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Violence Against Women

by Ann Fillmore PhD(more info)

listed in mind matters, originally published in issue 220 - February 2015

“. . . if my mother, at any point during the ages of five and twelve, picked up a knife or any other weapon against my father, I would have held her hand as she did it. I would have locked the door while she carried it out. That's how bad it was to be growing up inside a violent household.”

Sir Patrick Stewart on violence against women, TED, Amnesty International, UK

Sir Patrick Stewart

In summer of 1976, I helped found one of the first battered women's shelters in the world. It was in San Pedro (Los Angeles), California at the YWCA. The only shelter we knew of earlier than ours was Erin Pizzey's in Chiswick, London. She'd been at it since 1971 and had written a ground breaking book:  Scream Quietly or The Neighbors Will Hear. Our shelter happened by accident. We had acquired funds through grants set up by the state of California for Rape Crisis Telephone Help-Lines.  Everyone else was putting RAPE CRISIS HELP-LINE on their brochures, so when we designed our flyers and ads, we wrote: TELEPHONE HELP-LINE FOR WOMEN IN CRISIS.   We handed them out to every agency and police department in the vicinity. How they travelled as far around L.A. as they did, we had no idea.  By late September we were receiving 90 phone calls a week. By October, the calls were relentless.  In December, just before Christmas, the police dropped off a woman with two small children saying, “We know you have rooms there behind a fence in back of the Y, take them.”

We did.  We had a shelter and we realized within the first few months that we were dealing most often with learned helplessness (Seligman) in the women and that with peer support and economic help, a woman could un-learn that trait. To stop the violence, there was only one solution. Stop the violent man from being violent. But to do that, the entire culture of violence which enabled the violent man would have to change.

Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear

That was not for me to deal with at that point. I finished my internship and went on to a job as child abuse investigator in London in 1978, interestingly enough, in a borough right next to Chiswick and Erin Pizzey's shelter. Now, thirty-eight years later, I wanted to see how far we've come. There are many more shelters, very excellent shelters (ex: SPRING in Florida, ref: ) and more money to help women and children. Yet violence towards women has not diminished anywhere in the world. In the UK “almost 50% of women say they have been the victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking”, says Patrick Stewart in the Amnesty International video on Domestic Violence ( ).


My first interview was with Detective Jon Bohanan of the North Bend Police Department. North Bend, Oregon has around 9700 population and is quite diverse mostly due to the community college that is popular with foreign students. This is unusual for rural Oregon. Policing issues by far stem from drugs and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. Detective Bohanan brought me up to date with the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) passed by the US Congress in 1994, added to in 1996.  It has given police the legal authority to arrest the violent spouse, almost always the man, without the need for the woman to charge him.  Primarily for the safety of the police, but also to further protect the abused partner, any weapons, especially guns are taken away from the abuser.  When convicted, depending on the level of violence, the spouse is either kept in jail or mandated into a program for violent men. Locally this would be the one run by Chuck Stepping called Men's Alternatives to Violence through the Women's Safety and Resource Center.

When I asked Detective Bohanan's opinion on why violence against women seemed much worse now, he thought for a moment and said, “Boys are overlooked.”  By which he meant, boys are not given the personal attention they need at a very young age to develop a sense of responsibility, concern and respect.  As we will see later, the detective was coming close to the mark.

Next to discuss how the police have fared with the domestic violence situation was Chief Duane Wisehart where I live in Reedsport, Oregon, which is a small town of about 3000 people and not at all diverse. It has serious problems with poverty, drugs and unemployment but to Chief Wisehart's surprise, very few calls on domestic violence. In fact, he told me, almost always when one of his cops is called to a scene, the violent guy flees.  When caught, very few resist arrest.  Which is dramatically unlike most domestic violence scenarios where the violent man often fights and the woman is either scared into silence from the beating or she herself is combative.  As the police in the United States are well aware, a domestic violence call is more dangerous for responding officers than a robbery in progress.  

“Could it be,” I suggested, “because our little town has around nineteen churches, most of them very strict fundamentalist, very male dominated and they pride themselves on taking care of their own?” He nodded. “Which means any abuse stays in house, so to speak and so it's a matter of reporting, or not.”

Next I went to Chuck Stepping for information on his program: Men's Alternative to Violence.

In Oregon, and as I later learned, all over the US, the replacements for the old, useless Anger Management groups, are court mandated weekly meetings for men who have been arrested and charged with domestic violence.  Chuck Stepping's groups are a good example. They run for 36 weeks and are not cheap for guys who are often at a breaking point financially anyway.  The intake is $80 and it costs $25 per week.  Plus he may have a court fine of $100.  At present there are four group programs running each week in the area.  In a large city, like Portland, Oregon, said Stepping, there could be 50 groups at any one time. If you do the math on this, that's a substantial number of men convicted of assault on a woman.  Once in the group, the man must abide by the Protection Order and if the man re-assaults during this time, it is an automatic felony. An Assault 4 charge will give him 12 months in jail.  If the man drops out of the group, he is also faced with jail time. Yet Stepping says he feels successful if 40% complete their time.

An excellent article 10/4/14 by Tony Dokoupil of NBC News covered research into such groups.  Stunningly, the overall assessment of outcomes for violent men was dismal. Nothing quelled the very high drop-out and recidivism rate.  In fact, one study by the National Institute of Justice (2009) discovered that “... some programs actually seem to make abusers more likely to abuse.”  (Dokoupil)  Even the hugely funded A CALL TO MEN (Bunch, Porter) based on changing attitudes of sexism, after assessing it's impact, does not come through.

“...The ideas involved are undeniably compelling. Tony Porter’s TED Talk version of the program ends with a standing ovation in the studio, and the video has since been viewed millions of times online.  ( )

“… But although ending sexism is a welcome goal, there’s little evidence to suggest that it’s the root cause of domestic violence or that combating it with slogans and applause lines will put abusive men on a gentler path.”

Since 2003, the US government CDC (Center for Disease Control) is leading an effort to change the view of domestic violence as 'a hugely complex and permanent' problem.  It aims to send out the message in 'surround sound' that fixing the problem must start as young as kindergarten age (5 years old) and must be supported by the entire community, especially parents.  (Dokoupil)

All I can say is:   Good luck on that.  Because there is some very damning evidence of a behavioural response in most human male primates to react with aggressive violence to what is perceived as dangerous weakness in females and even other males who offer caring behaviour. This trait is not even being considered, probably because no one has recognized it exists in human males although it has been thoroughly studied in chimps. 

Drumbeat of Media

Stepping and I ended our long interview by commiserating about the message being dunned into the minds of TV, movie and game player audiences.   Since both Stepping and I are in our 70's, we could compare what the media message was in the '50's. There were bad guys and good guys, and the good guys win and rescue the damsel in distress. Yes, sexist, but a gentleman. Women played second fiddle, always. There was Lucille Ball who, although she was the boss of the studio, had to portray a ditsy wife to Desi Arnez in the series.  Roddenberry (Star Trek) made some great strides in bringing strong women (Uhuru and Captain Janeway) into the forefront of shows. Today, although many more women are working as producers, writers and directors, women's roles have overall deteriorated.

As for the video game business, it is virtually a closed shop and the few women who attempt to enter it are ruthlessly deterred.

“Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a talk last week at Utah State University after the school received an email promising a “Montreal Massacre-style” mass shooting if  the “craven little whore” was allowed to speak. And despite assurances from Gamergate supporters that they have no problem with women, their de facto leaders are being outed as violent misogynists. “

Sarkeesian went on to explain: “This reaction, mostly from male gamers, is to protect the status quo,” she said. The same is true more broadly, and always has been when it comes to women’s progress: the more ground we gain, the worse men react.” (Valenti)

Boys, especially are insidiously targeted towards violence as a solution.  In every video game, the hero, male, must strive for Alpha dominance.  Guns, and other weapons to kill, predominate as the tools of choice. It is mind blowing how ingrained even very small children are in the use of guns. Recently, Diane Sawyer at ABC TV News (Young Guns, 31/1/2014) again did the experiment first done years ago on Kids and Guns. Had there been any change?  They set up the same situations. After the young children are given the National Rifle Association lecture by a police officer on calling an adult when finding a gun, the kids are put in a room with a hidden camera and hidden guns. Within 10 minutes, the children find the guns and look down the barrel while pulling the trigger before pointing the gun at the other kids to 'kill them'.  Says Diane Sawyer, “They can't seem to help it.”  Parents of the children watch the videos of their children in horror.

The TV crew next goes into homes to demonstrate to parents how their children know exactly where the gun is kept, and even the bullets, much to the shock of the parents.  Finally they go into random homes to show how many of these families have guns – one in three homes in the US have guns, often loaded, where children can find them.

So, back to the constant drum of the media. To be clear, almost all the video games, and many of the movies still follow the Path of the Hero, as explained by Dr Joseph Campbell and portrayed by George Lukas in the Star Wars films. But it has become grossly distorted. Today's hero, unlike Luke Skywalker, responds to his challenges with uncontrollable rage and takes revenge for a loved one's death with extreme violence. A co-hero woman is hardly discernible from the male and she is always secondary.  Any female in a position of power is evil and without conscience.  The scripts are the same, only the names and locales are changed.  (Hornaday)

Watched and played by all ages on giant home TVs, up close and personal.

Kindness is a Weakness

There have been numerous articles and studies in print during October 2014, on domestic violence and the violent men. Only one article dealt with the human male as having chimp behaviour and it was not about a man beating his wife: Del Savio and Mameli, The Despotic Chimpanzee and the Ultra-Rich.  Although very general, and forgetting to mention that the chimps observed were Pan troglodyte (the big chimps that Jane Goodall studied), overall it was excellent in pointing out how “.... (chimps) have what primatologists call a dominance hierarchy, and at the top of this hierarchy is the dominating alpha male. In chimpanzees, domination is obviously not gained through the accumulation of wealth, as it so often is in humans, but rather through the direct threat of physical violence and through various kinds of social and manipulative skills.”  Interestingly enough, the authors concluded that the only way out of oligarchical dominance in our society was by what primatologists call: reverse dominance, or the rise of the familial group (the females).


Reprinted with permission from

What Del Savio and Mameli did not broach was the existence of the other chimp, the bonobo (Pan paniscus). They are smaller than the Pan troglodyte and have a female oriented society. They often walk upright, are more intelligent, share 99.4% DNA with humans (Hecht) and are reputed to look very much like the first human (Australopithecus). It's a peaceful society, called by observers the 'make love, not war' chimps. There is a loosely structured hierarchy with an Alpha female at the top. Conflicts are resolved with affection, grooming and sex, lots of sex.  Even though it is totally a 'free love' society, the male bonobo must 'ask permission' to have sex with a female. He is almost never refused.  Two bonobo troops meeting in the forest will greet each other and bond with … yes, more sex.  Babies are better cared for and more survive. (Carroll)

In contrast, how peaceful a Pan troglodyte troop is depends on the Alpha male's personality.  If he is a 'good' Alpha, he will be catered to by the females, groomed by the other males as long as he also grooms the lesser males and is not violent towards the females and infants. Females also have strict hierarchies and they don't have a lot of choice about who has sex with them, or when.  The rare and deadly battles between troops usually occur over territory. Infanticide happens, usually by dominant males killing 'stranger' babies, but also by the higher ranking females as well. (Wilson, Morin)

And then there is Frodo, the famous Alpha aggressive chimp studied by Jane Goodall. The true bully, large, violent and mean, he would not groom the lesser males although they were expected to groom him. He was abusive towards the females, even his mother whom he impregnated. He maintained control by fear. When he became sick and weak, he was usurped like all Alpha males are, but he was also cast out, attacked and left to die of his wounds. Reverse dominance set in with a vengeance.

Reverse Dominance

Could it be that men's groups are not the entire answer because despite all good intentions they can become men's clubs?  That is, each becomes a gathering of men headed by a man which because of societal conditioning, thereby becomes a Pan troglodyte troop. What seems to be effective in dramatically slowing violence towards women on a societal level is reverse dominance.  "Such research and common sense born of observation lie behind a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions passed since 2000 that call for the full participation of women in all peace negotiations, humanitarian planning, and post-conflict governance. Women alter the discourse, while transforming unequal relations between the sexes changes men as well, generally for the better.  Quite simply, countries in which women and men enjoy positions of relative equality and respect tend to be stable, prosperous, and peaceful. Today, for instance, gender equality is greatest in the five Nordic countries, which consistently finish at the top of any list of the world’s happiest nations." (Jones)

Boehm identifies four significant mechanisms operating in reverse dominance.

  • Public Opinion
  • Criticism and Ridicule
  • Disobedience
  • Extreme Sanctions (assassination)

An excellent example of a society based on reverse dominance was the Native American Iroquois Nation. It was a matrilineal, matrilocal society, like the Navajo and many other Native American societies are, meaning children are born into a woman's clan and the extended family lived in the woman's longhouse. If a husband was abusive or lax in working, the wife would simply put his belongings outside the door. Women were responsible for cultivating the crops and storing the food, which they owned. Men were hunters, but they brought their game to the women.  More importantly, women held a lot of political power and participated in many of the men's activities.  Women did a lot of the negotiating in trading with other tribes and most important they chose which of the men would serve as chiefs and leaders. If a man did not live up to the women's expectations, they would boot him out.  Men, though, did go to war.  The Iroquois Nation was very much into expanding territory. But here too, women had the final say as to whether a war could be fought and in any peace treaties afterward.   (Vanchieri, Wikipedia)

“During the 1600s the Iroquois Indian Nations, a group of several indigenous tribes in North America, engaged in warfare with many other tribes. The men controlled when and against whom they declared a war. Tribal Iroquois women decided that they wanted to stop unregulated warfare, and thought of a way to convince the Iroquois men to give them more power in deciding issues of war and peace.

First, the Iroquois women boycotted lovemaking and childbearing. This type of boycott of sex is currently referred to as Lysistratic non-action. Iroquois men believed that Iroquois women knew the secret of birth, which made this a powerful tactic.

Second, the women began to restrict the warriors' access to supplies because they had complete control over planting and cultivating crops. The women prevented warriors from acquiring necessary supplies by withholding needed commodities such as dried corn and moccasins. Although the Iroquois men controlled politics, they could not go to war without the necessary supplies, which were controlled by the women.

The men eventually gave in to the women’s demands and granted them veto power concerning all wars. This nonviolent action has been considered the first feminist rebellion in the United States.” (Vanchieri)

In countries where patriarchy is entrenched and now threatened, it will take a lot of very brave women to force a change. The worst behaviours occur just before the most dramatic changes happen.  It could get much worse before it begins to get better.

Man by Man, Up Close and Personal

How the individual bully can be transformed into a man who treats women with equality and empathy is more problematic since the patterns of violence once learned by the young boy appear to be permanent. Weakness and empathy are fear inducing. Despite all protests to the contrary, if the Pan troglodyte man is put in circumstances where he must choose between a woman being equal to him or to be part of the troop, he will choose the troop, and he will choose that potential for violence on some level. Perhaps not overtly, but he will choose it.  In his journey to find the reasons behind his father's violence towards his mother, Patrick Stewart  (Who Do You Think You Are, UK) describes how every time he acted in a powerful Alpha male role, such as MacBeth, he could feel the potential for his father's violence come alive in him.

To quit using violence, a man must own and come to grips with his inner Pan troglodyte and recognize the stimuli that can bring it forward. Perhaps if the mandated men's groups have women involved in running the groups and force the man to recognize his reactions in front of the woman, who would call him on it, that might be a first step. After all, his reactions are no different from the urge to drink alcohol. One is a programmed behaviour, the other an addictive behaviour and they are both biochemically based.  Then, after the mandated 36 week group meetings, volunteer meetings could be available like AA.  But how to make the violent man stay the entire 36 weeks and not opt out by going to prison?

Interestingly enough, Chuck Stepping, after having read the above paragraph, sent me this in an email: “Our program, following the Oregon state guidelines does have a female co-facilitator... After 80 hours of classroom training in Portland, and 200 hours of group sessions, she can become a facilitator... And there are many programs in Portland, Salem and other larger metropolitan areas that are putting women in both the facilitator and/or co-facilitator role.” Stepping says it is too early to look at statistics on changes in outcomes for the men who stay the course.


In Closing: We Can Admit We're Killers.

One of my favourite scenes in the original Star Trek series is from A Taste of Armageddon.  Captain Kirk and Spock, completely against the Prime Directive by Starfleet of non-interference in alien societies, blow up the huge computers which are used on Eminar Seven to simulate war. Citizens supposedly hit in the computer generated 'attacks' were to report to 'disintegration booths'. This 'war' had gone on for centuries.

Star Trek A Taste of Armageddon


Excerpt from the Script

KIRK (to Spock): Against the wall!

(There is a very satisfying series of explosions.)

Councillor ANAN: You realize what you have done?

Kirk: Yes, I do. I've given you back the horrors of war. The Vendikans now assume that you've broken your agreement and that you're preparing to wage real war with real weapons. They'll want do the same. Only the next attack they launch will do a lot more than count up numbers in a computer. They'll destroy cities, devastate your planet. You of course will want to retaliate. If I were you, I'd start making bombs. Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands. You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative. Put an end to it. Make peace.

Councillor ANAN: There can be no peace. Don't you see? We've admitted it to ourselves. We're a killer species. It's instinctive. It's the same with you. Your General Order Twenty Four...

KIRK: All right. It's instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we won't kill today. Contact Vendikar. I think you'll find that they're just as terrified, appalled, horrified as you are, that they'll do anything to avoid the alternative I've given you. Peace or utter destruction. It's up to you.


BBC Two,  Series 9, Episode 3: Patrick Stewart, Who Do You Think You Are, UK  or

Boehm, C. Reverse Dominance. Other Worlds.Wikispaces Classroom.

Boehm, C. et al.  Egalitarian Behavior and Reverse Dominance. Currant Anthropology, Vol34, #3, Pgs.227-254. University of Chicago Press. June 1993.  

Bunch, T and Porter, T. A Call to Men (Organization's Website)

Campbell, Joseph. Hero With a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books. USA. 1949, 1968, 2008.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth (Video)

Carroll, Holly. The Last of the Great Apes.  2/10/2010.

Del Savio, L and M. Mameli. The Despotic Chimpanze and the Ultra Rich . TruthOut/Op-Ed.  10/10/2014.

Dokupil, T. Why Domestic Violence Prevention Programs Don't Work.  NBC News/Storyline.  4/10/2014.

Hamner, Robert. A Taste of Armageddon,. STAR TREK. Paramount Studios.  23 Feb1967.

Hecht. J. Chimps are Human, Gene Study Implies. New Scientist  10/5/2003.

Hornaday, Ann.  In movies, violence against women lets filmmakers indulge toxic fantasies   Washington Post.  9/19/2014.

Jones, Ann. The Missing Women of Afghanistan. Huffington and TomDispatch.  30/10/2014.

Morin, M., Monkey See, Monkey Kill: The evolutionary roots of lethal combat. Science Now, L.A. Times.  17/9/2014.

Pizzey, Erin. Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear. (Shelters for Women, 1978.

Porter, T. A Call To Men  (video).  12/2010.

Sawyer, Diane. Young Guns, ABC News.  31/1/2014.

Seligman, M. Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco. W.H. Freeman. 1992.

Stewart, Patrick.  Patrick Stewart on Violence Against Women. Amnesty International.  9 October 2009.

Stewart, Patrick. Patrick Stewart Talks about Domestic Violence. Amnesty International.  8 May 2007.

Valenti, Jessica. Gamergate is a Dangerous Last Gasp at Cultural Dominance by Angry White Men. Guardian, UK.  21/10/2014.

Vanchieri, Nicole. Iroquois Women Gain Power to Veto Wars, 1600s. Global Action Nonviolent Database. Swarthmore College.  17/04/2011.

Wikipedia. The Iroquois  (

Wilson, M.L., Boesch, C. et al. Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts. Nature (letter).  17/9/2014,

To Contact

Detective Jon Bohanan, North Bend Police Department. North Bend, Oregon. USA

Captain Duane Wisehart, Reedsport Police Department, Reedsport, Oregon. USA

Chuck Stepping, Men's Alternative to Violence, Coos Bay, Oregon. USA.

Women's Safety and Resource Center, Coos Bay, Oregon. USA

Highly Recommended

Diane Sawyer's Young Guns.  ABC Special. 31/1/2014

Stewart, Patrick Patrick Stewart on Violence Against Women. Amnesty International.  9 October 2009.

Stewart, Patrick. Patrick Stewart Talks about Domestic Violence. Amnesty International.   8 May 2007

Surviving Sexual Violence on the Streets (A know-your-rights film for homeless women) created in Portland, Oregon. Transition Projects and the Victim Rights Law Center.  19/7/2013.


  1. Chuck Stepping said..

    Ann states: "Then, after the mandated 36 week group meetings, volunteer meetings could be available like AA."

    Upon successful completion of our BIP program (as with most BIP programs) all men are offered "free" attendance to any future group sessions, without commitments, using the MATV program as a support group.

  2. Kim Berry said..

    This is a must-share article! :) excellent work.

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About Ann Fillmore PhD

For many years, during her long career Ann Fillmore PhD was an international consultant dealing with victims of violence. As a behavioural scientist, she served as expert witness, worked as a therapist and before retiring, invented the self-help technique: WREMS (  Now retired, she is busier than ever, teaching Tai Chi and writing. Her mystery novel: Way of Escape is about rescuing women in danger and the sequel is on its way.  

As well as continuing her research into emotions and behavioural interactions, she also has become very interested in the development of psychic abilities: The Emerging Psychic  (

For intense adventure, Ann looks into what exists in other realities by heading up a paranormal and historical research team (COAST GHOST Paranormal Research Society  

Ann Fillmore lives on the central Oregon coast, is an ardent gardener, bird watcher and painter. Her three dogs and several cats allow her to share the old house and garden. She may be contacted via   or on her Facebook page:

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