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010: Meeting the needs of male victims of domestic and family violence - Part 2

This is a broadcast of a Panel Session called Meeting the needs of male victims of domestic and family violence, presented at the Australian Institute of Criminology's Meeting the needs of victims of crime conference held in Sydney on 19 May 2011.

Part 2 of the Panel Session features Toni McLean, counsellor with the Think Twice! Program, presenting a paper called Are men really victims of intimate partner violence?

Unlike most other victims of crime, male victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) are yet to be truly recognised by the judicial system or the larger community. There are a number of beliefs about male victims of IPV, such as that men are rarely genuine victims; if they are, they must have done something to deserve it; or they aren’t affected as much as women are by partner violence; and it is easier for them to leave their relationships. These are all myths.

This paper will:

  • present evidence which shows that victimisation of husbands by wives has been documented for hundreds of years;
  • present current statistics on the prevalence and nature of partner violence against men;
  • explain how studies have presented contradictory and confusing pictures of partner violence perpetration;
  • explore how male victimisation has not been adequately researched, with implications for the judicial system, the media, and government and community campaigns;
  • offer some reasons as to why this has been the case. 

The acknowledgement of male victims has ramifications for government policy, the judicial system, and the provision of health and community services, as well as benefits for the community. We need a lot more information from and about male victims of partner violence in order to be able to meet their needs. Academics, clinicians and service providers need to be open to the possibility that a man who claims he is a victim of partner violence actually is.

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Elizabeth Celi: Now Toni has worked in her past and recently as a counsellor with high-conflict relationships and currently doing a PhD in the Department of Psychology at the University of Western Sydney having a look at counsellor perceptions of intimate partner violence. So without further ado Toni will give you a bit more detail on that, so I'll hand you over to her. Please welcome her.

Toni McLean: Thank you Elizabeth. That was a lovely introduction. I feel as though there is almost nothing more for the rest of us to say. And good afternoon everyone. Thank you for coming along to our presentation.

Are men really victims of partner violence? I've certainly heard that question asked before. I'm pleased to be able to address that question today. I hope I'll be able to persuade any skeptics here, that there are indeed men who are victims of partner violence, that there are enough of them to justify providing services for them and for their children. There are a number of reasons why we should do that and those reasons aren’t just limited to the male victims themselves.

For those of you who don’t need to be convinced then I hope that my colleagues and I will add to your knowledge and understanding of male victims today. My presentation will be focused on heterosexual victims of partner violence in particular and my colleagues will talk to you in turn on the broader issue of male victims of family violence in general and on the particular situation for gay men. Before I go any further I want to let you know that some of the slides I'm presenting here are a little different from the ones that I submitted to the AIC to go up on their website. If for any reason I'm not able to get it up there please contact me directly for a copy of the presentation if you’d like to have it.

Throughout this presentation I'll be trying to be consistent with my terminology. Over the years domestic violence has become synonymous with male-perpetrated partner violence, yet, that is not the case as we know, so I prefer to use the term ‘intimate partner violence’ or shortening it to ‘partner violence’ because the word ‘domestic’ refers to all sorts of domestic relationships, not just to the intimate partner relationship and it shouldn’t be gender specific, so I will use partner violence and that will be referring to violence perpetrated by either men or women in an intimate relationship in the family.

Absolutely essential to what I have to say is my own professional journey through this field and how I came to be speaking here. Much like Elizabeth, I had no idea. I had the traditional education in partner violence or what was called ‘domestic violence’ and that obviously was the one that said men were perpetrators, women were victims, that if men were victims there was something that they had done to deserve it, and that if women were perpetrators then there was a good reason for it – that they had been victimised themselves, that it was to prevent a preemptive strike that they were expecting in the future. And probably many of you here had that same kind of education. And as you can see, looking at my background here, the emphasis has been on my working with male perpetrators and female victims. That is how I started out. That is what I saw as being a helpful thing to do.

So what happened? How come I ‘changed sides’ in a sense? Well what happened was the more that I worked in that area, the more that I worked with victims, with offenders, with couples, the more I realised that that ‘male perpetrator, female victim’ paradigm was only one snapshot in the collage that is intimate partner violence and that it has many different faces and that very often what I observed simply did not gel with this explanation. So I had no basis with which to help people.

While it seemed to be true enough some of the time in many more cases the real picture was much more complex and contradictory. Sometimes it was a case of co-perpetration and co-victimisation. Sometimes even men were victims of controlling and coercive partners, female partners who were willing to use violence to maintain their position.

So eventually I had to acknowledge that there was no way around it. Some men are indeed genuine victims of domestic violence or partner violence and many of these men have children too. I found this something of a challenge to deal with, either isolated in private practice and being fearful of making a mistake or being in an NGO where my colleagues were entrenched in the traditional paradigm. I had my own fear of getting it wrong, of falsely identifying a perpetrator as the victim. I was warned against approaching the ‘Angry Dads’ movement because they would brainwash me. I really needed to stay on track and on song with what I was doing. One of those representatives I was warned against is here today and I think you’ll find that there is probably nothing terribly scary about him when you hear him speaking.

The children though were the innocent, really innocent victims of this paradigm. Every single one of those children who is dismissed because their father is dismissed could go on to have much more serious consequences in the future.

My objectives today are to hopefully put it beyond doubt for all of you that there are male victims of partner violence and in fact, there always have been male victims of partner violence. It is nothing new. They and their children are present in sufficient numbers to justify services for them. Children suffer just as much as when their mothers are the victims and in fact, recent research shows that the consequences could even be worse for the children of male victims of domestic violence. I also want to establish that men are not only assaulted in self defence or in retaliation for their own behaviour. Their female partners are violent for a whole range of reasons just as men are and that men do suffer a range of physical and psychological injuries that can be serious.

This presentation will show evidence of the victimisation of husbands by wives for hundreds of years. This is no backlash. The existence of male victims has been demonstrated in legal and literary works for centuries. This presentation will point out the massive variability in partner violence statistics, explain why this is the case, why and how contradictory and confusing pictures of partner victimisation have arisen, will consider why male victims have been somewhat invisible for the past 40 years because they certainly weren’t invisible in the past in centuries gone by. I’ll leave it to my male colleagues on the panel to discuss the needs of the male victims themselves.

When someone raises the subject of male victims one of the first things you might hear is that it’s just a backlash against the feminist movement or against women or that men are feeling sorry for themselves or that it’s just a bunch of irate ex-husbands whinging because they’re angry with their ex-wives, but this extract you see here is from a poem that is one of many that’s littered throughout English and European literary history regarding the violence of a woman towards her husband, and as you see it dates back to the 16th century.

It’s not only in popular literature that women’s violence has been recorded. The documentation of the victimisation of husbands is found back to at least the 13th century in a variety of legal, parish and community records as well as in diaries, letters and in artworks. It is a myth that the emergence of male victims in the late 20th century is just a backlash. In fact, as Elizabeth said it seems that men are in the position now that women victims were in 40 years ago.

If you can see that image clearly or clearly enough it’s a 13th century stone carving from an English church. It shows a man down on the ground being held down by his hair while his wife swings a cheese-skimming ladle in his direction. The modern day equivalent is not rare as some of the references I've included at the end based on hospital records will attest.

Here is a frieze from Montacute House in Somerset. The particular treatment for men who allowed themselves to be abused or beaten by their wives was specifically designed to cause them a high degree of shame by making them objects of ridicule and derision. The wife was sometimes, though not always ridiculed along with her husband. Although today we would not agree with the reason for the ridicule, which was that the man was not man enough to remain in charge in his own household, nonetheless, it does demonstrate that in fact, male domination in the family home has not always been a given and some women do dominate and control their husbands and they may use violence to do that.

When a man was exposed as having had a beating or his wife found to be having an affair the village people would gather outside the house of the couple making raucous music using pots and pans and the like. Then they would drag the man out and force him to ride through the village sitting backwards on a donkey or being carried on a long pole and forced to go through the village while they followed him making this awful din. Sometimes his wife would be forced to ride back-to-back with him. This practice was called ‘riding skimmington’ or ‘riding the stain’ or ‘charivari’, the term varying with the location. It was designed to shame those couples who breached the social or moral mores of the day, in particular, those related to spousal relationships such as abuse and adultery. The term ‘skimmington’ is derived from the name for the cheese skimming ladle that we saw in the previous slide.

The first half of this frieze depicts a man holding a baby with his wife hitting him on the head with her shoe. The second half shows him being paraded through the town on a long pole and this was what was called ‘riding the skimmington.’ Throughout the history of Britain, Mainland Europe, the early days of white colonisation of the United States and in Scandinavia there is extensive evidence of this practice occurring right up until the late 19thcentury. Although it occurred in the context of the husbands being ridiculed because they were not able to maintain their rightful position as the head of the household, a belief which I suspect few of us would have the courage to condone today, nonetheless, what these references show is that this behaviour was common enough in past centuries.

Here are just a few examples of the many records that have been found that make reference to women’s use of violence against their partners. There are court records from the early 1600s describing a skimmington. There are records from prior to the English Civil War showing anxiety over the rising violence in women, and I was struck by the similarity with the headlines we’re seeing these days of rising violence in our young women in this country.

There was legislation in the new colony of Massachusetts protecting both wives and husbands from domestic abuse. In fact, there is one quote here, “So turbulent and wild both in words and actions as he could not live with her, but in danger of his life and limb.” Evidence of restraining orders against wives being issued at the late 19th century in England.

There are numerous literary examples as well recounting abuse by wives and riding the skimmington for husbands. Jonathan Swift, Oliver Twist, Sir Walter Scott, Ben Johnson, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Hardy all referring to these things. And a comment that Charles Dickens gave to Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist when told it was his duty to control his wife he said, “The law is an ass. The law is a bachelor,” obviously implying that the law didn’t understand what relationships were like or at least what Mr. Bumble’s relationship was like.

Here we have a painting from the late 16th century I think – Dawes’ “The Henpecked Husband” also riding the skimmington and wives beating him. The reason that this happened, he walked into his bedroom and found his wife in bed with her lover. Now there is a Dr. Malcolm George in the UK who gives an excellent analysis on the social processes of denial, derision and trivialisation, which are the community’s ways of avoiding the challenge of accepting the existence of men as victims of women’s violence. This is something which is not consistent with our entrenched stereotypes of strong men and gentle women and I've included some of his work in the bibliography at the end of this presentation. So from derision to denial I think we can see that there is ample evidence over seven centuries or more which speaks against the gradual emergence of the male partner violence victim as simply the backlash against the focus on women.

So statistics, how many male victims are there? How many female victims are there? This can provide ammunition to start a world war. It has generated aggression and vitriol and all sorts of threats in the academic community for 40 years or more, so I decided today I'm not going to venture into that territory. It can become a significant distraction which takes us away from the pressing needs of the victims themselves. We can all use statistics to prove the points that we want to prove. However, I do have a recollection of a study in Norway that I think was nearly 40 years ago which claimed to show a correlation between the stork population and the human birth rate. We’ll say I think the study was – the so-called ‘study’ was done to prove a point about statistics. That study showed that as the stork population increased in the previous year, so did the birthrate. Now I suspect there is a false attribution of cause and effect there or at least I hope so.

What I have done though is just to show three examples of statistics that you may find on domestic violence. The first in Santa Barbara in California taken from police records in 1983, so these are all cases where people have been found guilty of assaults in domestic violence related charges. In that study it showed 94% of the perpetrators were men and 6% were women. I've got a study done more recently from New Zealand in 2002, which is a community study, a population study of young adults, which shows 39% of the perpetrators were male and 61% were female. And then just to come down the middle, a recently released study by Professor Halford from Brisbane on Australian newlywed couples, which shows approximately equal rates of partner violence. So quoting statistics at ten paces isn’t really the way for us to proceed from here. I hope what this discrepancy will do is raise your curiosity about why there is such a discrepancy and what we can do about it.

There are very good reasons why we do have such a range of discrepancies. Michael Johnson, respected researcher in the United States is one of the first to shed some light on the past discrepancy in these statistics. He identified that different studies used different sample populations. They asked very different questions of their participants and they used different language, so different studies came up with vastly different results. Up until this time researchers and others had effectively been comparing apples and oranges or rather, they had been lumping apples and oranges together in the same bowl as though they were the same fruit.

The following slides will look at the impact of using different populations on the results. Beginning at the big end of town, if we look at United Nations surveys, obviously they’re drawn from a wide range of nations. They often include developing nations and they often include war-torn nations. When we do this it’s hard to separate out what is actually partner violence from civil violence and what are the causes. There is no way of determining the impact of the external environment on these figures. These figures also have little to do with countries like Australia, so they don’t have much validity here.

We also have national crime agency surveys. These tend to draw their figures from police records, court records, corrective services or else records from women’s shelters. These naturally focus on the more serious end of the spectrum and they tend to distort figures for partner violence as well. Also as women were rarely arrested for partner violence until the last 10 years or so and even now it’s still quite a minority their violence simply didn’t appear in these records.

We can look at national victimisation surveys, which tend to be phone surveys that are done every few years. They generally tend to be set in the context of exploring women’s violence [victimisation] and they interview a number of men as well, but the framework is already set that it is about women’s violence [victimisation]. Men aren’t primed to think of their own experience of victimisation. Studies have shown if the violence is referred to as a ‘crime’ then women are less likely to report their own use of violence. Men are also genuinely unlikely to see it as violence unless they’ve actually been seriously injured by it and that brings us to the fourth kind of study, which does give us much more reliable figures for the picture that is in the community today, so we can look at family conflict surveys and community or population studies.

These tend to be couched within a relationship conflict framework, though they investigate the same behaviours that the other surveys investigate. So they investigate criminal behaviours, but they position it in a different environment. Women are more likely to disclose their use of violence in this situation when it’s not referred to as a criminal survey and men are also more likely to disclose their own experience of violence when it is seen as a relationship issue and not a crime.

So what kinds of injuries do men receive? Men receive injuries resulting from being hit by all sorts of blunt instruments, by having objects thrown at them – glasses, saucepans, knives, whatever, by being struck with a vehicle, by being bitten, by the use of an actual weapon – a knife is a very common one, by scalding by boiling water or hot food. So all of the injuries that these can cause are the ones that men tend to suffer. That’s not to say that women don’t suffer these too, but we are here talking about male victims.

And why do women assault their partners? Well actually for much the same reasons as men do. For a need for control in some cases. It may be trying to match their partner in control or it may be to be the one in charge. Expression of negative emotions, frustrated, angry, hurt, they’re jealous. It may be in self defence, just as it may be for men. And it may be to seem tough because they don’t want to seem weak with their partner.

Which women are likely to be most violent? Interestingly the women who are likely to be most violent are those who did not report self defence, so they are the primary aggressors in the relationship. They are the partner violence perpetrators, or for the women who are genuine victims and are lashing out with violent resistance.

How is it that there is so little research on male victims? Well as Elizabeth has alluded to, when this phenomenon surfaced in that era of civil rights in the late 60s the initial focus was on women victims and it’s difficult to maintain a focus on women victims and men victims at the same time.

And as female partner violence ‘victim’ predominately implies ‘violent husband’ then it’s hard to hold the concept of a man as being a violent husband and a victimised male at the same time. Women victims were also not asked about their own use of violence. If they had been then in some cases at least it would have been seen that they were actually aggressors in their relationships. Erin Pizzey from the UK found this out. She was a champion of the cause of women victims of domestic violence, but over time she realised that it wasn’t as simple as that. If men were not asked about their experience of victimisation, nobody is going to know about it and they weren’t asked. And because male victimisation was hidden it didn’t stimulate further research. It just remained more invisible.

There have been effective public campaigns raised about the awareness of female victimisation and this has unwittingly served to keep male victimisation hidden as well. And astoundingly, in the US and perhaps in Canada as well and who knows in other countries, research into male victimisation has sometimes been actively discouraged by funding bodies. You can refer to Murray Strauss’ references. He documents that very well as I think Dr. Donald Dutton does too.

There has been an understandable fear of having to share funding with women’s services or between women’s and men’s services. However, this doesn’t help the child victims. It’s an example of faulty thinking and doesn’t provide a good solution. And the difficulty is if we acknowledge male victims we also have to acknowledge and work out how to deal with female offenders. And if we need more reasons why they’re invisible, the media focus on sensational crimes by men against women stacks the odds somewhat. It sells papers and it attracts internet readers.

We have to deal with our stereotypes. The belief that because men are bigger and do use violence perhaps more readily in some situations, that they will automatically want to assault women as well. And we make the assumption that women don’t assault men because the men are bigger. Well I can guarantee you from my own work that is not the case. There is a tendency to ridicule male victims of women’s assaults. We have trouble coming to grips with that – facing that challenge. It’s been politically incorrect to acknowledge male victims of female perpetrated violence and that may lead to many of us being a bit worried about discussing it in public. And certainly something I've had to deal with is the fear of getting it wrong in my work: what if I make a mistake? What if he is a really convincing perpetrator? But I realised a solution to that was not ignoring the problem, it was skilling myself up, becoming more knowledgeable and more proficient and more able to work through this.

The implications of ignoring male victims of female perpetrated violence: physical and psychological impact on the men who are victimised, and my colleagues will talk more about that. There is a cost to the community. There is an impact on the children. Service providers, if they want to respond don’t know how to. The male victims themselves understandably build resentment and they can become perpetrators if they weren’t before. It makes it more difficult for women using abusive behaviour to seek help if we won’t acknowledge it. Women who use violence for whatever reason are more likely to suffer significant injury in retaliation from their male partners. If for no other reason, that’s a reason to address the problem. Services don’t know how to respond to female offenders and women are at risk of further violence in future relationships.

So: beyond the paradigm. Meeting the needs of victims of crime first requires we recognise their existence and understand their experience. For male victims we have to move beyond the paradigm that has prevailed for 40 years and which has served to minimise or deny their existence, thus compromising our ability to respond to them. The fact that there are some people who are unwilling to accept that the assault of men by women does occur, stems from our deeply held stereotypes about men and women.

Don’t take my word for all of this. There are male victims. There are enough of them. Men aren’t only assaulted in self defence and they do suffer from it. There is an extensive bibliography following this presentation if you’d like to see it.

Elizabeth Celi: Thank you very much Toni. You certainly highlighted some of the research paradigms we need to consider and the up skilling that us as professionals in our respective fields may need to consider.

General References

Hamel, J. (2010). Do we want to be politically correct, or do we want to reduce partner violence in our communities? Partner Abuse, 1(1), 82-91.

Cook, P. W. (2009). Abused men: The hidden side of domestic violence. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Straus, M.A. (2008). Bucking the tide in family violence research. Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 9(4), 191-213.

McNeely, R. et al. (2001). Is domestic violence a gender issue, or a human issue? Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 4, 227–251.

Mihalic, S.W. et al (1997). If violence is domestic, does it really count? Journal of Family Violence,12, 293-311.

McNeely, R. et al. (1987). The truth about domestic violence: a falsely framed issue. Social Work, (Nov-Dec), 485-485-490.

Fiebert, M.S. (2008). References examining assaults by women on their spouses or male partners: an annotated bibliography.

Historical references for male victimisation

George, M.J. (1994). Riding the donkey backwards: Men as the unacceptable victims of marital violence. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 3(2) 137-159.

George, M.J. (2002). Skimmington Revisited. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 10(1), 111-136.

George, M.J. (2003). Invisible touch. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 8, 23-60.

[George also provides a good analysis of the phenomenon of deriding and minimising men as victims.]

Kelly, H.A. (1994). Rule of thumb and the folklore of the husband’s stick. Jnl of Legal Education, 44(3), 341-365. [A well researched debunking of the perpetuated myth that a man had the legal right to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb.]

Recent references on prevalence of male victimisation

ABS Personal Safety Survey 2005.

Steinmetz, S. (1977-78). The battered husband syndrome. Victimology. An international journal, 2(3-4), 499-509.

Straus, M. (1988). Violence in American families: How much is there and why does it occur? In Nunnally et al, Troubled Relationships. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Straus, M.A. (2007). Dominance and symmetry in partner violence by male and female university students in 32 nations. Children & Youth Services Review, 30, 252-275.

Halford, W.K. et al. (2010). Relationship aggression, violence and self-regulation in Australian newlywed couples. Australian Jnl of Psychology, 62 (2), 82-92.

Bala, N. An historical perspective on family and child abuse: Comment on Moloney et al, Allegations of Family Violence, 12 June 2007. Jnl Family Studies, 14(2), 271-78.

References on how and why male victimisation is difficult to see

Detschelt, A. (2002-03). Recognizing domestic violence directed towards men. Jnl Legal & Public Policy, 249-272.

Graham-Kevan, N. (2007). The re-emergence of male victims. International Journal of Men’s Health, 6(1), 3-6.

Straus, M.A. (2007). Dominance and symmetry in partner violence by male and female university students in 32 nations. Children and Youth Services Review, 30, 252-275.

Straus, M.A. (2007). Processes explaining the concealment and distortion of evidence on gender symmetry in partner violence. European Journal of Criminal Policy Research, 13, 227-232.

Straus, M.A. (2009). Why the overwhelming evidence on partner physical violence by women has not been perceived and is often denied. Jnl Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 18(6), 552-571. [Read the 3 Straus papers in this order as he systematically explains: 1) the evidence of concealment of male statistics 2) the methods / processes used; 3) the reasons why.]

References on male injuries

Hines, D.A. (2007) Posttraumatic stress symptoms among men who sustain partner violence: An international multisite study of university students. Psychol of Men & Masculinity, 8(4), 225-239.

Kimberg, L. (2008). Addressing intimate partner violence with male patients: A review and introduction of pilot guidelines. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 23(2), 2071-78.

Dalsheimer, J. (1998). Battered men. A silent epidemic. Topics in Emergency Medicine, 20(4), 52-59.

Duminy, F.J. et al. (1993). Assault inflicted by hot water. Burns, 19(5), 426-438.

Krob, M.J. et al. (1986). Burned and battered adults. 18th Annual Meeting American Burns Assoc.

References on female violence

Allen-Collinson, J. (2009) A Marked Man: Female-Perpetrated Intimate Partner Abuse. Internat. Jnl Men’s Health, 8(1), 22-40.

Caldwell, J.E. et al (2009). Why I hit him: Women's reasons for intimate partner violence. Journal of Aggression, Mal-treatment  & Trauma, 18, 672-697.

Hines, D.A. et al (2009). Women’s use of intimate partner violence against men: Prevalence, implications, and consequences. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 18(6), 572-586.

Hamel, J. et al, (2007). Perceptions of motives in intimate partner violence: Expressive versus coercive violence. Violence and Victims, 22(5), 563-576.

Hines, D. A., & Douglas, E. M. (2010). Intimate terrorism by women towards men: Does it exist? Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research.

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