Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Home Office and domestic abuse against men

There was news yesterday of a spat between the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, and Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge. The Home Secretary was announcing a domestic violence initiative, including a register, monitored by the police, of people perpetrating domestic violence. Although, almost without exception, this was reported as 'men perpetrating domestic abuse'.

During the shouting match between the two, no mention was made of male victims of abuse - it was all about male 'abusers' and 'men who abuse'. Which was nice because, unfortunately, men do get abused. That abuse can be just as bad for a man as it can be for a woman, and is far more common than many people are evidently willing to admit.

Even the Home Office webpage announcing this consultation does not mention men as being sufferers of abuse. If there is an allied consultation about abuse of men, then it should be mentioned. There is a line: 'make sure that men who have attacked or abused already don’t continue to do so'. This makes it sound as if they are planning to introduce legislation directed solely at men who abuse. If so, then they are ignoring a massive problem.

And it is a massive problem. According to home office figures, one in six men is a victim of domestic abuse, and one man every fortnight is killed by their partner. Now, I am well aware that the figures are not as large as they are for women, but not mentioning them was either a catastrophic blunder or a worrying deliberate act.

I reckon the latter. Also on the Home Office website is a 'Domestic Violence' leaflet (labelled as being a 'purse-sized guide'). This has such inclusive gems as 'Support your friend in whatever decision she's currently making about her relationship', and 'Reassure her that the abuse is not her fault and that you are there for her.' The assumption about this entire thing is that women are getting abused. This is the Government domestic violence leaflet, and it is directed solely towards women!

Other reports show that abuse against men is not only a problem, but a growing problem. From the Independent in 2005:
New figures show that the number of calls to domestic violence helplines from male victims has more than doubled over the past five years. And now one of the world's leading feminist journals will investigate the issue of male abuse for the first time in its history: the Psychology of Women Quarterly will devote a whole edition to research on violent women and their behaviour towards men.
From the BBC:
In 2007, 142 people died in UK attacks, including 38 men.
And also at the BBC:
However, the 2001/02 British Crime Survey (BCS) found 19 per cent of domestic violence incidents were reported to be male victims, with just under half of these having a female abuser.
And, again from the BBC:
The latest Home Office figures for 2007/8 show 2.2% of women of any age said their partner used minor or severe force against them over the last year. The figure for men was slightly lower at 2.0%.
When men do report it, the evidence is that it is very hard for them to be taken seriously - see the following quote from Shelter England.
However, male victims of domestic abuse may find it more difficult to be taken seriously by agencies they approach for assistance.
So, these inconsistent figures show that anywhere from a fifth to a half of all abuse is directed towards men. Yet in their infinite wisdom the Home Office are ignoring them in this consulatation, and even in their support guides on their website!

They were discussing this on Radio 5 a few weeks ago, and a man phoned up with a telling anecdote. He was being beaten by his wife, and he phoned for the police. When they arrived, they arrested him, as the call had come in as a domestic violence case. Their assumption was that it was the man who was being violent. That phone-in was covered on this BBC blog, along with new statistics that show that men in their early 20s are more likely to be abused by their partner than women of the same age. It is well worth reading some of the comments that appear beneath the blog.

The following is a quote from the same Blog:
ex girlfriend pushed me down the stairs ,i called the police and they locked me up for three hours and made me walk home with dislocated toes cos they did not believe me.
Abused women have Refuge. As a man going to their website, perhaps wanting to find support, the first thing I am faced with, is: 'I am an abuser - what can I do to change?'. This is not something I would want to see if I was being abused. There is a page buried deep on their website, 'Help for men - men are abused to', which points to a helpline.

A helpline. Now, I realise that Refuge is a women's charity, and a darned good job they do, too. However, as by far the best-known charity in this area, isn't it more than conceivable that a man being abused might visit the website too? After all, do not abused men deserve 'refuge'? And if they did so, what would they be greeted with? A line 'I am an abuser', then a helpline. There are no direct links to the less-well known organisations for men such as ManKind or MensAid.

Women complain that decades ago it was difficult for their accusations of abuse to be taken seriously. Well, men are now where they were so long ago. And having the Home Secretary and - shame - the head of Refuge giving such a one-sided view, it will continue to be the case.

Abuse against anyone - women, men or children - is wrong, and help should be available to all of them. Trying to sweep abuse of men under the carpet in this manner does not help.

Why am I so bothered about this? I got hit by a girl once on two occasions - the first with a Tom Clancy hardback, and the second with an iron. Fortunately the latter was plugged in, and instead of hitting me in the face, it his my chest under my left arm. Some readers may find this hard to believe because, shock horror, I am a man, but I never once touched her. But the main reason is that I have a friend - I will not name him - who, in my opinion, is undergoing mental abuse. That is, if I was subjected to it, it would effect me mentally. Unfortunately I cannot go into more detail.

But of course, the comments from our esteemed Home Secretary indicates that she thinks that abuse only occurs from men to women. Good on her. Perhaps she ought to understand that the real situation is far more complex. If she does not think that, then she should clarify her words and mention male victims as well. The Home Office website also needs updating.

On another matter, there were some sickening statistics out recently, in line with this report. from the times article:

The Home Office commissioned an opinion poll into attitudes towards domestic violence to coincide with the publication of the proposals. It found that one in seven people believe it is acceptable in some circumstances for a man to hit his wife or girlfriend if she is dressed in “sexy or revealing clothes in public”.

A similar number believed it was all right for a man to slap his wife or girlfriend if the is “nagging or constantly moaning at him”.

The poll also disclosed that about a quarter of people believe wearing sexy or revealing clothing should lead to a woman being held partly responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted.

However, a significant majority of 1,065 people over 18 questioned last month believe it is never acceptable to hit or slap a woman.

These are, of course, awful. There are a number of questions thrown up by these statistics. For one, it says 'people'. given that few women will believe, say, it is right got a man to slap his wife or girlfriend, then does this mean that the figures for men alone are much higher? Then there is the way that the 1,065 were chosen for the questionnaire, and what the questions were. Despite all of this, the figures are shocking. There has to be an attitude change in society.

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