MDIA2003_19 MDIA2003_19_P2 Wed9.00 (2019)

How Society is Failing Men in Abusive Relationships

By Michelle Sagredo

Experts in the field agree that service-providers overlook the needs of male victims, despite an increase in men experiencing partner violence in the past decade.

Greg Andresen, a Senior Researcher of the One in Three Campaign said, “Men reporting domestic violence are more likely than women to be disbelieved, ridiculed, misunderstood, have their experiences downplayed, be blamed for the violence, or be falsely arrested as the perpetrator.”

One in Three aims to raise awareness of male victims of domestic and family violence.

A One in Three Campaign poster

“Abuse of men can take the same forms as it can do to women,” said Andresen.

This includes physical violence and threats, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse and more.

An ABS Personal Safety Report states that “in 2005, approximately 0.4% of men aged 18 years and over experienced partner violence in the previous 12 months, whilst in 2016 the figure was 0.8%.”

The number has increased, yet service-providers struggle to properly understand the needs of male victims.

Jade Rodrigues, who previously worked as a social worker, said, “It wasn’t really something that was talked about. There was more awareness of female victims, actually a lot… there were these processes that were automatically enacted that you had to follow through to do like a screening and things like that. But with men, if I came across them with bruising or anything like that, there was nothing.”

“I just used to assume that… maybe they played football.”

People who work in services aimed at domestic violence may not even notice a male victim due to insufficient training.

“I suspect I’ve come across it a lot more than I actually realised,” said Rodrigues.

“I suspect that cases were brought before me where there was a male victim of actual domestic violence but I just never picked up on it because I wasn’t really trained to look out for it. Most of the training was around looking out for female victims and children obviously.”

Not only do service-providers mainly focus their attention on women suffering domestic violence, but there is a lack of services all together for men.

“Many domestic violence services aren’t open to males… Not only does this mean that men can’t access the same range of services and support as women, they may struggle with working out how and where to find help,” said Andresen.

“They’re not visible enough. I wouldn’t even know where to start to find services for males,” said Rodrigues.

“…Obviously if they’re coming in with injuries then I would encourage them to go to the police. But beyond that I wouldn’t have a clue and I don’t know of anything like refuges for males.”

The lack of services and resources also create internal barriers in males to speak up about suffering abuse.

“Many male victims face barriers to disclosing their abuse because of the challenges such disclosure brings to their sense of manhood,” said Andresen.

“Such barriers include shame, embarrassment, social stigma…fear of being called ‘weak’ or ‘wimpy,’ disbelief, denial, making excuses for their partner’s violence and abuse.”

Rodrigues said, “Generally I found that they wouldn’t talk about it and felt a great deal of shame.”

“I remember one guy turned around and said to me that he was so ashamed of it because he felt that others would think things like, ‘You’re the man you should be able to control your woman,’ sort of thing.”

Experiencing this kind of fear of what other people will think of them makes it difficult for males to admit they are being abused and seek help.

This sense of shame has only been worsened by the media. Films like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl feature scenes where a woman hitting a man is intended as comedy.

Katy Perry’s Wide Awake music video features the singer hitting a man intended as empowering.

“It is commonplace in film, TV and advertising media to see women hitting men as comical or empowering, ’you go girl!’,” said Andresen.

“People who believe we live in a patriarchal society may feel that women hitting men is fair or just as an effort to redress a perceived power imbalance.”

Of course, however, abuse is not just physical. Emotional abuse is actually more common for both men and women, with one in six men experiencing emotional abuse by a current and/or previous partner since the age of 15 (ABS, 2016).

Australian Bureau of Statistics regarding emotional abuse

“What I’ve experienced of male victims is that they feel like they can’t do anything right. So she’s always at him and always picking on him, always yelling at him,” said Rodrigues.

“Like calling him names or just being really vicious towards him… they were being torn down emotionally and they’d have no self-esteem and no confidence. They’d feel emasculated.”

“Emotional abuse, which I found in my experience was more common and actually more insidious and more damaging, was harder to recognise.”

In a February media release by the Prime Minister, Minister for Families and Social Services, and the Minister for Women, the Morrison Government planned to invest $78 million into helping women and children escape domestic and family violence.

Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Families and Social Services, was contacted for comment regarding funding for male refuge facilities but did not respond.

“I think there needs to be domestic violence help lines. I think there needs to be a dedicated helpline for men…I think that’s the start,” said Rodrigues.

“If men are getting hit by women and they’re worried about their children being exposed to the violence in the home than they should have a refuge… just like a women’s refuge as well. I’ve never come across that kind of thing.”

Behind the Story: Inspiration