I practised as a family lawyer from 1983 to 2009. During that time I never once dealt with a case in which a male victim of domestic abuse sought the protection of the courts. I also never heard of such a case, within my personal knowledge. There may have been the odd reported case during that time, but I don’t recall seeing any.
I did come across cases in which men had claimed to have been subjected to domestic abuse, but these more often than not involved incidents of the ‘tit for tat’ kind, where there had been an altercation, and both parties had assaulted the other. Only very rarely did a male client admit to being on the receiving end only.
Note my use of the word ‘admit’. Back in those days it was very much considered by men to be an admission of weakness if they had been abused by a woman without retaliating or at least defend themselves. I think this was a major factor in the lack of reporting of domestic abuse against men.
But even if they did report it, men faced an uphill task in getting their allegations believed. Most people, including the police, simply failed to accept that a man could be a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a woman (of course, in a same-sex relationship a man can be a victim at the hands of another man, but I think few people gave that possibility much thought back then). And if a case went to court I think many judges and magistrates would have been sceptical.
Thankfully all that has changed, although there may still be some way to go.
The ManKind Initiative, the charity that supports male victims of domestic abuse, has published new figures which indicate that the number of men reporting domestic abuse to the police has doubled in the last five years.
The figures, which were obtained by the charity via Freedom of Information requests from 41 police forces across England and Wales, showed that 158,974 men reported to them as being victims of domestic abuse in 2017, one in four of all victims where the gender of the victim was recorded.
A further 9,842 men reported the same in Scotland. Of the 43 police authorities in England and Wales which were sent a Freedom of Information request, 37 provided figures for 2012 and last year. On that like for like basis, the figures rose from 72,157 in 2012 to 149,248 in 2017 – more than double in five years.
By comparison, the figures for abuse against women showed that for the 41 police forces across England and Wales, 482,157 women reported to them as being victims of domestic abuse in 2017. A further 44,216 women reported the same in Scotland. The figures on the like for like basis show that the number of women who police recorded as victims has increased by almost 50 per cent from 306,411 in 2012 to 447,568 last year.
Mark Brooks, the Chair of the ManKind Initiative, is quoted as saying:
“These figures are both shocking yet welcome. They show the level of domestic abuse against men and the growing confidence they have in coming forward. Friends, family and work colleagues are also playing a key part in supporting them and many police forces are actively encouraging men to report.
These figures should act as a spur for even more men to reach out as many feel they are the only man in the world this has ever happened to and they suffer in silence behind their front door. They now know they are not alone.
Society as a whole is taking a more modern and inclusive view of domestic abuse – increasingly realising that it is a crime against women and men in heterosexual and same-sex relationships. More always needs to be done to challenge stereotypes as we still see some people not taking domestic abuse as seriously as they should when a man is a victim but we are moving in the right direction.”
Yes, it does seem to be quite clear that society is now recognising that men, as well as women, can be victims of domestic abuse. The authorities, including the police and the courts, are taking it more seriously and this, in turn, must be encouraging more male victims to come forward. Times have certainly changed since I was practising, and if I were practising now I suspect that my experience would be quite different.
As Mr Brooks says, more always needs to be done, but perhaps we will eventually reach a point where we no longer have to think in terms of abuse against one particular sex. Abuse is abuse, full stop. It should not be tolerated, and its victims, whoever they are, must be protected.