Erin Patria Margaret Pizzey
Erin Patria Margaret Pizzey (born 19 February 1939) is a British former feminist, Men's rights activist, advocate against domestic violence, and novelist. She is known for having started the first and currently the largest domestic violence shelter in the modern world, Refuge, then known as Chiswick Women's Aid, in 1971.
Pizzey has been the subject of bomb threats and boycotts from feminists and others because her experience and research into the issue led her to conclude that most domestic violence is reciprocal, and that women are as capable of violence as men. These threats eventually led to her exile from the UK. She was also banned from the refuge she started.
In 2021 Refuge held a celebration for it's 50th anniversary. Erin Pizzey was not invited.
In 1959, Pizzey attended her first meeting at the UK's Liberation Movement (WLM) at the Chiswick house of a local organiser, Artemis. At Artemis' urging, Pizzey agreed to convene a 'consciousness-raising group' at her home in Goldhawk Road. This collective became the Goldhawk Road Group.
The head office of the Women's Liberation Workshop (a women's workshop within the WLM) was in Little Newport Street, in Chinatown, Covent Garden, straddling the City of Westminster and Borough of Camden. Along with her friend, Alison, and other members of the Goldhawk Road Group, Pizzey found herself at odds with Artemis and Gladiator, who led a clique of younger women within the WLM Workshop head office. Pizzey distanced herself from this clique when she witnessed what she described as "irregular and disrespectful behaviour" towards the money donated by desperate women across the UK. She confronted them over this behaviour, which, according to her, included claiming that telephones were tapped, and labelling of people they did not like as MI5, police and CIA informers or agents. She also was concerned about overhearing discussion of plans to bomb the London store Biba; she reported on this to the police after warning the people involved. Subsequently, Pizzey became aware that the police had the group and offices under surveillance. Pizzey says that she and her fellow members of the Goldhawk Road group were seen as troublesome, because they did not accept others' behaviors and views.
Pizzey set up a women's refuge in Belmont Terrace, Chiswick, London in 1971. She later opened a number of additional shelters, despite hostility from the authorities. She gained notoriety and publicity for setting up refuges by squatting, most notably in 1975 at the Palm Court Hotel in Richmond. Pizzey's work was widely praised at the time. In 1975, MP Jack Ashley stated in the House of Commons that "The work of Mrs. Pizzey was pioneering work of the first order. It was she who first identified the problem, who first recognised the seriousness of the situation and who first did something practical by establishing the Chiswick aid centre. As a result of that magnificent pioneering work, the whole nation has now come to appreciate the significance of the problem". Whilst being prosecuted by local authorities and appealing matters to the House of Lords, she was recognised for her work.
After Pizzey left Chiswick Women's Aid (renamed Chiswick Family Rescue on March 31,1979), the organisation she had founded and moved abroad, it was rebranded as the charity Refuge on March 5, 1993. Although Refuge traces its existence back to Chiswick Women's Aid, Pizzey's name could not be found anywhere on the Refuge website for many decades. It was not until November 2, 2020 that Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge since 1983, mentioned Pizzey's name for the first time again on the Refuge website in a press release on her retirement.
Reciprocity of Domestic Violence
Soon after establishing her first refuge, Pizzey asserted that much of the domestic violence was reciprocal. She reached this conclusion when she asked the women in her refuge about their violence, only to discover most of them were equally violent or more violent than their husbands. In her study "Comparative Study of Battered Women And Violence-Prone Women," (co-researched with John Gayford of Warlingham Hospital), Pizzey distinguished between 'genuine battered women' and 'violence-prone women'; the former defined as "the unwilling and innocent victim of his or her partner's violence" and the latter defined as "the unwilling victim of his or her own violence." This study reported that 62% of the sample population were more accurately described as "violence prone." Similar findings regarding the mutuality of domestic violence have been confirmed in subsequent studies.
In her book Prone to Violence, Pizzey expressed concern that so little attention was paid to the causes of interpersonal and family violence, stating, "to my amazement, nobody seemed to genuinely want to find out why violent people treat each other the way they do". She also expressed concern for the view expressed by government officials that solutions to the issue of domestic abuse and violence could be found in socialist or communist countries. Pizzey pointed out that marital violence was a great problem in Russia, and China addressed the issue by proclaiming wife-beating a crime punishable by death sentence. The book looks at what appeared to be learned behaviour, often starting in childhood, linked to hormonal responses. Pizzey describes such behaviour as akin to addiction.
She speculates that high levels of hormones and neurochemicals associated with pervasive childhood trauma led to adults who repeatedly engage in violent altercations with intimate partners despite the physical, emotional, legal and financial costs, in unwitting attempts to simulate the emotional impact of traumatic childhood experiences and manifest the learned biochemical state linked to pleasure. The book contains numerous stories of disturbed families, alongside a discussion of the reasons why the modern state care-taking agencies are largely ineffective. Promotional events for the book were met with protest, and Pizzey reports that she herself and co-author Jeff Shapiro needed police protection during the promotional events for the book.
Backlash, Threats and Harassment
In 1981, Pizzey moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, while targeted by harassment, death threats, bomb threats and defamation campaigns, and dealing with overwork, near collapse, cardiac disease and mental strain. In particular, according to Pizzey, the charity Scottish Women's Aid "made it their business to hand out leaflets claiming that [she] believed that women 'invited violence' and 'provoked male violence'". She states that the turning point was the intervention of the bomb squad, who required all of her mail to be processed by them before she could receive it, as a "controversial public figure."
Having moved to Santa Fe to write, Pizzey promptly became involved in running a refuge in New Mexico, as well as dealing with sexual abusers and paedophiles. Pizzey said of this work, "I discovered that there were just as many women paedophiles as there were men. Women go undetected, as usual. Working against paedophiles is a very dangerous business." Whilst living in Santa Fe, one of her dogs was shot and two others were stolen, which she claims was a result of racist neighbours. Her family suffered new harassment following the publication of her 1982 book Prone to Violence. Pizzey links much of the harassment to militant feminists and their objections to her research, findings and work. Describing the harassment, Deborah Ross of The Independent wrote that "the feminist sisterhood went bonkers".
Following the abuse and threats in Santa Fe she moved to Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands where she wrote with her second husband, Jeff Shapiro. Subsequently, she moved to Siena, Italy where her writing and advocacy work continued. She returned to London in the spring of 1997, homeless due to debt and in increasingly poor health. Her insights are still sought by politicians and family pressure groups.
Pizzey is still actively working to help victims of domestic violence. She has been a patron of the charity ManKind Initiative since 2004, when she received a Roger Witcomb Award. In March 2007, as a guest, she attended the ceremony of opening the first Arab refuge for victims of domestic violence in Bahrain.
In 2013, Pizzey joined the editorial and advisory board of A Voice for Men.
Her two April articles pertained to two interviews she gave on the Reddit community "IAmA", where she promoted her Facebook page and the "AVFM Online Radio" podcast on BlogTalkRadio. She announced her first interview a week prior on /r/MensRights.
In November 2014, Pizzey became owner/manager of the WhiteRibbon.org website. This was later renamed Honest-Ribbon.org.
Pizzey is a patron of registered charity Compassion In Care which works to "break the chain of elderly abuse" and she wrote an introduction for the book Beyond The Facade by founder Eileen Chubb.
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