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004: Intimate Partner Abuse of Men Workshop - Part 3

We feature highlights from the Intimate Partner Abuse of Men Workshop held on Wednesday 16 June 2010 in Perth, Western Australia. The workshop was aimed at service providers plus anyone who works with victims and perpetrators of family and domestic violence, and considered the implications for service providers of the Edith Cowan University Intimate Partner Abuse of Men research.

In this, the third part of the workshop, Dr Greg Dear presents the results of the survey.

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Dr Greg Dear: We surveyed - we aimed for 200 participants, services providers from across Australia, primarily in Western Australia who identified themselves as having an interest or responded to various advisements and other ways of reaching out to service providers, including mail outs; who identified themselves as having an interest in the topic and keen to put their perspective into our data. So again it’s - even though it’s a survey its purposive sampling as opposed to necessarily trying to be representative.

Something very interesting to me at least, was that of those 198 service providers who responded and participated in the survey, 81 percent of them, 160, indicated having provided services to one or more male who reports being a victim of domestic violence in the last 12 months, not as in ever, but in the last 12 months. That was one of our questions because near the beginning of the survey, because obviously we want to hear from people about their experiences in providing a service to a male victim. Of those 160, 122, so about three quarters of them completed most of the survey or all of the survey rather than just the sort of demographic and opening sections.

I’ll pick a few things out that I think are important to focus on, but the full details and table after table after table are in the full report. Okay, so by and large from counselling or what we referred to as referral services, so mostly information services that are the like gatekeepers in handing people on to identifying - working with people who approach them in order to identify the relevant service for that person. But a range of different types of service providers there. Overall looking at the 122 who answered these questions about their experiences of providing a service to one or more male victims, there was general agreement with the definitions of various categories of abuse.

Now, the definitions that Emily presented, they come from our participants in the first phase of the studie. So in other words, that’s what the men, the significant others, etc, meant by physical violence, social abuse, etc. The labels we put on that as we analyse the transcripts of their interviews but in asking them the sort of broad question, “Well what do you mean when you say domestic violence or intimate partner abuse?” We tended to use the term domestic violence in interviews because that’s what particularly male victims were - that’s the terminology they were used to and used themselves. So the main addition to those definitions that came from our participants in study one that service providers emphasised was that you should include into the definitions power and control dynamics and fear and intimidation as necessary aspects of defining it as intimate partner abuse.

There were a few, probably about three or four who - and really only two who significantly questioned whether male victims experience extreme fear and intimidation like female victims often do. In terms of the barriers to disclosure the service providers by and large and sometimes a majority and sometimes a minority of only about 30 or 40 percent. But that’s a sizeable minority of service providers recognising that in the man or the men that they have worked with in the last 12 months, that particular barrier was an issue that delayed or some cases prevented that man from disclosing. It was only sort of partway through engaging or providing services to this man on something else than the issue of abuse emerged. And sometimes only when that information came from other sources, not from the client himself.

Similarly service providers recognised in their work with male victims the factors that Emily has described to you from study one that facilitate men’s disclosure. It’s really those two issues that I think is important at least, for you guys to be focusing on. What sense can we make of, “this is what prevents or delays men from disclosing” or “this is what results in that information only being disclosed by other people and not necessarily upfront but down the track”, in engaging in a service with a man, particularly in counselling services that came out.

And overall service providers rated themselves as doing a moderately good job in overcoming the barriers and harnessing working with the facilitators to disclosure. And reasonably consistent - maybe service providers sort of, I don’t know, just don’t like giving themselves a high score in terms of their effectiveness or competence - they didn’t like giving themselves a terribly low score either. But by and large they’d be sort of, you know, on an 11 point scale from 0 to 10, ranging from 2 to 7.

Just a couple of examples there but I won’t dwell on this, things like the fear of not being heard, 83 percent of participants and these are the 122 who’d actually provide services and completed the survey. So you’re seeing some fairly high percentages there of people recognising that the barriers that men were talking about and significant others were talking about in the first study, service providers are saying - this is how a portion of service providers are saying - “in the man - in the case I’m referring to here, I recognise that as being a major obstacle to him being able to disclose - that delayed me finding out about this issue.”

Some of them down, like protecting children from losing contact with the mother, about a third. The take home message for this was even in the categories where the proportions were down as low as 30 or 40 percent. That’s a sizeable minority of service providers who were saying that they recognise that barrier having operated in the particular case that they were referring to. Some of the additional - there was a qualitative component and that was a hell of a job going through over 100 text boxes and thematically analysing that - but some of the suggestions that service providers made to us about things that need to be added to the field or improved, include things like the development of support groups and specific support groups around male victimisation. 

A helpline dedicated to male victims of intimate partner abuse. I can actually tell you a little anecdote, I was discussing with my wife asked me yesterday what the seminar was that I was going to, when I told her - my wife’s a GP - and she said, “Oh I had one of those men the other day.” And she said, “He came in and saw me just the other day and he’d - on my suggestion, he’d contacted a telephone help service and the person who answered it ummed and aahed and said, ”Oh, I’m not sure what to do here. I’ll go and...“ Anyway she went and spoke to her supervisor and came back and she said, ”Oh my supervisor said it’s okay for us to talk to you.“ Now he reported to my wife that what happened after that was very helpful and he was glad he’d rang but he nearly hung up at that point.

Accommodation support was something that a number - or that some - service providers suggested is needed for men. 

One of the big ones and I think certainly something that we need to be careful about but I think we can’t afford to ignore, and you heard it coming through as a strong theme or one of the themes in the first study that Emily spoke about. And this is about public awareness campaigns. I’ll read you out some of the quotes: “eduction that abuse is occurring, what does abuse look like, what’s reasonable, what’s not, talking about abuse of men, understanding that some men are equally at risk of family abuse, and that family abuse is not only an issue for women, being empathic, providing appropriate support, building resources to help men to leave relationships that are abusive.”

A lot of comments about specific services for male victims. One person’s comment was “I don’t believe they exist” but plenty of other people said that there are services out there although they’re very limited and sometimes not only limited in what they can do but also in how responsive they are. Other people argued - I mean, to my mind there’s 122 service providers here who’ve said they’ve actually provided a service to a male victim so obviously there are services out there but those very people who have done that are telling us that it’s inadequate. “My health service does not recognise intimate partnership of men. Our admission assessments provide specific screening tools to identify female victims but completely ignore males. This is despite the admission of males who are clearly a victims of intimate partner abuse, sometimes witnessed by staff on the unit.”

The major limitation of our first phase of our study was that we failed to capture men from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and we failed to capture any men in same-sex relationships. Among the service providers in the second part of the study we did - there were a number of participants who provide services within those areas and they had quite a lot to say about specific needs of men in different cultural and other groups - in particularly gay men. And there was one participant who had quite a lot to say about men with disabilities as well which was his or her area of work.

The issue of shame and the issue of men’s sense of masculinity and what it means to be able to admit that you’ve got a problem, and in particular to what it says about you as a man to disclose being a victim of abuse from a female partner. Similar comments from service providers to the sorts of comments in interviews that Emily has described to you in terms of the lack of understanding the experience of male victims, lack of agency acknowledgement, services’ denial of the problem was one comment. A comment there about gay men in particular: “It is very difficult to access our service in regard to helping a man perception of family/friend acceptance or family/friend support when often for gay, lesbian, bi, transsexual people there is no acceptance or support from their families/friends for being in the relationship in the first place, let alone if there was domestic violence involved that required assistance.”

Okay, I’ll quickly go through the four recommendations. Primarily we wanted to put our data out there and allow people to make sense of it and find out what recommendations they think emerge but there were four that we did make.

The first is that government-funded public awareness campaigns be conducted to raise awareness of intimate partner violence against men. Now there’s a very important caveat, we were sort of in two minds about “do we make that as a recommendation or do we sort of throw it out as a suggestion”, came strongly through our data in both phases of the study. The need for men to know that I’m not the only one, the need for the community to start debating and discussing this issue in a healthy way.

Such campaigns need to be very carefully designed so as to compliment campaigns about family violence against women and children and not to damage the effectiveness of those campaigns. One of the vulnerabilities in this whole topic is that it becomes, or it runs the risk of becoming, a competition between male victims, female victims, who are there most of?, where does the money need to go?, etc. If we start talking about - in public campaigns about men as victims and women as perpetrators - what is that going to do to the important message about violence against women and children? Consideration should be given to providing publicly funded services specifically for male victims.

We’re quite deliberate in putting the word consideration there. We’re not sure what direction this should take which is I think why this afternoon’s session is going to be important. We’re going leave the building as it were and let you guys sort out what really needs to be done with these findings. Consideration should be given for services - to how services for male victims of intimate partner abuse can be integrated with services for female victims. Can those services be integrated or do they need to be gender specific? Can they be integrated in some ways but important to be separate in other ways?

And the last one is about training for workers in the field. I think the big message coming through from the men and the significant others in the first phase of the study is that it’s so important for people to understand his experience rather than to make unhelpful assumptions. Unhelpful assumptions like the experience that my wife told me about last night with one of her patients. And that was just exactly the same sort of experience that the men spoke about. Interestingly enough the majority of service providers in the second phase of the study also raised this issue and not just talking about “oh my colleagues need to be brought up to speed and need lots of training” but telling us that they needed training. That they felt that they needed to know a lot more and be better prepared for working with men.

The final issue that I’d just sort of like to leave hanging here is a strong theme through our data was on the impact on men’s sense of what it means to be a man when one is a victim of violence from a female partner.

If there’s one clear message that comes through research in family violence over the last 30 years, it’s about understanding the gendered nature of violence within relationships. That seems to be an issue but in a different way for male victims as well and I think that’s probably the big issue that we need to grapple with.

Listen now (MP3)