Mark Brooks OBE is Chair of the Mankind Initiative, a charity which supports male victims of domestic violence. Here he describes what he says is a game-changing moment for the recognition of the suffering experienced by the hundreds of men his charity receives calls from each year.
For decades there has been a reality gap when it comes to domestic abuse. It is the same across the world. This reality gap is based on the view that domestic abuse is a crime that only affects women, even when the reality is much different.
This reality gap is reflected in government policy - which frames domestic abuse as a gendered crime based on the view that it is a cause and a consequence of wider gender inequality. This is despite the fact that government figures show one in three victims of domestic abuse are male, while also the government does not view suicide or rough sleeping as being gendered issues when far more men suffer from this than women. This can and does affect service provision.
The reality gap is also reflected in how society views domestic abuse – with a gap still remaining with the public in not recognising male victims in the same way they do female victims. This cognitive bias can affect responses from “blue light” responders and also can lead to no or delayed responses from the public – including friends, family and neighbours. The award winning #violenceisviolence video shows the stark reality of the gender differences in how society views domestic abuse.
The way society and government views domestic abuse also affects male victims. It means they fail to recognise what is happening to them, feel ashamed, feel they won’t be believed and do not know where to turn.
This is set against the backdrop of an estimated 450,000 men (1 million women) - broadly 30% - being victims of partner abuse every year yet only around 5% of those victims using domestic abuse services are men. In addition, just under 50% of male victims do not tell anyone against 20% of female victims. The figures are too high for both genders and it is vital that we eradicate domestic abuse against women as much as we do against men.
The moving BBC Three documentary “Abused by my Girlfriend” broadcast in February has made such a difference in closing this reality gap. It charts the story of Alex Skeel (an Ambassador of the ManKind Initiative charity) and how he became a victim of domestic abuse, how he was rescued and how he is rebuilding his life.
It was seen by over 1.6 million alone on BBC One (Tuesday 19th February) and has been a real discussion point all week on social media and in workplaces. What has been significant is the number of women of all ages who have been at the vanguard of so much of this momentum - sending Alex messages, promoting the broadcast on social media and generally speaking out. The fact that Alex’s mother plays such an important role in the documentary especially when she recalls her sister saying “he just wants his mum” was a significant emotional moment that resonated with so many other mothers.
This week also saw Libby Wright, being awarded a prestigious High Commendation in the National Crimebeat awards. In her former role as Durham’s Young Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner she was behind a campaign, No Less Of A Man, to make people aware of male domestic abuse and how to get support. The Paul Lavelle Foundation, named after Paul who was killed by his partner who was convicted of manslaughter, also opened a new service for male survivors in the Wirral. The foundation is led by his brother, his family and a wide group of friends.
These events are crucial in encouraging more men to come forward, more people to reach out to them and a better response when they do come forward especially from the police and other blue light services. Significantly, it closes the domestic abuse reality gap so that domestic abuse is no longer seen as a gendered crime or a crime that is only a “woman’s crime”. It is becoming seen as a crime that affects everyone – women and men in heterosexual and same-sex relationships. In that way we will see more men coming forward, more male-friendly services and a more inclusive society which is in keeping with a modern and diverse Britain.
Mark Brooks OBE
Chair of the ManKind Initiative charity