The UK is said to have some of the most comprehensive equality laws in the world. So why aren’t they being applied to ensure male victims of domestic violence are treated equally asks Nick Smithers of Abused Men in Scotland?
—This is article #53 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
What a shame life constantly turns out to be so complicated while we struggle to provide simple answers to ever shifting problems. Let’s consider equality, specifically the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), as prescribed by the Equality Act 2010, and how this is applied at the moment in Scotland with regard to Domestic Abuse policies and funding.
It is clear from the legislation that there is a duty upon public bodies such as local authorities and the NHS to ensure that services provide equally and proportionately for those people with shared or different protected characteristics.
It states that public sector bodies have a duty to ‘advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it’. One such protected characteristic is sex hence there is a duty to provide equal and proportionate services for men and women.
What about male victims?
What should proportionate services look like in Scotland? Well if we take the bottom line as being recorded police incidents of domestic abuse approximately 20% were against a male victim (around 10, 500). This figure is itself widely regarded to be an underreporting based on the Scottish Crime and Justice survey which reflects many similar studies around the world suggesting around 1 in 3 victims of domestic abuse are men.
Of course these types of figures and studies do not give detail of the context of the abuse but it remains clear that there are large number of men experiencing domestic abuse in Scotland and services ought to reflect this.
Unfortunately, as with most other places, the service provision is nowhere near proportionate with domestic abuse services uniformly being delivered as Violence against Women or Gender Based Violence and often excluding men explicitly or implicitly through gendered policy and language.
Representing Abused Men in Scotland for 18 months now I have been a participant in many policy and strategic discussions with a variety of stakeholders who have expressed a range of views as to how to develop services. Fundamentally however there remains a significant deficit in services targeting and embracing the needs of male victims.
Men deserve equality too!
The main obstacle when dealing with mainstream agencies such as the NHS and Local Authorities lies in their interpretation of the PSED and their responsibilities to it. Looking at the figures and working with men in Scotland, as I have for a number of years, I believe that this is a clear equality issue and that men represent a large minority who are currently discriminated against.
When I have challenged policy officers on this issue however they have claimed to be satisfied that PSED is being met. In practice this manifests with services being focused on women and children or in the case of the recent Scottish Government policy document Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls, also excluding boys.
How can it be that this approach satisfies PSED? Well this lies in the interpretation and analysis of domestic abuse. For many service providers domestic abuse is a cause and a consequence of societal gender inequality. This simplistic analysis leaves little room for male victims or women in same sex relationships and herein lies the problem.
Men of all backgrounds deserve our help
The dominant explanation of domestic abuse seems to indicate that it is something that impacts on women only as it is a cause and consequence of unequal gender power relations in society hence services being almost wholly funded for women appear to meet the duty. The fact that thousands of men are known to be victims of domestic abuse is something of an inconvenient truth but one which is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
So we have a situation whereby the language of equalities excludes a very large and diverse section of society. Whether you’re an elderly Pakistani Scottish man in Edinburgh, a middle aged gay white man in Orkney, a teenage man with learning difficulties in Perth, a homeless Aberdonian man with addiction issues, a business man on the Isle of Skye or an asylum seeking father of four in Glasgow – if you are suffering domestic abuse there is a substantive lack of support available which is likely to be sensitive to your needs and circumstances.
This is not merely an issue of semantics it is being used to justify services being exclusively targeted at women and girls. It is a matter of urgency, literally life and death in some circumstances, that Government at all levels as well as other public sector bodies succeed in reconciling perceived societal gender equality issues with specific equality issues as they manifest in the lives of men, women and children in daily life. It is clear to me that until this happens many public sector bodies are singularly failing to fulfil this basic, legal duty.
—Picture credit: Purple Sherbert
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.
The views expressed in these articles are not the views of insideMAN editorial team. Whether you agree with the views expressed in this article or not we invite you to take take part in this important discussion, our only request is that you express yourself in a way that ensures everyone’s voice can be heard.