Why do we keep banging on about the importance of single sex spaces for women who have been subjected to men’s violence*?

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of a charity supporting women subjected to sexual and domestic violence. She also runs the @countdeadwomen account which records all the UK women killed by men or where a man is the principal or primary subject.

* Men’s violence refers to sexual and domestic violence and abuse, including prostitution

Most violence is committed by men

One of the most important ways that we can contribute to creating a ‘safe space’ for women who have experienced men’s violence is quite simply by keeping men out because men are far more likely to commit violence than women.

Males commit 78% of violent crimes recorded in England and Wales.

Males commit 88% of intimate partner homicides.

Males commit 90% of all murders in England and Wales.

Males commit 98% of recorded sexual offences.

There is no credible evidence suggesting that males who identify as trans commit violence against women at lower rates than those who do not. I’m not saying that men who identify as transgender are inherently violent – just that they are no less violent that other males.

I’m not naive or dishonest enough to claim that women are never violent – of course some women are.  But when women are violent  – and remember, it’s statistically way less frequent – they generally cause less harm than violent men.

Risk Assessments

Risk assessments are about mitigating risks, not increasing them and hoping for the best.  Some say that ‘we’ – those of us working is specialist women’s services – can use risk assessments to assess whether a male who says he is trans poses a risk to women.

When a risk assessment is completed with a woman looking to move in to a refuge, time is almost always critical. You need to help her to get to a place of safety and quickly.  She’s either already left her home or is planning to do so urgently because she is in danger.  Maybe she’s called when her partner is out of the house for a few hours. With risk assessment, you’re assessing the risk she is facing from her partner, planning how she can reduce risks associated with actually leaving, whether the location of the refuge offers safety and whether she herself might pose a risk to others living in the refuge. Not whether or not she is actually a violent male. The questions that you’d ask and the approach you’d have to take would be entirely different.

If you expect staff in refuges to ‘risk assess’ males who identify as trans, you’re asking staff in women’s refuges to differentiate between

  • Transgender people (male) who have genuinely experienced men’s violence, have managed to unpick their male socialisation and who will not use their sense of male entitlement or sexism or misogyny to harm, reduce and control women in the refuge; and
  • Transgender people (male) who have genuinely experienced violence but are still dripping in male privilege and advantage and who hate or resent women; and
  • Transgender people (male) who are narcissistic perpetrators who have managed to convince themselves (and are capable of convincing others) that they are the victim;
  • Transgender people (male) who are fetishists and autogynephiles
  • And men who are pretending to be trans in order to track down a particular woman or access women in general.

I haven’t come across a risk assessment matrix that does this and Gender Recognition Certificates and/or identification as trans does not magic away male socialisation.

Trauma Informed approach

Let’s imagine for a moment that you could risk assess males for their suitability and safety to inhabit your no-longer women-only space.  What you’re ignoring if you do this is the impact of men’s presence on women who’ve been subjected to men’s violence.

It’s not unusual for women who have been subjected to men’s violence to develop a trauma response. These sometimes develop after a single incident of violence, sometimes after years or months of living in fear, walking on egg-shells, recognising that tone of voice, that look in the eyes, that sigh, that pause, that change in breathing.

A trauma informed approach is based on understanding the physical, social, and emotional impact of trauma caused by experiencing sexual and domestic violence and abuse.

A trauma-informed service understands the importance of creating an environment – physical and relational – that feels safe to victims-survivors.

A trauma-informed safe space creates space for action and recovery from violence and abuse and places the woman victim-survivor in control and for many women this means excluding men from that space, including those who don’t identify as men.

You are not offering a trauma informed environment if you, in your position of power as a service provider, gaslight traumatised women (who are in a less powerful position no matter how you try to balance this out and, of course, we do as much as possible to balance this out but it is inescapable); if you pretend that someone you both know is a man, is a woman. Women are gas-lighted (manipulated to question their own sanity) by their abusive male partners all the time. It is furthering the abuse to then expect then to share women-only spaces with males who say that they are women, because they are not.  Part of your role is to help women to learn to trust themselves again, not replace the batshit that their abuser has filled their head with, with your own.

Give us a break

Women-only spaces offer not only a space away from the specific man that women are escaping or who has violated them but away from men in general; away from men’s control and demands for attention; away from men taking physical and mental space; away from the male gaze and their constant assessment of women; away from men’s expectations to be cared for and, just as importantly, a space where women share in common experiences of abuse, despite all the other differences between us. A space with others who understand, to whom you don’t have to explain why you didn’t leave earlier and who know how easy it is to feel guilty or stupid because you didn’t.

Prioritise women

We know that at least 80% of males who hold a GRC retain their penis, but anyway, we don’t need to know what’s in your pants to know you are a man. Women experiencing trauma after violence and abuse will – like most of us – almost always instantly read someone who might be the most kind and gentle trans identified male in the world – as male – and they may experience debilitating terror immediately and involuntarily.  They need and deserve a break.  It’s not about hate. It’s not about bigotry. It’s not about you – it’s about them.

Can we please just put them first?

25th November 2019


We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.