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012: Meeting the needs of male victims of domestic and family violence - Part 4

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 4 of the Panel Session features Greg Millan, director of Men's Health Services, giving an overview of his training program called Working with men affected by violence.

In Australia, up to one in three victims of intimate partner violence are male. While many services have quite rightly been established over the past three decades to support female victims of family violence, the needs of male victims remain largely unmet.

The issue of men affected by violence in intimate relationships has been reported for many years. Workers in the domestic violence, community and family relationship sectors are acknowledging this problem and seeking out training for their workers.

There is only one training program for professionals and this talk will present an overview of this program and its evaluation. ‘Working with men affected by violence’ is a specifically designed training program for health, welfare and community workers that provides information and strategies for working with men who are affected by violence in their relationships.

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Elizabeth Celi: Greg Millan is a social work trained health educator with over 30 years of experience with government, non-government and private sector organisations. He is an executive member of the Australasian Men’s Health Forum, which Australia’s peak body implementing a social approach to male health. And as you may be hearing we’re very much on the social psychology and social health avenue with male victims. So for over 20 years he has been working in men’s health promotion implementing different programs and professional training services, particularly for other service providers, health service providers and otherwise. So Greg will share that with us now. Thanks Greg.

Greg Millan: Thanks a lot. Thank you very much for inviting me along today. This little slide starting my presentation actually is this rather interesting poster from Canada, which I think clearly talks to me about the fact that this whole issue has been silenced and that campaign was around working with those people that have been silenced, with men that have been silenced when we think about domestic violence.

My background in this work, yes, I have been social worker for 30 years. I guess my clinical work in supporting male victims of domestic violence over the years. I've had some past clinical group work with men who have experienced childhood sexual assault, which is a different issue. I run a number of programs for men and have for a number of years. Two of those, ‘understanding relationships’ and ‘dealing with difficult emotions’, which are men only programs, have involved men talking about domestic violence. Just a quick scenario is that I was asked by Relationships Australia in Newcastle to run an ‘Understanding Relationships’ workshop for them, which I did. Very good workshop I ran over a number of nights, five or six nights. I think on the fifth night we actually talked about destructive relationships and I bring up the issue of domestic violence and other issues, drug and alcohol issues or mental health issues that could be destructive, and we had this lovely guy in the group in his 70s. Unfortunately his wife had passed away a couple of years ago and he was obviously still grieving her passing away. He was getting a lot out of being at the group and when I started to talk about domestic violence he said, “Well you know my wife used to hit me with a frying pan once a week, but isn’t that what love is about?” And before I had a chance to say anything the other guys turned to him and said, “No, I don’t think so. No, I think we better talk more about this.” So that was a moment I've always remembered that men pop up with these things out of the blue. It was interesting.

I've been a longtime advocate for men who suffer violence and abuse in their relationships and I've worked in the men’s health area for a number of years and there is a huge growing awareness of – in both the health, welfare and in the men’s health sector of the needs of men affected by violence and in their relationships. So much so that since 2005 – we have national men’s health conferences every two years in this country. We started having papers and workshops in 2005. The last conference we had was in 2009 in Newcastle where there were 15 presentations at that conference on this issue and we’ve got our next one coming up in Perth shortly, so we’ve been tracking this for a while.

I just wanted to briefly say, and my colleague Greg went through the effects on men, but I just wanted to talk about some myths about men affected by violence. Men affected by violence come from all walks of life, social backgrounds, cultures and sexualities. They suffer society’s stigma for not protecting themselves often. They become depressed in their isolation, as Greg mentioned, feel suicidal and sometimes can take their own lives without disclosure of anything that has been going on for them.

They can be victimised because they fail to conform to the ‘macho man’ stereotype and as Greg mentioned, are often perceived as wimps or weak. They’re often disbelieved because they’re men. One of the difficulties I think, and this can be true for women as well, but when men say to their friends or it’s obvious that they’ve been the victim of some sort of violence and it’s within a relationship often their friends don’t know what to do or say. And they have very few support systems in place.

I wanted to briefly mention men affected by violence in male to male relationships. I know this is a national conference. This is a poster from the AIDS Council of New South Wales that was released in March. They’ve had an anti-violence project running here for five of six years or more, but they’ve just had a re-release of it. Australian research shows that domestic violence is as prevalent amongst gay and lesbian communities as it is in the wider community. Having said that, I’d just like to also draw your attention to what we’re talking about today is male victims of domestic violence who would be predominately heterosexual because that is the world we live in, so the numbers of gay men affected by this are much, much smaller. The problem is often underreported as the system can be oppressive and hostile towards gay men. Gay men who experience violence report being afraid and revealing their sexual orientation or the nature of their relationship to those that are trying to help them. Something specific to gay males is that outing around sexuality or HIV status can be used as a form of control by the abusive partner. The other point is telling heterosexuals about violence in a gay relationship can reinforce the myth many believe that gay relationships are abnormal and this can further cause the victim to feel isolated and unsupported.

I run a training program called ‘Working with Men Affected by Violence’ and I’ve run that here and in Perth and in a few other places. I run the only training program for workers in this country on this issue. I personally actually think that’s terrible that there is only one and I'm the person doing it and I haven’t run too many. But a typical one-day training program would include the following things:

• A background to the issues and what we need to do

• the effect of violence on a person

• what is different for men - so we’re talking about men here, what is different for men from women

• strategies for working with men from a strengths based perspective

• a model for working with men affected by violence. I actually present a model that people can use to work with these men

• men-friendly counselling and group work approaches

• building services for male victims of violence into your agency and what you need to consider and

• promoting the case for supporting male victims of violence and working with female perpetrators of violence, which is equally as important.

Why I started doing this was I had received a number of calls from workers who had no idea what to do when that phone call arrives, and they’re in the business of supporting people, and they get a male victim of DV ringing up and saying ‘how can you help me’ and they almost freeze because they don’t know what to do or say. So we desperately need training of healthcare professionals in this country to be able to adequately answer those phone calls.

These are some of the evaluation comments from past training program participants who’ve been through my program:

• “The difficulty men have in communicating to others about domestic violence.” This was what was the most positive aspect of the program

• “That domestic violence is a social problem rather than a gender problem as it is often perceived.” Now I guess to explain that, it’s my personal belief that we’re living in a far more violent world and that whatever you want to call it, domestic violence or intimate partner violence is a symptom of the fact we’re living in far more violent times and I see violence as a social problem – certainly with a gender determinate – but if I view it that way I think all violence is bad and that we should do something about all violence rather than view the whole issue as a gender problem and not a social problem.

• Another comment from a past participant: “I now realise men go through the same issues as women.”

• “Not looking at domestic violence from only a feminist perspective,” one of the participants said who came along.

• “There is a clear need for services to help men by providing information, support and referral services”

• “Networking and knowing others who are on the same page of the training.”

What have you learned from this training?

• “That the situation is similar for men as it is for women, however it’s hard for men due to socialisation and how society sees men,” and what this person means is, as Greg has elaborated, it’s very hard for men to talk about it to anybody or report it, so it’s very unreported because of all the reasons Greg gave.

• “Men have the same responses and feelings afterwards as women.” They certainly do.

•  “There is definitely a lack of services for men both in domestic violence and sexual assault areas.”

• “Men underreport understandably and this hides the real problem”

• And “The different situation for gay men affected by violence in their relationships.”

So what do we need to do? We need to raise awareness I think as we pointed out of the issue in the community and the media. I remember distinctly the One in Three Campaign that Greg’s worked so successfully on was launched in November of 2009. It’s a great campaign, a great website, but when it was launched I was one of the people that the media could have interviewed across Australia, so the ABC as they often do if it’s a men’s health issue, I live in Newcastle, rung me up and said, “Greg, come in and let’s talk about this.” The ABC, the interview I had in the morning about this was like, “Greg, tell us about this brand new problem and what has caused it.” Oh good, you know it’s not a brand new problem, that’s good, but the ABC saw it that way. They really – it was a female journalist, I’ll put this into context – had great difficulty in getting her head around this problem. Where does it come from? Why didn’t we know about it? But as colleagues have said today, it has been around for a long time. I was working as hard as I could to talk about it and we were interrupted by a phone call from a guy who rang up to talk about his own abusive relationship and what went on in that in the middle of it and so that interviewed happened. Then we came back to me talking more about it, but that changed the whole nature of the interview. It is kind of interesting, but the interesting point was: the media don’t get their head around this either. The media, like everyone else sees domestic violence as something men do to women. They see it in that context only, so we do need to do a lot of work in the community, but also with the media. We need to provide education and training for, I think, domestic violence workers, community workers, health and welfare workers and I’d also say legal workers in there as well.

We need to advocate more for resources and services for males affected by violence. We need to encourage the domestic violence area to rethink, refocus and retrain staff to provide services for male victims of violence and female perpetrators of violence as well. And we need to seek separate funding for support services for men and never, in any way, undermine the existing services for women. Thanks a lot.

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