Domestic violence: when bliss turns to biffs (and blokes can be on the receiving end of beatings in the home)

OECD Ministers and other global leaders will gather at the OECD in Paris this week to discuss how to prevent, address, and eradicate violence against women.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría will open the conference on Wednesday, followed by a keynote address by French Minister Marlène Schiappa, Secretary of State in Charge of Equality between Women and Men and Anti-Discrimination Policies.

Whether it is discriminatory to devote a conference to the prevention and eradication of violence against women could be the stuff of robust debate.

What about violence against men?

The allegations of film star Johnny Depp against his former wife, actress Amber Heard, go a small way to raising questions about the extent to which males are the victims of domestic violence.

It’s a tawdry case.

Britain’s Daily Mail reports:  

Amber Heard admits to ‘hitting’ ex-husband Johnny Depp and pelting him with pots, pans and vases in an explosive audio confession obtained exclusively by DailyMail.com.

The Aquaman actress, 33, opens up about her violent tantrums in a series of taped conversations the estranged couple made in 2015 as they tried to talk through their marriage problems.

‘I’m sorry that I didn’t, uh, uh, hit you across the face in a proper slap, but I was hitting you, it was not punching you. Babe, you’re not punched,’ Heard tells Depp, attempting to downplay her outburst the previous evening.

‘I don’t know what the motion of my actual hand was, but you’re fine, I did not hurt you, I did not punch you, I was hitting you.’

Heard – an ambassador for women’s rights and outspoken domestic violence advocate – taunts Depp for fleeing the late night dust-up, telling him: ‘You are such a baby. Grow the f**k up Johnny.’

USA Today followed up by interviewing Depp’s lawyer, Adam Waldman, who confirmed the tape as a real recording and includes Heard and Depp discussing an incident that got physical.

Waldman said Heard “recorded her conversations” with Depp.

“The first confessional tape she made reveals a conversation any real abuse victim will recognize all too well,” Waldman added. “It exposes that Ms. Heard perpetrated serial violence against Mr. Depp, and then concocted an elaborate abuse hoax to cover it up. Ms. Heard gives a motive for her violence: Mr. Depp was always trying to ‘split’ to escape her abuse.”  

This is a one-sided account, obviously, and which party is the victim is unclear.

But blokes can be on the receiving end and two German states – Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia – last year launched an initiative to help male victims of domestic violence.

For many years, authorities in Germany and elsewhere have been working on measures to curb violence between couples. Most of the measures, however, focus on violence committed by males against their female partners. While men also suffer violence at home, many are reluctant to report it for fear of being seen as weak or being disbelieved.

“Men are also targeted by domestic violence,” Bavarian social minister Kerstin Schreyer and her NRW counterpart Ina Scharrenbach said in a joint statement. “Until now, there was hardly any help or support structures. There are possibilities to cooperate across state borders, most of all in creating a hotline and in the area of online counseling.”

Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) compiles statistics on domestic violence each year. According to the 2018 report based on findings collected for 2017, 17.9% of victims of intimate-partner violence were men. This means, of the 127,236 victims who reported cases of assault, rape, attempted murder and deprivation of liberty, 23,872 were men. However, the BKA notes that the actual number may be higher, as men may be too ashamed to report the crime.

Reuters last year reported on research which found that men who experience domestic violence and abuse often don’t seek help until the problem becomes a crisis.

Men tend to worry they would not be believed, or that they would be perceived as less masculine if they reported abuse, according to the researchers.

Alyson Huntley and colleagues at the University of Bristol reviewed 12 previous studies of male victims of domestic abuse or violence. The studies, conducted between 2006 and 2017, used data gathered mostly from interviews.

In a report in the journal BMJ Open, Huntley’s team outlined universal themes that describe why these men don’t readily seek help.

Fear of disclosure was a central theme.

“The issue of masculinity is a societal one – men are not expected to be the weak ones. It is a hard stereotype to work against,” Huntley told Reuters Health via email.

Along with fearing they wouldn’t be believed or would be seen as weak, men often stayed in abusive relationships because they felt committed to or concerned about their partners. In other cases, they were too depressed, despondent or traumatized to gather the strength to leave.

Furthermore, victims were often unaware that services for them existed. And when they did know about interventions, they didn’t believe the interventions were likely to be helpful. Some of the findings suggest that separate services are needed for men. Portraying domestic violence services as a space for women survivors can be a barrier to help-seeking by men, the authors point out.

Earlier last year, journalist Ally Fogg commented on a documentary Abused by My Girlfriend which showed BBC viewers the depths of suffering that can be experienced by male victims of intimate violence.

Fogg, a co-founder of the Men and Boys’ Coalition, wrote:

Alex Skeel was beaten, tortured and psychologically abused so severely that when police finally intervened, he was described by doctors as being just days from death. Last year, his partner Jordan Worth became the first woman to be convicted of coercive control domestic abuse and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. When he was finally rescued after years of torment, Skeel was only 22.

Presumably he didn’t know it at the time, but everyone involved in the case – from police who declined to act when called because they failed to recognise a young man could be a victim of abuse, to the prosecutors who finally secured a conviction, to the charities which supported Skeel and helped him put his life back together – operates under one overarching cross-government policy: the strategy on ending violence against women and girls

You should notice a paradox there. It is one that has vexed, distressed and offended male survivors of sexual and domestic abuse for many years. At government level at least, the estimated one in six males who are survivors of sexual abuse, the 700,000 annual male victims of domestic abuse, the male survivors of stalking, honour crimes, trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation – all are afterthoughts, incidental appendices to the suffering of others.

Britain’s Home Office subsequently published its first-ever position statement on male victims of crimes within the context of the strategy on ending violence against women and girls (VAWG).

It commits to more than a million pounds worth of much-needed ring-fenced support for charities working with different groups of male victims, including gay, bisexual and trans men.

But perhaps more important than the funding is the recognition that male survivors face unique challenges due to their conditioning and the constraints, expectations and impositions of our gendered society. There are a dozen specific commitments, including a promise to ensure that awareness campaigns on issues such as domestic and sexual abuse are gender inclusive and do not exclude male victims, and to look again at the commissioning of survivor support work to address chronic gaps in service provision.

But the biggest political struggle is still to be won, Fogg wrote.

The long-term goal for the survivors’ sector is to extricate men and boys from the VAWG strategy altogether. The women’s sector has done immense work over the decades in highlighting, analysing and addressing men’s violence against women, developing theoretical and practical frameworks under which they can support women and campaign to eradicate abuse. It is right and proper that female survivors, their organisations and advocates, are at the forefront of these efforts.

It is now long past time that male survivors, their representatives and advocates are afforded the same dignity. A cross-government strategy ending intimate violence against men and boys, separate but parallel to that aimed at violence against women and girls, would allow male victims, survivors and their advocates to secure funding without being pressed into a damaging competition with the women’s sector. It would allow the men affected to campaign for the political and social changes required, within theoretical frameworks that accurately describe their experiences of abuse and recovery, while recognising that those experiences and needs are equivalent but different to those of women.

Above all, it would give male survivors the basic right to name and identify their experiences on terms of their own choosing, not wrestle with those imposed upon them in one last grim violation of their consent.

But the OECD conference is focused on female victims of violence.

It says worldwide, at least one out of three women report being victims of violence – a
global epidemic of women being harmed. Yet policymakers have not devoted as much attention as they should to this crisis.

The many issues to be addressed included discussing the key challenges in addressing “intimate partner violence” (IPV), what governments are doing to address the issue, how can policymakers can make it a priority in their governments – and so on.

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