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Male victims of domestic violence

Most people don’t realise this, but the number of men who suffer from domestic violence almost matches the number of women who do.  It’s a fact that is hidden in clear view.  Statistically, the figures for men are one in six, compared to the figure for women being one in four.  However, that’s just the statistic.  What this means is, that’s the number of known male victims.  My experience in treatment of victims causes me to believe firmly that the actual number for men is at least one in four, just the same as for women.  Why the disparity?  Equally, why don’t more people know about this?

Men are far less likely to disclose that they’re victims.  There are cultural and societal reasons for that, of course.  Few men are willing to admit to their friends and family, or even to themselves, that a woman is beating them up or terrorising them.  If women would feel embarrassed to admit that they were in a controlling and abusive relationship, one can only imagine how embarrassing it would be for a man.  Men are supposed to be the strong protectors, not the victims.  Being a victim is seen as a weakness.  Men are not allowed to be weak.  Men are not allowed to be victims.  Culturally, men are supposed to be the dominant gender, the ones who are in control.  They’re the ones who go to war.  Only recently have women been allowed to take on combat roles, because that’s always been seen as the man’s duty.  Women have been declared by the military to be unfit for combat because they aren’t strong enough, hard enough.  Of course that isn’t true; but if we think it took ages for the world to catch up to that, imagine how long it’s going to take for the world to recognise that women are strong enough, hard enough, and cruel enough to be perpetrators of serious abuse against their biological male partners.  Men are murdered by their abusive partners in this country every month.  It rarely makes the news.

I treat victims of domestic violence as a counselling therapist who specialises in that field.  Some of them are women, and some of them are men.  There are things that they have in common.  In all but two cases, the victims have claimed that the abuse was their fault because they wound their partners up.  If they hadn’t wound their partner up, he/she would not have abused them.  In all but one case, there were excuses for the abusive behaviour, including the excuse that the partner had mental health issues; so the abuser shouldn’t be seen as being at fault for the behaviour, even if the victim wasn’t at fault, either.  It’s easy enough to trace where that comes from.  Perpetrators always blame their victims.  They do not take responsibility for their own behaviour, and even try to claim that the victims inflicted the injuries on themselves just to cause trouble.  I’ve heard it all, just as many of us have.  Victims of both genders will face victim-blaming from the perpetrators just as part of the course.  Perpetrators will even say that the victim is the one who is being abusive and that they themselves are actually the victims….the smoke and mirrors game.  This does tend to make investigating domestic violence cases more complicated, and the waters can be very muddy.  However, the result of the victim-blaming will be vastly different for male victims.  This is where the similarities end.

When a man tries to blame his victim for the abuse, or tries to say that she threw herself across the room and split her scalp open just to make him look bad, he isn’t believed.  He gets arrested and she gets taken to a refuge.  When a woman blames her victim, she is successful far too often.  In fact, she’s successful almost 99% of the time.  Her victim will get arrested even if he’s the only one with injuries.  During the police interview, a woman will be sympathised with more often now than was once the case.  Clearly, there are still times when this doesn’t happen, but the situation is improving for women.  There are education and training modules and courses available to the police from AVA and VAWG which are very informative and helpful, and many police are taking those things up.  A man being interviewed, however, will not be asked questions about what happened, nor is he allowed to disclose.  It will automatically be assumed that he is the perpetrator, and that he’s just doing the standard victim-blaming.  Questions asked will not be based on trying to find out what happened, but will be put forward as accusations and attempts to find out the motive for his bad behaviour.  If he tries to insist that he’s the victim, he’ll get harsher treatment because he will be accused of failing to take responsibility for his bad behaviour.  Unfortunately, this is the way it will go for him in court more often that makes for comfortable reading.  I’ve seen men be found guilty on no other evidence than the woman’s crocodile tears.  If a woman gets treated this way, and it does still sometimes happen, there is outrage in the streets.  Parliament issue statements, and MPs get involved.  When it happens to a man, it never even makes the news.  He’s guilty, and that’s the end of the matter.  If he tries to appeal the verdict, he runs the chance of a harsher sentence.  If the appeal isn’t successful because the next panel of magistrates is equally convinced that only men can be perpetrators and only women can be victims, he faces an almost certain jail sentence, never having committed a crime.

Supporting a male victim through that system is gut-wrenching.  Watching police laugh at the idea of your client being a victim, mocking him and being rather abusive themselves in their level of disrespect, isn’t easy when you are helpless to make them stop.  Supporting a victim who has actually been convicted of the crimes committed against him, while he’s being mocked by the magistrates who are clearly wanting to send him to prison, is difficult.  Watching probation officers treating him like a criminal who isn’t willing to make progress in being reintegrated into civil society by admitting his crimes so that he can take part in courses that teach him not to be abusive is difficult.  He’s being victimised all over again, and this time, by the very people who are charged by law to protect him, and all because he’s the wrong gender.  In addition to these things, he has little support.  There are some organisations, such as the Mankind Initiative, who can offer phone support.  However, face to face support groups such as women have easy access to are non-existent.  I’m trying to start one for my area.  Refuges or safe houses for men are non-existent.  The ignorance of MPs on the matter of men as victims is appalling.  One told me that 90% of victims are women.  Since roughly 46% are known to be men, his ignorance on the subject was inexcusable.  What was worse was his dismissal of any offer to have any information on the matter that would help him to understand the male constituents who were trying to get his help, and the only answer they were getting from him was that men weren’t really in that bad of a state.  I wonder how many of us can imagine just how frustrating that would be, just how powerless we would feel if these things were happening to us.  Imagine living with a conviction on your record, no longer able to get housing very easily, jobs becoming a problem, etc., when you’re not only innocent, you’re the victim.  I do know that the prisons are full up of men saying that they didn’t do it when they clearly did.  However, for that to be used against you when you actually didn’t do it just adds to the sheer helplessness.  It adds new layers to the trauma that I end up treating.  It also adds to the number of men who end up committing suicide.  If their perpetrator didn’t kill them, the system will.

So, what’s the answer?  For a start, be proactive in getting more information for yourself and your organisation.  Mankind Initiative will happily send you flyers and posters so that you can promote information and awareness amongst your colleagues.  They will also give training that will help you to recognise and support male victims.  Give men a voice, and help them to recognise that there is no shame in being a victim.  The one who should be ashamed is the perpetrator.  Imagine how it would feel to be a male victim in an organisation where the awareness is all about women, and your perpetrator is a woman.  Then do something about that, and make sure that men are equally represented.  When your organisation is looking for something to do to support a charity, do a fundraiser for men’s abuse needs.  There’s no funding for shelters for men, and there’s no awareness.  Do an awareness drive from time to time, as well as fundraisers, and ask Mankind Initiative what else you could do.  They’ll be very happy for the help.  Be part of the solution, be part of changing attitudes.  Only then will attitudes change and information become more commonly available.

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