A Man’s Right To Choose (A Different Future)

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A Man’s Right To Choose (A Different Future)

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I’m sometimes asked why our website and information materials do not include as many images of men as they do of women. There is a simple answer to that: over the last 12 years that we have tracked the numbers of men and women who use our service, we have found that of the 152,000 total, only 10,700 are men, or about 7%.

We are absolutely gender-neutral as well as a-religious, ethnicity impartial and non-political. We really do not take into account colour of skin, country of origin or anything else that might set one victim apart from another: we just want to provide a service that alleviates their pain.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of people seeking our help are women is not something that we consciously promote.  We do try to create a gender balance, but it remains true to say that far more women are victims of abuse than are men and it follows we will always be helping more women than men.

But why don’t more men use our services?  Is it just because male victims are truly rare?

I am not sure I know the answer to those questions. While all generalisations can be highly dangerous, it is at least arguable that men and women think differently and react differently to certain situations. This may be nothing to do with gender as such but much more to do with cultural conditioning. Many women, for instance, may be more comfortable at expressing and sharing their feelings with third parties – or asking for professional help – than are some men.

Perhaps some men do not think they need our help: perhaps they prefer to try to sort things out themselves. In the medical sphere attitudes like that lead to higher rates of late diagnosis of serious conditions. Men may also be too ashamed to identify as a victim: the classic description of manliness does not include vulnerability.

Above and beyond arguable gender traits however, everyone is different, everybody is an individual: there may be a plethora of reasons why a man may not seek help and no single reason for male reticence. For NCDV, what matters is that we are here for everyone offering a choice for all those who no longer wish under the threat or reality of domestic violence. Without that, there really is no future.

Help me make domestic abuse socially unacceptable.

Mark Groves CEO

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By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”