Although the IC Change campaigners are a diverse group (which includes men), we are very regularly asked ‘but what about the men?’ This isn’t a question unique to our campaign, those working across the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector will not be surprised to hear this question on a regular basis.
So following International Women’s Day (sometimes cheekily referred to as International ‘What about the men?’ day) we asked this question to a key ally, Luke Martin, a Specialist Domestic Abuse Consultant focusing on work with male victims and LGBT*.
Here is what he had to say:
As a man working in the Violence Against Women and Girls sector, a question that I never hear directed at me is: “what about the men?”.
My female colleagues get it quite a lot – I’m sometimes the person asking – but other professionals rarely ask me what I’m doing for ‘the men’.
It’s fair to say I’ve done my stint supporting male victims, including seven years working as a Male Independent Domestic Violence Advisor where I dealt with thousands of cases.
I train people specifically on working with male victims and will soon have a book published on this called ‘Domestic Violence Interdisciplinary perspectives on protection, prevention and intervention’.
I will always be an advocate for the support required by men who are experiencing violence and abuse. But what do we actually know about men’s experiences?
Men generally have very different experiences of domestic abuse to women and men’s experiences of domestic abuse vary.
We are aware that there is an underreporting and there is actually still very little research into men’s experiences of domestic abuse.
But, overall, we see far fewer men reporting high levels of violence or abuse, those causing serious harm or risk of homicide.
We also see far fewer cases heard at Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences, which are meetings of professionals that discuss high-risk cases of domestic abuse.
When we explore the experiences of men who are victims of violence or abuse, we generally see low level violence, verbal and emotional abuse.
When working with men in same-sex relationships, we see comparable figures of high-risk victims, stalking post-separation, isolation, sexual violence and abuse.
To an extent, we must explore the gender of the perpetrator over that of the victim.
Women’s abuse towards men often revolves around challenges to their masculinity. Men rarely report being forced to perform unwanted sexual acts, or being hurt during sex.
But they do report being belittled around their sexual performance, and size of genitalia and that ‘a real man’ would be able to satisfy their partner.
Unlike their female counterparts, male victims are more commonly pushed to work harder, earn more money or identified as not being a ‘real man’ if they cannot provide for their family.
Finally, a ‘real man’ wouldn’t let their partner hit them.
This notion of masculinity is exacerbated by society’s perception of what it is to be a man.
It is instilled in boys and men that we do not cry, that we resolve our problems ourselves, we internalise our issues.
This is one of the biggest barriers to men accessing help.
The other being a lack of support services for men.
As a man in a same-sex relationship, you are more likely to access emotional support than your heterosexual counterparts.
This may be because gay men have already had to challenge their internalised notion of masculinity when they came out to themselves and others.
However, this may be because there are more counselling and emotional support services readily available for men who identify as gay, bisexual or transgender.
This begs the question is it a chicken and egg situation?
If we had more services on offer for men, would we access them? Or if more men accessed the services currently available, would we see an increase in service provision?
Men accessing help and support around domestic abuse are far more likely to seek out practical rather than emotional support when they fall victim to domestic abuse.
They access information on housing, child contact and their legal rights.
Research highlights that, as a man, you are far less likely to be granted a Non-Molestation Order where low levels of domestic abuse are taking place than a female counterpart.
However, if you are experiencing high levels of abuse you are just as likely to be granted one if you are a woman.
So why is there less support for men?
The VAWG sector came from hardworking feminists in the 60s and 70s who built grassroots foundations that have run for decades.
They are services created by women for women.
We have not had this movement from men. In fact, what I have seen is men piggybacking on the success of the work of these feminist organisations.
In times of austerity, these organisations themselves are fighting to look after the client group they were built to help.
So where does the responsibility lie to assist men? Local authorities? Or somewhere else? Should frontline services work together and help end violence against everybody and anybody?
We all have a role to play, but to make society better we all have to play that role.
Luke Martin is a Specialist Domestic Abuse Consultant focusing on work with male victims and LGBT*. More information at www.martintrainingandconsultancy.co.uk or on twitter @martintandc
If you would like to seek support in relation to issues raised in this blog post, here is a list of helplines.