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.