This thing about male victims

A couple of weeks ago, The Independent ran an article on male victims of domestic violence. There were some factual inaccuracies in the report along with the use of the statistic that one in three victims of domestic abuse in Britain is male. I challenged these on twitter. I received the response below from a professional referenced in the article

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But I’m not going to move on. I’d prefer to talk about this statistic because it is unhelpful at best, it is derailing and dangerous at worst.

The claim of gender parity in domestic violence, or at least of much less difference than is conventionally believed, is nothing new, in fact it’s been popping up – and out of the mouths of Men’s Rights Activists – since at least the 1970ies.  No matter how often or how robustly ‘gender symmetry’ claims are rebuffed and refuted, its advocates continue to regurgitate their position.

‘A third of all victims of abuse are male’

The data referenced, that approximately a third of victims of domestic abuse in the UK are male comes from data from the British Crime Survey. It contrasts significantly from data from police crime reports which estimate that between 80-90% of violence against the person reported is by women assaulted by men.

The main problems with the statistic that a third of reports are by men are

    • It is about domestic abuse and/or conflict, not domestic violence
    • The data does not differentiate between cases where there is one incident of physical conflict/abuse/violence or those where violence is repeated. If we look at the data for where there have been four or more incidents, then approximately 80% of victims are women
    • The data does not differentiate between incidents where violence and abuse are used as systematic means of control and coercion and where they are not
    • The data does not include sexual assault and sexual violence
    • The data does not take account of the different levels of severity of abuse/violence, ‘gender symmetry’ is clustered at lower levels of violence
    • The data does not take account of the impact of violence, whether the level of injury arising from the violence or the level of fear. Women are six times more likely to need medical attention for injuries resulting from violence and are much more likely to be afraid
    • The data does not differentiate between acts of primary aggression and self-defence, approximately three quarters of violence committed by women is done in self-defence or is retaliatory.

In fact, if these issues are taken into account, research consistently finds that violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women and levels are consistent with data of reports from the police. This is supported by data from the Crown Prosecution Service that shows that across the five years between 2007/8 and 2011/12, 93.4% of those convicted for crimes relating to domestic violence were men.

Looking at sexual offences

43,869 sexual offences were recorded by police in England and Wales in 2011/12.

In the same year:

    • 96.7% of cautions issues for sexual offences were to males
    • 98.2% of prosecutions for sexual offences were against males
    • 99% of convictions for those found guilty of sexual offences were male

54% of UK rapes are committed by a woman’s current or former partner.

But that doesn’t mean that there is gender parity if sexual offences are excluded from consideration.

‘It’s harder for men to report, there’s much more of a taboo for men’

Exactly the opposite:

    • men are more – not less – likely to call the police
    • men are more likely – not less – to support a prosecution
    • men are less likely – not more – to drop charges.1

Another way to get round the issue of unrepresentative reporting is to look at who gets killed, dead people don’t get the choice of whether or not to inform the police. UK Homicide records between 2001/2 and 2011/12 (11 years) show that on average 5.7% (296 total) of male homicide victims and 44.2%(1066) of female homicide victims are killed by a partner or ex-partner. Expressed as an average of those killed by a partner or former partner over 11 years, 22% were men, 78% were women.

Note, the domestic homicide figures do not tell us the sex of the perpetrator, nor is the sex of the perpetrator revealed for all other types of homicide. Men are overwhelmingly killed by other men – regardless of the relationship between victim and perpetrator. Women are overwhelmingly killed by men – regardless of the relationship between victim and perpetrator

‘Maybe the police see what they expect to see, gender stereotypes mean that men are more likely to be perceived as the aggressor’

Except that they’re not. Research by Marianne Hester (2009), found that women were arrested to a disproportionate degree given the fewer incidents where they were perpetrators. During a six year study period men were arrested one in every ten incidents, women were arrested one in every three incidents.

When women do use violence, they are at risk of greater levels or retaliatory violence.

Women are penalised, not excused, not invisible, if they transgress gender stereotypes.

‘Women make false allegations’

Except when they don’t and in the vast majority of cases they don’t.

The Crown Prosecution Service recently released data from a 17 month period in which there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence in England and Wales. Over the same timescale, there were only 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for false allegations of domestic violence and three that involved false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.

‘Women exaggerate’

Women overestimate their own use of violence but underestimate their victimisation. Women normalise, discount, minimise, excuse their partners’ domestic and sexual violence against them. Women find ways to make it their fault.

In contrast, men overestimate their victimisation and underestimate their own violence.2 Men are more likely to exaggerate a women’s provocation or violence to make excuses for initiating violence and, where retaliation has occurred, in an attempt to make it appear understandable and reasonable. Paul Keene, used the defence of provocation for his killing of Gaby Miron Buchacra. His defence claimed that he was belittled by her intellectual superiority and that he lost control after rowing with her by text over a twelve hour period. That a jury accepted his defence is a further example of how men’s violence is minimised and excused. Not only by men and the women they assault, but by the legal system. The right to claim abuse as a mitigating factor in domestic violence homicide cases was vitally important for women like Kiranjit Aluwahlia, Emma Humphreys and Sara Thornton, all of whom had suffered years of violence and abuse at the hands of the men they killed. That such a defence could be used in Paul Keene’s case only illustrates how differently women and men who use violence are treated.

A radical feminist perspective, based on an understanding of socially constructed gender roles and differences within the framework of patriarchal society does not mean that all men are violent to women, or that men are genetically pre-disposed to violence. It means the opposite. It means that women and men are socialised and that – within the limits of choice permitted by the social environment – we can choose to be different.

Whether coming from an anti-feminist Men’s Right Activist perspective, or from a
genuine desire to support those men who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, those who use statistics that overstate similarities between male and female violence are either doing so wilfully, to pursue their own agenda, or because they genuinely haven’t taken the time to – or have failed to – understand the statistics.

I have no desire to deny any man’s reality. Denying women’s much greater suffering as victims of domestic and/or sexual violence is a political act. The differences between men and women’s use of violence and experiences of victimisation do not need to be denied or minimised for all victims to be deserving of safety and support. It is quite possible to believe that no woman, child, or man deserves to be a victim of sexual or domestic violence (or indeed of any other type of violence) whist maintaining a feminist agenda to end women’s oppression.

Footnotes

1 Kimmel 2002

2Dobash et al. 1998

Any man experiencing domestic violence can contact the men’s advice line

42 thoughts on “This thing about male victims

  1. Well done for putting right that awful Independent article. The fact that men are so entrenched in Patriarchy that they can’t seek help when victimised, is their own fault. We need to learn these lessons. And they really had to search high and low to find those male victims, I’ll bet. I’m really disappointed with the Independent for presenting that article in a very misleading way and pandering to MRA interests. It’s putting the focus in the wrong areas and diverting attention away from where most of the harm is done, as you said.

  2. Hi I am a student writing a dissertation on this subject. I am actually using the discussed article as a source, so have found this article extremely helpful to contrast and put forward another side. Unfortunately I am finding it rather difficult to find such femenist views on the subject and therefore am struggling to support my own argument. I know it is a long shot as i presume you are a busy lady, but if you do have a spare few minutes could you please email me any opinions or information you have relevant to this subject? Thank you in advance. csamuel120910@gmail.com

    • Hi Charlotte,
      Thanks for your comments and glad to hear that you are interested in this as an issue.
      It’s difficult to add much about my opinion, because the piece is about my opinion – backed up by the reseach that I cite. I would add that it is also based on over 20 years of working with women survivors of domestic and sexual violence too.
      I didn’t go into how wider inequality under patriarchal society and everyday misogyny mean that even if women’s and men’s violence was the same (and i don’t believe it is) than the impact on women would still be disproportionate, because it was beyond that I wanted to do with this piece but it is important to acknowledge.
      I also think that denial of the gendered nature of domestic and sexual violence is dangerous and can only delay progress to reduce violence against women and girls; that violence against women and girls is both a consequence and reinforcer of inequality.
      I’d say read Kimmel, Hester, Walby on VAW and Kelly/Coy for VAW in a patriarchal context if you haven’t already.
      Good luck with the dissertation.
      Karen

  3. Reblogged this on Skeptical Cubefarm and commented:
    I love finding instances of blogging brilliance.

    I also feel the need to point out that posts like this – and arguments like the one it contains – in no way diminish or ‘ignore’ the reality of male victims of all forms of abuse; it situates that discussion within a more comprehensive social context and points out that while there are many male victims of domestic violence, the overwhelming majority of domestic violence is perpetrated against women, by men. We (men) need to seriously sit down and discuss this issue in an honest and candid way.

  4. thenotsoquietfeminist, Marina, feministroar, James, Dave, asukamiyuke, UKFeminist, liberationislife and Edwin, thank you all for your comments and re-blogs, much appreciated.
    Karen

  5. “UK Homicide records between 2001/2 and 2011/12 (11 years) show that on average 5.7% (296 total) of male homicide victims and 44.2%(1066) of female homicide victims are killed by a partner or ex-partner.”

    That’s an apples to oranges comparrison. You’re comparing the number of men killed by an intimate partner with the number of men killed by others and the number of women killed by an intimate partner with the number of women killed by others. The largest difference is due to the difference in chance of being murdered by a stranger, not due to the difference in chance of being killed by an intimate partner. The second way you present these numbers: “Expressed as an average of those killed by a partner or former partner over 11 years, 22% were men, 78% were women.” Shows that men have more than a quarter of the chance of being murdered by an intimate partner that women have. That’s far from parity, and you’re right there isn’t parity, but it’s also a lot closer to parity than the traditional narrative that domestic violence is a crime that only affects women.

    • Hello JE,

      I’m afraid you’re underestimating my ability to understand statistics:
      • On average over the 11 year period, on average 5.7% of the total number of men killed by anyone were killed by a partner/ex-partner, whilst 44.2% of the total number of women killed by anyone were killed by a partner/ex-partner.
      • Also, while telling us nothing about the sex of perpetrators, you might be interested to know that 49.3% of the total number of men killed by anyone were killed by someone they knew, whilst 71.8 % of the total number of women killed by anyone were killed by someone they knew
      • Or, over the 11 year period 296 men were killed by a partner/ex-partner; over the same period 1066 women were killed by a partner/ex-partner. That’s a total of 1362 people killed by a partner/ex-partner. Of which 1066/1362 or 78% were women and 296/1362 or 22% were men.

      Secondly, I am not arguing that domestic violence only affects women but that it disproportionately affects women and that claims of gender parity are over-stated. As I hope that I make clear, I oppose violence against anyone, by anyone.

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  7. Karen, Excellent perceptive relay of the truth. Unfortunately, we must continually “unscew” the spinning by proponents of various groups, who base their platforms on perceptions and feelings firstly, followed by contaminated facts. A recent UK study proved that 99.955% of domestic violence was done by men. (I don’t have the study handy, but it was done over years with tens of thousands of situations). This study was completed just last month. If one were to check the sexual offenders for any given state, you would find that 99% of them are men. This speaks volumes.

  8. Hi Karen, once you have implemented the above criteria for domestic violence, what percentage of women have been victims of the said crime? I don’t doubt that the very most extreme cases of domestic violence are largely perpetrated by men, as the average man is substantially more physically powerful than the average women, but I suspect that if one applies the complex (and somewhat counterintuitive) criteria for domestic violence that you formulated above the number of female victims is also substantially reduced. This is important because if the number of female victims of domestic violence is low relative to the female population as a whole (say 1-4%), the claim that male-to-female domestic violence is an extension of patriarchal values is considerable less convincing, as that number falls within the range of the number of men with dangerous personality disorders (i.e. psychopathy and narcissistic personality disorder). In fact, having researched the topic in considerable detail, I would claim that any man that systematically physically abuses his partner is almost certainly a psychopath.

    • Hi Patrick,
      The criteria applied is not just my own, to read more I’d direct you to this by Kimmel http://www.xyonline.net/sites/default/files/Kimmel,%20Gender%20symmetry%20in%20dom.pdf Yes, application of the criteria would remove some men who are primary perpetrators, the issue is that it removes significantly more women. It increases the existing differences between male and female violence.
      I’m afraid I don’t agree with the psychopathy argument.
      Karen

      • Just a thought, having lived with two men that used gendered violence and studied psychotherapy, what I think is that men that use domestic or sexist violence in the home tend to be extremely chauvinistic and therefore believe they are superior humans to women and children, whom they seem to regard as lesser sub humans. This leads to a total lack of empathy in their dealings with women and children whom they seem to regard as inveterate liars and morally corrupt. That this view is also promoted within porn makes me wonder if gendered or family violence is simply media induced psychopathy towards women and children in male culture? This is not to excuse it as a mental condition, more like a socially learnt one. Do you think this could be plausible? It would fit the same pattern as racist and homophobic violence and the reason we try to discourage the promotion of either by the media …

      • @Patrick – not all psychopaths are physically violent and their manipulative nature often enables them to avoid prosecution or even being reported…

        Great article Karen

  9. Karen, thanks for a great summary. I had found the Hester study after reading some of the BCS reports and deciding to dig because the numbers just didn’t make sense, and I’m so glad I found your page which puts it all together. This really needs to be spread as far and as widely as possible. it’s vital information. I stick a link to your page in blog comments where appropriate and would encourage others to do the same. The Hester (2009) paper can be downloaded here: http://www.nr-foundation.org.uk/resources/domestic-abuse-research-reports/ and search for Who Does What To Whom.

  10. I have researched DV, particularly in how it affects children witnessing, and the lack of gender parity is glaringly obvious. There are a few references to violent mothers, but from what I have read the fathers are at least as violent.. In most situations it is male to female violence, and not , as Patrick White so pathetically tries to argue, because men are stronger than women (like THAT is ALL it’s about, talk about reductionist), but because often men have a great sense of ownership and entitlement within the family and in relationships,

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  12. Thankyou. A much-needed voice of reason in a discussion that often gets reduced to ‘women shut up’ in a faintly threatening parallel of the subject matter.

  13. Thank you Karen. A brilliant piece. I work in a refuge with children who have witnessed domestic violence and have been appalled by the misogyny that is rife throughout the legal system. I have argued the points you make so many times with men do not want to hear the truth.

  14. Excellent piece, Karen, and very useful references. Thank you for providing this, and for your measured approach.
    I’m interested that there are apparently no statistics kept on the proportion of male victims of domestic violence where the perpetrator is also male. Is there any source which gives an estimate?

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  16. Karen,
    I live in the U.S., so our statistics and context probably vary, but I don’t imagine those differences would be significant enough to disallow some comparisons, or at least some dialogue. My curiosity around this issue is around two things, neither statistically based, but hopefully worthy of further exploration.
    1) Knowing it’s a different issue, (and deserving of a different study/article) is there any research on “emotional violence”? It seems like a connected topic, but I’m wondering if is it a quantifiable event? And how do we put it in a context with domestic (which indicates physical) violence?
    I ask, not to distract from these issues, but because I rarely see the connection addressed in the debates (especially on the web) that seem to polarize men on this subject. I suspect (yet cannot prove) that many men, and I’d include myself, are drawn to these kinds of internet issue-based dialogues around violence because the complex relations we they/we have the idea that emotional violence exists, but can be a kind of silent trigger that plays a hand, but isn’t always seen as relevant. I’m by no means offering it as an excuse, but as a player that might be helpful if addressed. It’s a slippery slope. I’m not questioning the domestic violence statistics or relevance, I’m trying to get a perspective that can support change. I think a lot of men see the overwhelming stats against them as an obstacle to being a part of the change (complicated by the fact that men aren’t talking about change as a positive thing, the way feminism can be talked about as a positive force for change in a woman’s life).
    2) Your last sentence (in the article above) is a wonderful reminder that it’s possible for men to engage in this painfully important dialogue without fear or shame, since, after all, who can;t get on board against violence? In essence, yes, I want to stop the oppression and violence against women, but I’d be a hypocrite to say I’d want to stop there. I don’t think you’re asking anyone to do so, but the perception that stopping violence against women somehow ignores violence against men (in varying forms) exists. It’s a great thing that women have resources, as do men, but men’s perceptions around our role in this are in need of some supportive dialogue from both genders. I think if most articles and postings included sentiments like your last sentence, that dialogue would take a positive, and hope inspiring step forward. We certainly need it.
    Thanks for a thoughtful, thought provoking, and measured response on such an important issue.

  17. Karen, that tweet you got back — wow, just wow! In less than 140 characters, they told you to shut up, labeled your response as “poor feelings” and said you were bad for challenging poorly researched assumptions. If the author can’t stand rational debate without attacking your character or at least backing up his response with facts that show yours are incorrect, he should stop proving feminists correct about how insecure men are. And I’m a guy, saying that! Thank you for shining your light.

  18. At my public school (I’m only a junior, shhh don’t yell at me.) I have seen domestic violence in relationships and just flat out bullying. In many cases (not all) the outcome is very similar to the video. Especially in bullying cases. Usually, a male is told to “man up” and let it go. However, sometimes the stakes are reversed (I really don’t think I used that saying correctly, but its 1:25am and my brain doesn’t work.) Honestly it depends on the situation. But the majority of domestic violence cases AT MY SCHOOL that are broen up by students are the cases of boy attacking girl.

    2nd question) The term feminist has gotten a lot of hate in the media due to the radical idea that women > men, instead of women = men. Wouldn’t it be easier to be called equalists instead of feminists? In my opinion I call myself an equalist because I believe that each gender is equal. I’m also a pacifist, so I don’t do much (or any) hitting. At all.

    • Hi James,
      It’s a question of what you see as the role of feminism. For me it’s not just about achieving equality, it’s the liberation of women from male oppression. You’re quite right, the term equalist is more appropriate for those who want the former.
      Glad to hear that you’re against violence.

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