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 – withdraw their support of 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 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.


1 Kimmel 2002

2Dobash et al. 1998

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

The BBC, the myth of false allegations and culpability

On 12 March 2013, The Crown Prosecution Service published a report by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, into so-called false allegations of rape and domestic violence. The report – showing that false allegations are rare, and probably rarer than most people think1 –   is part of work being undertaken by the CPS to improve its handling of cases involving violence against women and girls

Rapists and abusers are the ones who need to be held responsible for the crimes that they commit. Yet we all share a responsibility for creating a culture that either supports victims, or one that supports abusers. Doing nothing permits rapists and abusers to hold a sense of entitlement and impunity; ultimately, to carry on raping and abusing.

The BBC, in their coverage of the DDP’s report, on both Radio 4’s Today programme and Newsbeat, decided to focus on the ‘extent’ of false accusations and the trauma of being falsely accused. They chose to take this position despite Starmer’s stated aim of wanting to dispel damaging myths about false allegations. Damaging myths that, if held, make it less likely that victims of rape are going to be believed. Damaging myths, so often internalised by victims of rape and abuse, that make them fearful that they will not be believed and so less likely to report.

Like many others, I was angry and disappointed. I complained to the BBC. I asked the BBC to ask themselves whether their coverage of the report made it easier or harder for women and children to report abuse. I suggested that in peddling the myth of false accusations, they were demonstrating that they had learned nothing from what we have come to know about their role in the widespread abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile.

I’ve now received a reply from BBC Complaints. They explained that they were fulfilling their role as impartial observer. The full response is reproduced below2 but these two paragraphs in particular warrant special attention:

I’m sorry if you objected to this approach, and for your concerns and misperception linking this fundamental approach to the Jimmy Savile case. Within a democratic society, however, the BBC would be failing in its duty if it didn’t take such an approach. This may include hearing opinions or observations which you personally disagree with, or counter-statistics you would dispute, but which individuals may be fully entitled to hold in the context of legitimate debate.

We understand there is always room for debate about particular news judgements, but the principles are pretty clear. To depart from them would open the BBC to justified complaint, and would eventually undermine the public’s trust in our reporting as a whole.

Linking their coverage of the CPS report to their role in the abuse by Jimmy Savile is “my misconception”? Savile is one of the country’s most prolific sexual abusers of women and children. The BBC need to ask themselves what they did, and what they did not do, to allow his role with them to give him almost unrestricted access to women and children. The BBC harboured and protected Savile from 1964 -2012. The extent of Savile’s abuse; the claims that his abuse was not only widely suspected but also known of, and the shambles around Newsnight’s decision to drop the probe into his predatory sexual abuse, illustrate systemic failings of the most profound nature. The BBC is worried about failing in its democratic duty. Have they considered their duty of care to women and children? Is that less important? When being a “devil’s advocate” and promoting legitimate debate makes it easier for rapists to carry on raping, whilst making it harder for victims to seek support and justice, where should their priority lie?

And what about undermining the public’s trust in the BBC‘s reporting? Police are now aware of alleged sexual abuse of hundreds of women, children and young people over five decades by Savile. What about the public’s trust in the institution through which much of this abuse was conducted? Again, surely it is this that merits their concern.

I’d suggested that the BBC were using the myth of false reporting to justify their own failings. Their response to my complaint suggests that they are now using the myth of (their) objective reporting to deny that they have any culpability in creating a culture in which women and children are disbelieved. It’s no coincidence that Rape Crisis helplines across the country saw a huge increase in the volume of calls as the extent of Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse became clear. People who were being abused, people who had been abused as children, suddenly had reason to think that someone might listen to them. Someone just might believe them. Someone was saying that it wasn’t their fault.

Savile was raping and sexually abusing women, girls and boys between 1955 and 2009, with the first recorded reports to police in 1964. The myth of false reporting and fear of not being believed denies victims of sexual violence access to support and justice and enables perpetrators to carry on abusing. The real story was that women and children need to be better protected by the criminal justice system. The BBC wants to patronise me for failing to understand the democratic process. After-all, I’m ‘just (one of) the women’. The BBC wants me to know that any link between their broadcasts emphasising false rape reporting, and through Savile their responsibility to protect either abusers or the abused, is my misconception. If they cannot see how wrong they are, any misconception is wholly theirs, not mine.

1During the 17 month reporting period covered by the report, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 35 for making false allegations of rape. It’s estimated that 21% of rapes are reported to the police. We know that 82% of reported rapes do not come to trial. So if there were 5,651 prosecutions, something like, 31,394 will have been reported and a further 118,101, a total of would not have been reported. In other words:

  • Of 5,651 prosecutions for rape, 35 or 0.6% resulted in a prosecution for false allegation
  • Of 31,395 rapes reported to the police, 35 or 0.1% resulted in a prosecution for false allegation
  • 35 expressed as a percentage of the 149,495 estimated rapes that took place, is 0.02%

2 Dear Ms Ingala Smith

Reference CAS-1975481-VXRQK9

Thanks for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s 0800 News Bulletin on 13 March.

I’m sorry to note you were unhappy with the BBC’s reporting on the extent of false allegations of rape reporting.

As you acknowledge yourself however, our coverage heard directly from the head of the CPS, Keir Starmer QC. It was prompted by the release of statistics, widely covered in our coverage and given to the BBC by the CPS, which showed two people a month were being prosecuted for making a false claim, and wasting police time.

That we may have heard opposing views or had presenters playing devil’s advocate with Mr Starmer, during an interview, is simply part of our role as an impartial observer. It would be remiss of us not to acknowledge if such figures are disputed and the arguments and information provided by other contributors, including those who might challenge the CPS view, can only improve the debate or awareness of an issue. Our role is to provide the range of views for listeners and viewers and to hear informed argument from different sides, providing more context on a subject for our audience and more information for them to make up their own minds.

I’m sorry if you objected to this approach, and for your concerns and misperception linking this fundamental approach to the Jimmy Savile case. Within a democratic society, however, the BBC would be failing in its duty if it didn’t take such an approach. This may include hearing opinions or observations which you personally disagree with, or counter-statistics you would dispute, but which individuals may be fully entitled to hold in the context of legitimate debate.

We understand there is always room for debate about particular news judgements, but the principles are pretty clear. To depart from them would open the BBC to justified complaint, and would eventually undermine the public’s trust in our reporting as a whole.

Nevertheless, I’d like to assure you that we’ve registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback we compile daily for news teams, programme makers and senior management within the BBC. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape future decisions and they ensure that your points, and all other comments we receive, are made available to BBC staff across the Corporation.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards