Stonewall Report: Disingenuous or Gaslighting?

 This is the third blog for WPUK by an anonymous sister working in the Violence Against Women Sector.

Dear Sisters and allies,

Stonewall Report – At best disingenuous, at worst pure ‘Gaslighting’

On 2nd August 2018, I was busily minding my own feminist business when I saw a tweet from a Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall. Her tweet made my business directly her business and, apparently, she and her organisation is now able to talk for me and for the hundreds of other services in the Violence Against Women (VAW) sector.

vaw blog

Before I get to the Stonewall commissioned research of the VAW sector “voice” on the proposed changes to the GRA 2004, I want to just talk a bit about ‘gaslighting’. Bear with me, I think it’s relevant…

‘Gaslighting’ is terminology that is used frequently in the VAW sector when explaining the acts of an abusive partner. It refers to the 1944 film ‘Gaslight’ where the perpetrator in the film consistently dims the gaslights in the home. The survivor, his wife, comments on the lights flickering at which point the perpetrator consistently tells her she is imagining it and it is all in her head. Subsequently, his wife feels like she is going mad and her sense of reality is impaired by systematic psychological warfare.

Perpetrators do this all the time, it is incredibly effective and it moves the survivor to a place of isolation and fear.

Here is a brief check list (It is one of many; you can also find lists here and here):

  1. Do they try to persuade you to doubt the evidence of your senses and what you are thinking and feeling?
  2. Do they try to convince you that what you believe is wrong, and what they believe is right?
  3. Do they react badly if you do not accept their version of the truth?
  4. Are they extremely persistent and sometimes keep the argument going long after you have asked them to please drop the issue?
  5. Do they attempt to bully you into admitting that they are 100 percent right, and you are completely wrong?
  6. Are the facts always twisted so that they are the victim, and you are always at fault?
  7. Do they twist and turn the truth and make such long and complicated arguments to prove their points that, after a while, you become thoroughly confused?

After I cried (yes I did actually cry – dramatic I know, but I realised how far down the road we are when a trans lobby group is now apparently speaking for the VAW sector), I gathered myself and took a breath. When you have been doing this job a long time you learn to listen to your gut reaction and dig really deep to understand it. In order to do that I needed to take time, park (but never ignore) my initial response, read the report and then sum up.

To be clear, although I have spoken to other colleagues who are critical of the Stonewall report, the following are just my own meandering thoughts. I would never be as bold as to claim they are representative of the VAW sector. After all I only spoke to about 15 people…

On reflection, I think my initial response was so strong because of the tone of Hunt’s tweet – let’s break it down:

Hunt: “We were told the voices of those in rape crisis and domestic violence services were missing from #trans discussions”

I agree with her here, those voices are missing. What I contest heavily is the inference that neither she nor Stonewall have no idea why those voices are missing.

As I mentioned in my first blog there is a real reason why the voices from the VAW sector are missing. It is the same reason why I write these blogs anonymously. We are terrified of the extreme trans activists who will smear us personally, target our funders and compromise our already limited service provision (‘activists’ whose behaviour Stonewall have yet to condemn).

Credit where credit is due though, Stonewall have played a strong hand here. Whilst simultaneously silencing a sector they have now spun it round to claim to speak for us. That’s laudable from a campaigning point of view but it’s remarkably familiar from a ‘gaslighting’ perspective too.

Hats off…

The second part of the tweet:

Hunt: “So we commissioned research and interviewed them. I trust the experts.”

Two things:

  1. The methodology isn’t quite clear in terms of how many people were actually spoken to. It states: “Between January and April 2018, nfpSynergy conducted in-depth interviews on behalf of Stonewall with representatives of 15 national umbrella bodies and local domestic and sexual violence support services across Britain” (Stonewall, 2018). I’m not sure whether this means 15 people or more. Nonetheless, 15 organisations is a small sample given the breath of the VAW sector across the UK. It is also unusually small given how much the VAW sector is prone to talk on all issues concerning survivors – it is, after all, what we do and have been doing very loudly since the 1960s. Interesting that there aren’t so many more VAW organisations clamouring to be involved in this. Make of that what you will.
  2. This thing about “trusting the experts”:  I don’t really like the terminology ‘expert’ when referring to professionals. I am of the view that the only experts in the field of violence against women are the survivors themselves. They are the experts on their journey, on the risk that is posed to them by their perpetrator and more importantly on what they need in order to heal.

To be fair when you actually read the report it does state:

“As is the case for all qualitative research, the views expressed are not intended to represent all organisations in the sector” (Stonewall, 2018 p. 7).

So I can only assume the tweet by Hunt was a chance to grab as much attention as possible to the report by insinuating that she was now in sole possession of the views of the VAW sector on the trans issue. That is to be expected, her organisation has spent money on this, and she has to promote it in the way she sees fit.

There is a lot in the report I disagree with. Do you know, that is absolutely fine! Disagreement is the bedrock of our democracy and the bedrock of the feminist movement. We often disagree; we often get passionate in our disagreement (and nobody experiences ‘literal violence’). But the best thing about it is we openly discuss disagreements in our movement. Apart from, it appears, this one.

There are some fundamentals that I object to in this report but the most important one for me is the voice of female survivors. Which is entirely absent from the research.

Given what we know from Pink News and YouGov’s own research only 18% of people agree with the notion of self-ID. This can be assumed to be representative of the population of women who use single sex services in the VAW sector to escape and heal from male violence (although we will never know if we don’t ask them).

Anecdotally, I was chatting to a refuge worker the other day. She said they asked all the women how they would feel about having a trans woman in the refuge. Every single one of them said they would leave.

They can’t all be wrong about their own needs, surely?

I’ve read in the report how some professionals in the sector would see the above as a chance to ‘re-educate’ survivors about trans issues. Apparently some feel it is akin to homophobia and racism. I’m afraid this is something I disagree with entirely.  We are not talking about a phobia of trans people here; we are talking about a male bodied person in a female space that is funded and promoted solely for the purpose of escaping and healing from traumatic male violence.

I’m sorry to break it to you, and this may come as a shock to some, but no matter how much you agree with the ideological stance that ‘trans women are women’ a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual violence may never see that trans woman as a woman. In the same way that other ideologies work, like religion, they don’t speak for everyone and not everyone signs up to them, nor should anyone ever have to.

Should survivors really have to agree with an ideology, in a space that is meant to be reserved for them? Are we really honestly asking, telling and prescribing to survivors of male violence that they now have to see a trans woman as a woman? Are we actually telling them to swallow their fears, their flash backs and their trauma in order to accommodate an ideology they don’t agree with whilst simultaneously calling them transphobic?

That isn’t feminism to me. It isn’t the purpose of single sex spaces in the VAW sector and it isn’t why the women fled to that space in the first place.

We talk a lot about being ‘trauma informed’ in our sector. Traumatic reactions are instinctive, they are not a choice like homophobia and racism. Telling a traumatised survivor that a male bodied person, who instigates their terrifying flash backs, is actually a woman is not only cruel, it doesn’t make sense.

For those professionals suggesting that trainers and experts should be brought into female spaces to re-educate survivors that the man they see, is actually a women, I’d suggest they’d be better investing money in their staff and training them on trauma and person centred approaches to female survivors.

According to Stonewall, the majority of professionals in the VAW sector (this means 14 out of 15 in their research) state reform of the GRA would have no relevance to how they deliver their services. In short, this means that they have no problem with Self-identification

I wonder what those same professionals would say to Kristi in Toronto, who is so in fear of the male bodied person she was forced to share a room with she left her shelter and has filed a human rights complaint. Or to the nine women currently taking a shelter to court after being sexually harassed by a ‘trans woman’? Or to Christopher Hambrook’s victims? This is what self-identification means in terms of risk. Never mind what risk it poses in terms of emotional healing for these women, particularly after the place they ran to couldn’t keep them safe.

I am amazed at the bold claim by some professionals in this report that state they can risk assess for a sexual predator trying to access a refuge! They really ought to tell the probation service, the police and safeguarding professionals how this is done. It would save a lot of money and, more importantly, a great deal of heartache for survivors of sexual violence.

Nonetheless, even outside of this astonishing claim, I would assert that there is no assessment and no price that can be put on how a woman feels after male violence and how much she needs, if she so chooses, a female only space. There is, however, research that has been done to evidence this need.

My question to Stonewall is what is wrong with trans women only services? Why is this not a priority? Even the professionals in the report from Scottish WA had to concede that although they have been ‘trans inclusive’ in their women’s only spaces for a number of years “the number of trans people accessing their services remains small” (Stonewall, 2018 p. 23).

Just a thought, but perhaps this is because trans survivors want their own specialist services that cater for their needs, in the same way the evidence shows us that women escaping male violence do?

In my view, the Stonewall report is at best a disingenuous depiction of the views in the VAW sector on the proposed changes to the GRA. At worst it’s a tool for ‘gaslighting’ their supporters, the public and policy makers into believing that those horrible feminist women disagreeing with them are wrongly misrepresenting female survivors of male violence.

Yours in solidarity

A, still silenced,

Anonymous sister