For many of us involved with violence in New Zealand, the Glenn Inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence has provided a beacon of hope for the future.
We have watched politicians and officials taking a gender-neutral stance about violence in the home for decades. Policy document after policy document have adopted terms like "family violence" and "domestic abuse", and talked in ways that imply it is "people" in general who pursue violence against vulnerable family members. It is certainly true that "people abuse people": the abuse of boys and men, of the elderly and of the disabled can be horrific and cannot be minimised.
But this gender-blindness masks the stark reality that both the depth and breadth of violence in our homes takes the form of "men abusing women". We have an enormous amount of evidence pointing to the critical role of men. In New Zealand, about 18,000 women and 12,000 children per year escape as refugees from their own homes to seek safety at women's refuges. We have no equivalent to this happening for men.
Moreover, from my experience, those going into refuges represent only the tip of the iceberg; a far larger unrecorded number seek safety by other means such as escaping to homes of friends or family.
The Glenn Inquiry under the leadership of Ruth Herbert placed gender at the centre of what needs addressing. Those involved fronted up to the uncomfortable reality that it is men who perpetrate the majority of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, that it is men who police apprehend for abuse eight times more often than women, and that it is women who apply for 92 per cent of court protection orders.
They also recognised that tackling abuse of children must also involve confronting violence against women. More than half of child-abuse cases occur where women are also being abused.
But what I see as most important is their recognition that this isn't about a few misbehaving men. Our best evidence indicates about one-third of New Zealand women experience some form of violence from men in their lifetimes, and about one in 20 during the last year. Violence of this scale couldn't be committed by a small number of pathological abusers.
No, violence here has to be something to do with the ordinary New Zealand male; something to do with men like my neighbour, my workmate, my father, my brother, my son ... men like me.
There is something in the way us men approach what it means to be a man that entails a belief that our way of seeing the world is correct, that we should be in control and that we deserve to be in charge in our homes.
Government gender-blindness has stymied headway we could have made in addressing the damaging commitment us men have to controlling home environments. By now we could have formed a stronger understanding of how our version of manhood translates into violence. We could have initiated a range of early-intervention programmes to assist men in moving away from controlling behaviour. We could have developed programmes through schools, workplaces and sports clubs to help young men explore alternative ways of being manly.
Ruth Herbert's resignation, along with most of the experts associated with the inquiry, is very disappointing. We had a chance to tackle the real drivers of violence in our homes. I fear this opportunity is drifting away, and the inquiry is showing signs of reverting back to the gender-blindness that has dogged government agencies.
Associate Professor Peter Adams School of Population Health, University of Auckland, is the author of Masculine Empire: How Men Use Violence to Keep Women in Line.