When reading this blog, the first question you might ask yourself is: “Why is a woman writing about a man’s issue?” It’s a good question. So, let me tell you why I have a vested interest in this subject.
Firstly, I have experience of managing services for men, including what was at the time the largest male victim service right in the centre of Birmingham. The other reason I have an interest is because of what happened to my best friend. Let’s call him Dave. Dave and I grew up together, we went to school together, partied together (perhaps too much) and I was with him the night he came out to his family as gay.
By coincidence we both experienced controlling relationships within months of one another when we were still teenagers. And we had very different experiences when we asked for help. This was the early 1980s and things were different then, but I question if we’ve moved forward as much as we think we have.
At the time, I walked into a police station and told them I was scared of a guy who was threatening and harassing me. He would not accept the relationship was over, he turned up at my place of work and generally stalked me wherever I went. I was scared – constantly looking over my shoulder and planning how I would get from A to B.
When I disclosed to the police I got a pretty good reception, overall. I was believed and listened to, and they sought out the offender and gave him a warning, telling him if he didn’t stop, he’d be arrested. He didn’t stop, and he was arrested, and charged.
So, when Dave started going through something similar, I confidently advised him to go to the police because they would help him. They didn’t. The same town, the same police station. He was told that because he hadn’t been physically hurt, no crime had been committed and there was nothing they could do. He was in and out in 10 minutes.
I’m not suggesting this would happen today, at least I hope it wouldn’t, but that’s what happened to him. This unfortunately meant that when the harassment escalated, Dave felt he didn’t have anywhere to go. Things got worse until his abusive ex broke into his flat, strangled and killed him. He was 19 years old, an only child, and had just been accepted into medical school. The phone call I received from his father will stay with me forever.
Dave is one of the reasons I forged a career in the domestic abuse sector – but I’ve been frustrated over the years at the myths, the misconceptions and the outright lies about male victims. I believe we are getting there now, we really are, but it’s been forty years since I lost my best friend and we’re only just getting there? It’s taken too long and we have lost too many along the way – about a thousand since that awful night.
Of course, I appreciate it’s a fraction of the number of women we’ve lost. I’m not diminishing the experiences of women. Women experience more deaths, more hospitalisations, and more serious injury – but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about those one thousand men. They also matter; they were sons, brothers, fathers – and best friends.
We do not treat other types of crime this way. We do not say, well, only 1000 people have died from gun crime so let’s not bother about that, let’s focus on knife crime instead. We don’t do that in any other area of crime, but the plight of male victims of domestic abuse was pushed under the carpet for decades. Even today, it falls under the government’s strategy of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), despite the fact that men and boys face increasing amounts of male rape, sexual assaults, grooming, knife crime, random beatings and yes, domestic abuse.
I say all of this without losing sight of the feminist perspective of domestic abuse, because I am able to hold both problems in my head at the same time. I know that the majority of victims are female and the majority of perpetrators are men, and that the playing field is not flat and has never been. I understand that the hierarchical structure of society has condoned the control and abuse of women for centuries. But it is hard to reconcile that with the grief and shock that comes with the brutal murder of a loved one. The ripples of these homicides last forever, rocking families and communities. Grief does not recognise gender.
There are barriers to anyone coming forward for help, but I think men are less likely to be believed. I think it challenges our perceptions about men and masculinity, especially if they are being abused by a woman. There’s stigma, still, including ridicule and jokes about male victims, and because more women experience high risk situations the risks to men can be downplayed, although men in same-sex relationships are at the same risk of serious assault and death.
I’m happy to work for an organisation like NCDV. We help anyone who needs protection through the courts, regardless of gender, background, ethnicity or sexuality. But we are aware that we can do more. Our statistics show that only 7% of referrals come from male victims, although we know many more men are out there, not seeking help. We all have more to do, and the more work we do to make it safe and accessible for men to come forward, the more male victims will disclose.
Dave…I will keep fighting the good fight because your experience matters. Give them hell up there my friend, and don’t forget to get me a beer in. I miss you.
National Training Manager, NCDV