Bill’s not ok

Bill Ralston has written the most reactionary load of nonsense I’ve seen outside the men’s rights movement, the Republic of New Zealand Party, or a Bob Jones newspaper column in a long time.


His primary thesis?  That women, well young women at least, are as violent as men, so domestic violence campaigns targetting men do not work.

The last government’s strategy was to place the burden of responsibility for domestic violence always on men. To suggest otherwise was heresy, so the bureaucrats produced advertising campaigns solely targeted at stopping men being violent towards women.

Sadly, domestic violence continues unabated. This may well be because the government doctrine of “Blame the Bloke” ignores some very real scientific research that questions the conventional thinking on the issue.

Bill bases his thinking on the research of David Fergusson, who used a tool called the Conflict Tactics Scale to measure reported rates of violence by young people in his study. 

Russell Brown has produced a fine blog critiquing Bill’s column to which I have a few things to add.

Firstly, as Russell points out, David Fergusson acknowledge his findings do not fit with Police, Child Youth and Family or Women’s Refuge data about who commits domestic violence.

This could be because the Conflict Tactics Scale has a number of shortcomings.  The first version had to be revised, because it missed out sexual violence – quite a source of conflict, as it happens, but perhaps one it is easy to overlook if you are designing a tool with specific outcomes in mind.

Now revised, it measures how many times particular types of conflict happen.  So I punch you, knocking out your tooth.  You push me away.

We score one each in the Conflict Tactics Scale.

Or what about the fact it is solely self-reporting?  Any issues with that?  Do we think violent people typically like acknowledging how violent they are?

Secondly, David Fergusson is a controversial researcher who tells us he has women’s best interests at heart while he presents research into the negative consequences to mental health of abortion.  The problem with this?  The same with the Conflict Tactics Scale really – no context.  We don’t know why women might find abortion a difficult choice – it could be anything from personal beliefs to judgmental medical practitioners to religious parents.  Or it could be that abortion is inherently wrong and must be stopped.

What about the mental health consequences of unwanted pregnancy?  I don’t think Dr Fergusson got around to that, sadly.

Thirdly though, I take issue with Bill’s conclusions:

The truth is, both sexes can be bad and trying to attribute blame to just one sex is senseless and futile.

If the huge budget currently being spent on targeting violent males and trying to convince them to change their nasty ways was, instead, used to treat the real cause – social disadvantage, deprivation and mental illness – we might start seeing some results. The cost to taxpayers from domestic violence might reduce.

I did wonder, reading this, how Bill was quite so sure of his facts.  Years spent working with domestic violence perhaps?  Because I’ve been working with victims of male violence for two decades, and the men hurting the women I have seen were not all non-white, poor, or mad.

Which is what his “real causes” list above seems to imply.  Off the top of my head, women I’ve seen have been abused by sane lawyers, social activists, musicians, professional sportsmen, police officers, judges, accountants, doctors, dentists – white, black, brown and asian.

No, I would suggest the real reasons we have appalling rates of domestic violence in New Zealand relate to loneliness and depression, isolation and an inability to talk about emotions articulately.  Oh, and a large dose of violence working for the person using it. 


The final nail in the coffin of New Zealand’s domestic violence problem is, of course, the fact we find it so hard to acknowledge there is a problem in the first place.  Thanks to the “smug” men of the “It’s Not OK” campaign – I value your solidarity with women and children, and men, hurt by domestic violence.

Bill Ralston describes treating domestic violence as a gendered issue as “the conventional approach.”  Where has he been?  There was no such thing as domestic violence until 1982, when the Domestic Protection Act introduced penalties for assaulting someone you were in a relationship with.  That’s just 27 years ago Bill – before that, Police literally used to turn the other way, because there was no crime taking place.

So did the magical feminist consensus arrive in 1982?  Or, did, perhaps the generations of social convention which preceded that date take a little while to work their way out of people’s minds?  Ideas like it being impossible for a man to rape his wife, because once married a woman had consented to being available for sex at anytime. 

The “conventional approach” to domestic violence is to minimise the problem and blame women for it happening at all.  Not so dissimilar to Bill’s column, in fact, which ignores the statistics of domestic violence:

 45 women killed by their partner or ex-partner between 2000 and 2004.  3 men killed by their partner or ex-partner.

91% of people who apply for protection orders are women.

Seems to me the “It’s Not OK” campaign is only likely to be a failure if we keep up our denial of the problem ala Bill Ralston.

7 thoughts on “Bill’s not ok

  1. I understand you are upset with women also being targeted as responsible in domestic violence.

    But this is not all one sided.

    How many of the partners did you follow up in your decades of work? How many of them had been abused themselves?

    How many of the women were abusive also? And don’t even think to tell me the women didn’t try to tell you. I too have been around this scene for decades.

    Women are getting more and more violent. You have teenagers now to consider. You have pre school children now to consider. In schools; male hurts female = is suspension. Female hurts male = is nothing. What sort of a message are you sending out there to our young.

    On train stations girls brag about the males they knife. And no-one says a word.

    All that matters still is violence on women. We don’t even have a law to care for men that are harmed by women.

    How do you propose to stop DV altogether if you only care about one gender?

  2. Thanks for the comment Julie, I know it’s hard to engage with the “opposite” side of a debate as polarised as domestic violence and gender.

    Firstly, I do not, and never have, cared about only one gender. I have worked extensively with boys and young men who have been victims of (mostly male) violence – some of the work I feel most fulfilled by is helping boys and young men find ways to express themselves which are not violent.

    I have never really understood why that is thrown at people who point out the overwhelming evidence that violence – in the home, in the streets, at sports matches – is predominantly perpetrated by men. Most of us are anti-violence full stop.

    Secondly, it’s not true there are no laws for men who are harmed by women. The majority of our laws regarding violence are non-gender specific. Common assault (domestic); grievous bodily harm; serious assault; and protection orders themselves are all laws any victim can use against any offender.

    It is only “Male Assaults Female” which identifies men as perpetrators. 87% of the MAFs are domestic violence related – 6,357 cases in 2005.

    I don’t like the idea of kids who hit other kids being suspended whether they are girls or boys. They are learning that violence somewhere, and odds on it’s at home – those kids need help, and as you say, a consistent message that using violence to get what you want is not ok.

    Finally – of course women are violent too. In fact, I’m glad this is the case, because if it wasn’t, we would have to accept that men’s violence was “natural” – so we would always be stuck with it. The fact that most men don’t use violence, and some women do, tells us that using violence is a social process, a choice that we can change. I’ve worked with plenty of violent women, and I’ve said the same thing to them as I have to violent men – until you acknowledge the problem and find other ways of communicating, your violence will not stop.

    We do violent men no favours when we pretend gender isn’t important to violence.

    It’s because I believe men can choose to be non-violent that I do this work.

  3. I hope you don’t mind discussing this further with me. I do apologise for “starting on the wrong foot”, so to say.

    I think it is wonderful you work on male on male violence.

    Where do you work in the community? How do you work in the community?

    I just ask to get a better picture.

    • Hey, no apology needed as far as I’m concerned 🙂
      I’ve worked in Refuges, rape crisis centres, crisis and emergency housing for homeless people, safe housing for women exiting prostitution, supported housing for men and women with learning difficulties and mental health problems, women’s centres. Some of this has been paid, some voluntary, often both. Nowadays I volunteer at a Refuge which works closely with the local stopping violence services which works with violent men.

      I also do or have done research with women about violence in all kinds of ways.

  4. Wow, you have been busy. And you are still sane. Wonderful. (had to use the smiley)

    We both seem to acknowledge the law against domestic violence is non gender biased. But…
    when a woman assaults a man she is give the option of a “diversion” while a man is automatically in the system.

    It is not a healthy message to give to men. And it doesn’t encourage them to speak up about violence. They just see themselves as disposable while women are privileged.

    Regarding male on male violence I think it is all good to work on it but I think keeping it silent is not helping society or our young men.

    Young men are extremely reluctant to accuse another male of assault. Especially the way the law works. Most don’t go to prison so the next day the perpetrator is at your door wanting revenge and usually he doesn’t come alone but with an audience for his ego. And young ones only get a smack across the hand in youth court.

    I think acknowledging males are more violent to show this as a serious problem is all good. But we are not showing males in society to even be important. We just keep telling them they are second to females with our media, awareness advertising and free programs full of support for women.

    Do you agree? Yes/No?

    I also want you to know that I spoke with the police prior to Christmas about the amount of our youth carrying knives now. They are frightened out there.

    I hear them discuss there options of defence. For women males say, “If a female comes at you with a knife, take it off her and stab yourself in the upper part of your leg”.

    They say this because of 2 reasons. One being that other men will violently abuse them for hitting a woman and … two, the police will arrest the male.

    The police are aware of the problem but they don’t have a solution.

    Do you think looking at men as the perpetrator and expecting men to be chivalrous to females under today’s conditions is good for our young men? Yes/No?

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