a bit like trying to prevent “drink driving” without mentioning alcohol.

The majority of men are never violent. As long as there’s a careful avoidance of the facts about the others, it will be impossible to get them to take a strong, consistent, public and private stand against what their fathers, sons, brothers and mates are doing.

And until that happens, nothing will change. Because it should be obvious by now that women can’t stop the violence coming from the men they are close to. Only men can do that.

**********

- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service

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