Myth: Domestic violence is a crime largely perpetrated by aggressive men against women.
Summary: Men under report incidents of domestic violence targeted at them, and society downplays the scale of male suffering, and in many cases, refuses to acknowledge that it exists at all. In fact, recent studies on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly showing that men are affected by domestic violence at least as much as women.
Discussion: In 2000, the National Violence Against Women Survey estimated that there are 830,000 male and 1.5 million female victims of domestic violence in the United States each year1. More recent studies are increasingly presenting a picture of approximate parity between the sexes in terms of partner violence, however. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, but it also recognized for its research into domestic and sexual violence. In 2011, it published the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey which shows that 5.0% of men and 5.9% of women reported experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to taking the survey2.
In 2006, the Journal of Family Psychology (an American Journal) published the results of research which found that, between couples, the incidence of male-to-female violence was 13.66%, but for female-to-male violence it was actually higher at 18.20%3. It also found that women were twice as likely as men to initiate severe violence against their partners. This finding is supported by a more recent California State University survey of some 286 scholarly investigations, 221 empirical studies and 65 reviews independent studies. It concludes that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships4.
In the UK, the British Crime Survey (BCS) for 2010/11 reported similar results as the CDC survey in terms of the male-female violence ratio. It found that 5% of men and 7% of women had experienced domestic abuse in the year prior to the survey5. It also found that 3% of men and 4% of women reported that they had experienced stalking in the previous year5.
PARITY, a gender equality campaigning charity in the UK, submitted a memorandum to the UK Parliament back in 2007 stating:6
“There is now a considerable body of evidence, in particular by a succession of detailed Home Office surveys in the past decade of interpersonal violence in England and Wales, to demonstrate the existence of a substantial level of female violence against male partners, including severe and/or repeated physical assault. Despite this, support services specifically for male victims are largely absent or inadequate, and few women are actually charged or prosecuted for domestic violence against a male partner.”
The number of women convicted of domestic abuse in the UK has, in fact, increased fourfold in the last 7 years, from 806 in 2004/5 to 3,965 in 2010/117. However, of all prosecutions for domestic violence in England and Wales, approximately 93% of them are against men8.
Men are much less likely than women to tell others about what they had suffered. The BCS found that only 19% of male victims would tell someone in a professional organization–half the number of female victims (44%). It also found that 28% of male victims do not tell anyone–more than twice the proportion for women8.
In fact, men attempting to report violent assaults against them can expect to face disbelief, ridicule and counter allegations. Only 10% of men will tell the police in the UK, three times less than women9. In their memorandum to the UK Parliament, PARITY stated, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that the police and other agencies…are often not even-handed in their response to male victims…in a significant number of cases arresting the male victim instead of the female perpetrator.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, a recent Canadian study reported similar results. It found that women are four times more likely to report partner violence to police than men10, and concludes that: “Men who are involved in disputes with their partners, whether as alleged victims or as alleged offenders or both, are disadvantaged and treated less favourably than women by the law-enforcement system at almost every step.”
Organizations working with male victims also report a high degree of scepticism amongst professionals and the public towards male victims of domestic violence11. Much of the literature produced in the field of domestic abuse quote female victim statistics only, while completely omitting those for males, thus suggesting that the problem only applies to women. In fact, some women’s organizations even go as far as to make the highly dubious claim that a staggeringly high percentage of men (90%) who report that they are victims of domestic violence are lying (they are abusers pretending to be victims). This claim is refuted by the Mankind Initiative, a charity working with male victims in the UK. According to its own screening program, 98.75% of men calling its helpline are true victims12. It notes that no there is no equivalent research on females as no organization is willing to make the same assessment.
Moreover, the very narrative of domestic violence itself is often framed in a female only context by international bodies, governments and support organizations around the world. For example, the United Nations defines domestic violence as follows13:
“Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”
By this definition, therefore, male targeted domestic violence simply does not exist. This is the same definition used by many organizations in the UK, including the Crown Prosecution Service and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. In the US, there is VAWA–the Violence Against Women Act, which is administered by the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. There is clearly no recognition of men, other than as perpetrators, in this narrative.
Correspondingly, there is little in the way of support for male victims. There are over 1200 abuse shelters in the United States, but few will accept men. For example, Los Angeles County funds two dozen shelters exclusively for abused women, but only one shelter will accepts male victims14. In the UK, the situation is similar, if not worse. There are 7,500 beds in refuges dedicated to women, but there are only 72 beds that can be used by men15 (the majority of these can also be used by women). And while a woman fleeing abuse may find a shelter that will take both her and her children, a man attempting to do same will fear arrest for kidnap16, irrespective of whether he is the victim or not.
Over the years, large sums have been spent by governments around the world on campaigns to encourage women to report domestic violence and to seek help, with no similar campaigns targeted toward male victims, or provisions made for them. The crude negative stereotyping of men as aggressors and women as victims has no doubt obscured men’s suffering from society’s view. While the well founded fear and stigma that prevents men from coming forward to report their suffering remains, the true picture of domestic violence will always be incomplete.
1. Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes. Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. US Department of Justice. 2000. Link: http://tinyurl.com/yecz2cv
2. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010 Summary Report. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page 39. Link: http://tinyurl.com/d9br6pd
3. McDonald R. Estimating the number of American children living in partner-violent families.
Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 137–142. 2006. Link: http://tinyurl.com/caodd6j
4. Martin S. Fiebert, California State University, Long Beach. References examining assaults by women on their spouses or male partners: An annotated bibliography. 2012. Link: http://tinyurl.com/3sakk
5. Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence. Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2010/11. Page 88. Link: http://tinyurl.com/7slnnom
6. Memorandum (Appendix 2) submitted by PARITY to the UK Parliament Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence in 2007. Link: http://tinyurl.com/cqqtmb3
7. ManKind Initiative, 21 key facts about male victims. Link: http://tinyurl.com/ckkomfl
8. Crown Prosecution Service. Defendants prosecuted in England and Wales for domestic violence crimes in 2009/10. Link: http://tinyurl.com/cvxc9o9
9. Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence. Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2010/11. Page 96. Link: http://tinyurl.com/7slnnom
10. Brown, G. (2004). Gender as a factor in the response of the law-enforcement system to violence against partners. Sexuality and Culture, 8, 1–87.
11. UK House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, Sixth Report May 2008. Link: http://tinyurl.com/cnl5jhx
12. ManKind Initiative, 21 key facts about male victims. Link: http://tinyurl.com/ckkomfl
13. UN Declaration of Violence Against Women, Article 1.
14. Glenn Sacks. July 2012. Link: http://tinyurl.com/cmxdcy5
15. ManKind Initiative, 21 key facts about male victims. Link: http://tinyurl.com/ckkomfl
16. Glenn Sacks. July 2012. Link: http://tinyurl.com/cmxdcy5
Note. The above text intentionally discusses domestic violence, as it applies to men, in both the US and UK. The problem is not specific to any one country, and it was considered useful to provide examples and references for both. However, the argument presented stands for each country independently, even if content specific to the other is omitted.
This article first appeared on the Last Legionary Blog.