According to those who work in the area of men’s health, the current approach to domestic violence ignores the one in three victims of family violence who are male. While not wanting to undermine the decades of effort that have gone into establishing services for female victims of domestic violence, they want the government to do more to raise awareness about the plight of male victims, many of whom find they have nowhere to turn when a female partner becomes violent or abusive.
Gary’s ex-wife had punched him in the face with a closed fist on several occasions. But it wasn’t until she punched the couple’s 16 month old daughter while he was holding her, that the father of two decided enough was enough. “She walked over and punched my baby daughter in the middle of the back, sending us both flying. It was a terrific blow. I fled the house with my daughter and looked for somewhere to stay, but all my friends were at work or on holidays. So I phoned an emergency refuge who literally laughed at my request for help and proceeded to tell me that the service was only for women,” Gary told the One in Three campaign website.
“I tried another shelter without success. I had no money left and couldn’t afford accommodation. So I spent the night sleeping under a derelict building without blankets and I held my daughter close to keep her warm. She cried for most of the night because she was afraid and hungry. I could only give her water from a nearby tap. My daughter was traumatised and so was I (and we both still are). The next morning we returned home because we had no alternative. I later asked my wife why she punched our daughter and her answer was literally ‘because I knew that would upset you more than if I had hit you’ and she apologised profusely.”
Gary added, “At the moment she hit our daughter I knew instantly that the marriage must finish. I now have sole care of my two beautiful children after a court found her unfit to be a parent for a number of reasons. Violence against men and their children is real.”
While men are even less likely than women to report domestic violence to the police, the One in Three campaign website has published more than 60 stories from men like Gary, who have experienced some form of violence or abuse by a female partner.
Co-founder of the One in Three campaign, Greg Andresen, says one in three victims of family violence are men. However, the ‘one in three’ statistic is a little misleading, as this statistic includes incidences of violence perpetrated by other men, as well as members of the extended family.
“We need to draw a distinction between family violence and domestic violence. It’s a subtle distinction but it’s an important one, especially for us because our campaign is around family violence, not just domestic violence,” Mr Andresen told Australian Women Online.
“So when we talk about one in three men, we are talking about men who are victims of violence by their female partner. But we’re also talking about gay men who are victims of family violence by their male partners and the often forgotten men and boys who are victims of broader family violence – abuse by their parents, by other siblings and other family members.”
What first brought the One in Three campaign to our attention, was a media release dated 5th March 2010, wherein Greg Andresen criticised the latest round of funding for the federal government’s Respectful Relationships program, labeling it as ‘boy-bashing’:
Respectful relationships education is an essential part of the school curriculum. However, conflating ‘respectful relationships’ and ‘violence against women’ implies that disrespect in relationships only leads to males abusing females. Why is the government ignoring the 50 per cent of relationships in which girls physically and psychologically abuse their boyfriends? We are concerned that these ‘respectful relationships’ programs are really just boy-bashing exercises in disguise.
When asked by Australian Women Online to explain what he meant by “boy-bashing”, Greg Andresen said: “When you see TV ads like Violence Against Women, Australia says No and all you see are these images of violent male brutes and not a single image of a woman being violent, it does paint a picture of domestic violence as men beating up women. Every government campaign seems to have the same imagery and maybe it’s governments we need to be targeting, more than women in general.”
So we asked the federal minister responsible for the ‘Respectful Relationships’ program, the Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek, to comment on this issue.
Ms Plibersek told Australian Women Online, “There’s a very good men’s line service that men can call for advice on issues like abusive relationships or relationship breakdown and I think it’s very important to have that service. It’s certainly not the case that there isn’t support available for men who are victims of violence.”
“The statistics show that while there are some men who are victims of domestic violence, the vast majority of violence experienced by men is from other men and it’s usually in situations outside the home and it’s absolutely important to tackle that sort of violence. But it’s important to acknowledge that women are most likely to be attacked by someone they know and usually in their own home. It’s important to have responses for all the different types of violence that we experience in our community, but to be realistic – and the fact is that the characteristics of that violence are generally different for men and for women,” she said.
University of Western Sydney researcher Micheal Woods, says family violence is not a gender issue, it’s a public health issue.
“By appearing to focus on gender as the cause of relationship violence and abuse, these programs ignore the internationally accepted evidence that other causes play a much larger part. The social determinants that can lead to abusive relationships include social disadvantage, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and inadequate conflict management and affect regulation skills,” said Mr Woods.
“The approach behind the [Respectful Relationships] campaign is at odds with the Prime Minister’s preference for evidence-based policies. This roll-out of funding appears to support biased gender ideology, not social good. The denigration of boys as belonging to a “violent” gender and the implicit approval for violence by girls against boys, undermines the intent of reducing violence in relationships.”
As an advocate for male victims of relationship violence and abuse, Melbourne psychologist, Dr Elizabeth Celi, has found herself in the firing line of women’s groups who have devoted a lot time and energy into raising awareness of violence against women.
Dr Celi told Australian Women Online, “People seem to have a perception that it’s us versus them and if we’re talking about male victims, then it must mean that we’re disregarding female victims and that’s simply untrue. It’s simply untrue that by attending to male victims we are undermining the message of the prevalence or the severity of violence against women.”
“What was a silent phenomenon for women in the 50s and 60s is now where male victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence are at today. So after having several decades, and rightly so, of awareness raising, public education, public campaigning and service development for female victims, for various reasons that kind of energy and effort just hasn’t been put into creating awareness and services for male victims.”
“Males are becoming victims of various forms of domestic violence and verbal and emotional abuse, which is just as battering toward the male psyche and results in them needing the same type of attention that a female victim would.”
With campaigns such as UNIFEM’s Say NO to Violence Against Women placing gender based violence on the international agenda, advocates for men’s health are facing an uphill battle trying to convince the federal government here in Australia, to fund programs for the male victims of family violence.
But there is a new hope on the horizon. On 26th May 2010 Edith Cowan University in WA released it’s Intimate Partner Abuse of Men report. The report recommends that government fund public awareness campaigns to raise awareness of intimate partner violence against men and that consideration be given to providing publically-funded services for male victims of intimate partner violence and abuse.
Back in March of this year, we did approach UNIFEM Australia for a comment on the One in Three campaign. But to date, we have received no response.