Why are men often overlooked as victims of domestic abuse?

By Rita Broberg, The Centre for Social Justice

Why are men often overlooked as victims of domestic abuse?

14th June 2022

Domestic Abuse is routinely portrayed as a gendered crime, perpetrated by men against women.

Yet the startling truth is that one third of domestic abuse victims are men. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 1.6 million women and 757,000 men reported abuse in 2020.

Despite representing such a significant proportion of victims, men are silenced by the hostility and incredulity they encounter when opening up about their experiences to the police and safeguarding services.

Support agencies often fail to recognise the abuse of men and overlook cases involving female abusers. Recent studies of Homicide Reviews highlight a lack of training and support in the recognition and handling of male domestic abuse: ManKind Charity reports that in 2021, out of 238 refuge spaces for victims of domestic abuse, only 58 were committed to supporting male survivors. Another study conducted by Bristol University details how male victims seldom get asked about their domestic relationships by health professionals.

The female helpline told him that they could not offer him any help as they did not have the funding to support male victims.

The social stigma surrounding domestic abuse is even stronger when the victim is a man and the perpetrator is a woman. As “James”, a domestic abuse survivor trapped in an abusive relationship for over a decade, told the CSJ, “the doctor dismissed the bruises and welts on my arms as no cause for concern.”

The lack of empathy and support from this doctor stopped him from seeking further help, and the abuse continued. “It instilled in me the sense that as a man, recognition of my position as a victim of domestic abuse would not be forthcoming,” James told us.

After having thoughts of self-harm, James had to call a female helpline (male helplines do not work on weekends). The female helpline told him that they could not offer him any help as they did not have the funding to support male victims.

James continued to live in fear of his wife’s aggression – and of her impact on their children, who were also experiencing the abuse. During a particularly terrible act of extreme violence, his wife was driving a knife to her throat and threatening to blame James for hurting her, while calling the police and then hanging up. Their seven-year-old daughter ran to tell the neighbours what was happening and eventually the police arrived, intervened, and arrested her. James has since managed to escape his abusive relationship and has taken custody over his children.

“There are lots of missed opportunities to identify and support male victims of domestic abuse as no one understands the issue. As a result, professionals less readily recognise victims and men feel that they won’t be believed or taken seriously,” states Mark Brooks of the ManKind Charity.

Even recent policy documents make it difficult for male victims to speak out. The Home Office recently released a report titled Supporting male victims of crimes considered violence against women and girls, which classifies male survivors under aggression done to “women and girls.” Both survivors and charities oppose this term as it is does not explicitly recognise men as victims of abuse and is therefore difficult for male victims to relate to and further delegitimises their traumatic experiences.

The CSJ’s newly released report “No Honour in Abuse: harnessing the health service to end domestic abuse” calls for male victims to be classed as victims of “violence against men and boys,” and pushes for a parallel strategy in healthcare and charities to provide equally strong support for female and male victims of domestic abuse. The CSJ also calls for NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care to emphasise the responsibility of health professionals in helping victims of abuse, through introducing statutory training in the identification and support of victims of domestic abuse.

With proper training, more funding, and less prejudice, we could destigmatise views of male victims of domestic abuse and provide much-needed support to those subject to this violent humiliation.

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