There was a striking ad on the back page of the latest Your Weekend, the colour magazine that comes with the Saturday edition of The Dominion Post, The Press and The Waikato Times. It shows an anxious-looking woman sitting in a café. All the people sitting at the tables around her have their eyes fixed on her, and when you look closely you see they all have the same face. It is the scowling, menacing face of a man.
The ad’s caption says simply: “1 in 3 women need your help. Because living in fear, isn’t living.”
Setting aside the predictable ad agency solecisms, it’s a very effective ad, visually at least. The woman is haunted by fear; she imagines everyone in the café is the man who has presumably been beating her and is now stalking her.
As you’ve probably guessed, the ad seeks donations to the annual appeal of the women’s refuge organisation. But what got my attention, once I’d taken in the graphic image, was the suggestion that one in three New Zealand women live in fear. I was sufficiently curious to email the national collective of women’s refuge organisations and ask where that statistic came from. I promptly got an anonymous reply that said: “Hi, 1 in 3 women suffer violence in nz, hence live in fear, during their life time”.
Hmmm. Not promising. But this morning I got a second email, still anonymous, that read: “Hi Karl. Here’s the research – sorry didn’t have it on me last night:
“33-39% of women experience intimate partner violence (physical and sexual) in their lifetime (Janet Fanslow & Elizabeth Robinson, Violence against Women in New Zealand; Prevalence and health consequences. New Zealand Medical Journal. 117(1206) 2004) ”
I could find only an abstract of this report online and here’s what it said, inter alia:
The study population was women aged 18-64 years in Auckland and north Waikato. A population-based cluster-sampling scheme was used, with face-to-face interviews with one randomly selected woman from each household. Analyses included calculation of prevalence rates and logistic regression models to determine associations.
The overall response rate was 66.9%, n=2,855.Fifteen percent of participants in Auckland and 17% in the north Waikato reported at least one act of physical violence inflicted by non-partners in their lifetime. Sexual violence by non-partners was reported by 9% and 12% of women in Auckland and Waikato respectively. Among ever-partnered women, 33% in Auckland and 39% in Waikato had experienced at least one act of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
So we have a survey which revealed that more than 33 percent of women in Auckland and Waikato said they had experienced at least one act of physical or sexual violence from their partners. Now that’s an alarming statistic, and I don’t mean to play down violence against women, which is abhorrent; but the implication I took from the ad is that at any given time, one in three New Zealand women live in fear of assault from their male partner, so need our help.
Put another way, it accuses one-third of New Zealand men of being wife-beaters - hardly a winning way to solicit public support. Not only would most New Zealanders (including women) regard the claim as preposterous, but it’s not what the Fanslow/Robinson survey says. The survey states that one in three women have experienced an act of violence at some time – a very different thing from saying that one in three women live in a constant state of fear, which is what the ad implies.
The acts of violence experienced by many of those women may have been momentary, unpremeditated and very likely a cause of instant shame and remorse on the part of the perpetrator. They may never have been repeated. Does that excuse them? No. But there is a world of difference between a momentary lashing out and the sustained, deliberate, brutal, sadistic spousal abuse that leads some desperate women to seek the help of refuges.
I think the caption is dishonest, which is unfortunate because the women’s refuge movement, as far as I’m aware, does admirable work. It has done itself a disservice by perpetrating a canard like this. Perhaps it should keep the ideological propaganda separate from its appeals for donations.
I’m reminded of the row that broke out over the advertising for the 1988 Telethon which made the patently outrageous claim that one in four daughters were sexually abused by their fathers. That did nothing for the credibility of feminist campaigners against sex abuse. Similarly, the women’s refuge movement won’t do itself any favours by playing fast and loose with domestic violence statistics.
Having said that, I’ll donate to the appeal – not only because I object to violence against women, but for the sake of children from violent homes who desperately need a sanctuary. But I will look askance at any claims made by the women’s refuge organisation in the future.