Women outnumber men as targets of intimate partner violence in the reported statistics, but it’s the minority of cases of male victims that appear in the collected data, and in the courts, that shine light on what those affected believe is a social taboo that needs to be broken.
By Kristina Kukolja
22 OCT 2014 - 6:14 AM
Advocates say there's a growing body of research to suggest that men are suffering at the hands of female partners, and not in negligible numbers.
One recent study out of Britain has looked at controlling behaviours, verbal and physical aggression in relationships among students.
"Women are perpetrating verbal and physical aggression significantly more than men are, but they're also perpetrating significantly more controlling behaviours than men are as well," lead author, Dr Elizabeth Bates from University of Cumbria, said.
Dr Bates’ study challenges widely accepted notions of motivation for abuse.
"A lot of the traditional feminist approach to studying domestic violence has portrayed the idea that men are motivated by patriarchy and this need to dominate and control women in relationships, “ she told SBS.
“A lot of research has explored the different motivations and it can be very similar for men and for women … like personality disorders, levels of self-control, levels of empathy…”
Ben, a 50-year-old Sydney man whose name has been disguised to protect his identity, says the violence in his home became more pronounced when, several years ago, he suffered serious health problems, leaving him partially paralysed.
"When I came out of hospital I was in a wheelchair and I was supposed to have a shower chair for showering in,” he told SBS.
“My ex-wife said 'A real man doesn't need a shower chair, you can stand up in the shower.' And to have a shower I ended up having to sit on the floor."
He says the physical abuse “got to the stage where she'd actually sharpened knives in the kitchen and said 'One of these days I'm going to stab you'.”
“There was a time where, again, I was sitting in the shower because I didn't have a shower chair and she came barging in and said 'You might have the doctors convinced that there's something wrong with you, but I know better. There's nothing wrong with you. You're just lazy. I'm going to make you get to work whether you want to or not."
"At that time she had me curled up in a foetal position in the shower where I was literally sucking my thumb, crying out 'I'm better off being dead than this.'"
Greg Andresen is a researcher with the One-In-Three Campaign, an organisation he says takes its name from a body of international and domestic research that suggests up to one in three victims of intimate partner violence are actually male.
"We still have this idea that men are supposed to be tough, strong, able to protect themselves, able to defend themselves, be independent," he said.
"These sorts of things conflict with our idea of a man as a victim, a man being abused in the home because we feel 'How could that happen to a man?'”
"The sense of shame, admitting as a man that you're being abused, that embarrassment, that social stigma, that feeling that they're unable to protect themselves, that they'll have a loss of independence. But there's also a fear of being laughed at, of ridiculed.”
Ben says he sought help from the NSW Department of Human Services hotline for domestic abuse, but was turned away.
He says he then wrote a letter to the Human Rights Commission but found they weren't able to help.
"(I) got a phone call back from them saying they only look at women and children being abused by men, and it's not in their charter to try and fix or even look at men being abused by women.”
At the time, Ben says he found two pilot programs for gay men on the police website, but nothing for men who were in relationships with abusive women.
That was in 2009.
Today, there appear to be more potential avenues for men to seek help, such as dedicated men's mental health help lines and programs run by independently funded NGOs.
But often references to programs on government websites for men relating to domestic violence, for example, are still directed at men who need help addressing their violent behaviours.
Mr Andresen says the options for male victims are still too limited.
"All of the domestic violence lines are advertised as if they're for women only," he said.
"They fear there's nowhere to escape to, often with children. No shelters for men. They feel that their experiences will be minimised. They might be blamed for the abuse.
“They fear they may be arrested if there's a situation where it's not clear who was the abuser and police may arrest them."
Mr Andresen believes it's time for state and federal governments to step in with funded awareness campaigns.
"Those campaigns have to be carefully designed so that the complement campaigns about violence against women and don't damage the effectiveness of those campaigns.”
“We also need, at least, a modicum of support services for those men who, when they do come forward, they have the support they need - whether that's counseling or accommodation, assistance through the legal process."
TOMORROW: Women from multicultial backgrounds speak out on the difficulties they face when tackling domestic violence.
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