“J is married but starts an affair with T which leads to J’s divorce. J and T marry and their relationship starts out well. J is known in town to be a quite aggressive individual. After a while they start fighting more and at times J gets physical. The next day both laugh about the incident and about T’s blue eye. T’s family is concerned – T deserves better treatment! Even though J claims to love T, J cannot help but fall back into old patterns and starts an affair with a patient at work. J realizes that this behaviour might lead to serious trouble and tries to convince T and the colleagues at work that the impudent patient would have tried to get sexually involved with J without J’s consent. Eventually T starts seeing through J’s lies and confronts J whilst in a pub. J is furious that T does not believe the story and starts yelling, pushing and punching T. They take their fight home where J cannot control the anger anymore and shoots T.”
Think about this for a second. I want you to picture J and T and keep that picture in mind while you are reading this essay.
The story above is the plot of the one of the episodes of the U.S crime TV series “Mind of a Murderer” in which criminal psychologist Dr. Michelle Ward interviews murderers in prison to find their true motives for killing. You will probably be surprised that J’s real name is Janene and she is female and T’s name is Troy. I do not blame you if you thought J was male. You are thinking the way our society has formed us to think about domestic violence or intimate partner abuse.
To clarify what exactly is meant by domestic violence I will provide you with the definition of the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales, according to which it is “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behavior, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional”. In our society this behavior, especially the physical part is automatically thought to be executed by males.
The Evolution of “the Strong and Dominant Man”
Domestic violence is a behavior strongly associated with males for historical and cultural reasons. Since humankind started writing stories the picture of the strong men, dominating their wives has been engraved in our thinking. Surely, you will have an easy time coming up with at least ten stories or reports in which men abuse women. When I typed “domestic violence news” into Google search, breaking news such as, “5 Ontario women have been killed by men in their lives in 2018- and it’s only January”, or pictures of abused women caught my eye. This seemed to support traditional gender stereotypes, which according to Seelau and Seelau, picture the man as being aggressive and dominant and the women as being passive and submissive. Steinmetz, a researcher from the 1970’s, elaborates how society ridiculed men that were battered or dominated by their female partners. “Totally understandable” might be the reaction of many people. “If a man cannot stand up to his wife can he even be considered a ‘real’ man?!”.
However, in the last couple of years we have become more aware of the fact that not only men can be the aggressive and dominant part of a relationship and that men can also become the victims of domestic violence. Since the beginning of the twenty first century, the topic of “the man as the victim” has become more present in the news. Just a few days ago, on January 21st, 2018 the Blogger Bettina Arndt published an article called “Men are also victims of home violence”. A step into the right direction! Why into the right direction? Is it not a rather small issue since majorly women become victims of domestic violence?
Numbers That We Did Not See Coming
You will be staggered to hear that last year, according to the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales 713.000 out of 1.9 million victims of domestic violence were male. That makes approximately 38% of all victims. The numbers have been continuously rising since the late twentieth century. In his book “Abused Men: The hidden side of domestic violence”, Phillip W. Cook presents records that show that in 1984 around 6-10% of all intimate partner violence acts were carried out by female perpetrators while in 1993, it was already at 15% in the United States. In 2010, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey revealed that male victims already made up 28.2% of all victims in the United States. The British crime surveys even show that since the beginning of the twenty first century men made up 30-50% of all victims of domestic violence in the United Kingdom. Thus, depending on the source and the country of interest, the numbers vary. I know those are a lot of numbers, but I hope you got an overview of the real dimension of the problem. The statistics are genuinely high in all cases and might even be a lot higher in reality.
Speak up and Do Not Be Ashamed!
Men are, compared to women, less likely to report domestic violence to officials, which influences the statistics. There are several reasons for this; according to the Zur Institute, men are scared of humiliation by the police or male peers and they are afraid of the loss of their manliness which might accompany being physically hurt by a woman. The British crime survey of 2014/15 reveals that only 61% of male domestic violence victims even mentioned the problem to anyone, while 88% of the female victims talked to someone they know. Health professionals, counsellors or therapists were only contacted by 11% of the male victims, while females asked for help in 22-23% of the cases.
Those numbers are very concerning. We need to make the “male victim” socially acceptable. Society is not the same as it was 80 years ago as we are getting closer to the picture of the “strong, independent woman” in western cultures every day. While feminism has rapidly evolved over the past few years, men have been limited increasingly. Of course, this topic is highly controversial and I will not discuss the details of feminism here, but I am sure that we all agree that if a man hit his wife 80 years ago society would have not done a whole lot about it. Nowadays he will most likely be put into jail in a country with western values. On the other hand, if a woman had hit her husband 80 years ago she would have probably ended up in the hospital. It seems to be totally acceptable for a woman to slap a man in a nightclub in the twenty first century if he uses a bad pickup line, imagine a man slapping a woman in a club…
Hypothetically, this development correlates with feminism and might encourage women with violent tendencies to engage in more violent behaviour towards their male partners as a consequence. I feel like women can justify violent behaviour easier than men can. A recent clinical update of Zur Institute even states that women might commit domestic violence because they think they can get away with it. On the one hand, we have the emancipated, strong and independent woman, on the other hand the traditional gender roles which would never portray a woman as being physically aggressive. Female perpetrators might make use of this.
It’s All Fake News!
A second main reason for the lower prevalence of male victim stories in the news is that media and the government preferably pay attention to cases in which women are the victim. It is even seen as inappropriate to talk about female violence on the news. George refers to this as a societal no-go: “This “Great Taboo” is the coalescence of two forbidden beliefs in society: first, that a man can be beaten by a woman, which is an anathema particularly to men; second, the uncomfortable reality that women can be aggressive and violent, which contravenes stereotypical notions of femininity and is an attribution that neither men nor women wish to acknowledge”. In the second part of his statement he refers to findings of Oglivie in his 1996 paper about masculine obsessions. The Blog Burgundy raven quotes John Mays, head of “Parity UK”, an organization for equal rights for men and women, who states that men’s “plight is largely overlooked by the media, in official reports and in government policy, for example in the provision of refuge places – 7.500 for females in England and Wales but only 60 for men”. Those refuges, like Refuge UK offer services for victims of abuse of any kind, helping them to rebuild their lives, organizing community outreach projects and providing a domestic violence helpline.
It is a shame that there are only such few refuges for men since they suffer from physical and psychological consequences of domestic violence as well. Considering the high percentage of male victims (30-50%) in relation to female ones it is absolutely necessary to also provide an appropriate number of refuge centres for the male population.