Domestic violence in Aotearoa, giving and privilege

Jackie Clark

December 20, 2020

Jackie Clark is a freaking powerhouse of a person, unapologetic & raw. Jackie started The Aunties whānau, working alongside women who are on their healing journey from domestic violence. I first saw Jackie speak last year when I went to a live podcast show - The Guilty Feminist in Q Theatre, Auckland. Her journey and her work sat in my heart for a long time, and I have been waiting for a moment to ask Jackie to do this interview.

The interview was recorded in October 2020

If reading is more of ya thing (but I definitely recommend watching it), transcript of the interview is below.

Content Warnings - discussions of: physical abuse, mental-emotional abuse, manipulation, grooming, self-harm, suicidal ideation, child abuse, racism, rape.

“Privilege is an amazing thing, it's a wonderful thing, because then you can fuckin’ use it! If you've got a platform, or a lot of power, or a lot of resources, how wonderful is that? Fuckin’ use them!”

You've been in this line of work [domestic violence] for many years now. Do you think we’ve gotten worse, better, have we learned things from other countries?

In actual fact the things that work are those things that come from indigenous people. So I only work with Māori-led services. I only work with one organisation now that has a safe house; they do emergency housing because there has to be recognition as well, that actually, for a lot of women going into refuge is about emergency housing until they find alternative accommodation.

...but it doesn't seem like a preventative measure, right?

No, because there isn't anything that prevents domestic violence, because we're human beings. You're not going to stop domestic violence, it's as simple as that. We're not even going to touch the problem until we actually look at the power structure and the people who commit the most violence in this country towards women and gender minorities, which are cis white men. And they built and uphold the power structure, and they and cis white women excuse, protect, and defend that entire thing. So the judges, the lawyers, the police officers, the doctors, the professional white men, and Māori men, but mostly professional cis white men, that's who's doing the most damage. To their families and to those around them, and yet nobody goes dare tackling that shit, because it's just too hard, because it's making them accountable for their bullshit.

People assume that physical violence is mostly a Māori-Pacifika thing. No, it's not, it's occurring just as much in Remuera and Khandallah and fuckin’ Fendalton as it is anywhere else. But the police are never called, and so it's invisible. And it's visible to me because that was my story; and so hundreds and hundreds of women every year, white middle-class women, contact me to tell me their story because I told them my story through a magazine article.

A ridiculous part of it all is that nothing changes in that person's life unless they stop it; they have to be the proactive person, all right, the victim- what the fuck is that about?! I know I’m getting so emotional, but it's like, somebody's in a controlling and abusive relationship and we expect them to know that it's bad for them. I spent my entire 28 year marriage believing that I had been the problem, because that was what I was convinced I was. He never touched me physically. I was thinking the other day that I used to tell people “Oh we've got a difficult marriage but it's okay because it suits us, it works for us.” What the fuck? Because you come up with these excuses and you come up with this stuff, because you're convinced that's what it is.

And that's why people don't talk about it because it's so shaming, it's so shaming, you feel so ashamed of yourself - how stupid you are.

In Kazakhstan, where I am from, violence against women is so in front of your face: beatings, stabbing and kidnapping, you know… 

Sounds like South Auckland [laughs]. In New Zealand, indigenous domestic violence is very visible. There are huge amounts of Māori men who are in prison for male-assaults-female.

We need to remember that the police are hogtied by the law, because the courts in this country… no, the judges in this country! Wouldn't you fuckin’ wonder why women end up living in tiny fuckin’ state houses, homeschooling their children who are afraid of their fathers? Wouldn't you understand what that's about if you're a judge?! I've gone and talked to groups of lawyers, I've never gone to talk to groups of judges, because they are a law unto themselves.

When I was 17 and just moved to New Zealand, I was dating a guy who was incredibly abusive. I was so young… I felt like well surely when you're 17 you can't get into an abusive relationship. And then I thought if I talk about this, what will people think of me and what will I think of myself. I stayed in it for a year and a half, and we had friends living with us who didn't even know. I felt such shame about myself, I’ve never ever thought that I could end up in a relationship like that… 

And that's why you'll never stop it. And that's why even trying to stop it is probably useless. Because it's such a complex dynamic - because it's relationships! Relationships are incredibly complex!

You know people say ‘Oh why didn't you leave?’ and I go, well, if somebody walked into your relationship tomorrow and went ‘Oh no no no, you've got to leave, come on, out you go’ - which is what we do to Māori women by the way. Cyfs do it, police do it, social workers do it, agencies do it all the fuckin’ time; they walk into Māori and indigenous womens’ relationships and go ‘this is terrible, you must leave.’ But they never fuckin’ do that to no white women! Because they're not called so it doesn't exist as far as they're concerned. 

Very early on in my marriage my friend started looking for bruises and of course never found any because there was never any, a lot of my friends said to me after my husband’s death: “I'm really sorry darling, we never knew how bad it was, we always looked for bruises but we could never see any, so we thought we were imagining things.”

My friend, best friend, who died seven years ago was always my plan B. She always said “After this gets too much and you leave him, you come and live with me, come and live with me, darling.” and I never did. I think because it's such... relationships are so complex. Lots of people are groomed for abusive relationships, because they've lived in it growing up. And it might not be him smashing her over, it might just be the way he speaks to her really disdainfully, you know?

And part a problem with white middle-class men, what happens when their wives do leave them or whatever, they use the family court to perpetuate the violence. They perpetuate the violence, the psychological coercive control.

And the process is you have to go through mediation until it falls down and then you can go to family court. So they drag these women, who've been dragged through e-fuckin’-nough, through mediation because ‘the children must see their father’. They don't say that about Māori men! ‘Children should have a father’, no they fuckin’ shouldn't! If the father's a destructive piece of shit, no! It's not about power games, it's about: actually, my children deserve to be safe from you, because you're a harmful piece of shit.

Do you have any hope or faith in government?


Do you think we can make any big changes from within the government? 


The short answer is no. Until they're ready to tackle the power structure and really clean out our halls of power? Because that's what's required. There's an MP in power right now who had allegations against him, and one of them was around sexual assault, and he's still walking around the halls of power. Because that was swept under the carpet. If 50% of relationships are abusive in this country, of course there's people in parliament who have been in abusive situations. Women, and I know there are because they've contacted me, and men who have been abusive; or are abusive. So how do you expect to tackle that power structure when the people who uphold it have no interest in letting go of that power? Because that's the thing about power, people with power aren't going to let go of it; and so no, I don't have any faith in them at all. I don't care who's in government.

I know you're saying you're working with women who are healing but you know just through your work and just through your presence, you're affecting so many people!

Well that's their thing, that's not my thing. I don't give a fuck, do you know what I mean? You don't know where your words land. Sometimes people throw themselves at me in public; the weirdest experience in the world is when you're in a cafe in Manukau just getting a fuckin’ sandwich or whatever, “You don't know who I am but I follow you on Facebook! I wanna hug you!” I go “Okay fine.” It happens more often than I'm comfortable with [laughs].

How did you end up in this position, because you were a kindergarten teacher right?

Yeah yeah yeah.

By accident.

You didn't want to be...?


What did you think of yourself being when you were younger then? What did you want to do?

My father always said I was gonna be an actress, ‘cause when I was four years old I was quite dramatic. But the reality is that I've never been allowed to be who I was; I was always too much or not enough, in my family and then in my marriage.

And I didn't go into this to solve any problems; I came into this accidentally. What it's turned into is very different from how it started. When it started I was at Mangere Refuge, just popping in there once a week because the staff had asked me to. The board woman who ran it very cleverly knew that if you connect the donors to the people who are getting it, you put some heart into it. 

You know, The Aunties is a very cynical name, originally done to give people warm fuzzy feelings. To show people that we're all in this together, you know what I mean? Which is what happened... we are now all in it together, but that was an accident. It's all been very organic.

Stepping into this work, do you feel like this is something that allowed you to be who you are?

That came with my husband's death. But at the beginning of this work what I've quickly realised was the women I was most comfortable with in my life were Māori women.

Why is that? Why Māori women?

Because I've always been a bit joke-y and a bit glib, and when I'm with pākehā people that's often regarded as awkward and saying the wrong thing. And I never said the wrong thing to them. Because they always just took me for who I was, there was no judgment, they just always accepted me for who I was and that was it. And then when I started doing this and going to the refuge and sitting with women, I never felt more at home than when I was with them. I couldn't be that anywhere else - I was too much, not enough.

You often speak about giving versus helping and how you don't like the idea of helping. With people who want to help because they can, because they have privilege or money or whatever, what do you think about that? 

I distrust the ‘help’ word... Because that's about you, it's not about other people. Most people in social professions will talk about helping people or empowering people, it's not about them that's about you. That's about your jollies, right? My jollies are incidental. Like what Cal said [referring to the Guilty Feminist Podcast interview]: “What's your joy in life?” I went “Are you fucking joking? My entire life is my joy”. Just the fact that those fuckers trust nobody and they trust me? That's my jollies, right there.

So nobody does anything completely altruistically, let's not get that wrong. I'm not completely altruistic, I'm not doing this because I'm a kind person, I'm doing this because I have access to this resource and I've built this community of people and I happen to be really good at fuckin’ getting money off people. I don't know why, but I am.

I just distrust young people, young white women, who talk about [nasally holier-than-thou voice] ‘social justice’... What the fuck…? Well because I recognise that in myself, because I did that in my 20s, I was a founding member of anti-racism movement at Auckland University and ran Shadows Bar for the fuckin’ uni fems and all this bullshit; in the 1980s, you know?

I've stormed out of restaurants having argued with my parents’ friends about apartheid; because I went on the Springbok Tour march and stuff. And that stuff's really harmful, it can be dangerous, because that gives you a real sense of power and that's not power that belongs to you or should belong to you. So I have a real difficulty with the help-y thing.

I get a lot of “Oh you help so many people”... I don't do fuckall nothing! I just live my life and I've got access to those resources and I encourage people to use the resource; and that's what it is. They are doing everything, I'm not doing anything. They're empowering themselves, they've got their own light, they've got their own power. There's a couple of them who are quite given to gushing; a couple of them, not all of them, but a couple of them are like “Oh my god Jackie!” and I tell them “I find that really offensive, because that's your power, it's not my power, don't give me your power. I've got my own power.” You know I'm pretty pragmatic about it, I live a very fuckin’ nice life and I live in a mortgage-free house, I don't need your fuckin’ power. I have extraordinary amounts of privilege and power, and so, don't be giving yours away.

I’ve been told for a very long time in my life that if you want others to contribute to something whether it's money or time or other resources, you have to find a nice way to talk to them about it… 

No you don't. No, you don't. Be honest, always be honest. If you're yourself and you're honest, and you're raw, and you're passionate, and that passion comes through in the way you speak; That's why I've come as far as I have. I realised really quickly that you have the donors you wish to have. So if somebody's not going to suit you, you just tell them to fuck off. They're not going to give you money, don't worry about it, somebody else will.

You think over the years, did you get more hopeful about the change or less?

No! No! No! I'm under no illusions, I don't need to be, people go ‘oh how do you keep going, like don't you lose hope?’ Well no, because I work with the most extraordinary group of women who have been through shit. And these women who've gathered themselves around me, in this Aunties whānau, I call them ‘shiny fuckers’ because they're extraordinary human beings, they really are extraordinary human beings. They're extraordinary mothers but more importantly they're really fuckin’ resilient, they're determined, they're smart, they're articulate. They've chosen to stick around; because they are ready to love themselves, look after themselves, care about themselves. And so what you have as this group of people... Why would I have no hope in life? I don't need hope! [gestures to around herself] you know what I mean? Like why would I need hope?

But I go “I'm a heavy smoker, I've got maybe 20 years to live, so we better hurry up now, you know? Get your shit together. Um, find your light! Quickly! Stand in your power! Hurry up!”

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