When we think about victims of domestic abuse we may be tempted to think of only of women victims and survivors; and statistics do show that the majority of victims are women. No one would wish to dispute this. Women are, as all evidence shows, more likely to be victims of domestic violence, yet we must look at the totality of the issue and discuss men as victims of domestic violence as well if we are to see a more complete picture and, crucially, help all victims to have access to justice and be safe. Lots of men endure physical, emotional and psychological abuse, and this, sometimes ignored aspect of domestic violence, needs to be more widely discussed and addressed.
Let’s put this in perspective. An ONS survey published 15th February 2015 showed that 8.5% of women and 4.5% of men had reported some type of domestic abuse within that last year; roughly speaking, 1.4 million female victims and 700,000 male victims. Furthermore, in Scotland, 20% of all domestic violence is against men – a statistic that has doubled since 2005. With such staggering statistics you might assume that there would be equal access to support for male victims. This, sadly, is not the case here or in other European countries. For example, it has emerged that the government in Ireland does not even have official statistics on the rate of domestic violence against men. To my mind it seems hard to comprehend that a society does not have a comprehensive understanding of the scale of domestic abuse among its citizens. This lack of statistics shows that there is a real and present issue within society which must be tackled.
The Men’s Advisory Project, a counselling service for male victims of domestic violence, has spoken out recently about how men ‘need more help’. They emphasise how a lot of male victims, even after only realising that they are in fact victims, find it difficult to obtain help. With little support available it is not hard to understand why some men find it difficult to speak out; however, this is now changing.
With the number of male victims of domestic abuse on the rise, there is some evidence that men are becoming more confident about being able to disclose that they are in an abusive relationship. As with women and children, it is often extremely difficult to come forward about domestic violence, yet I feel that there are some serious, additional issues which can affect a man’s confidence in coming forward which differ to the difficulties women face. Social identity theory proposes that males identify with being self-assertive and strong and this sense of identity can help us understand why men may often feel stigmatised by society when looking for support for domestic abuse. A man may well feel a real challenge to his identity, feeling his masculinity questioned when reporting abuse and in order to help overcome this, society needs to recognise the complex gender roles that exist within modern day society; this is, I believe, already happening. With the rise of the “metrosexual man”, and less pressure to be perceived as ‘masculine’, we may see more men coming forward to disclose that they are victims of domestic abuse. Further to this, with there being more focus in the media about male victims of domestic abuse, this is encouraging more victims to obtain help.
There are still, however, many obstacles which male victims must overcome and it is vital that they are treated with the same empathy and support as women if they are to receive the same access to justice. The burden of proof and the presumption of innocence must apply in all cases; there is no justice if one victim is believed more than the next simply by virtue of gender. The danger, if not, is that the established gender stereotype which sees the male as the aggressor, perceived or actual, will prevent the delivery of justice and put undue stress on male victims, discouraging them from reporting to the police or other relevant agencies.
And what about support for those who do report? The majority of refuges in the UK cater only for women and children, but surely there is a real need for more focused attention and support for men as well as this. Local Authorities’ have a duty to ensure domestic abuse victims are able to access emergency housing. The Housing Act 1996 (part V11) and the Homelessness Act 2002 both provide legislation to ensure that victims are housed, regardless of gender and there should be sufficient access to all victims, both male and female. The reality of this happening any time soon is unlikely, to say the least. Between 2010 and 2014, 32 specialist services for women have been closed due to cuts by local councils so it seems that the likelihood of specialised services for men being made more readily available is slim. Furthermore, there is a common recognition that the level of physical violence among female victims is significantly greater than with male victims; reason as to why there are more female refuge services. Women are far more likely than men to be killed by partners/ex-partners – 46% of female victims compared with 7% of male victims. With this in mind, we can determine why there is a greater demand for female refuge services within the UK.
Yet, what can be done to help male victims get the same access to support and be treated fairly by both society in general and the criminal justice system in particular? Rather than seeing this as being a gender issue we need to identify it as simply a human issue. This, in turn, would make it easier for male victims to come forward because they could be confident that the case would be treated equally and seriously and would be more likely to receive the support they need. Additionally, considering that there are over 700,000 self-identified male victims of domestic abuse in the UK, there is an urgent need to address the lack of tangible support available. There needs to be much more comprehensive access to designated refuges for men, even though the numbers of men needing support are fewer, as aforementioned, there must be proportionality. Under the current economic climate, however, this may be a way off. Yet we need government, and, indeed, all of us to pay proper attention to victims of domestic abuse; it’s a crisis and scandal that affects us all. We should all be discussing what domestic violence is, who it affects, and how. Domestic violence can affect anyone: male, female, young and old and the sooner we all recognise this, the better.
 Office for National Statistics, Crime Statistics: Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences 2013/15, Chapter 4, page 1.