One in six men experience domestic abuse, yet it is still a ‘hidden’ problem. Why is this so?
In a lot of circumstances it can be because men are unwilling to make disclosures of domestic abuse. This may be for many reasons, for example possibly for fear of being identified as being ‘less of a man’, or because they do not identify their experiences as abusive.”
Luke Martin is a specialist consultant on male and LGBT domestic abuse. Men’s experience of domestic abuse is still something society knows very little about. Seven years of experience as a Male Independent Domestic Advisor means he has supported thousands of men who have experienced abuse from their female and male partners, family members and adult children.
He hopes that the Get Comfortable talking about campaign will encourage men to come forward and talk about what for many is still a very difficult experience to acknowledge. Luke tells more about the male experience of domestic violence.
The Crime Survey England and Wales highlights that 1 in 6 men will experience violence or abuse from an intimate partner or family member. Women more frequently commit low level violence than the higher levels of abuse perpetrated by men. That means violence that is not likely to cause serious injury, broken bones or risk to life, or risk of a domestic homicide. However, violence and abuse is never acceptable, regardless of risk level.
In 2013 the cross-governmental definition of domestic abuse changed, both reducing the age of those identified as victims to 16, but more importantly introducing the term coercive control. Coercive control is an ongoing psychological attitude that is used to cause fear and alter the behaviour of another. With the introduction of the new definition, the organisation I was working for at the time saw an increase in men reporting that they were experiencing coercive control. The new definition had given them permission to speak out about their experiences of domestic violence and abuse.
However, alongside this came those who were stuck in unhappy relationships where no abuse was taking place. This is where relationships break down, and partners need to sever ties but due to matters like property, finances or children they stay together and this causes bickering, and often quite immature behaviour.
So why do men often seek permission to discuss their experiences of violence and abuse? Why look for society to say it is OK to make a disclosure? It is most frequently because identifying as a person who experiences violence or abuse is to demonstrate weakness, and society states men are strong, protectors, providers and by experiencing abuse are demonstrating weakness. Domestic violence and abuse services will highlight that experiencing abuse never makes someone less of a man, nobody chooses to fall victim to this.
Although men are less likely to experience high levels of abuse, whether in severity or frequency, this is not to say that it does not happen. Far fewer men are killed by a partner or ex-partner than women. One man every three weeks is killed by a current or ex-partner, whilst two women are killed a week by a current or previous partner. But this does highlight that men are still falling victim to domestic homicide.
When we do see men experiencing high levels of abuse we often see weapons being used. A woman, generally, needs an additional level of force to overpower a man, as sheer strength alone will rarely be enough. Women commonly use weapons such as boiling water to cause injury and their violence is often more reactive. Male perpetrators often have a pre-meditative element, when they cause injury they often do it on an area of the body that can be covered by clothing. Women are more likely to cause injury to the head or face.
Unlike women, we see far fewer men accessing refuge spaces. There are currently around 12 male refuges in the UK. These are accessed by helplines such as the Men’s Advice Line. As a lot of men experiencing violence and abuse are in employment, accessing refuge isn’t feasible as they are sporadically located across the country and working full time results in high cost for places. Men are more likely to present to the local authority as homeless or privately rent.
A further point is that very few heterosexual men make disclosures of sexual assault. There are many aspects to why this may be. Firstly, men are taught by society that all sexual contact should be welcomed, and the more sex they have the more of a ‘man’ they are. What we must also consider is that men are less likely to be coerced into performing unwanted sexual acts. When working with men we are more likely to see them denigrated on the size of their genitals, that they can’t make their partner climax, does not last long enough or can’t maintain an erection.
I have also seen an increasing number of reports of men reporting experiencing violence and abuse from adult children. This is seen in correlation to women experiencing abuse from adult children too. More commonly there are issues around substance use or mental health which also plays a role in the abuse. The problem in these cases is that the bond between an adult and their child is usually far stronger than between an intimate pair. Parents often take more responsibility for their children’s behaviour, blaming their own bad parenting, separation at a young age or for letting their child build such strong dependency. In my experience parents are far less likely to see their child, of any age, and I’ve worked on cases with 50 year old adult children, on the street, without food or without support than they are a partner or ex-partner. Parents are far less likely to press charges or take civil action against their children.
Although men’s experiences may differ to that of women, it does not make them any less valid. We are seeing an increase in men reporting domestic abuse, as well as an increase in service provision for men.
The campaign, ‘Get comfortable talking about it’, wants everyone in the city to feel comfortable talking about domestic violence and abuse. People can ask any questions they have about domestic violence and abuse – either by email, social media, or by posting a question in our branded letterboxes – look for them in Council Community Hubs. So we can help.
If you want to talk about it personally or on behalf of someone else go to the http://www.getcomfortableleeds.org.uk website and ask your question.