Why are male victims of domestic violence more likely to suffer in silence? One man explains why he kept the problem to himself.
—This is article #23 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
I’m task-oriented. I will discuss my aims, my projects, my achievements with anyone. But if you asked me how I was feeling, the answer you would get would be , “I’m fine,” even if I wasn’t.
It just wasn’t part of my nature to talk about my feelings and emotions. If I felt hurt, I wasn’t going to make an issue of it – I certainly wouldn’t let anyone know – I’d simply dust myself down, pick myself up and carry on. I would talk about what I could do or what I was going to do, but never about how I felt or the circumstances behind emotions. I would say that this is true for most men that our innermost angst remains locked away in our psyche.
For a long time, I didn’t recognise the violent assaults on me as Domestic Abuse. I’d made a wedding vow that included the words, “ for better or for worst, in sickness and in health.” The actions perpetrated against me, I reasoned, was because of some undiagnosed illness caused by the stress of bereavement and maybe even physiological changes due to childbirth. My pleas to my ex-wife to seek medical attention for her extreme anger outbursts were ignored.
I kept telling myself the violence would stop
I didn’t see the attacks on me as criminal assaults although they clearly were. I kept telling myself that the violence would end once the grieving had ended or once the baby had arrived. It never did. The more I accepted her pattern of behaviour, the worst it became. Also, how could I even think about involving the Police and pressing charges against the woman I loved?
I felt I couldn’t tell anyone. Who would believe me? Most people thought that women are incapable of attacking the physically stronger man. I wish I’d known back then that women attacking their male partners is far more prevalent than assumed. Although hit, I’d never retaliate back. To me, striking a women even under provocation, is totally unacceptable.
When I first stayed away from the marital home a counselling session was arranged. This was facilitated by our Bishop before they realised the extent of the abuse. In fact, I would like to think that this session helped them comprehend the severity of the abuse I suffered. In trying to comprehend all that had happened, I spoke about being physically hit by my ex-wife and said that I would never hit her back. She responded in a loud, angry voice, “If you did hit me, you’d only do it once!” to which I calmly responded , “That’s the problem though, you’ve hit me more than once.”
However, the attitudes I encountered afterwards were all dismissive about the severity of the abuse. I suspect though, were I female, it would have been a different story.
Why do men remain silent?
Men remain silent because they suspect that they won’t be believed. This is borne out by statistics from The Mankind Initiative:
- Twice as many male victims (28%) than women (13%) do not tell anyone about the domestic abuse they are suffering – highlighting the level of underreporting.
- Male victims are three times (10%) more likely not to tell the police they are victim than a female victim (29%) and only 4% of male victims will tell a health professional compared to 19% of female victims.
I looked up the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) guidelines for Domestic Violence. I thought that perhaps I could find reasons for why men don’t feel comfortable going to the authorities. It makes interesting reading:
6 – Gender and the CPS violence against women strategy
The Violence against Women Strategy provides an overarching framework for crimes that have been identified as primarily being committed by men, against women, within a context of power and control.
Domestic violence prosecutions should therefore be addressed within an overall framework of violence against women and an overall human rights framework……..Prosecutors should also recognise that domestic violence also takes places within same sex relationships that men can be abused by women and that family members can be abused by siblings, children, grandchildren and other relatives.
Although there is a token reference to male victims (recognised that men can be abused by women), the clear emphasis made is that Domestic Violence is primarily committed by men against women.
I decided to explore this more and came across:
Matczak, A., Hatzidimitriadou, E., and Lindsay, J. (2011). Review of Domestic Violence policies in England and Wales. London: Kingston University and St George‘s, University of London. ISBN: 978-0-9558329-7-0
This proved to be insightful and offered some history about UK Governmental Policy development:
Violence against women was recognised as a fundamental infringement of human rights in the 1993 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and was a major topic at the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women (UN Women, 1995). The serious consequences of domestic violence have also been recognised by the World Health Organisation (Krug et al. 2002).
Over the past 30 years there have been major changes in the national policy and comprehension of domestic violence in the United Kingdom driven and in response to advocacy and campaigning by the women‘s movement and non-governmental organisations providing services to abused women (Harvin, 2006)…..
During the period between 1997 and 2010, the main focus of policy and legislation on domestic violence was on implementing measures based on prevention, protection and justice and the provision of support for victims of domestic abuse, to be implemented by partnerships of service providers at local and national levels. Interestingly, in formulating policy, the government defined domestic violence in a gender-neutral way. Since 2010, following the election of a Coalition government (Conservatives and Liberal Democrats), there is a shift in policy direction with increased focus on a more broad gender-based agenda to ―end violence against women and girls (Home Office, 2010).
The UK Government is currently reviewing policy in this area and is utilising the United Nations Declaration‘s (1993) definition, namely:
Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’. (Home Office, 2010)
The current government is consulting on whether to extend this definition to include younger people (Home Office, 2011).
The consultation also recognised that men and boys could be victims of domestic violence and the impact of domestic abuse on families and children. In March 2011 a new action plan Call to End Violence against Women and Girls: Action Plan was published setting out immediate and longer term priorities for action and the responsibilities of different government departments and framing policy development within an equalities and prevention framework with a distinct and new focus not only on adults but also on the protection of children from domestic and gender based violence within families, schools and from harmful material on the internet. It is backed by a £28 million fund to support the provision of specialist services for victims and prevention work.
Male victims are excluded
The last paragraph offers once more the nominal concession to men and then promotes the new Action Plan which excludes men. It does concern me that the move away from a Gender-Neutral to Gender-Based approach will stop men from speaking out. It goes without saying that if only female abuse victims are heard and listened to, even fewer men will be strong enough to come forward.
The truth is that Domestic Violence is no respecter of gender. These statistics show that while slightly more women than men suffer DV, the gap between the two genders isn’t that wide:
- 40% of domestic abuse victims are male: for every five victims, three will be female, two will be male
- 7% of women and 5% of men were estimated to have experienced any domestic abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.2 million female and 800,000 male victims
- 31% of women and 18% (one in six) of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16. These figures were equivalent to an estimated 5.0 million female victims of domestic abuse and 2.9 million male victims
- Partner abuse (non-sexual) was the most commonly experienced type of intimate violence among both women and men. 24% of women (3.9 million) and 13% of men (2.1 million) reported having experienced such abuse since the age of 16: for every three victims of partner abuse, two will be female and one will be male.
- In 2011/12, 4% of women (675,000) and 3% of men (491,000) experienced partner abuse: a split of 57%.43% (for every seven victims – four will be female, three will be male)
- 1.1% of men and 1.3% of women were victims of severe force at the hands of their partner during 2011/12. Over a lifetime the figures are 6.1% and 13.2%
- More married men (2.3%) suffered from partner abuse in 2011/12 than married women (1.8%)
- More men in managerial and professional occupations (3.0%) suffered from partner abuse in 2011/12 than women with the same occupation (2.6%)
- Men with children (3.0%) are as likely to be victims of partner abuse than men without children. The figure is the same for female victims (3.5%)
- In 2011/12 – 17 men (one every 21 days) died at the hands of their partner or ex-partner compared with 88 women (one every four days)
These figures certainly make nonsense of the claim made in the following UK Government’s Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls March 2011 document:
The vast majority of the incidents of domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking are perpetrated by men on women.
This claim is clearly unsubstantiated and should not be the basis for a Gender-based approach. All Domestic Abuse is wrong and both sexes are as likely to be victims/ perpetrators.
Men remained silent because their voice is not heard or when it is, it is seldom believed.
—Picture credit: Flickr/David Goehring
This article is written by “Si Victim”, a UK-based blogger who writes about his experiences of being a domestic violence survivor at The Silence of Domestic Violence blog.
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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