I identify as a feminist, others might identify me as pro-feminist. Research highlights that far more women experience extreme violence perpetrated by men than men experiencing violence perpetrated by women. I sign the white ribbon pledge to end violence against women and girls. I also believe that men can experience violence or abuse. I have worked for 7 years as a Male Independent Domestic Violence Advisor,over that time I have supported thousands of men that have experienced violence and abuse from female and male perpetrators, both intimate partners and family members, but there are key facts that must be explored.
We see fewer men experiencing high level violence from intimate female partners than we do of women from male perpetrators, in my experience less than 10% of the heterosexual men that I have supported experienced violence that put them at risk of serious harm or homicide. When we work with women experiencing abuse we see an increased risk of stalking or harassment post separation, we rarely see this with men experiencing abuse from female perpetrators. A third aspect is that men are often pushed to work harder, earn more money and become better providers by their perpetrators, rather than women who are often discouraged from work to increase isolation and therefore the perpetrator's control. When we do see women using high levels of violence it generally involves weapon use to overpower their partner. I have supported clients assaulted with mugs and glasses, stiletto heels through to broken bottles, scalding water, hammers and spanners. As a heterosexual man you're less likely to be forced into unwanted sexual acts, or physically hurt during sex, rather belittled and put down around sexual performance often in a way that challenges masculinity.
Gay and bisexual men are far more likely to experience levels of violence on par with that of heterosexual women. My most extreme cases have been men in same-sex relationships, with broken bones, a higher rate of sexual assaults, a client being covered in lighter fluid with the threat of setting on fire, 107 breaches of a Non-Molestation Order. Around 60% of the gay and bisexual men I supported would be identified as having complex needs, in that they would also have mental health or substance use issues. Gay and bisexual men are far more likely to experience stalking than their heterosexual male counterparts. Often this is misinterpreted by professionals as 'men being men', with a lack of understanding of the risk it poses.
A common emotional issue for men experiencing domestic abuse is the challenge it brings to their masculinity. A belief that experiencing violence or abuse makes them 'less of a man'. We are still encouraging girls to dress as princesses to be rescued by boys dressed as soldiers. This notion of masculinity is instilled in us from such a young age, and becomes so difficult to challenge. As a man you should provide, protect, if you don't you're less of a man. But we see women fulfilling these roles now, leaving men and masculinity displaced in society.
In my experience gay and bisexual men are more likely to access emotional support. This may be because gay and bisexual men have already had to come to terms with the challenges to their masculinity as they come out. Society has already told them that they are less of a man because they may not be able to reproduce or don't fit heteronormative societal stereotypes. For many this may lead to some level of internalised homophobia, but as a whole, gay men have already had to address their experiences of potential emasculation.
To an extent we must look at supply and demand when exploring a want for emotional support, there are far more services available for gay and bisexual men wishing to access help- counselling, refuges, domestic abuse support services. This may be why gay and bisexual men are more likely to access emotional support than heterosexual men. When men access domestic abuse support they generally access the practical support; housing, child contact, legal rights. Fewer heterosexual men access ongoing emotional support, but is this because it is not readily available? Domestic abuse services don't necessarily have in house counselling for men, there are not men's centres established that offer therapy as there are for women. There are only a handful of specialist men's services running across the UK that offer emotional support for heterosexual men.
We are seeing more services offer support for male victims, what we need now is men to access that support and raise the awareness that men experience domestic abuse too.
Luke Martin is a Specialist Domestic Abuse Consultant focusing on work with male victims and LGBT*. More information at www.martintrainingandconsultancy.co.uk