Imagine somebody you love and trust coming home from work one night after having a bad day. You’ve been busy so you got a takeout for their dinner. They like home cooked meals. They get angry. Now imagine this same person that you love and trust raising their fists and beating you black and blue. Imagine the fear, the pain, the intimidation. You don’t scream or beg for them to stop. You know only too well that this will make it worse. You know that you can’t go to the police or to the neighbour or to family and friends. Nobody can help. Suddenly the unbearable violence is over. Your loved one storms out the house. You are left bleeding, hurt, alone and knowing that it’s only a matter of time before this person returns home. Only a matter of time before the beatings start again. This is a nightmare that many women in the UK face everyday. What is your reaction? Now imagine the same thing again but this time a man is the victim, the perpetrator his wife. What is your reaction this time? Do you think he’s weak? Foolish? Or do you think that the wife probably had good reason? My reaction is the same as it is my belief that men are just as vulnerable as women in this horrific situation.
International Women’s Day took place recently, a day which celebrates and promotes equality for women worldwide. In light of this I felt it was important to remember that feminism is not about women being placed above men or paying more attention to women over men. It is about men and women being treated equally in all areas of society. Sadly, domestic violence is still a very serious and relevant issue in our society for men as well as women. This is a fact that many either deny or choose to ignore, thinking male victims are weak. I believe this isn’t so.
The main reason I believe this is because the most tragic result of domestic violence is exactly the same for male and female victims. The mental scars. They are ashamed of themselves for letting this happen to them. They are scared and scarred and believe that every other partner would do the same. They believe the toxic words screamed at them: worthless, insignificant, useless. It is their own fault and nobody can help, they are and always will be alone.
Many people would argue that men are stronger than women and can fight back but in actuality many male victims are afraid, probably rightly so, that this could backfire and result in them being accused of the violence, particularly if the abuser is female. There is also the age old question: why don’t they just leave? Again, the answer is the same for males as females. Where would they go where the abuser can’t find them? And why should they have to leave their lives behind, their homes, their jobs, their families and friends, when they’ve done nothing wrong while the perpetrator gets to stay?
There is even more at stake for men if they leave or report an abusive relationship if they have children, as it is more than likely that he would lose them. Unless he reported the abuse to the police and went through the pain and possible humiliation of an investigation and prosecution, the law is still more likely to award custody to the mother. The fear and pain of continuing domestic violence is a price worth paying in many fathers’ eyes. More and more abused women trapped in this terrifying existence are able to recognise it for what it is and many are able to escape with the help of the police, aid organisations and society’s understanding and sympathy. However, men struggle to admit it to themselves, let alone to anyone else, as it means they feel “less of a man” and “weak”. This is largely a result of a lack of organisations aimed at helping men and of society’s views on male victims of domestic violence.
According to the British Crime survey, 2010, 25% of reported incidents of domestic abuse have men as the victims, however, there is little public awareness of this tragedy. Many only think of female victims. There is also limited support or encouragement for men to report domestic violence. Internationally, there is a lack of accurate statistics with some countries denying that it happens by not recording it at all. Some people argue that women physically abusing male partners is an understandable backlash against the endless years that men have abused women. This is a disgusting attitude that not only condones but encourages violence in a relationship. There is also the fact that society is naturally conditioned to protect women and children with men seen as the protectors. This means it is difficult for many people to see women as the aggressors and men as the victims in need of protection. When did we become so blinded by traditional gender stereotypes that we stopped seeing a fellow human being in need regardless of their sex? It is accepted that men can be the victims of violence in a drunken street fight or random mugging but society still appears reluctant or unable to accept that this same violence can be perpetrated against men by their wives or partners behind closed doors.
The Crown Prosecution Service statistics show a shocking increase in domestic violence perpetrated against men over the last decade in the United Kingdom. In 2004-2005 there were 1,575 women prosecuted for violence against their male partners with 806 of these perpetrators successfully convicted. By 2013-2014, this figure had risen to 5,345 prosecutions with 3,735 women found guilty and convicted. I am sure you are as shocked as I am by this shameful statistic that shows that more and more men are living in terror and fear in their own homes, brutalised by the person they should be able to trust above all others.
Domestic violence can affect everyone regardless of wealth or status. In 2005 the actor and presenter Ross Kemp, known for his ‘hard man’ persona, refused to press charges against his then wife who had been arrested for assaulting him. He refused medical treatment for his injury and minimised the incident publicly. Like many men he would have felt the need to keep the shameful secret in order to keep his pride. Many other male celebrities have talked about the cruelty they suffered at the hands of their wives but not until many years after the events, including actors Roger Moore, Christian Slater and Humphrey Bogart. None of these men took action at the time and waited many years before breaking their silence.
Domestic violence is domestic violence. It is unacceptable and horrific regardless of the gender of either the attacker or the victim. The fear, the shame and isolation are the same for all victims. Men are unable to strike back in self defence against their female abuser and are more at risk of losing their children if they do. In addition to this they face an ignorant and unsympathetic society with no safe havens to turn to meaning that men have much less options for escape than many women victims. Statistics show that this type of domestic violence is not uncommon and is in fact a growing problem and due to the issues mentioned above I believe that the statistics probably misrepresent the real figures, as many men stay silent.
Britain is a country that prides itself in equality for all race, religions and genders. We pride ourselves on having removed much discrimination from the workplace, the media and society in general, particularly in relation to gender inequality. So why do many damaged male victims still feel that they cannot speak out for fear of being judged? I am sure you will agree with me when I say that it is time to stop blaming male victims for not fighting back and begin to understand their situation and to reach out to them in the same way that we do for women. Only when this happens will we be living in a fairer society for all of us.
by Megan Banyard