DV Conference Report #9: Erin Pizzey Angrily Responds to Feminist Evan Stark on Exclusion of Boys from Shelters

Sacramento, CA–Background: I’ve been detailing the historic, one-of-a-kind conference “From Ideology to Inclusion: Evidence-Based Policy and Intervention in Domestic Violence” (held in Sacramento, California February 15-16)–to learn more, click here.

In my recent blog post DV Conference Report #3: 12-Year-Old Boys in Abusive Families Aren’t Allowed to Go to Shelters with Their Mothers, but Instead Go to Foster Care, I discussed domestic violence shelters’ policies of excluding all males ages 12 or older from going to the shelters with their mothers. I wrote:

“One morning during the conference, I had breakfast with two remarkable ladies, Erin Pizzey (pictured) and Patricia Overberg. Pizzey founded the first battered women’s shelter in the world in 1971, and Overberg was the first battered women’s shelter director in California to admit male victims of domestic violence to a shelter. As bad as things are, both of them told me things which were amazing and horrifying. Pizzey told the following story:

“A woman was being abused by her violent husband and sought shelter. She had three children, two young ones and a 12-year-old boy. She wanted to go to a battered women’s shelter and, of course, take her children with her. However, the feminists who run the battered women’s shelters in England have a policy that no boys aged 12 or older are allowed into the shelters.

“The woman was presented with the equivalent of Sophie’s Choice. Either she could return to her violent husband, and risk both herself and her children, or she could submit to the feminist policy. She chose the latter. Rather than allow the boy to stay with his mother and his siblings in the battered women’s shelter, the boy instead had to wait in the police station, while his mother and siblings went off to the shelter. The English equivalent of child protective services was called, and the boy was picked up and placed in foster care!

“Overberg told me the same thing happens in California and in much of the United States.”

Evan Stark is a prominent feminist advocate for domestic violence victims and the author of Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Interpersonal Violence) and numerous other DV books. Stark took issue with Pizzey’s criticisms of battered women’s shelters’ policy of excluding boys ages 12 or older from being with their mothers at the shelters. Stark wrote:

“The issue Pizzey raises, of young men not being able to come to a shelter with their moms, has been a serious problem since the beginning of the shelter movement. The reason for this policy, which you don’t mention, is that many shelters take younger women, including girls in their teens, and the boys in families are often older than some of the females in the facility and there are no provisions to monitor their behavior– violent or sexual.

“At Chiswick, Pizzey didn’t admit boys to the shelter, either, but housed them in a separate building. She could do this because she had a large grant from a private company to buy the houses. But most shelters in England, as here, run on a shoestring budget and, in England, were located in Housing Estates (equivalent to our housing projects) and had no separate space for male children.

“Today, many shelters in England use free-standing apartments rather than houses and have no restrictions on male youth coming with their mothers. You are shocked that some of these boys have to go to foster care. But, as you rightly point out, this is often preferable (and is temporary) to staying in a home where all families members are exposed to the man’s violence.”

Pizzey saw Stark’s comments and was not pleased. She has asked me to post her response:

“I am outraged at the inference that boys have never been able to go into shelters in America or refuges in England because the shelter/refuge can’t monitor the boys’ sexual or violent behaviour. Why does this man think that the boys will be violent or sexual towards the girls/young women in the shelter? This shows an appallingly biased mindset.

“Of course some of the girls and some of the boys will be violent and sexual, but it is the job of the shelter/refuge to work with those children just like they should work with some of the women in the shelter/refuges to help them learn appropriate behaviour.

“It is untrue to say that my refuge did not take boys into the central refuge. I made it quite clear that the boys could, if they wished, live in the boy’s project. Many boys chose to stay with their mothers.

“Chiswick was a therapeutic community and everyone within the community worked to see that we treated each other with respect and love. The problem with the shelters/refuges is that most of them are hostels and their purpose is to fund the feminist movements so they exclude young boys because they are the potential enemy.”

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