The Welsh government is putting male and female victims of domestic violence at risk by failing to manage a gender political row that has broken out in the principality over proposed legislation designed to tackle violence in Wales, campaigners have claimed.
Legislators in Wales initially planned to introduce a Violence Against Women (Wales) Bill to tackle domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women and girls. Advocates for male victims claimed the legislation excluded men and boys and the Welsh government responded to these concerns by changing the title to the Gender Based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill.
The move has angered advocates on both sides of the gender political debate with Welsh Women's Aid, which plays a key role in the Wales Violence Against Women Action Group, leading the call for the Bill to revert to its original name, the Violence Against Women (Wales) Bill.
According to Paul Apreda, National Manager of FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru (a charity with links to Families Need Fathers in England), the name of the bill is somewhat irrelevant as The Welsh Government’s plans are clearly focussed towards a Violence against Women agenda, but run the risk of failure because of an ill-conceived attempt to make them appear gender inclusive.
Women's groups downplay problems facing men
According to a press release issued by Apreda last week, pressure to recognise male victims within existing women's services has resulted in a zero-sum game of men’s groups calling for equality of approach which have been countered by women’s groups downplaying the extent of the problem facing men.
Apreda took the unexpected move of backing Women's Aid's request for the Bill to focus on women and girls and called for the Welsh government to develop an additional strategy for helping men and boys.
"Having read through the consultation responses received from a variety of Women’s support groups we understand their concerns about commissioners ‘coercing’ women-only DV services to open their doors to men," said Apreda. "We share their worry about the dilution of the focus on protecting women and girls – and have come to the conclusion that the Welsh Government has completely miscalculated with this proposal."
‘We believe that if the Welsh Government fails to put forward a credible, realistic, appropriately funded and timely response for male victims they will be in breach of UK legislation on Gender Equality," said Apreda. "We stand ready to work with Welsh Government on this separate agenda and we hope we can count on the support of Welsh Women’s Aid to return the support we’re giving them now".
Lies, damn lies and statistics
However, any hopes that Women's Aid would support the development of a separate strategy to help male victims were deflated when it was revealed that the charity had made a new submission to the consultation on the bill that stated:
"WWA believes that the term 'violence against women' does not exclude men and boys as it refers to a crime type rather than a particular class of victim. As women and girls are the overwhelming majority of victims of these types of violence and abuse and 95% of perpetrators have been found to be men, the benefit of retaining the term within the Bill far outweighs any initial confusion that may be cause in regards to coverage."
This statistic was angrily challenged by the campaigner Mike Buchanan of Justice for Men and Boys who said in an open letter that this "lie" was a misrepresentation of data contained in a 2008 report by the Crown Prosecution Service. According to Buchanan:
"That report does not state that ‘95% of perpetrators have been found to be men. It states that 95% of those charged (over April – September 2006) were men – a very different matter. There are a number of reasons for this high proportion. Over many years British Crime Surveys have consistently reported that male victims are far more reluctant than women to report their abusers to the police and others. The justice system is institutionally biased against men, and treats women far more leniently."
We must keep trying to find a solution
While not everyone on the men's side of this gender political debate agrees with Paul Apreda's approach, he does appear to have the good will and support of many advocates for male victims. Tony Stott of Healing Men who has campaigned tirelessly for the legislation in Wales to be gender inclusive told insideMAN:
"All those involved in domestic abuse should be treated equally and as individuals whether they are instigators or victims or both. Support, resources and justice should be made equally available to all regardless of gender. That is not to say that men and women should be treated the same - clearly men and women are of equal importance but each may well have different needs.
"Unfortunately, "different" has all too often meant denying the importance of men's experiences of domestic abuse and the approach taken by FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru will help bring the inequalities in importance that men face into sharp focus. This is a hugely difficult struggle but I feel it is so important that we keep trying to face and resolve this discrimination and inequality. I hope this approach works!"
The challenge for the Welsh Government is to navigate the turbulent world of gender politics and come up with an approach to tackling violence in Wales that doesn't favour either side of the debate and is equally capable of helping all victims irrespective of gender.
---Photo credit: Flickr/Peter Harrison
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