The Year of Violence Prevention – 2024: Chris Poole 


Photographer Melissa Kühn Hjerrild 

Read the interview with Chris Poole:

How is it that you were the first to hold a conference about gender-based violence in Denmark?

If we go all the way back to shortly after I came to Denmark in the 1970s. Then I helped organize the first ever public conference. It was a first meeting about men's violence against women. It was in 1976. I was part of a group that founded the Joan Sisters, which exist to this day.

My political interest in working with this. It goes back to some personal experiences. My first education, it is as a musician.

I actually came to Denmark with a music education in rhythmic music. I am a jazz musician, and am still active to this day. But unfortunately I have been exposed to three serious incidents of sexualized violence. The third assault happened here in Denmark, shortly after I had moved here.

We're back here in the mid-1970s. At that time in Denmark there was nothing. There was no hotline, no one to call. There were no Joan Sisters. There was no Center For Violence Prevention. There was no Dannerhus. Nada.

I needed help. I knew that. Plus as an immigrant I had questions about if he gets caught what happens? How is the legal system screwed up here in Denmark? There was no one to tell me anything.

I went to the women's house, there was a little notice. It was a woman who was a psychology student. She offered to advise people who needed help, so I contacted her.

It was really, really good. She helped me a lot right during the first crisis period, and then she told me that there was a group of women who were investigating people's attitudes towards rape in Denmark. It was a group of women who were organized under the Danish Women's Association, it was their youth group. So I joined that group and it is also the group that ended up starting the Joan Sisters a little later.

I also sought out a woman who had started teaching feminist self-defense. I thought that sounded very, very exciting. So I took some courses and they were just so important to me. It was a very, very important piece in my processing of what I had been exposed to.

I learned through feminist self-defense about my strengths and my options to avoid violence. Both what I had been exposed to, but also the things I could encounter in the future. Feminist self-defense was hugely meaningful to me. At that time, back in the 70s, there were also many other women who wanted to attend the courses. There was only one instructor and there were long waiting lists.

Then I thought, I think I'll educate myself on this. I want to be able to teach others because it has been so meaningful to me. I want as many women as possible to learn these methods. So they don't only know them after they have been subjected to 3 assaults, as I had been. I might have avoided getting into those situations at all. So I got an education, it took me 3 years and thousands of hours. But since the late, or early 1980s, I have been teaching feminist self-defense.

Which areas within gender-based violence do you work with today?

Today I have an organization called Violence Prevention in Practice. It is an organization where I collect information about the courses, lectures, publications that I offer. It is about preventing and dealing with violence, for many different age groups and target groups. Both children, young people, adults and indeed also seniors. You can actually call Violence Prevention in Practice a public information project.

We work to spread knowledge and methods that can reduce the risk of being exposed to abuse and violence. Especially the forms of abuse and violence that girls and women are exposed to. It is of course sexual harassment, it is all forms of sexualized violence, rape, intimate partner violence, etc.

In Violence Prevention in Practice in 2020, we took the initiative for an online platform called Women Resist. It's a website, it allows women to go in and enter accounts of how they've dealt with difficult situations. It's the whole spectrum from exactly how you handled the risks on a bus, or if you've been exposed to something disgusting on a date. It can be in the nightlife or it can be at home. There are many accounts of women who have been victims of intimate partner violence. But how have they handled it? What have they done? How have they progressed in life? It is important that we have some places where we can go in and enter our experience of telling what others have done to us. But I think it was also really important to give space for us to talk about what we have done. How we have handled things, including after an assault or something like that. So what did we do?

You are still involved in the fight against gender-based violence to this day. Why are you still? Is it because you think the battle is not over?

Unfortunately not. Actually, I really want to retire and play music. But there are still too few individuals and organizations working with violent crimes, and especially with primary violence prevention. The situation today, and which has been there for all the years that I have been here in Denmark at least, is that by far, by far the majority of the resources that Danish society spends on combating and dealing with sexualized assaults and other forms of men's violence against women . It is spent on efforts after the violence has happened. Eg. counseling and crisis center for those exposed to violence, treatment services for perpetrators of violence, these are just a few examples.

I know that here at the Center for Violence Prevention, you do group courses for women who have been exposed to violence. It's insanely important.

They must be expanded and more resources must be provided. But having said that, it is insanely necessary to a much, much higher degree, to invest targetedly in the prevention of violence before it occurs. This is what I call primary prevention - because there is so much we can do!

When talking to a politician, e.g. a dinner party, so almost everyone says; prevention, yes it is insanely important, of course we must prevent. But then it doesn't last more than a short moment, and then the subject is changed. Sometimes it's about people not having concrete pictures on the retina of what primary prevention actually is. Images are blurry and fuzzy. Everyone has images in their head of what the violence and its consequences are because it is more tangible.

There are norms and behaviors in our culture that support and make it possible for so many sexualized assaults, i.e. rape and other forms of violence against women. Today we have an insane amount of knowledge. We have a lot of knowledge about gender-based violence. Of course we need more, but we must convey the knowledge we have much more widely. It should not only be with us specialists, researchers and academics who might read something about this. We need to have it much wider in society. We must go to war. Concrete war. Against the myths and misconceptions.

What hope do you have for the future? And do you have a silver lining to hold on to?

I see a lot of positive trends in society right now. I sense that there are more and more organizations that were in the past, Danner such as e.g. have their focus on outward-looking political work and have focused on the aftermath of the violence, they have, among other things, conducted studies on how much partner violence takes place, etc. Now they are also starting to include primary prevention campaigns. Eg. have they had a really good campaign around red flags. Here they have been out to get people to understand that before a partner murder there are often very large, clear red flags that you can detect and that say this is going in the wrong direction.

So there are trends, but we need to talk about primary prevention much more. We need to get it out more and we need more resources for it. The two examples I have got there. They are financed by foundation funds. It is not public money or anything from the government. We need the government to release some more resources for the primary violence prevention projects. But something is happening. There is a mental change, I think.

I sense the changes out here. It has taken a long time, but it is coming. And I look forward to that very much.

Do you believe that you can retire soon and say now, everything is under control?

I do not think. There is still too much work to be done yet.