Joan Smith on stage at the Hay Festival talking about her new book Home Grown - How Domestic Violence Turns Men into Terrorists. Photo Steven May / Alamy Live News
Artillery Row

Silence the whistleblower

Who benefits when experts on male violence are shown the door?

Why would anyone dedicate their life to ending violence against women and girls? I ask myself this question every few months. The “work” never ends and you must make peace with the fact that any contribution you make is just a tiny grain in a vast seashore of unnecessary pain.

Moreover, by the time one form of sexist abuse is recognised as such, another mutation appears elsewhere, threatening and culling the lives of more victims. Contrary to other professional opportunities, such as being the liberal mayor of a metropolitan city like London, praise is scarce and trauma runs like a current under every aspect of the job. 

Nevertheless, every day, courageous people set out to eradicate the most corrosive oppression facing humanity. One of those individuals was campaigner Joan Smith. Until this week, she had been co-chairing the Violence Against Women and Girls Board at the London Mayor’s Office for the past eight years, to provide independent scrutiny and steering the agenda on policy. Although this was an unpaid position, her experience researching and writing about abuse committed by men against women and girls provided an opportunity to tackle domestic and sexual violence — a problem present in every single neighbourhood in London. 

Yesterday, The Times reported that Joan Smith had been sacked from her post. She had been causing trouble by publicly questioning the imposition of “gender identity” policies over women’s hard-won rights. Smith wrote

I was brought into City Hall on the advice of women’s organisations & they were right to believe the VAWG Board should have an independent expert Co-chair. They were not consulted before that role was axed.

Joan Smith was particularly vocal about the importance of safeguarding female-only spaces for women and girls escaping male violence, which are legally protected under the Equality Act 2010, and how this conflicted with the Mayor’s “trans women are women” political approach to policy. As a result of her objections, Smith was told, unceremoniously and over email, that her position will now be taken over by an official at City Hall. 

Hidden beneath the rainbow flags and the platitudes about tolerance, lies a dangerous undercurrent of misogynist contempt

If people in positions of power are this intolerant to the dissenting views of an independent expert, we must wonder how they would treat the vulnerable women and children who arrive at the doors of a refuge.

Earlier this month, we discovered that Rape Crisis Scotland, at charity that claims to offer services that are “trauma informed” and “non-judgemental” was, in fact, judging victims by informing them that they had to “reframe” their trauma so they could overcome the entirely natural fear and distrust that male violence induces on victims and survivors. In reference to this apprehension, Chief Executive, Mridul Wadhwa, stated on the podcast The Guilty Feminist:

Sexual violence happens to bigoted people as well. But these spaces are also for you. But if you bring unacceptable beliefs that are discriminatory in nature, we will begin to work with you on your journey of recovery from trauma. But please also expect to be challenged on your prejudices.

If you have to reframe your trauma, I think it is important as part of that reframing, having a more positive relationship with it, where it becomes a story that empowers you and allows you to go and do other more beautiful things with your life, you also have to rethink your relationship with prejudice.

The position of CEO was advertised as being female-onlyyet Wadhwa applied anyway, despite being male and with no legal document to suggest he was female. Anyone interested in this field is aware, either through experience or research, that women and girls recovering from male violence prefer female-only services as a starting point for their healing. Why would anyone lie about their sex in order to obtain a position of power over a vulnerable group who don’t want them?

The frenzy to impose the absolutist incantation that “transwomen are women” means that experts on male violence are being denied a seat at the table which means victims will be less likely to experience empathy from the people who are charged with their care.

I have first-hand experience in the systemic devaluation of the work women like Joan Smith do. I am a PhD candidate with the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol. By the time I started my PhD in 2018, I had already worked as an advocate on several women’s refuges. My work at the Ministry for Women, in my hometown of Santo Domingo, was also dedicated to direct services for victims of male violence and nationwide shelter work public policy.

I started campaigning for the protection of sex-based rights in 2014, but what ignited my activism against “gender identity” authoritarianism was the way violence against women had become normalised in political discourse regarding this issue.

It was my training as a shelter advocate that helped me identify that, hidden beneath the rainbow flags and the platitudes about tolerance, there was a dangerous undercurrent of misogynist contempt that, if left unchallenged, had the potential to unravel every gain the women’s liberation movement has ever made.

When I was asked to chair the Woman’s Place UK meeting in Bristol that was due to take place on February 2018, I didn’t hesitate, but, as so often is the case, neither did the university’s trans activists hesitate to attack me, an immigrant who is an expert in her field. Privileged students whose courses were dedicated to subjects like geography felt entitled to destroy the career of the VAWG expert for having the temerity to chair a feminist panel, while the University of Bristol enabled their behaviour. My legal case against the institution will be heard in court early next year.

Feminist campaigners are facing demotions for helping women and children escape male violence

One of the tenets of working on male violence against women and children is that you must be non-judgemental, with an approach rooted in compassion and empathy. Although there are many difficult moments, you must keep in mind that when you meet them, you are dealing with people going through some of the most challenging times of their lives. How would you feel if the relationship with the man of your dreams ended with you and your kids walking through the doors of a refuge at 3am and the paperwork of filing a restraining order was waiting for you the next morning?

It is distressing that feminist campaigners dedicated to help women and children escape male violence are facing demotions for daring to stand up for the rights of the interest group they committed their lives to protect. 

Campaigners like Joan Smith and the women whose position Mridul Wadhwa stole are often the disruptive whistleblowers at the fancy tables who’ve been trained to identify abusive patterns before the violence takes place.

Underpaid, overworked and often invisible, their only priority is to advocate for vulnerable women and their children. 

Whose interest is being served by getting those women, the ones who recognise the red flags from a mile away, out of the room where decisions are made?

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover