Stonewall and the Male Violence Against Women sector

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(Figure 13 What is a woman? – Transwomen are Women Online Ethnography Screenshot, July 2019)

Stonewall has been in the spotlight a lot recently, so I thought I would take the opportunity to re-produce the section of my thesis that delved into their influence surrounding trans identified men accessing female only male violence against women spaces.

Charities are accountable to their beneficiaries, and as a result of my research I am in a unique position to highlight Stonewall’s influence on this debate from an MVAW perspective, including the direct influence they have had on female victims services (although it is important to note they aren’t the only transgender lobby group to have had influence). However, I also seek to open a discussion about how that influence was enabled by Male Violence Against Women (MVAW) sector charities, and perhaps question why they haven’t advocated better for their beneficiaries – those being – women.

Below is the extract from my thesis that covers the findings of my data compared to that of the Stonewall research. Following on I provide some more quotes from participants, because the word count on my thesis meant I had to leave lots of quotes out from different themes – according to my supervisor having too much data is always a good thing…   

(A quick note about my methodology – I interviewed 31 participants, 16 feminist women who were against gender reform and gender identity policy capture and 15 adults who were pro self-ID and supported the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. I also combined this with online ethnographic data from the social media platform, Twitter).

Thesis extract

I approached all organisations who took part in the Stonewall research, ‘Supporting Transwomen in Domestic and Sexual Violence Services’ (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018). Five professionals bravely agreed to be part of my research as pro self-ID participants. I have changed the original reference of these participants to random numbering in order to secure further anonymity. The research undertook interviews with 15 professionals from 12 national umbrella bodies and frontline services in the MVAW sector: reporting gender reform would have no impact (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p. 8). I spent time with a third of these same participants, and the responses were more nuanced than the Stonewall report suggested:

We certainly have had an issue with a perpetrator self-IDing…where someone is manipulative, they will use the system. I did say to Stonewall there is problems with any legislation and there will be unintended consequences. (2)

We seem to have got stuck with, ‘we want in on your space’. They should want their own safe space. I do think that self-ID is not sufficient enough to give people access to refuges. I think it would potentially force us to make difficult decisions lawfully in terms of being able to…admit or refuse people into refuges. I think it would pave the way for perpetrators to pretend they are now women and have access to groups… If you think about Self-ID it is ludicrous for our sector. (3)

Whilst from a human point of view I can see why and understand that, but on a practical level when you are working in an environment that needs space for people to recover and in a world…where safety is not guaranteed for women, and so we have to create those spaces, and we have to keep them safe so practically it is not as simple as ‘it’s ok for you to self-define and that’s it’. (4)

One participant reflected her change of mind since being part of the Stonewall research:

At that time, I was still saying yes self-ID women, and we have always had transwomen using the refuge… It has occasionally been traumatising to have male-bodied people there, especially when they act in a male way. At the time I felt like I was on the right side of history, the thing that peaked me and got me following it all on social media, was the stuff about the pussy hats at the women’s march…that just got me thinking: for fuck’s sake, women have vaginas, it’s not all about you for fuck’s sake! (9)

Participants also recognised that, as with all research, the questions being asked may foster certain responses; this is relevant if it is research that is undertaken outside of the focus of their usual expertise, and not feminist-led (Stanley & Wise, 1993, p. 25):

The problem is that they were asking particular questions around, has this been a particular issue for your refuge and if people answered honestly then no it hasn’t, doesn’t mean it is not going to be! (3)

The Stonewall participants reflected on the differing needs relating to the axis of oppression for women and transwomen:

My feminism is women are discriminated against, gender is the means, sex is the basis of it, and it is completely structurally built in. As a result of that others who are feminised by society get similar treatment, but it is not the fucking same. (9)

From the experience I have had from working with trans people who experience DA they want something that is more akin to their needs and there is something about what this movement was built on. Women set up refuges built on what survivors found didn’t work…give the trans movement some space…they would probably come up with a trans service. (1)

All the Stonewall participants I interviewed worked on the frontline and had expertise in delivering services catering to transgender victims. They reflected the importance of understanding this was not without complications:

I tried to make it really clear [to Stonewall] that it is not uncomplicated, it is very complicated, and it is something that we have questioned all the time. (4)

I can be a trans-inclusive service, but I am telling you right now there will be different ways of delivering that service and probably different doors! (1)

The results observed from the interviews I undertook with the Stonewall participants offered a contradiction between their findings and mine. This could be because of the time that had passed between the research, or because my knowledge of the sector had proffered different questions (Stanley & Wise, 1993, p. 25). It could also be because these professionals were afraid to speak out against transgender ideology. What was clear was they wanted to be able to support trans clients in a safe environment, but not necessarily in the same space as women.

Additional Participant Quotes:

The quotes below were some of the one’s I had to leave out of my original research. I reproduce them now to evidence the disparity between my research and Stonewall’s.

Only one feminist participant made any reference to the Stonewall research, her view of it was succinct:

“The Stonewall research was an absolute nonsense.” (P14)

These are some of the additional quotes from the pro self-ID participants that took part in the Stonewall research, I have compared them against some of the research findings Stonewall published.

Minority voices and “No Debate”:

The Stonewall research states:

“Several participants noted that while there are some voices in the sector who take the stance that single-sex women’s services should not support trans women, these are increasingly in the minority. Participants said that open conversations with staff help foster an inclusive approach.” (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p.16)

The participants I interviewed stated:     

“I have a real problem with this levelling of this accusation of transphobia, because the problem is we have got to have a debate. We have got to have a discussion and move forward. I do have an issue with that shutting down method.” (1)

“I think there is a grown-up discussion that needs to happen…I think for those single sex domestic abuse services, we have to have some protection around it.” (6)

Obviously there are professionals involved in the Stonewall research that believe the protection of single sex spaces for female victims of male violence is represented by a minority voice within the sector. For counter evidence to this claim you can read my conclusion chapter which represents both sides of the debate, with the overwhelming majority supporting single sex spaces for women subjected to male violence.

Concerns about self-ID:

The Stonewall research states:

“No participants said they have used the Equality Act exemption to deny support to a trans survivor. Some participants said that the exemption should be kept as a safeguard, while others were concerned about other services using the exemption to turn away trans survivors when they should be providing support.” (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p.9)

“Many participants told us that reform of the Gender Recognition Act would have no relevance to how they deliver their services…” (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p.8)

The participants I interviewed stated:

“It feels really complicated for us as services. What does it mean for the Equality Act 2010, if someone self-IDs and wants to come into a refuge then what do we say to that person?” (2)

“I don’t object to it in and of itself, but I do think that self-ID is not sufficient enough to give people access to refuges.” (3)

“We have to be able to keep our single sex exemptions as an option because some organisations might rationalise, but there needs to be some protections around that.” (9)

Victims and Predators:

The Stonewall research states:

“Recalling instances where challenges have arisen, services described how they engaged with staff and service users to build understanding for trans survivors and ensure that a safe and inclusive space was maintained for all.” (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p.8)

“…While respondents were aware of a view that gender recognition reform could allow violent men to pose as women to access their services, with one participant expressing a concern about this, there was otherwise a clear consensus that services’ thorough risk assessment procedures would safeguard against this. These participants said that gender recognition reform would not compromise their ability to protect their service against, or turn away, any abusive or disruptive individual.” (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p.8)

The participants I interviewed stated:

“I think the Stonewall report is an interesting one because the voices have been used to present a particular argument…. One of the things I did say as part of the interview process is that I was worried about opening up the whole thing that perpetrators would use in terms of self-ID. They are very manipulative, and I know full well what they will do. When GDPR came about we had loads of contacts from perpetrators saying we had to give them their records, I demand this and that, it will be exactly the same thing with this.” (1)

“Some of our survivors have said that even a male voice on the phone would make them hang up.” (4)

Conclusions and what next?

I think it is important to acknowledge the part the MVAW sector has played in this. Until I published my thesis, Stonewall’s research was the only one representative of the feminist led male violence sector. Stonewall still remain the only national body to have undertaken research into the issue and we can’t blame them for that. They were strategic, they had, and still have, one goal in this debate, to bring gender identity ideology and self-ID into the statute books, they and other lobby groups have certainly been incredibly successful in term of policy capture. As Stonewall see it, and as they have publicly declared, this is the work they do for some of their beneficiaries.

So, what were MVAW charities doing for their beneficiaries? For women? Why didn’t they seek to establish balance and alternative views to that of a transgender lobby group? From the evidence contained within my research, and from everything I have seen since, the MVAW movement gifted the narrative to transgender lobby groups and forgot their purpose. Obviously there will be professionals within the movement that agree with the Stonewall research, but it honestly doesn’t take that much work to find alternative views, and I’ve resorted to being perpetually confused as to what happened to our voices in this debate. As I stated in my conclusion chapter:

“…the second tier MVAW sector capitulated and handed over the power and voice of our movement to transgender ideologists, taking a passive role on the periphery of, arguably, the most important debate for the movement in decades.”

I have seen the Stonewall research quoted by professionals in the MVAW sector, sometimes directly at me, to provide support for their view that there are no issues with men who identify as transgender in female only spaces – obviously those professionals haven’t read my research. But why would they? I am one person, with a small profile, I funded my own PhD, did it in my own time, and stuck it on my own small website which cost me just under £200.00 and some free feminist support to set up…I don’t have the weight of a paid umbrella body to make the difference needed. I don’t have access to politicians and policy makers in the same way national organisations do.

It should be national MVAW umbrella bodies that are picking up this topic and publicly driving forward the debate from within. My research is just the start, as you can see from my recommendations, much more work is needed on this topic and I definitely won’t have thought of all the aspects that need to be considered. Ultimately though I would like to see research being led by women for women, after all it is what we were set up to do!

Will their be splits in the movement? Undoubtedly! We can already see the divide from MVAW organisations in England and Scotland, and from the six submissions I analysed from the Women and Equalities Select committee here. Splits do happen, movements change and shift, that is inevitable. But at the very least we should be able to hold our own public debate, rather than passively allowing other lobby groups with an entirely different agenda to speak for women.

My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone. (Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792, p. 13)

Dr Shonagh Dillon

(For all references please see my Bibliography)

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