The One Show tonight ran a piece on men as victims of domestic violence, including a brief interview with Erin Pizey founder of the women’s refuge movement. This issue is not often enough highlighted, and as reported on the show there are many reasons why it is likely to be underreported – both embarrasment and fear of not being believed or of counter accusations. Services for men are patchy, but the information on the one show website gives some helpful links and information.
What wasn’t helpful about the piece was the way it skated over the source of its statistics which were used in a way that suggested that men were victims as often as they were perpetrators, which anything more than a superficial understanding of patterns of violent and abusive behaviour would tend to suggest is unlikely to be the case (although it’s impossible to be certain because underreporting is probably prevalent regardless of gender or sexuality albeit for slightly different reasons. However, as the hidden hurt website rightly points out the numbers affected is not the key issue: the important point is that it happens to men too, and whether or not a victim is male or female they should be able to access support. Even for women there are stigmas attached to admitting you are a victim of domestic violence, it is an extraordinarily difficult acknowledgment because most victims’ self-esteem has been worn right down.
I didn’t find the whole ‘domestic violence hijacked by the feminist movement’ line terribly helpful. There was a time not so long ago when it was considered socially acceptable to perpetrate violence on a female spouse or partner and finding the support necessary to break free of an abusive relationship was very difficult, and when attitudes to divorce were very different. It’s easy to forget that it is the work of the women’s movement and campaigners in this field that has in part brought about a fairly radical shift in attitudes about domestic violence against women (alongside general social shifts), so that women are now able to report and escape from violence or abuse. Equivalent work now needs to be done to change attitudes in the case of male victims, but that should not detract from the validity of the work done thus far to highlight the problem of male on female violence.
Anecdotally, I often represent male clients who are or say they are victims of domestic abuse, although they are rarely the applicant for injuctive relief. Most often they are responding to an application by their wife or partner who has ‘got in first’, thereby putting hubby on the back foot. Sometimes these appear to be to some degree or another mutually abusive generally dysfunctional relationships, but sometimes it is clear that the sole perpetrator is the woman. But experience of talking to male clients at court (and to male litigants in person who I am opposing) and their reports of how they have experienced the process of alleging violence by a female partner suggests that many men are fearful of the consequences of seeking help – they do not expect to be believed – by family, the police, the family court, the CAFCASS Officer – and they do not expect to be supported.
So in spite of my minor griping, good on The One Show for being part of the process of moving attitudes forward in respect of male victims of domestic violence.