For once, the news media is telling the truth about domestic violence, so when it happens it’s cause for celebration. This article from The Independent actually takes on the topic of men as victims of intimate partner violence and does so in a way that encourages both belief in their stories and empathy for their plight. These are men, not women. As such, they have their own uniquely masculine problems in trying to deal with the violence directed at them by their female partners. In the vast majority of articles in the mainstream media, men are ignored altogether as victims or slighted by the claim that, in some way, they embellish or even misrepresent what happens to them. In the most typical of sexist ways, because they’re men, they’re expected to either not be hurt at all or to deal with it without complaining. excellent article does no such thing, instead talking with actual men and their actual responses to being assaulted by their wives/girlfriends.
An inch under six foot tall, Dave, a gardener with a deep, gravelly voice is not most people’s idea of a domestic violence victim. But he suffered two years of abuse at the hands of his girlfriend and was too embarrassed and loyal to report her to the police. He slept in his car for weeks before speaking to his local council, who found him a place at a men’s refuge.
He struggles to keep it together when he recalls the day his girlfriend smashed a bottle of Jack Daniels across his head, leaving him bleeding on the pavement: a deep scar is still clearly visible on his forehead. But when the 45-year-old from Essex describes the relief of being believed by the authorities, he breaks down, his broad shoulders heaving beneath his rugby shirt.Then there’s Kieron Bell.
“When help finally comes it’s an emotional thing,” he says, sitting on the sofa at a safe house in Berkshire where he is being helped to rebuild his life. “As a man, it’s very difficult to say you’ve been beaten up. It seems like you’re the big brute and she’s the daffodil, but sometimes it’s not like that.”
Kieron Bell very nearly became one of those grim statistics. He is also one of a handful of men who has successfully prosecuted a partner for violence. The 37-year-old bouncer from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, had to have emergency heart surgery after he was stabbed in the chest by his wife, Sarah, in 2009. She had been violent since the start of their marriage in 2006 but he did not want to turn to the police at first, initially because he still loved her and later because he thought they would never believe that a 5ft 2in woman would be subjecting a bulky 5ft 10in bouncer to a reign of terror.Dave and Kieron give us two reasons why men don’t go to the police when their partners turn violent. First, they’re afraid they’ll be laughed at and not given any help by the police and social services workers who are supposedly there for them. Second, there are the kids. If a couple has children the man will often see himself as their first and last line of defense against their abusive mother. And he knows to a virtual certainty that, if he walks out,
After the stabbing, his wife tried to claim that Mr Bell fell on a knife but, while recovering in hospital, he decided to report her to the police. In 2010 she was charged with grievous bodily harm and was released from prison only in May last year. “I was scared to call the police. I’m a big bloke and I thought I’d get laughed at,” he said. “I think there needs to be more information out there for blokes. If I’d known what the signs to look out for were before, I could’ve done something sooner. But I loved her and because of my child I stayed with her.”
(a) his wife will get custody and he’ll barely ever see his children again, if then,
(b) the children will be at the mercy of their mother, and
(c) she’ll likely charge him with abuse which will get him banned from access to the kids and maybe put in jail.
Is it any wonder men don’t seek help?
Then there’s the fact that, if they do reach out, there probably won’t be a hand to grab.
One in three victims of domestic abuse in Britain is male but refuge beds for men are critically scarce. There are 78 spaces which can be used by men in refuges around Britain, of which only 33 are dedicated rooms for males: the rest can be taken by victims of either gender. This compares with around 4,000 spaces for women. In Northern Ireland and Scotland there are no male refuges at all.Unsurprisingly, this almost complete absence of services for male victims of domestic violence stems directly from government policy that assumes male victims don’t exist.
Alan Gibson, an independent domestic violence adviser for Women’s Aid which runs the men’s refuge in Berkshire that is helping Dave, said: “Four organisations phoned us today looking for places for four different men. They’ve been attacked and abused, but there is only one room available in the country and someone will have to decide which of those four men is most in need.”
Mark Brooks, chairman of the men’s domestic abuse charity, the Mankind Initiative, said: “Support services for male victims remain decades behind those for women. This is not helped by the Government and others having a violence against women and girls strategy without having an equivalent for men. Everybody sees domestic violence victims as being female rather than male. This is one of Britain’s last great taboos.”That unwillingness of the government and service providers to assist male victims only perpetuates a societal conception of DV that’s not only at odds with the truth but lays down a red carpet for false allegations by women.
The Mankind Initiative helpline receives 1,200 calls a year from men or friends and family calling on behalf of men. Stigma and fear of being disbelieved, among other factors, make men much less likely than women to report abuse to the police. The British Crime Survey found that only 10 per cent of male victims of domestic violence had told the police, compared with 29 per cent of women. More than a quarter of male victims tell no one what has happened to them, compared with 13 per cent of women.
The human cost of ignoring the problem is stark: 21 men were murdered by a partner or former partner in 2010/11.
Nicola Graham-Kevan, an expert in partner violence at Central Lancashire University, said: “Society is blind to women’s aggression. The biggest disparity is women’s ability to seek help which makes men very vulnerable to false allegations. People often won’t believe that men are victims. Men have to be seen as passive, obvious victims with clear injuries, whereas, if a woman makes allegations, they are believed much more easily.”Those allegations are often used as tools to wrest custody from fathers in divorce cases. And effective tools they are.
Dr Graham-Kevan believes the system needs to adjust to make it safer for male victims and their children, who can end up with an abusive mother. “The biggest thing for me as a parent is that children are being placed in significant positions of harm. It sounds anti-feminist, but I think we’re allowing women too many rights in the family court, because courts assume that the women are the best parent as a starting position, rather than looking at it equally.”So in a nutshell, mothers get the vast majority of custody. Some of that custody is given them courtesy of their own false claims of domestic violence. Mothers commit much more of the child abuse than do fathers (in the U.S., mothers acting alone do twice as much child abuse than do fathers acting alone). And to top it all off, children who are abused by their parents are far more likely to grow up to be abusers as adults. If you’re the devil, it’s an ideal system. It’s a system that perpetuates domestic violence instead of decreasing it as researchers in the U.S. have noted.
If the system offered male victims and their children some sort of help, obviously the incidence of domestic violence could decrease at the outset. But more importantly, if the system didn’t hand over children to abusive mothers, we’d find ourselves training fewer abusers. Of course we do none of that because the system of DV response is too committed to its own narrative of female innocence and male corruption to do the obvious. Until that narrative changes, domestic violence will continue to be the scourge it is.