Male Victims of Domestic Violence…Are They Ignored?
As Criminal Lawyers, we see a tiny number of female perpetrators of domestic violence being prosecuted compared to male offenders. It seems, at least still, that a large proportion of male victims of domestic violence are left without a voice.
According to the One in Three Campaign, one in three victims of domestic violence are men. The Anglicare’s WA 2014 report on family and domestic violence shows that 18 to over 50 per cent of domestic and family violence victims were male. According to the report, the type of violence perpetrated on men included:
– Isolating behaviours – over 50% (exact figures not published)
– Shamed on social media – over 50% (exact figures not published)
– Being pushed, slapped, punched, choked or kicked – 42.6%
– Being induced to physical or emotional exhaustion – 41.0%
– Mind games and manipulation – 41.0%
– Being stalked or followed – 35.7%
– Forced sexual contact or coercion – 18.2%
Male victims of domestic violence experience similar physical and emotional abuse as women. However, they also, more so than woman, experience “legal and administrative abuse,” such as the “use of institutions to inflict further abuse on a victim.” Refusing male victim’s access to their children or “taking out false Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders” can be just, if not more emotionally and psychologically devastating then other forms of abuse. (Source: One in Three).
The One in Three campaign’s website also highlights that 33.3 per cent of victims of partner violence were males and 38.5 per cent of domestic homicide victims were men. Statistics show that “between 2010 and 2012, 75 males were killed in domestic homicide incidents.” The vast majority of domestic violence perpetrated on men, according to One in Three, are committed by women (94%). However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Institute of Criminology, Attorney General’s Department and WA Department for Child Protection figures for 2010-2012, indicate only “5.3 per cent of male victims of current partner violence had contacted police.”
The barriers to disclosing male gender based domestic violence
The political climate in Australia of recent times seems to largely ignore the notion that males can be victims of domestic violence.
Similar to women, male victims of domestic violence often face many barriers to disclosing abuse including: shame, embarrassment and guilt. Boys are raised to be tough and strong. They are conditioned into believing asking for help is a sign of weakness. As Bill O’Chee of the Sydney Morning Herald notes in his article, domestic violence is viewed under the lens in which roles are assigned according to gender. He states, “men can have only two roles in this play: they are either the brutish perpetrators of domestic violence, or the courageous men who care for women.” This social stigma leads male victims of domestic violence feeling inadequate and emasculated for not being able to protect themselves.
Because men are more often stronger and larger in stature than their partners, it is difficult for most people including police and social service workers to accept that men can be victims of domestic violence. If a male victim goes to authorities they are often not taken seriously, or it is often assumed that they have provoked their female attackers.This false assumption can lead to male victims being wrongly arrested and removed from their homes leaving their children unprotected. As a result, many men suffer the abuse in silence in an attempt to protect their children.
Male victims of domestic violence either under report or do not report their abuse at all due to fear of retribution for themselves or their children. The fear of losing their children results in very low rates of disclosure and many men may not even seek help until the point they feel their life is at risk.
The Lack of Social Services for Male Victims of Domestic Violence
Men also often do not know where to go for help or even if there is help. Australia has mandatory domestic violence screening for women in many health departments across the country, but no such screening for men. The stigma as the man being the abuser means social services are less likely to ask a man whether he has been a victim of family violence, or if they do ask, he is less likely to be believed.
In the Brisbane Times, Brisbane Premier Palaszczuk says we need to change public perception that men coming forward as victim of domestic violence is a sign of weakness. We need society to say domestic violence is wrong towards any gender. As she says, “it has to be about stopping violence.”
Is there a social bias when it comes to men as victims of domestic violence?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS) data states that males make up “33 per cent of people who have experienced an act of violence from a current partner in the past 12 months.” Although this data comes with a notification that the “estimate has a relative standard error of 25 to 50 per cent and should be used with caution;” the fact remains, there are men who are subjected to intimate partner violence. Whether it is 1 in 3 or 1 in 5 should not matter. There are still male victims of domestic violence and often this violence is perpetrated in front of their children. What message are we sending our children if they see a gender disparity when it comes to holding certain perpetrators of violence unaccountable for their actions in comparison to others?
One in Three supporter and psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Celi says “it is important to stop viewing domestic abuse and violence as gender based. Many feel that if you acknowledge male victims of domestic violence, you are somehow “taking away from female victims,” which Celi says “is completely untrue.”
There is also a misconception that women’s violence against men is either not possible or justified as a response to women being assaulted. Even though males make up a significant proportion of victims of family and sexual violence, One in Three says they are excluded from government anti-violence programs such as Our Watch and ANROWS. According to Sean McDermott, one of Australia’s leading experts on domestic and family violence, it is because of this that men are often “unaware that they are victim of domestic violence” and as a result do not report it or access support.
One in Three also highlights that although there is “overwhelming evidence” that male victims and female perpetrators of domestic and family violence make up a substantial proportion of affected persons, they were still completely “excluded from Anglicare WA’s 2014 report recommendations.”
The Australian “federal government launched a $100 million women’s safety package to help combat domestic violence against women and children. “Two million of that package was allocated for men but not for men as victims. Instead it was used to increase funding for tools and resources that focus on trying to stop perpetrators from reoffending.
With the lack of government funding for male victim’s services, men continue to feel excluded as victims. The National Plan “recognises that both men and women can be victims of domestic and family violence and sexual assault” and the Commonwealth has contributed funding for the expansion of counselling services for male victims of violence through Mensline. However, according to Mr. Finn Pratt, Secretary of the Department of Social Services; the Ministry has still yet to obtain statistics for male victimization of domestic violence.
More needs to be done to break the stigma of men as victims of domestic violence and the Australian government should lead the way by stopping its gender bias in its social service policies and practices. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the Brisbane Times that she plans on approaching Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about “launching a domestic violence awareness campaign that includes male victims.” That would be a good start.
If you are a male experiencing domestic violence, contact Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978 or the National Domestic Violence Line on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732 FREE).