While domestic violence against women is constantly highlighted by the mass media, such violence against men is rarely reported. We have a moral obligation to speak out on behalf of male victims of domestic violence, particularly when there are so many barriers deterring them from ever reporting the violence and abuse that are inflicted on them by their female partners.
Take the example of John, whose wife constantly attacked him in the middle of the night when he was sleeping – punching him in the head and face. ‘I couldn’t do anything other than try and hold her off. It was very difficult, you are judged by people like the police as if you were the one who was causing everything’, he said.
Or consider Richard, the father of two who for 15 years was regularly beaten, isolated from his friends, and prevented from even owning a mobile phone. ‘You hear a lot about women needing help from violent male partners, but men also need help from violent women’, he said.
Jim, who has just turned 81, was forced to endure 60 years of controlling behaviour and physical abuse by his wife. He says: ‘It was progressive over the years. I couldn’t meet friends, I couldn’t meet family. The year before I left, it had deteriorated. I was getting black eyes, I was getting bruising, I got my tooth knocked out, I had my knee hammered and incidents like that’.
The Domestic Violence Prevention Centre is funded by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Queensland Government. This taxpayer-funded organisation claims that violence used by women against their male partners often happens ‘when a woman has to defend herself against an assault in an effort to protect herself from further violence’.
It also attempts to rationalise female domestic violence as a situation when an “oppressed” woman ‘hits back after experiencing a long history of violence and abuse from her partner in the relationship’. ‘Although she may use violence in this incidence she is not the most powerful or most dangerous person in the relationship. She may continue to fear for her safety’, says the Centre on its website.
In other words, this taxpayer-funded organisation is attempting to rationalise female domestic violence. It is doing so by somehow placing the blame on male victims of domestic violence rather than the actual female perpetrators.
Male victims often report that their complaints about their female partners’ violent behaviour have not being taken seriously by such social services which apparently believe that a man can never be a victim of domestic violence. Some have even been put at risk of further violence by such services contacting the abusing female partner and letting her know the man has sought help. There is even a sexist assumption that the male victim of violence may actually be the primary perpetrator.
To test the availability of such support services to male victims in Australia, a Melbourne-based psychiatrist rang the Victorian ‘Men’s Referral Service’. This is how he reported his experience: ‘I rang them one, two occasions in relation to male victims. Both times I was told that if I had dug deeper I would have discovered that the men were the perpetrators.’ This shows that these service providers are embracing the anti-male agenda of radical feminists.
Awarding contracts regarding men’s referral service to feminist groups is very much like ‘expecting the wolf to guard the sheep’. And yet, the NSW Liberal government has appointed a notorious feminist organisation to “assist” male victims of domestic violence. The organisation’s website informs: ‘The Men’s Referral Service provides free, anonymous, and confidential telephone counselling, information, and referrals to men to assist them to take action to stop using violent and controlling behaviour’.
It is totally unacceptable that information given “for men” can be entirely predicated on men being necessarily the perpetrators of domestic violence. However, the referral service contracted by the NSW Liberal government is on the public record as assuming that the victim may be actually a perpetrator, and ‘the need to be cautious in automatically assuming that a man assessed by police or another referring agent as a victim of domestic violence truly is the victim’. According to Greg Andersen, a spokesman for ‘One in Three Campaign’,
A male victim seeking support who reads on a website that he needs to take responsibility for his ‘violent and controlling behaviour’ is probably not going to have a lot of confidence in ringing that service and asking for help. And if he does call and is assumed responsible for the violence, he may not reach out for help again.
You may have heard of Rob Tiller, a highly respected Perth-based family counsellor who was forced to resign from Relationships Australia WA. This was so after he posted on his private Facebook page an article social commentator Bettina Arndt wrote a few years ago for The Weekend Australian. The article summarised the latest official statistics and research on domestic violence, providing compelling evidence that most domestic violence is two-way, involving women as well as men. This was regarded as a breach of policy, because, on its own website, RAWA explicitly says its domestic violence policy ‘is historically framed by a feminist analysis of gendered power relations’ which, contrary to the international evidence, denies women’s role in domestic violence.
According to public policy scientists Denise A. Hines and Emily M. Douglas, such a conceptualisation of domestic violence from a strict feminist viewpoint has ‘hampered the ability of women who abuse of their male partners to seek and get help from social service and criminal justice systems.’ Women who resort to domestic violence face numerous barriers when seeking help within the system. The following account by a female DV perpetrator epitomises the experience of most abusive women:
He tries to understand my side of the argument. He talks to me rather than hits me. I still hit him, however. I would like to enrol in a class in anger management, but the shelter for battered women does not help women with this problem.
For those who still believe that women can never be the sole perpetrators of domestic violence, I would recommend an excellent book by Paul Kidd. It’s called ‘Australia’s Most Evil Women’. According to this book, Australia has a higher percentage of female serial killers than anywhere in the world. ‘Of the thirty-two recognised cases of serial murder in modern times in Australia, nine of the killers were women – or around 33 per cent – with only two of those cases in tandem with a male’, the author says.
As Kidd points out, ‘women murder for a variety of reasons – the most common being the [alleged] slaying of a husband after years of abuse’. But he reminds us that only a small number of cases of murder would fit this particular category. These crimes were committed by women against their children and male partners that, according to the author, ‘could only be classified as pure evil, as no other reason has been found for why they did it’.
After all, Kidd asks rhetorically: ‘Who smothers four of her little children to death over a ten-year period and blames cot death? Who stabs her husband to death after sex and then skins his corpse, hangs the pelt in the doorway, then cooks his head in a pot and bakes his buttocks in the oven for the kids’ dinner?’
After reading this book you will be unable to accept the feminist narrative that domestic violence is primarily a gender issue caused by men behaving badly toward their wives and children. In truth, women can be as violent as men and numerous studies have demonstrated that both genders may commit violent acts in the home in roughly equal numbers has been clearly established in so many studies that it requires no reiteration.
According to Sarah Wallace, a senior research fellow at the University of South Wales, there are numerous reasons as to why domestic violence against men is seriously underreported, including a fear of retaliation and a lack of trust or confidence in the police. These male victims ‘fear appearing unmanly, shame, embarrassment, and a failure to live up to masculine ideals’, she says. This was the experience of the abused men who were interviewed by her, and ‘who felt that they needed help to get to the root of these feelings’.
The lack of trust in the police is entirely justifiable. Male help seekers often report that when they call the police during an incident involving a female partner being seriously violent, the police sometimes ‘fail to respond or take a report’. Some of these male victims have reported ‘being ridiculed by the police’ and ‘incorrectly arrested and convicted as the violent perpetrator, even when there is no evidence of injury to the female partner’.
One of the consequences of the animosity against male victims of domestic violence is that there are many male victims who don’t even report it and often don’t tell anybody. The underreporting of female violence is a result of abused men developing a reasonable fear that they will be ridiculed and experience shame and embarrassment.
This can be contrasted to the supportive treatment of women who accuse their husbands of behaving badly. According to the late adjunct professor and social researcher Dr Sotirios Sarantakos of Charles Sturt University:
The positive and supportive attitude of the police and authorities to women’s position was reported to have encouraged many wives to take advantage of this and to become even more aggressive at home. Even when they had severely assaulted the husband, their statement that they had been assaulted and abused by him at that time or previously was sufficient for the police to treat them as innocent victims.
Within the court system, male victims are often treated unfairly. Men who claim to be victims of domestic violence face a notoriously hostile environment, which is far less sympathetic in the treatment of male partners. Even with apparent corroborating evidence that it their female partner who behaved violently, male help-seekers often report the loss of custody of their children as a result of court proceedings.
Of course, I have no intention of minimising the problem of domestic violence against women, quite to the contrary. One must speak out loud and clear about violence against women. In fact, we must speak out loud and clear about violence against anyone. This is why recognising that men are also victims of domestic violence is so important.
At least one-third of all the reported cases of domestic violence in Australia involve male victims. And countless more are silently suffering at the hands of their violent female partners. We have a moral obligation to speak out on behalf of all victims of domestic violence, particularly when there are so many barriers deterring some of them from ever reporting the violence and abuse inflicted on them by their female partners.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan College, Perth/WA. He is also adjunct law professor at The University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney campus) and President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA).
A fully footnoted version of this article is available by contacting Dr Zimmermann.