I attended a lecture a couple of days ago about family violence. During the lecture, I noticed a rather disturbing trend. The presenter didn’t use a single example of family violence that didn’t include a female victim and a male perpetrator. She was rather sexist and disparaging towards men, and flippantly dismissed the idea that men could be victims of family violence also.
This worried me deeply. There is a trend in Australia to view family violence as a phenomenon that only affects women as victims. It is completely true that family violence is a gendered phenonmenon, with the overwhelming number of reported cases involving female victims. However, there are a small number of reported cases of family violence where men experience violence at the hands of a female domestic partner. The fact that a group is in the minority of cases, does not mean that their experiences are less significant or less worthy of attention. I want to delve into this a little further.
The definition of “family violence” in both the federal and state acts of parliament is gender neutral. This means that the perpetrator and the victim can be of either sex. At law, family violence is treated the same as between sexes.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the definition of ‘family violence’ extends wider than mere physical abuse. In Victoria, the definition includes emotional abuse, social abuse and financial abuse.
All of the statistics that we have about the incidence of family violence are based on reported cases. It is common knowledge that only a small percentage of cases are actually reported, and so family violence may actually be more prevalent than the statistics suggest. It does make me wonder whether family violence is actually as gendered as the statistics would have us believe, or if there might be a plethora of cases where men are the victims, but do not report abuse.
There are a number of reasons why such cases may not be reported. The first is that the definition of family violence is so broad, and yet when most people think of family violence, they immediately think of physical violence. It is possible that abuse is occurring to men that does not fall within the stereotypical idea of violence, and so they do not feel that they are being abused or that there is any reason to report it.
More alarmingly, it is possible that men are not reporting instances of domestic violence, because of the societal expectations and stigmas attatched to family violence. Overwhelmingly, family violence is treated as a ‘man beating woman’ crime. People do not talk about the abuse that some men suffer at the hands of their domestic partners. Every time you open a womens’ magazine, there are articles professing the need for women to report abuse from their partners, or how to recognise if your friend is being abused. I doubt that men’s magazines ever run such articles. The government campaigns relating to family violence all focus on women as victims. There are even specialized women’s hotlines and refuges to help women in need. It is socially accepted that, in cases of domestic violence, the woman must be the victim, and the man must be the perpetrator.
Assumptions such as these impede the ability of men who are experiencing abuse to get help, or to even recognise that what they are experiencing is abuse. Small-minded feminists who insist on behaving as though family violence is specific to women only perpetuate the problem.
Yes, family violence does happen more often to women than to men. No, it is not fair to discount the experiences of abused men, just because they are in the minority, or because they are part of a gender that are percieved as ‘perpetrators’ by some of the more influential people in the field of domestic violence. I believe that it is important to look at family violence holistically without letting gender biases blind us. It is a huge problem in our society, and putting on our ‘sexism blinkers’ only perpetuates the stigmas attatched to men in this area, and makes it more difficult for men who are the victims of violence to seek the help and support that they deserve.