Refuge’s claims about women ‘exaggerated’

It seems that some people are finally questioning the rhetoric that comes out of the domestic violence support community, particularly the use the of scare tactics to garner support:

The Advertising Standards Authority has labelled Women’s Refuge claims that a third of women live in fear as “exaggerated”.

The body upheld two complaints about fundraising print and television advertisements that ran in July. In the newspaper version the Saatchi & Saatchi ads said: “One in three New Zealand women need your help. Because living in fear isn’t living.”


In its response, Women’s Refuge said the statistic came from sources including 2004 research which found 33 to 39 per cent of women experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.

Further, a World Health Organisation study in Auckland and Waikato found one in three women experience physical or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.


However, the use of the WHO study was more problematic.

“While the majority of the complaints board acknowledged the veracity of the statistics, it was concerned that a study restricted to women living in Waikato and Auckland was used as the basis for national statistics.”

Similarly, it was concerned with the 2004 lifetime violence finding, which was based on an episode of violence becoming the “basis for fear”.

“In the majority view, it was inappropriate to extrapolate the claim ‘one in three women … are living in fear …’ from the research.

“It also made the point that a strong claim specifically used to encourage donations from the public, in turn required robust research to substantiate it.

“In the majority view, this had not been provided. Therefore … in this context, the claim was exaggerated …”

The misrepresentation of statistics is nothing new for women’s advocacy. It is unfortunately quite common for someone to take a statistic, twist it, and then run a campaign based on it. It is unusual for someone to file a complaint, more unusual still for someone to take the complaint seriously.

Women’s Refuge attempted to explain the misrepresentation:

At the time of the campaign’s launch, Women’s Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said the adverts were highlighting psychological as well as physical abuse.

“People recognise physical abuse because there is something to see. Psychological abuse is far more sinister and far more prevalent.”

Unfortunately for Henare, that is not clear from the advertisements. The article suggests that the ads only mentioned the headline “One in three New Zealand women need your help. Because living in fear isn’t living.” Nowhere in that statement does it suggest anything about psychological abuse. The average person would assume that the ads referred to physical violence. More so, while psychological abuse is more sinister and likely more prevalent, it is hardly something that necessarily evokes the lift-threatening fear implied in the ads.

Those who dissented in the ruling offered this opinion:

A minority view disagreed and said the refuge had the right to use “provocative, robust opinion” and, given the nature of the claim, the right to extrapolate statistics from the research.

Even if that extrapolation misleads the public? Even if it is an exaggeration of the problem? Even if it is wrong?

If the goal is to help women, it seems misguided to help them through deception. The problems some women face are bad enough on their own. There is no need to exaggerate the extent of the problem, especially not to gain support. Doing so will only make people question one’s future claims, which in turn would hinder, if not ruin, one’s chances of helping women.

2 thoughts on “Refuge’s claims about women ‘exaggerated’

  1. I stopped donating to women’s shelters. I did after seeing material from more than one that included sexual infideltiy and the failure to praise one’s partner as examples of abuse.

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