Response to Michael Laws

This piece was written in response to the Michael Laws column in the Sunday Star Times which we found offensive and inaccurate. This was submitted to the Sunday Star Times but unfortunately didn’t run. The Families Commission and White Ribbon Ambassador David White also issued press releases following Law’s radio show. The White Ribbon Campaign believes that no person should ever be subjected to violence and our focus is about men’s violence to women. As men we are proud to stand together and advocate for change, and believe that as more and more men join, a violence-free future is both possible and inevitable.

Sunday Star Times piece

Real change occurs when as a society, we reach a tipping point, where men are no longer willing to commit or condone violence to women;  when men reject the concept of using violence to get what they want, and exercise a choice, to lead violence-free lives.

There will always be voices of dissent as evidenced recently by Michael Laws in both his column and radio show. And it is with reference to Mr Laws’ attempt to shift the blame for men’s violence from the perpetrator to the victim that we have to draw the line and say, we as men can no longer be silent.

A recent study by the SPCA and Women’s Refuge highlighted a link between pets, and women staying in violent relationships and incurred the wrath of Mr Laws.

While it’s convenient to keep facts out of a good story, women stay in violent relationships for a number of reasons. These include lack of money to find alternative accommodation, lack of confidence, fear of increased violence, fear for the children, and as the study pointed out, fear of what will occur to the pets. Ending a relationship is difficult at the best of times, but walking away from a controlling and violent relationship is far from easy

To suggest that women in violent relationships have themselves to blame for the violence they endure is at best misguided;  at worst leaves women stuck in relationships of violence and abuse. Suggesting that personal responsibility is the prerogative of the abused women, and they should ‘either stop being so weak or stop complaining’, underlines a severe lack of empathy and/or understanding.

Recently, one of our White Ribbon Ambassadors, David White, wrote a book Helen, the Helen Meads Tragedy which tells how his daughter was murdered by a so-called ‘respected’ horse breeder. His defence team tried to downplay the murder suggesting that the loaded shotgun being fired was merely an accident, and further, that Helen had brought this violence upon herself.

The very defence of provocation has been removed from the statute books after the horrific murder of Sophie Elliott who was stabbed over 200 hundred times, and yet the ‘she asked for it’ suggestion continues to find voice.

So why is it ok for a media commentator and radio show host to push a repetitive line that somehow violence against women is the fault of abused women? These women are killed, raped, assaulted, hospitalised and terrorised.  They are not the abusers and they and their families deserve respect, not to be used as fodder for increasing ratings and readership. In short, your comments are not OK.

The second issue that requires some fairness inserted into the debate is the continued misrepresentation and attack on the White Ribbon Campaign.

White Ribbon is an international campaign that aims to end men’s violence against women. It is a campaign that forms part of a suite of work by the Families Commission (It’s not OK, Family Violence Statistics, Family Violence Clearinghouse and Taskforce for Family Violence). It talks directly to men and asks men to be part of the solution by showing leadership in the area of family violence.

It does not, as Mr Laws suggests, paint all men as violent.  However, it is a fact that the most serious family violence is perpetrated by men, with hospitalisations, serious assaults and murders committed overwhelmingly by men. The campaign recognises that as men, we can change the statistics by having men speak to men.

It is this idea that men can talk to other men that is so powerful and forms the central idea of White Ribbon in our country. The popular White Ribbon Motorcycle Ride visited over 80 communities in November last year, speaking to thousands of New Zealanders from school kids to some of our most violent criminals in prisons. Many of the men who spoke were Patriots whose members were former or current members of the services. Men like the fallen SAS hero Duggy Grant. They had rough exteriors but they all rejected violence within relationships.

The White Ribbon is a symbol of non-violence in our country, and the campaign empowers communities to speak out. Last year alone, over 510,000 white ribbons were worn by New Zealanders from a wide range of ethnic and cultural identities, with nearly 200 White Ribbon events held in November and over 410 press articles around November.

The campaign represents all New Zealanders and operates six key projects that aim to inform, educate and encourage men to take action. We believe that this campaign and other family violence initiatives are having a significant effect as indicated in the latest statistics collected by Police. Surveys show that attitudes have changed and more people are willing to take action, but we have a long way to go to reduce what are unacceptable statistics

There is no membership fee to join White Ribbon, just a requirement that people pledge never to commit or condone violence against women. We take that pledge seriously and could not allow Mr Laws to condone explicitly or by implication, violence against women. We do, however, believe that change is possible, so Mr Laws, why not join us and make a difference.

Rob McCann
Families Commission, White Ribbon Campaign Manager
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White Ribbon is a community led campaign to end men's violence towards women

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