Exploring the Experiences of Male Victims Reporting Domestic Abuse and the Impact of Police Responses on Reporting Rates.
Lee Marks – Break the Silence Charity
Within the UK, domestic abuse is considered a gendered crime, disproportionately affecting female victims more than male victims. Resources available for those that suffer abuse has always been predominantly aimed at females, run by feminist organisations who appear to set the narrative on domestic abuse across all sectors. This gendered narrative leaves one third of all victims unable to access support and fearful of speaking out as their experiences does not fit the accepted narrative.
This research explores male victims’ experiences of reporting their experiences to the police and how this interaction affects and impacts their experience as a victim of domestic abuse with a view to answering a very simple question. When it comes to male victims of domestic abuse, are the police a help or a hinderance?
The comprehensive literature review uncovered concerns around gender stereotyping, provision of service and the impact of claiming domestic abuse is a gendered crime. Alongside this, 8 semi-structured interviews were recorded via Microsoft Teams, transcribed and further analysed using thematic analysis. Emerging themes again showed gender bias as a concern, along with neutrality by officers, communication and respect. These findings supported and furthered previous research in this area, suggesting that male victims were subjected to unfair treatment by the police, with all experiences being reported as negative.
With an estimated 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse within the UK annually (ONS, 2020), domestic abuse is a societal issue that can and does affect anyone. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men (Ramsey et al, 2012; ONS, 2020; Marks, 2021) suffer from domestic abuse, and alongside those who experience directly, their children and family members (Donovan and Hester, 2010). We cannot be sure that these figures will remain the same taking into account the Covid-19 pandemic and experienced rises of up to 120% of those seeking support (Patel, 2020).
My work within Break the Silence UK brings me into contact with both female and male victims of domestic abuse, and through this and my continual academic research, it has become apparent that despite such vast numbers, many do not have positive experiences in disclosing the abuse that they have suffered, especially when it comes to male victims (Machado et al, 2017; Brogden and Nijhar, 2004).
It was only in recent years that the fear that victims faced when living within an abusive relationship was recognised with the introduction of the coercive and controlling behaviour law (Bishop and Bettinson, 2018). Finally, victims’ experiences of living having to walk on eggshells was validated as previously perpetrators in abusive relationships could only be charged with offences such as GBH, ABH, threats to kill and common assault (Marks, 2021). As you can see, apart from threats to kill the focus here was on the physical assaults and not the behaviours that go alongside this that so often leave those trapped within it living life as a prisoner within their homes (CPS, 2017). What many don’t realise is that the police should treat all incidents of domestic abuse as high priority (HMICFRS, 2019), and there are also powers that they have at their disposal to deal with incidents of domestic abuse, alongside civil orders that can assist in keeping victims of abuse safe that can be very effective.
The police have the power to serve both domestic violence protection notices (DVPN) that can keep perpetrators away from a property for 48 hours, allowing the time for the police to make a direct application to a magistrate for a domestic violence protection order (DVPO) which further prevent the perpetrator from returning home for up to 28 days (Blackburn and Graca, 2021). This measure allows a small amount of breathing space for victims to access injunctions such as non-molestation orders or occupation orders through the civil court to ensure their protection from further abuse as these orders can and do come with the power of arrest (Bates and Hester, 2020). There are policies and procedures that set out the expectations as to what police support should look like for victims of domestic abuse that reach out to them for help, identifying criteria that must be met such as responding quickly to a call for help, speaking to both parties separately, collecting of evidence (including pictures being taken) and most importantly, that the victim is safe (HMICFRS, 2019; Marks, 2021). So, knowing this left me thinking, if all these steps are in place to keep victims safe from harm, and therefore reduce risk, why are we still working with estimates in statistics and actual recorded cases remaining so low? Why do we not see more perpetrators being charged with domestic abuse related offences?
Research shows there are real differences between men and women that suffer abuse in being able to reach out for help. It is estimated that 83% of females that experience domestic abuse feel in a position to inform at least somebody of the abuse they are being subjected to (ONS, 2020). However, when you look at the ability of men to be able to inform of their abuse, this figure drops to a disappointing 51% (Douglas and Hines, 2011). This means that around 50% of men that are subjected to domestic abuse will never speak to anybody about what is going on, compared to 17% of women in similar positions (Mankind, 2020). It is more disturbing to see that when we look at direct disclosures to the police (Mankind, 2020), this figure drops even further with an estimated 20% of women (which equates to only 320,000 women) and an estimated 15% of men (which equates to 113,550 men) making direct reports of their abuse to the police, whose roles it is within society to protect victims of crime.
My focus for my dissertation will be around male victims of domestic abuse as this is a specific area of interest for me, especially when looking at why male victims feel unable to speak out about the abuse that they are suffering. Some within society reference the impact of so-called ‘toxic masculinity’ or ‘hegemony’, others would suggest that the lack of reporting by men can be attributed to societal stereotypes influenced by the ongoing labelling of domestic abuse as a ‘gendered crime’ (Marks, 2021; Bates, 2020; Hine et al, 2020). Could this indeed be an influencing factor due to the fact that many agencies, including social services deliver their material and refer to domestic abuse in this gendered way (Workers, 2019), and training for statutory agencies such as the police (Women’s Aid, 2018; Safe Lives, 2018) are guided by the gendered narrative due to the fact that 1.6 million women, compared to 757,000 men suffer abuse each year. Granted, evidence suggests that statistically more women are victims of domestic homicide per year than men (Allen et al, 2020), but this should not exclude male victims from the conversation. Could it be that due to this gendered narrative, many men that are within abusive relationships may not recognise the behaviours that they face as being abusive, and just as being ‘what it is’? From personal experience, I did not recognise the behaviours that I faced as being domestic abuse, and laughed the first time it was suggested that I had been abused. But through my work supporting male victims and was a driving factor in the production of my book “Break the Silence”, this seems to be a common issue with men being to identify the physical behaviours as abusive, but not the controlling and coercive behaviour. This in itself has led many working with male victims of abuse struggle with the phrase that ‘women make up the overwhelming majority of victims’ (ONS, 2020), as 1/3 of victims or 757,000 seems too large a number to be called a minority.
Domestic abuse is clearly a pressing issue within society and within academic research, I have been able to find both positive and negative examples from female victims of domestic abuse around their reporting experiences (Dobash and Dobash, 1992) to the police, although these are limited. But in regards to male victims, I have yet to come across a single positive example (Brogden and Nijhar, 2004; Douglas and Hines, 2011; Walker et al, 2020). We can indeed read vast amounts of academic text that detail in depth around experiences of female victims, however unfortunately the same cannot be said for male victims which can only be described as limited, with most preferring to focus on the gendered narrative that depicts men as perpetrators due to the patriarchal structure of society. This is to be expected though as the majority of earlier research into domestic abuse was based on the important steps taken by feminism throughout the 1970’s (Dobash and Dobash, 1992; Bates, 2020) in addressing the inequalities faced by women, which led to domestic abuse becoming labelled as a ‘feminist issue’ experienced by women at the hands of men (Radford, 2003). It is these early steps that has led to the ‘gendered’ model that has arisen from this work, which does lean towards the disregard to both male and LGBTQIA+ victims experiences. This shows clearly that there is a gap within academic literature and of the experiences of so-called minority victims, especially when it relates to the ability and experiences they have faced in reporting the abuse that they have faced to the authorities. The lack of academic research in this area should not be a catalyst for criticism of feminist researchers, more a lack of interest by other academics to research in these areas.
The overall aim of this research is to explore whether the police are indeed a help or more of a hinderance when it comes to male victims being able to report their experiences of domestic abuse. In order to achieve this, there are two clear objectives that have been identified:
- To explore the experiences of male survivors of domestic abuse by means of semi-structured interviews to outline their individual reporting experiences and the impact these experiences had on them.
- To explore the interactions and experiences of professionals who work, or have worked, with male victims of domestic abuse in regard to reporting their abuse to the police.
In achieving these objectives, the researcher undertook eight semi-structured interviews with male survivors of domestic abuse and with professionals, regarding their experiences. In turn, this research can contribute to the limited knowledge base regarding domestic abuse by providing an insight into the experiences of male survivors.
Definition of Domestic Abuse
Domestic abuse can and does affect anyone, it does not discriminate against gender or sexuality, age or disability. The Crown Prosecution Service (2017) defines domestic abuse as “any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality”. This definition clearly shows that domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence such as punching, kicking or slapping, that it can and does include other behaviours designed to maintain power and control within the relationship such as threats, isolation and stalking (Laskey, Bates and Taylor, 2019; Marks, 2021).
In the year ending March 2019, it was estimated that 2.3 million adults aged between 16 and 74 experienced domestic abuse (ONS, 2020) with 1.6 million women (or 7.5% of women in the UK) and 757,000 men (or 3.8% of men in the UK). These rates show that for every three victims of domestic abuse, two will be women, one will be a man (Mankind, 2020). The gap of 3.7% in prevalence of domestic abuse for is at its lowest since March 2005, when it stood at 5.1%, showing that there is a trend of either more male victims of domestic abuse being recognised within statistics, or a decline in the number of female victims.
Another terminology used when talking about domestic abuse is IPV or intimate partner violence (Laskey, Bates and Taylor, 2019). This can be defined as physical, sexual or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). Within early academic research, IPV is described as a type of gendered based violence, meaning that it is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or that it disproportionately affects women (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2018). This means that along with feminist models of domestic abuse, this gendered model depicts IPV being committed by men who desired power and control over or to dominate women. This belief is one of a patriarchal society built on male privilege and empowerment, that is supportive of men’s violence towards women (Wermuth, Dobash and Dobash, 1981; Bates, 2019).
More recently, 2015 saw the introduction of the coercive and controlling behaviour law. Within this new law, the Crown Prosecution Service (2017) define coercive behaviour as “an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim” and define controlling behaviour as “a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour”. This new law showed recognition of the behaviours faced by victims of domestic abuse that weren’t covered by existing laws for physical assaults and aids the further understanding of the complexity of an abusive relationship.
The laws and understanding are only part of the solution when it comes to domestic abuse, taking action is another. Whilst it is estimated that there are 2.3 million adults subjected to domestic abuse each year, it cannot be ignored that only 758,941 domestic abuse related crimes were recorded by the police. This may have been an increase of 9% on the previous year’s recordings but reflects only 33% of the estimated number of victims (ONS, 2020). What further raises concern is that of the domestic abuse related crimes recorded, only 79,965 (just over 10%) were put forward to the Crown Prosecution Service for trial, a decrease of 19% from the year ending 2019 (ONS, 2020). It is suggested that this could be as a result of the strain placed on the police during the Covid-19 pandemic, equally it has been suggested that as victims were isolated and constrained to the confines of their homes with their abusive partner, others were less aware of what they were being subjected to as they just weren’t seen (Warburton and Raniolo, 2020).
Female Perpetrated Domestic Abuse
In contrast to the abuse suffered by women, historically there has been what can only be described as a ‘conspiratorial silence’ (Dobash and Dobash, 1992) around the conversation of women’s violence towards men. However, since the turn of the century there has been more academic research conducted to complement the small amount of research prior to this, examining female perpetrated IPV and the reasons behind this.
From this research arose increasing evidence that suggested that women commit IPV on the same level, or in some cases more, than men (Archer, 2000; Cook, 1998; Fiebert, 1997; Melton and Belknap, 2003; Straus, 1997) and certainly when it came to adolescents, this was consistently the case (Arriaga and Foshee, 2004; Hickman, Jaycox and Aronoff, 2004; Lichter and McCloskey, 2004; Munoz-Rivas et al, 2007; Schwartz, O’Leary and Kendziora, 1997; Williams, Ghandour and Kub, 2008)
Research indicates that the most common types of physical abuse experienced by men is that of slapping, kicking, biting, scratching and choking (Drijber, Reijnders and Ceelen, 2013; Hines, Brown and Dunning, 2007). There is a perception that physical assaults of this kind, do not often end with the male victims being seriously hurt. Yet there is evidence that in over 50% of cases where female perpetrators use physical aggression, they will use some kind of a weapon (Drijber, Reijnders and Ceelen, 2013) such as a knife or stiletto heel (Marks, 2021) which will increase the risk of harm to a male victim significantly. Research suggests that contrary to belief, over 80% of male victims are injured by their female perpetrator (Hines and Douglas, 2010) with in excess of 30% suffering serious injury such as a broken bone (Mankind, 2020).
In the journal article ‘How Many Silence Are There?’ by Brooks et al (2020, page 5397), one man shares his experiences.
“She was hitting me up in the face area with her fists and like I said, she’s not weak. I think that’s a misconception with a lot of guys. I’ve notice that they think women are weak and there are a lot of tough women out there, a lot of them. She cracked me in the jaw and she cracked me in the ribs. I still got really bad ribs because she hit me, like three times, and I wouldn’t lift my hands to defend myself like that. I wanted to. If it was a guy, it’s a different situation, you can defend yourself so I kept on taking these hits.”
Another method of abuse that seems to be commonly used by female perpetrators is that of sleep deprivation as it leaves the victim in a vulnerable position, and potentially others if they are employed (Williams, 2007). This method is used as a form of punishment and torture, hence why some that have experienced this would define it as ‘living with intimate terrorism’. Sleep deprivation not only leads to exhaustion and then on to illness, as our bodies need sleep to keep functioning, but due to the impact it can also lead to economic abuse as victims may find themselves facing disciplinary proceedings at work for being late or making mistakes (Pearson, 1997).
The final commonly referenced method of abuse is that of false allegations. This can be the threat of them or the actual use of them. In Bates (2020, page 18) article ‘Walking on Eggshells’, Bates referenced a victim’s experience that highlights this.
“I have never attacked her or fought back at all. I have tried to restrain her at times to prevent her from attacking me. She would then show me bruises a couple of days later and tell me that she could report me to the police for assault and that they would believe her story.”
The most common use of false allegations is in regards to children, which for male victims is perhaps the most distressing of their abusive experiences, especially if these false allegations lead to parental alienation from their child (Gardner, 1999). Allegations of this type are efforts by perpetrators to manipulate the legal system and family courts to the detriment of their victim, commonly seen with men. This not only has a long-lasting effect on fathers and their wellbeing, but this separation also has an impact on the children’s behaviour and emotional wellbeing (Stadelmann et al, 2010).
In relation to domestic homicide, there is much suggestion within academic research that women are more likely to use violence as a means of self-defence in an attempt to stop their partner from harming them or their children or to prevent an attack they believe to be imminent (Dugan et al, 1999; Jurik and Winn, 1990). These can be viewed as excuses however, judges and juries often believe that homicides in these cases are in self-defence or that there are strong mitigating circumstances, which is supported by the fact that between 2017 and 2019, of the 89 men that were killed by their intimate partner, only 9 were charged with murder (ONS, 2020).
Although self-defence is cited as a reason to explain homicide, many women do not cite it as a reason for violent and abusive behaviour against their partner. What they do cite are motives such as jealousy, retaliation and control and dominance (Felson and Messner, 2000; Follingstad et al, 1991). As can clearly be seen is that the motivating factors are similar to those suggested by the feminist movement for men’s reasons for abuse and the suggestion that half of all violent arguments are initiated by women, how can the suggested patriarchal system be deemed the cause for domestic abuse?
Violence perpetrated by women is less significant in terms of frequency, severity and consequences, and therefore clearly minimised and judged less likely to need any kind of intervention (Hine, Bates and Wallace, 2022; Hine, Noku and Bates, 2022; Sorenson and Taylor, 2005). Whilst conviction rates against men show it is treated far more harshly when perpetrated by a man (Dobash and Dobash, 2004; Feather, 1996; Hamby and Jackson, 2010).
What is clear from the academic literature available is that male victims experience a similar level of fear to that reported by women as a result of IPV (Hines, Brown and Dunning, 2007). What is more is that there is evidence of clear links between men’s fear from their partner to posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal ideation (Randle and Graham, 2011), and it is recognised that suicide most effects men as a demographic.
The Case Against Defining Domestic Abuse as a Gendered Crime
Over the years, organisations have run a number of social experiments where societal reactions were tested on the basis of gender with domestic abuse. In all cases with female victims, members of the public interjected, however, when the victim was male the incident was ignored or laughed at (Marks, 2021). How is this acceptable and how has this come to be the norm, especially when there is parity between males and females in cases of minor violence towards an intimate partner (Brogden and Nijhar, 2004).
As far back as the 1980’s, some academic literature claimed that the feminist stance on domestic abuse being a gendered crime was a falsely framed issue and that the truth was that men were just as victimised as women. This was always countered with women’s need to use violence as a means of self-defence (Mackay et al, 2018; McNeely and Robinson-Simpson, 1987; Saunders, 1988). This sems to have been the standpoint that society has taken as on the most part as legislators and policy makers have accepted the issue of domestic abuse as a problem of men’s violence towards women (Dobash and Dobash, 2004). Attitudes in society are influenced by societal constructed gender perceptions of both masculinity and femininity, depicting men as strong and aggressive, and women as vulnerable and in need of protection (Bates, 2019; Seelau, Seelau and Poorman, 2003). By accepting these gender perceptions, as a society we are disposed to dismiss women’s violence as inconsistent with that of a perpetrator of domestic abuse due to the imbalances of power between men and women (McCarthy, Hagan and Woodward, 1999).
Academics looking at the concept of domestic abuse being recognised as a ‘gendered crime’ have identified a number of flaws within the literature. Some of these reasons being that female violence is equal to or more frequent to men’s violence against intimate partners (Feibert, 1998; Whitaker et al, 2007), IPV being due to psychological reasons, not to do with a ‘patriarchal society’ (Babcock et al, 2000; Fergusson, Horwood and Ridder, 2005; Follingstad et al, 1991; Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart, 1994), that men as well as women could be injured as a result of IPV (Hines, Brown and Dunning, 2007), both men and women have reported the use of violence for control within an intimate relationship (Felson and Messner, 2000; Follingstad et al, 1991) and coercive control is perpetrated at similar rates by both men and women (Bates, Graham-Kevan and Archer, 2014; Carney and Barner, 2012). Yet despite all the findings, there is still the strong focus on female victims (Bates, 2020) and it is suggested that this gender framing could explain why male victims fail to recognise themselves as being victims, being recognised as victims rather than perpetrators by the wider society and their ability to receive the support they need (Huntley et al, 2019). The wider impact of this is that men do not report their experiences by their female partners, therefore male victims are not recognised as priority for resources and funding and practically all domestic abuse training provided to statutory organisations such as the police, NHS and local authorities is gendered in nature, focussing on women as victims and men as perpetrators. This creates in itself a culture of ignorance about men’s ability to be a victim of domestic abuse (Brooks, 2006).
Service Provisions for Domestic Abuse
When it comes to present service provision for domestic abuse, almost all interventions and programmes within communities are designed to deal with male violence against female partners (Dobash and Dobash, 2004). If you look at refuge spaces alone, there are 3,798 bed spaces within refuge and safe houses. Of these beds, only 175 are accessible for men which equates to 4.5% of the provision. However, only 40 of these beds are reserved solely for male use with the others more normally accommodated by female victims. What this means is that only 1% of all refuge space can be accessed only by men when 95.5% can be accessed by women only, with London having no male refuge provision at all (Mankind, 2020). This is a startling figure, especially when taken into consideration that 13% of male rough sleepers find themselves in this position due to partner abuse (Mankind, 2020).
This isn’t the only service that men struggle to access when they need, as male victims accessing Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVA) services only made up 4% of IDVA caseloads (Mankind, 2020) despite men making up one third of all victims. The primary reason for this is that the majority of IDVA services sit within female-based community services that men are unable to access, and until recently there has been no funding stream from the Government for services supporting male victims, which could be considered a breach of the Gender Equality Duty (Brooks, 2006). Further to this is the Violence Against Women and Girls act which was updated in 2021, this focuses on men’s violence against women and girls, and includes men subjected to violence as a subsection within (HM Government, 2021). Part of this provision is to include several ministers for women, but as of yet no minister for men as violence against men and boys is considered under the violence against women and girls’ strategy, again showing what can be viewed as a disregard to the importance of this victim group to be addressed in their own right.
In a societal system where nearly all service provision is directed towards female victims of domestic abuse, men have faced the challenge and frustration of trying to access support for their needs, with many reporting being treated as a perpetrator themselves (Hines, Brown and Dunning, 2007; Bates et al, 2019). This is predominantly down to the fact that domestic abuse services for men are in fact perpetrator programmes or support.
Some academic literature seeks to reference that in fact male victims benefit from the direction taken in supporting female-based services over providing male support. The reasons cited for this are the decline of homicide rates in men by intimate female partners, as now there is support and protection for women facing violent partners (Saunders and Browne, 2000), again suggesting as within many of the feminist literature that this was an act of self-defence. But regardless of this, effective services are essential for helping any victim wanting to leave an abusive relationship, so it is essential that services are also appropriate for men (Waldrop and Resick, 2004).
In ‘Women’s Violence to Men in Intimate Relationships’ by Dobash and Dobash (2004) it was written that
“If the problem is one of men’s violence against women, then the current policies and practices are apt. If the problem is one of equivalence of violence perpetrated by men and women, the direction of current policies and practices is inappropriate and needs to be fundamentally transformed.”
The evidence is there, however, society continues to only hear the ‘gendered narrative’ being delivered from influential feminist agencies (Women’s Aid, 2020; Refuge, 2014).
Men’s Reasons for Not Disclosing
Within the current literature, a reoccurring pattern is that men are consistently less likely to seek help than women (Addis and Mahalik, 2003), some reference it being 3 three times less likely to speak out (Mankind, 2020). What is it that makes this the case? Research into reasons why men don’t disclose their abuse focuses on the fear of not being taken seriously (Drijber, Reijnders and Ceelen, 2013), not believing service that can help are available (Tsui, 2014) or as most of the services sit within female-based organisations that they would be unhelpful (Machado, Hines and Matos, 2016) for a man seeking help with abuse from a female partner. These organisations cannot be apportioned blame for this as in most cases, male services are attached to the female contract and the female-based services expected to deliver them.
One type of IPV that is a real fear for male victims is that of legal or administrative abuse, where the perpetrator manipulates the system through false allegations. The threat of false allegations or the threat of parental alienation are common factors that arise. There is evidence within research that some abusive females threaten to report their partners for assaults that they have never committed, creating feelings of fear and powerlessness as they knew they were unlikely to be believed (Avieli, 2021; George, 1994; Mazeh and Widrig, 2016; Sarantakos, 2004).
Literature suggests that societal male gender roles have their part to play in this, as men are seen as self-reliant and stoic, some would describe it as the good old fashioned ‘stiff upper lip’ and help-seeking is seen as the complete opposite of this (Vogel et al, 2011). This is a major obstacle when it comes to seeking help for domestic abuse, meaning many will mask the issues or do what they can to avoid the problem (Tsui, 2014), and could also go some way to explain why male victims struggle to identify as a victim (Machado, Hines and Matos, 2016). The concept of masculinity has also been drawn on when trying to understand abuse against men (Corbally, 2015; Morgan and Wells, 2016), with many men identifying with feelings of shame and embarrassment, or feeling emasculated and set to face public ridicule for not meeting the gender role expectations placed on them (Hogan, Clarke and Ward, 2021), and society does still judge people on what happens to them.
We know that the status of ‘victim’ doesn’t apply to men and women equally and this will affect help-seeking decisions made by male victims (Seelau, Seelau and Poorman, 2003; Bates, 2019). This decision is also affected by what is portrayed in the media, where 99% of all features and stories are in relation to a male on female abuse. This lack of recognition from those that could influence societies beliefs that anyone can suffer domestic abuse instead compounds the lack of recognition in society, leaving male victims feeling that they have no one to talk to as they won’t be believed (Brooks, 2006).
There is clearly a need to change this dominant narrative about gender roles and instead address all victims’ barriers to seeking help (Bates, 2019)
Exploring Help Seeking Experiences of Male Victims of Domestic Abuse
For all victims of domestic abuse, friends and family are quite often the preferred choice as a help-seeking option (Bates and Graham-Kevan, 2016; Chabot et al, 2009) and this makes their reactions particularly important. The reactions of family and friends could be key to if the victim of abuse then goes on to seek more formal sources of help such as statutory agencies. For men, they experience shame and embarrassment which is similar to the experiences of women, but with the added barrier caused by societal stigma of being a male victim. A supportive reaction can help to mediate through these feelings, they can’t remove them, but a supportive attitude can diminish these negative feelings (Tsui, 2014; Bates, 2019). It is also important to realise that even with family and friends, they are likely to have been influenced by wider societal perceptions such as men are strong, women are weak and it is possible that on an unconscious level these perceptions can be evident (Bates et al, 2018).
It is a simple fact that men are often met with a level of suspicion or not being believed when trying to seek help for domestic abuse. Respect, who operate the Men’s Advice Line, created a toolkit for working with male victims of domestic abuse (Respect, 2019) which includes an assessment to deem if the male victim is indeed a victim or if they are a perpetrator trying to use the system against their female partner, a practice not currently used when assessing female victims for support. This can lead to secondary victimisation and male victims feeling as though they are on trial for seeking help and support.
Police officers have been found to hold gender stereotypes that influence how they react and respond to incidents of domestic abuse, with men reporting that they have felt blamed by the police for their abuse (Hine, Bates and Wallace, 2022; Stewart and Maddren, 1997). This is down to the gendered training that is provided to the police as an organisation and that until recently, at any incident of domestic disturbance the male would be arrested or removed in line with what was ‘positive action’ police arrest procedures (James, 2015) and this has contributed to a lack of trust in the police with male victims, reflected in the reporting levels (Mankind, 2020). In Bates (2019) article ‘No One Would Ever Believe Me’ one man interviewed stated
“I reported her to the Police on one occasion and was asked what I had done to deserve the beating, I told them I had done nothing at all, to which they told me that was unlikely and it was probably something I had done or said”.
This is also echoed in Marks (2021) book ‘Break the Silence’ where he depicts the numerous incidents and injuries suffered by a male victim of domestic abuse which resulted in him being taken to a place of safety.
For many men, the lack of recognition of male victimisation, leaves them without support (Hogan, Clarke and Ward, 2021) and organisations that do support them, such as the Mankind Initiative help-line consistently receive calls from men that have experienced injury yet have been the one that has been arrested (Brooks, 2006).