Changing attitudes towards domestic abuse against men

Family Law|March 16th 2016

The subject of men being victims of domestic violence is back in the news following the tragic death of David Edwards who was murdered by his wife, after suffering more than a year of mental and physical abuse at her hands. Mr Justice William Davis, who heard the case, told Mrs Edwards that she had “a bullying and violent nature” and said to her that: “This deadly attack was the culmination of long-term bullying by you on this respected member of the community.”

Mr Edwards’ brother has since spoken to the media of the particular difficulties felt by male victims of domestic violence to speak up and escape their situation.

I have written about male victims of domestic violence on a number of occasions over the years, including a post here in 2014 in which I pointed out that men are victims of domestic violence as well as women. I think that over those years the public has become more aware that men can be abused, and that must be a good thing, but clearly more remains to be done.

One of the problems in public perception is that, whilst there is an understanding that men are victims, there is also a perception that abuse against men is surely very rare, and therefore it is not a major issue. Whilst it is certainly true that far more women than men are victims of domestic abuse, it cannot be said that abuse against men is rare. The 2013/14 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 4.5 per cent of men reported having experienced domestic abuse in the previous year, with 14.7 per cent of men experiencing domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 2.4 million male victims. That compares with 28.3 per cent of women experiencing domestic abuse since the age of 16, which is equivalent to an estimated 4.6 million female victims.

The problem is not a minor one. What, then, are the difficulties faced by male victims? I think there are three, although the essential underlying issue in each instance is the same: society’s attitudes towards the problem – and that is what really needs to change.

The first difficulty is with male victims themselves. They are reluctant to admit to being abused, and they fear that if they complain they will not be believed. After all, they are the stronger sex, aren’t they? What kind of real man allows himself to be abused by a woman? The stereotypes of what men and women should and should not be make it embarrassing for many men to admit to being the victims of abuse.

And if they do complain to the police many men will find that they are not believed, for the same stereotypical reasons. I have heard of many incidents over the years in which men have complained to the police that they have been abused, only to find the police siding with the woman who abused them, and often telling the male victim that he should leave the property, to prevent any further incidents.

The third difficulty I have seen mentioned by male victims of abuse is that they do not see the point in pursuing a case through the courts as they consider that the courts are biased in favour of women. There is, of course, no bias in the law itself, but judges and magistrates may well be affected in their decision making by the stereotypes referred to above.

As I indicated earlier, however, I think that perceptions are slowly changing and that the public awareness of the problem of abuse against men is increasing. This is borne out by the fact that the number of women convicted for domestic violence offences rose by 30 per cent in the year to April 2015, from 3,735 to 4,866, marking an upward trend which has meant that the number of convictions involving female perpetrators is now six times higher than it was ten years ago.

Hopefully, the barrier of society’s attitude towards domestic abuse against men is being broken down, and we will soon be in a position where men do not feel they have to suffer in silence, and where the police and the courts treat the complaints of male victims of abuse with the seriousness and respect that they deserve.

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  1. Vincent McGovern says:

    I thank you for this blog post Mr Bolch. I quite often criticise your writing as too often I feel you have a ‘protect the system at all costs mindset.’ That said and speaking from eight years of experience and four years as Chair of Central and North London branches of Families Need Fathers, a Shared Parenting Charity, where far too often we are trying to rescue fathers who have been brutally abused by the twin evils of false allegations and intense facilitation and promotion of such by myriad agencies working hand in glove with the Family Courts. My compliments to you.

  2. Paul Apreda says:

    John, i’m often critical of some of your comments and that’s why I thought I’d post now in praise of this post.

    We see a growing number of men who are victims of abuse – but who often fail to identify that as clearly as they should. When capturing data from our Helpline callers we try to go through the monitoring questions at the end of the conversation rather than at the start. During the conversation men will inform us of the emotional and psychological abuse that they suffer, and may sometimes reveal physical abuse as well, yet when we ask them the monitoring question – ‘Do you feel that you have been a victim of domestic violence and abuse’ many of those same men will say No!!
    The problem of recognition of male victims of DV does not however revolve around public perception. The problem is the systemic prejudice against recognition promulgated by organisations such as Women’s Aid and Rights of Women who seek to place barriers in the way of recognition and insist that women, rather than all victims, deserve help and support. The Ending Violence Against Women & Girls strategy is only problematic in that it is used to undermine the validity of male victims.
    In Wales we have a new law – the Ending Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2014. This was designed to reflect the special position of women as victims. Rather than creating separate gender specific initiatives for men and women a single strategy has been initiated emphasizing the particular problems facing female victims. I have also complained about the practice of ‘screening’ male callers only who contact DV support services to determine whether they are ‘genuine’ rather than all or no callers. Until that practice stops the current DV support system is profoundly broken.

    The absurdity of the CPS Violence against Women and Girls strategy is exposed by the fact that 30% of victims are NOT female (honestly that is a fact – and one that the DPP Alison Saunders is comfortable with as she confirmed to my MP when asked).
    Well done John for a thoughtful and interesting post. regards, Paul Apreda, National Manager, FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru

  3. Luke says:

    “Whilst it is certainly true that far more women than men are victims of domestic abuse…”
    That simply isn’t true – and I would challenge the premise that such attitudes are changing.
    There ARE far more women who are SERIOUSLY injured as a result of domestic violence – but that’s not the same thing.
    I think the reason for this is the obvious double-whammy that men on average are capable of hitting much harder than women when they lose control and are also on average far more capable of taking punishment without suffering serious injury.
    I think that it is highly likely that domestic violence against men is under-reported due to the extreme societal stigma of having to admit as a man that you need protection from a woman and because even when they do report it they are still sometimes not believed.
    Domestic violence is a pretty even two-way street where both genders are pretty similarly at fault :

  4. Anonymous says:

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  5. JamesB says:

    Following-up on Luke’s post, there are mental health issues to domestic abuse. Either sex is as likely to be a victim of it. The isolating and degrading of the other person by a bullying spouse resulting in them having lack of self esteem and so on.

    I see the reduction in marriage a relief of that as people used to marry young and then one impose their personalities on the other. My grandfather didn’t get out of bed for years because he was scared of my grandmother for example. These people need to be helped and supported also. I think the punishment of men for being men should stop as is out of order and makes no sense and we need help also. Both sexes need help and support from time to time. Another example is the increased likelihood of young men to be the victim of violence on the street, I have seen this and their mothers devastated by it. That the press ignore all this and just go on about women’s rights is very disappointing and frustrating.

  6. David Cook says:

    Not a bad article, except the myth is perpetuated that more women are victims of domestic violence than men and that has long been debunked. Domestic violence of the physical variety is 50/50 and this has been known for many years. It may now be MORE common for men to be assaulted than women, in part because of articles like this that continue to deny the statistics and women know they are likely to get away with it. As far as psychological violence goes, women commit about 70% of that. The mind set against men is the CAUSE of a lot of the domestic violence, not the solution. white ribbon, I refuse to spell that misandrist name with capitals, is a prime example

  7. Sabz says:

    “There is, of course, no bias in the law itself”

    In America, we created a law called VAWA, the violence against women act. It mandated arrests of the aggressor in DV cases. Sounds awesome! Except for one thing… shortly afterwards the rate of male arrests increased 40%, while the rate of female arrests (remember, mandatory arrest of the *aggressor*) went up almost 500%. FIVE HUNDRED PERCENT. In response the law was altered to arrest the more powerful, or bigger person. This is legalsleaze for “male”. It is called the Duluth Model. Look it up.

  8. JamesB says:

    The Police in England and Wales have the Positive Intervention Policy which is the same. Arrive on scene, arrest male, drive off, job done.

    The problem was police complaints went through the roof as women used it in game playing in divorce to grab the house. The police investigate themselves and closed the complaints as groundless. Job done, no, as people have rightly started suing the police for wrongful arrest.

    I am no longer in such an abusive relationship so I don’t know where things stand now, I like to think that fairer than they were. It is bad the disregard for the male victims by the media and government and law and lack of support for them though.

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