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Big sister is watching you

Erin Pizzey, who opened the world's first refuge for battered women in 1971, has been to Canada to research its pathbreaking laws against sexual harassment and domestic violence. What she found confirmed her fears about today's authoritarian feminism

'Sexual harassment - the crime of the nineties - generates more controversy than almost every other working-place issue. And nowhere are complaints more prevalent than in British Columbia.' So says Marina Jimnez, writing for Canada's National Post.

British Columbia, I discovered during my 12 000-kilometre trip across Canada, has the dubious distinction of leading the country in complaints about lewd or unwelcome workplace behaviour. In 1997 and 1998 298 people filed complaints of sexual harassment to the British Columbia Human Rights Commission. Workplace and sexual harassment complaints include leering, practical jokes and comments such as 'fat cow'. Jokes and complaints that weren't intended to offend, but did, can also be considered sexual harassment.

Dr Donald Dutton is a renowned author. He is a psychologist at the University of British Columbia - and accused of kissing and fondling a former student. I had dinner with him in Vancouver. He is a warm and kindly man. He had two female students with him and during the evening we talked not about his own case but more generally about how sexual abuse allegations, the new crime of the 1990s, can destroy careers. They can create such fear and hostility that the workplace becomes unsafe and feelings of paranoia become rife.

The legal bills of the complainant, mostly women, are paid for by legal aid. Respondents, on the other hand, must go through a means test. Though the British Columbia Human Rights Commission may award costs to respondents, it has not done so as yet.

'Part of the problem has been a remarkable willingness to believe that if women come forward with allegations of harassment or sexism, they are to be believed', says Professor Boyd, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University. He was commenting on Dr Martha Piper, a president of the University of British Columbia. Dr Piper was forced to apologise for the university's handling of allegations of sexism and racism in its political science department in 1995. A sensational 177-page report uncovered complaints of pervasive sexism and racism from mostly unnamed sources, after which the university temporarily suspended admissions to the department. Dr Piper later had to acknowledge that the allegations were unfounded and the report was flawed. 'We have substituted ideology for careful analysis', was Professor Boyd's final conclusion.

In many of the workshops and forums that I attended during my time in Canada I heard serious talk of the need to have pre-dating agreements, similar to prenuptial agreements. Such a document sets out that the couple has agreed to enter into a relationship with one another that may, at some time, become sexual. Another clause is to ensure that one partner does not feel pressured into the relationship to preserve his or her job.

After one of the last workshops, I was descending in an empty lift when a man joined me on the fifth floor. Aware that he stood defensively in the corner of the big lift, I realised that he was wary in case I walked out of the lift and accused him of harassing me. This thought saddened me. The relationships between men and women have now become so laced with panic and fear that a pall of silence hung over offices I visited. Office parties are becoming a thing of the past in Canada, as the potential consequences are too frightening.

In Ontario a family was destroyed because their 13-year old daughter's creative essay was considered suspicious by Children's Aid social workers. They devined possible parental abuse and the child was snatched from her parents the same day. She still has not been returned. In another Orwellian case provincial exam-markers flagged 46 out of 140 000 junior-high essays for analysis at the Ministry of Children and Families. These too were suspected of revealing the possibility of parental sexual abuse.

Campaigns against domestic violence have also taken a sinister turn in Canada - more so than anywhere else I have travelled. I think it is because in the early years of the feminist movement most women and many men were happy to embrace the ideas of 'equity feminism' - that women had the right to be equal to men. However, before long 'gender feminists' - women who believed that men were the enemy - swamped the nascent equity feminists. Pierre Trudeau put $30 million into their fund and successive governments have granted them huge sums of money until this year. Much of this money has been misspent on dubious research into the prevalence of domestic violence. As a result, Canadian shelters for victims of domestic violence became bunkers from which the gender feminist movement could continue to wage its ideological war against men.

Mandatory arrest laws in most states now mean that a phone call from a woman results in a man being dragged from his home and his children, without any evidence other than her claim that she has been threatened by him. Men grimly describe being 'hoovered'. This means that a man comes home to a house empty of his belongings, his partner and their children. If she has moved to a shelter he is not able to discover her whereabouts.

Fathers are also denied rights to their children through the 'silver bullet' method. The National Post ran a series of articles about shelters in Canada, written by Donna Laframboise. She describes how the women running the shelters coach the 'battered women' into writing accounts of physical and sexual abuse, which are used as a fast track to a divorce and rehousing. The 'silver bullet' refers to allegations of sexual abuse. Once the man is accused of sexually abusing his children, he is presumed guilty and is automatically barred from seeing his children until he can prove his innocence.

Of course there are many women who are genuine victims of their partner's violence and there is still a great need for properly funded shelters. But the feminisation of the domestic violence movement has worked against the needs of most women.

Originally family law in most countries was made by men for the protection of the family and also to protect women and children from male brutality. What the law has not recognised so far is that, in favouring women in cases of child custody and naively believing in the feminist mantra that 'all women are innocent victims of male violence', a great injustice has been done to men.

Domestic violence is not a gender issue. Violence is a problem for both men and women and is part of the human condition. If we continue to allow sexual harassment and domestic violence to remain weapons in the hands of gender feminists, then Big Sister will continue to play a creepingly insidious part in our personal lives.

Erin Pizzey is the author of many works of fiction and non-fiction, including Scream Quietly Or The Neighbours Will Hear, the first book about wife-battering. She also writes extensively as a journalist

Reproduced from LM issue 117, February 1999

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