Assuming that domestic violence is something only suffered by women is an easy trap to fall into. After all, men are physically stronger, right? How can they possibly be victims of domestic violence?
Whilst it is of course true that the majority of reported domestic violence is against women, a significant proportion is against men. I would also venture to suggest that male victims might be even more reluctant than female victims to report violence against them, in which case the proportion of men suffering domestic violence might be even higher.
What are the figures? Well, according to the British Crime Survey men were the victims of just over a quarter of incidents of domestic violence in 2010. I suspect that that figure may surprise many. As a long-time family lawyer I have of course been aware that men suffer domestic violence too, but even I didn’t think the percentage was that high before I saw first the survey.
Looking at the latest annual results for the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which were published in January 2014, we can get a better idea of the number of victims. In 2010/11 the British Crime Survey estimated that there were 392,000 incidents of domestic violence. If men were the victims in a quarter of those, that comes to a horrific 98,000.
So just what proportion of the male population are victims – surely only a small fraction? Well, not exactly – whilst the survey showed that (just) 4.8 per centof men aged 16 to 59 had been victims of domestic abuse in the previous year, a full 17 per cent had been victims at some time since the age of 16.
So, the figures clearly indicate a very serious problem. I can see, however, that some may still not be convinced. They may accept that the odd hen-pecked husband may be abused by his domineering wife, but surely most men are quite capable of defending themselves?
Well, I’m not really qualified to comment upon how many men are physically able and mentally prepared to defend themselves against an attack by their female partners, although whilst I was practising I did come across a number of cases where they were not prepared to do so.
We should also, however, consider two other points:
Firstly, domestic violence also takes place in same-sex relationships. Obviously, if both partners or spouses are men, then the victim will be male.
Secondly, domestic abuse does not just include physical violence. Last year the Home Office defined domestic violence and abuse as:
“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, 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:
Controlling behaviour is defined as “a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.”
Coercive behaviour is defined as “an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”
Perhaps it is a little easier to envisage men as victims of controlling or coercive behaviour, which they suffer along with actual violence. Realising that domestic abuse includes such behaviour, I think, helps an understanding of the problem.
Whether you understand it or not, however, the simple fact of the matter is that domestic violence is a scourge that can affect anyone, irrespective of gender. Accordingly, all efforts and initiatives aimed at dealing with it should recognise that fact.
I will finish by saying what I said at the end of my post on Tuesday about World Cup-related domestic violence: if you are the victim of domestic violence then there are legal steps that you can take to protect yourself – contact a specialist family lawyer for advice.