The Hidden Face of Domestic Abuse
Many people would agree that domestic violence between heterosexual couples runs in one direction. The traditional image of domestic abuse has usually been drawn in such a way that the male is the perpetrator of violence and controlling behaviour and the woman is cast as the victim. In fact, some people would bet their bottom dollar at an online casino that this is simply the way things are. In such a world view, measures to counter domestic abuse must, therefore, be oriented towards the female in the situation. And yet, the statistics don’t bear out this belief. According to the Office for National Statistics, the government’s official data collector and number cruncher in the UK, around two-fifths of domestic violence cases in the country involve male victims.
So, it seems that there is a gap between most people’s perception of domestic violence and the reality. Although highlighting the male victims of domestic abuse in no way diminishes the problem of female victimhood, it does draw attention to the fact that men can often be seen in a very different light when it comes to this serious issue. Why is this?
Men Will Be Men, Or Will They?
On the face of it, men have many advantages in society which means that it is – in some ways, at least – harder to see them as potential victims of violence. After all, men tend to earn more than women, will often hold down ‘better’ jobs and are by and large physically stronger than women. If you couple to this the traditional concept that men stand up for themselves and tough out difficult situations, then how could so many cases of domestic abuse against men come about? In fact, this is the wrong way of looking at the issue.
Because there are so many preconceptions about male behaviour and what it means to be a man, males can often feel like they are failing if they start suffering abuse. Lack of self-awareness and even shame can lead to many men putting up with a rising tide of abuse that gets worse and worse over time. In other words, men are not men and that’s the end of the story. In fact, abused men often report much of the same sort of controlling behaviour that female victims talk about which even has them questioning whether they are really a victim or not.
How Society Perceives Gender in Domestic Abuse
It is not just male victims who fail to see the true nature of female-on-male domestic abuse – it is a problem that is found throughout society. Check out this video in which two actors play out a relatively low-level of domestic abuse in a public space. When the man starts to get out of hand with his girlfriend, passers-by show concern and intervene. What is telling when the roles are reversed is not that the public fail to speak up so much but that the situation is seen as embarrassing and even funny by some. The social experiment points out rather neatly how men get an unsympathetic ear even when they do speak up and ask for help.
Of course, no one is arguing that women should not be left to fend for themselves if they are unfortunate enough to suffer from domestic abuse and controlling behaviour. What is needed is the same understanding that is shown to women when men realise they are in a similar situation. Laughing off cases of male victimhood of domestic violence is still far to prevalent in society despite various campaigns which have tried to raise awareness about the issue.
What Can Be Done to Improve the Situation?
Although there are fewer public resources for male victims of domestic violence – men cannot turn up at a women’s only refuge, for example, to get assistance – better training among social workers, the police and public healthcare providers will help. However, there are plenty of things we can all do that will make the situation better even if we are not professionals working in public services. What are they?
Firstly, if a male friend starts to speak to you about abuse in his relationship, don’t laugh it off or allow yourself to feel embarrassed about it. Listen and allow him to express himself. As previously mentioned, many men fail to realise they are the victims of domestic abuse and just starting a conversation about low-level behaviour may snowball into a greater realisation if you remain open-minded.
Another thing you can do to support a male friend you think may be in trouble is to provide a safe haven, even if that is for a few hours. Tell your friend that collecting evidence about domestic violence is a good idea. Photos, recordings and witness statements are all ideal but just keeping a diary is another great way of documenting cycles of abuse. Crucially, it is imperative that neither you nor the victim retaliate against the perpetrator which undermines the whole process of evidence gathering.
If the situation worsens and you think abuse is turning to violence, then you ought to act in just the same way as you would to protect a woman. This may mean calling the authorities to respond. Remember that the police have just the same obligations to protect male victims of domestic violence as they do women.