Media Take: Domestic Violence

Media Take

This week I was asked to appear on the Maori TV show Media Take hosted by Russell Brown and Toi Iti,to discuss my Domestic Violence Comment piece in the New Zealand Herald.

Media Take aims to enlighten the audience about the politics of decision making in the media, and the motivations which can determine why some important issues are ignored or only given a small amount of coverage.

To view the show on demand click here for the whole episode…

And to view the online only question and answer session click here…


Better than this

This piece appeared as a guest post, as part of the week long focus on Domestic Violence in the New Zealand Herald.  Click here for the original article…

There’s a sad fact about violence in this country: how safe you are is determined the second you are conceived. Your gender is the single biggest predictor of your lifelong risk of physical assault, childhood sexual assault, adult rape and intimate partner violence.

Privilege is invisible to me most of the time, as a Pakeha middle aged professional man who lives in a nice part of town. I’ve never been yelled at in the street, or abused because of how I look. I feel safe walking the streets at night, and I’ve never had to wonder if my partners over the years were going to assault me when they got angry.

These are things I take for granted, but they are an accident of birth. They are largely because of my gender.

Women are not afforded the same luxury of security. Given the shocking and terrifying statistics reported elsewhere this week, the most rational choice is for women to treat all men as dangerous.

To treat all men as a threat, and all men as abusers.

Confronting? Yes, but also true. In 2014 a social media campaign #yessallwomen started in response to the #notallmen campaign. In the latter, men attempted to distance themselves from conversations about violence, sexism and patriarchy by using the logic: “Yes, but not all men are like that.”

“#Yesallwomen” set about helping women report and discuss examples of everyday sexism, and frankly it makes for terrifying reading. Everyday sexism is the sharp end of the wedge. As a man, it highlights all the small ways it’s important to challenge this behaviour when we see it.

It’s the times when men use “woman/ girl/ bitch” (or female body parts) as an insult; talk disrespectfully about their wives or partners to their mates; stand by while someone we know yells at their partner in public; watch as someone gets gropey with a woman at a club who clearly isn’t into it; make degrading or sexual comments to a woman as she walks by.
As men, when we behave like this — or stand by while our friends, workmates, teammates behave like that — we are the problem. Everyday sexism is the expression of the beliefs and attitudes that allow and perpetuate the levels of domestic violence we see in our communities.

Domestic violence is a male problem, and women are the victims.

By far the most frustrating #notallmen responses that get thrown back at people pointing all this out is “yes but women assault men too.” It’s as if, in a magical leap of logic, all arguments about male responsibility for violence dissolve into a puddle of male tears. It’s like arguing that we shouldn’t focus on drink driving because sober drivers have accidents too.

For every man that is assaulted, three women are. And those are just the reported cases. It’s estimated that around 76{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87} of domestic violence incidents are not reported to police.And that’s not including sexual violence, which is recorded separately. No one denies men are also the victims of violence, it’s just that a massively higher number of women are seriously assaulted, and some killed, by men.

These statistics are so important, and so hard to take in. This is because denial, whether at the individual or cultural level, is the enemy. The opposite – accountability and taking responsibility – is the answer.

So however uncomfortable: #yesallmen. It is up to us to change the way we think about the way society minimises and ignores domestic violence and sexual violence. How we, as men, allow for uncomfortable conversations about sex, power, consent, relationships. To understand how frightening men can be.

We have to choose to listen to women, be prepared to be wrong, not defend our own egos and keep listening.

And we have to accept that this is the work of all men.


Take a stand – NZ is #BetterThanThis

New Zealand has the worst rate of family violence in the developed world. One in three women will be subjected to physical or sexual violence from a partner at some point in their lives.

Take a stand. Change your social media profile picture to demand that we are better than this. Right-click on this image below (or press and hold on your mobile device) to save, then upload to your social profiles. Or you can download the image here.
– NZ Herald

Sex and your brain


I figure people will want to read this blog just because I put the word sex in the title, and that’s the thing about humans, we respond to sex and also can’t help but divide the world into male and female, even though recent research suggests when it comes to our brains there is no such thing as a male or female brain.  Mark Sainsbury and I talked about this on his Radio Live Sunday show this week.  (Click here to listen to the interview)

Anyone who has done any papers in psychology, or even biology, or if you’ve ever read books like “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” will know that for a long time people have talked about the fact that not only are men and women different, but that a number of these differences are “hard wired”.  Reading maps is easier for men, women are better at empathy and making sense of emotions, girls struggle with maths and science… we all know the stereotypes.

However a new study has thrown light on the fact that these differences are not hard wired into our brains, and actually we are much more alike than we are different.

“[Daphna Joel at Tel Aviv University] and her colleagues looked for differences in brain scans taken from 1400 people aged between 13 and 85. The team looked for variations in the size of brain regions as well as the connections between them. In total, the group identified 29 brain regions that generally seem to be different sizes in self-identified males and females. These include the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, and the inferior frontal gyrus, which is thought to play a role in risk aversion.

When the group looked at each individual brain scan, however, they found that very few people had all of the brain features they might be expected to have, based on their sex. Across the sample, between 0 and 8 per cent of people had “all-male” or “all-female” brains, depending on the definition. “Most people are in the middle,” says Joel.”  (Click here for the whole article)

So what does this mean? Well all our brains are a mix of skills and abilities, just like us, and labeling certain abilities as either “male” or “female” not only does both genders a dis-service, but is also wrong.

When we average the results, their are some clear differences.  But when we take any one individual over 90{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87} of people have a brain that is neither identifiable as male or female.

In my view this research is really helpful, because the shadow side of hard wired differences, is sexism and people do use these cliched differences to debase one gender based on a perceived inferiority, and excuse it as “biology” or hard wired, unchangeable, differences.

Ultimately if these differences are not hard wired, then it makes clear that our societies expectations and our own assumptions  are ultimately the cause of any differences in abilities we may see between people based on their gender.

We are all different, but ultimately when it comes to men and women, at least our brains are more alike than we previously thought.

Men and women are from Earth

Gender differences

I never much liked John Gray’s now famous book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”.  I understand that it has been helpful to many, in the way it enables people to accept and work with differences.  I’m also sure it has helped many people’s relationships.  But I’ve always felt it’s core premise  is an insult to both genders.  It’s just too easy to opt out of critical thinking and say “all woman/ men are like that, it’s their biology/ genes/ brain”.  And too often this deterministic stance is utilized to justify discrimination, whether it be the emotionality of women, or the insensitivity of men.

Mark Sainsbury and I talked this week about some fascinating new research that shows that in fact gender differences may be much more “nurture” than anyone previously thought.  (Click here for audio of the interview)

One thing everyone can agree on, is there are differences, and these differences do tend to reflect some of the more traditional ideas about men and women.  Some very recent brain scan research have shown clear “wiring” differences and these neuronal patterns line up with well known skill differences, for example women on average are better at encoding memories, have better social skills and the old cliche: better at multi-tasking.

Nature based theories however have tended to just accept these differences, and in so doing reinforce gender stereotypes.  The unfortunate end point of this thinking was recently shown in this story from the UK:

“The drive to push more girls into traditionally male-dominated subjects such as engineering, physics and computing should be scrapped, said Dr Gijsbert Stoet, a reader in psychology at Glasgow University… …He said the nation probably needed to “give up on the idea that we will get many female engineers or male nurses”. (Click here for the whole article)

However a recent, very well designed study, suggest that Dr. Stoet might be wrong and that a larger proportion of the differences in cognitive abilities between the genders is down to nurture…

“As countries improved in RDI terms,[“Regional Development Index” an economic measure developed for this research]  the cognitive performance of the whole population was raised. Northern Europe rated highest across all age groups, followed by central and southern Europe. Unexpectedly, the study found that the better developed a country, the higher the rate of increase in women’s cognitive abilities… …Quite why women benefit disproportionately from societal improvements is not known… …Whatever the reason, this study indicates that cognitive differences between men and women are not solely inherited. It suggests that, to a degree hitherto unacknowledged, they are learned from the roles a society expects males and females to perform, and that those differences can change as society changes.” (Click here for the whole article)

In essence, when we have more equality, better education and more resources, women “catch up” to men and a large chunk of gender differences disappear.  Men and women may be different, but the more we can understand how these differences are created out of our cultural judgements and prejudices, the better off we will all be.  For example the ” #likeagirl” video that went viral recently might not be research, in fact it’s a very well crafted advertising campaign, but I reckon this video says all that needs to be said about how gender stereotypes can (and should) be smashed..



HELP needs our help (again.)

The following is from the online petition which can be found by clicking here.  If you already signed it 12 months ago please read the update and circulate to your networks.  HELP need our help…


Petitioning Prime Minister:
New Zealand Government: Stop the closure of Auckland’s 24/7 sexual violence crisis service

Petition by:
Kirsty McCully and the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Centre

UPDATE: Prime Minister John Key has just done a devastating backflip.

It is with deep sadness and anger that I write to let you know Auckland’s 24 hour rape crisis line is under threat of closure –less than 12 months since 7,000 of you signed my petition that forced PM Key to promise its survival.

Please sign and share this petition to help save the essential service. And keep PM Key to his promise!

Auckland Sexual Abuse Help is the 24 hour crisis service for those who report rape or sexual violence in Auckland. Unless the NZ government does something urgently to provide proper funding to keep this service operating, it will close in January – less than a month from now, after 30 years providing professional counselling and support to rape and sexual violence survivors. Members of the public can make the government hear how important this service is by letting the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice know they need to take responsibility for keeping this crucial service open, and funding it properly.

Save the 24 hour crisis line – speak up in support of Help for sexual violence survivors.

Send a message about why signed the petition directly to John Key on facebook here:

And join the Facebook group to help stop the closure!/groups/300554253318529/

Services for sexual assault and rape victims under threat

Monday, 19 November 2012, 6:16 pm
Press Release: Help
Emergency services for sexual assault and rape victims will have to be drastically cut following National Government funding decision

“We have no choice but to cut essential services for victims of rape and sexual abuse despite an earlier government promise to maintain adequate and sustainable funding for the services” said HELP spokesperson, Aimee Stockenstroom. HELP, Auckland specialist sexual abuse agency, is today beginning the reluctant process of restructuring that will result in decreased services.

Crisis Service Manager Aimee Stockenstroom said “Despite working intensely with a range of government departments right up to the last minute and requests to meet with Minister Paula Bennett, we have not obtained sufficient funding to keep the 24 hour telephone crisis line operating. With only one month’s funding left, we have been forced to begin a process of cuts and redundancies throughout the organisation.”

Last year in December the service was under threat of closure. After an overwhelming response from the public in support of HELP the government made a commitment to a cross government process to ensure that the crisis services would be sustainably funded.

Ms. Stockenstroom said that she is surprised by this lack of response from the government because they have repeatedly told the public that they will retain front line staff and have a focus on helping victims of crime. “Surely victims of rape and sexual abuse require specialised front line crisis and therapy services. Without this, sexual violence can cause long term mental health problems, costing the country billions of dollars. We only need $144,000. It’s not much to support thousands of traumatised women, children and families” she said.

Ironically, HELP has just celebrated 30 years of specialist service provision to sexually abused and raped women and children in Auckland. “We were set up because police and doctors recognised that rape and sexual abuse victims require specialist help. Non-specialists, no matter how well meaning, can inadvertently cause harm to traumatised victims and make it more difficult for police, justice and medical professionals to carry out their work in relation to the crime that has been committed.” says Aimee Stockenstroom “HELP is committed to continuing to provide this specialist support in some form, to victims, their families and the professionals who work with them.”


System failure

I was always taught not to raise the topics of politics, sex or money unless you wanted to start an argument.  Todays policy announcement about free long term contraceptives for beneficiaries from National raises all three.

But why are people so concerned?  John Key seems keen to reassure us it is all optional:

“Mr Key said he did not believe Work and Income case managers would put undue pressure on beneficiaries to take up the long-term contraceptive options, saying they would simply be made aware of the options they had.”

I think the question we need to ask is what can happen when people who have been disempowered, victimized by trauma, and suffering mental health difficulties engage with these policies in the real world?

Firstly I agree with Mr Shearer, quoted in the same article, that it is inappropriate for non-health professionals to be discussing health matters such as contraceptive choices with women or teenage girls in their role as a case manager.

With all due respect to WINZ case mangers, this is a health decision, and best left to the people who are actually trained and registered to help people make such a decision, namely doctors and health specialists.  And given recent events do I even need to point out the potential privacy issues?

Secondly policies are implemented by people.  And therein lies the core of the problem.  I have heard too many horror stories of how people with complex histories and difficulties can be mis-treated and outright abused by “systems.”

This is what therapists would call “enactments” where people with a history of being abused and mistreated find themselves being further bullied or mistreated by systems, be it WINZ, the ACC, CYFS or the health system.  John Key’s “belief” that this won’t happen does very  little to reassure me on this point.

People with little power, few skills, and a BIG incentive to be “compliant”,(namely their only source of income) can easily be gently coerced or outright forced into decisions they feel uncomfortable about.  The idea that even one woman could find herself in a position of having to accept a health procedure, which comes with considerable risks and side effects to keep their income, deeply troubles me.

Think about this for a moment.  Imagine an eighteen year old woman who is single, unemployed and is actively trying to get pregnant. Her morally conservative and enthusiastic WINZ case manager attempts to convince her to access free long term contraception.  She refuses this offer which results in conflict between her and her case manager and she comes to be seen by staff as “problematic” and “difficult.”

As a result this young person, anxious and frightened of the “system” starts to receive less entitlements and poor service.  She becomes pregnant and as a result receives disapproving comments, snide remarks and less offers of help and support to which she is entitled.  Believing she is unable to complain she simply tolerates it as “more of the same” from a world she has already learnt to mis-trust.  She becomes less and less willing to engage with services that may be able to help her, and her quality of life deteriorates.

Far fetched?  I don’t think so.  And while you may have a moral position on her decision, she has broken no laws and is entitled to the choice she has made.  And as soon as the state starts to have influence over maters of reproductive choices, we are on very, very dangerous ethical and moral ground.

National would not hesitate when in opposition to yell “nanny state” when Labour announced social policy they disagreed with.  But given the choice I’d rather have a nanny state than a strict and disapproving “daddy” state any day.

Feminist sympathiser?

I have been accused of many things over the last couple of years and most of them I feel proud of.  Like this accusation from the MENZ website (the website of John Potter husband of Dr. Felicity Goodyear-Smith see here) because of this blog I wrote sometime ago.

“Perhaps his judgement has been impaired by an overwhelming flow of warm female fuzzies”

Contrary to Mr. Potter’s views, I think I’ve always had a reasonably balanced view of gender politics, we’re all more or less equal, should be treated as such and the ways in which men and women are different should be a cause for celebration, not derision.  I suspect that Alasdair Thompson would disagree though.  According to him women are fundamentally less productive, and “victims” of their biology.  See the interview from TV3 here and the Herald article here.  From the short video interview Mr. Thompson shows all the hallmarks of a bully, and that is at least as concerning as his grossly ignorant views.  It would be hard to imagine how any fair minded person would feel comfortable with him being head of their union.

It’s been a fair old week for gender politics of course, with the international phenomenon that is the “Slut Walk” having reached our shores.  See here for the Heralds coverage and here for TVNZ’s.  This movement was, of course, kicked off by yet another ignorant utterance of a public figure “in Toronto earlier this year when a police officer told students that women should avoid “dressing like sluts if they don’t want to be victimised”.”

This weeks Listener (July 2 – 8, 2011) covers this issue in depth and makes the excellent point:

“The trouble with precautionary talk about rape prevention, feminists say, is, first, that it assumes men will rape, given half a chance or a whiff of assumed encouragement, which patently is not true, and second, that rape is usually about sex and physical allure, which is untrue.”

These views, espoused in such an authoritative way by people in power, leave me feeling that this is not just a feminist issue, but a human rights issue.  As a therapist it also has made me wonder about how people seem to express such downright offensive views with such confidence.  And this leads me to what I think is the most disturbing part of these stories: these people believed their view to be objectively right.

Such narrow minded certainty is the enemy of free thinking and in many ways the opposite of psychotherapy.  Therapists so often deal with the conseqences of these views, and the logical, albeit extreme version of holding these views, namely bullying and abuse.

So no, I ain’t in it for the “warm female fuzzies”.   I belive as a therapist I have an ethical obligation to speak out about the abuse of power, bullying and ignorant dogma parading as fact.  In fact, I think we all do.