This thing about male victims

This article was originally published on Karen Ingala Smith’s blog and is cross-posted with permission from the author.

A couple of weeks ago, The Independent ran an article on male victims of domestic violence. There were some factual inaccuracies in the report along with the use of the statistic that one in three victims of domestic abuse in Britain is male. I challenged these on twitter. I received the response below from a professional referenced in the article

alan idva3

But I’m not going to move on. I’d prefer to talk about this statistic because it is unhelpful at best, it is derailing and dangerous at worst.

The claim of gender parity in domestic violence, or at least of much less difference than is conventionally believed, is nothing new, in fact it’s been popping up – and out of the mouths of Men’s Rights Activists – since at least the 1970s.  No matter how often or how robustly ‘gender symmetry’ claims are rebuffed and refuted, its advocates continue to regurgitate their position.

‘A third of all victims of abuse are male’

The data referenced, that approximately a third of victims of domestic abuse in the UK are male comes from data from the British Crime Survey. It contrasts significantly from data from police crime reports which estimate that between 80-90% of violence against the person reported is by women assaulted by men.

The main problems with the statistic that a third of reports are by men are

    • It is about domestic abuse and/or conflict, not domestic violence
    • The data does not differentiate between cases where there is one incident of physical conflict/abuse/violence or those where violence is repeated. If we look at the data for where there have been four or more incidents, then approximately 80% of victims are women
    • The data does not differentiate between incidents where violence and abuse are used as systematic means of control and coercion and where they are not
    • The data does not include sexual assault and sexual violence
    • The data does not take account of the different levels of severity of abuse/violence, ‘gender symmetry’ is clustered at lower levels of violence
    • The data does not take account of the impact of violence, whether the level of injury arising from the violence or the level of fear. Women are six times more likely to need medical attention for injuries resulting from violence and are much more likely to be afraid
    • The data does not differentiate between acts of primary aggression and self-defence, approximately three quarters of violence committed by women is done in self-defence or is retaliatory.

In fact, if these issues are taken into account, research consistently finds that violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women and levels are consistent with data of reports from the police. This is supported by data from the Crown Prosecution Service that shows that across the five years between 2007/8 and 2011/12, 93.4% of those convicted for crimes relating to domestic violence were men.

Looking at sexual offences

43,869 sexual offences were recorded by police in England and Wales in 2011/12.

In the same year:

    • 96.7% of cautions issues for sexual offences were to males
    • 98.2% of prosecutions for sexual offences were against males
    • 99% of convictions for those found guilty of sexual offences were male

54% of UK rapes are committed by a woman’s current or former partner.

But that doesn’t mean that there is gender parity if sexual offences are excluded from consideration.

‘It’s harder for men to report, there’s much more of a taboo for men’

Exactly the opposite:

    • men are more – not less – likely to call the police
    • men are more likely – not less – to press charges
    • men are less likely – not more – to drop charges (Kimmel 2002)

Another way to get round the issue of unrepresentative reporting is to look at who gets killed, dead people don’t get the choice of whether or not to inform the police. UK Homicide records between 2001/2 and 2011/12 (11 years) show that on average 5.7% (296 total) of male homicide victims and 44.2%(1066) of female homicide victims are killed by a partner or ex-partner. Expressed as an average of those killed by a partner or former partner over 11 years, 22% were men, 78% were women.

Note, the domestic homicide figures do not tell us the sex of the perpetrator, nor is the sex of the perpetrator revealed for all other types of homicide. Men are overwhelmingly killed by other men – regardless of the relationship between victim and perpetrator. Women are overwhelmingly killed by men – regardless of the relationship between victim and perpetrator

‘Maybe the police see what they expect to see, gender stereotypes mean that men are more likely to be perceived as the aggressor’

Except that they’re not. Research by Marianne Hester (2009), found that women were arrested to a disproportionate degree given the fewer incidents where they were perpetrators. During a six year study period men were arrested one in every ten incidents, women were arrested one in every three incidents.

When women do use violence, they are at risk of greater levels or retaliatory violence.

Women are penalized, not excused, not invisible, if they transgress gender stereotypes.

‘Women make false allegations’

Except when they don’t and in the vast majority of cases they don’t.

The Crown Prosecution Service recently released data from a 17 month period in which there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence in England and Wales. Over the same timescale, there were only 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for false allegations of domestic violence and three that involved false allegations of both rape and domestic violence.

‘Women exaggerate’

Women overestimate their own use of violence but underestimate their victimization. Woman normalize, discount, minimize, excuse their partners’ domestic and sexual violence against them. Women find ways to make it their fault.

In contrast, men overestimate their victimization and underestimate their own violence (Dobash et al. 1998). Men are more likely to exaggerate a women’s provocation or violence to make excuses for initiating violence and, where retaliation has occurred, in an attempt to make it appear understandable and reasonable. Paul Keene, used the defence of provocation for his killing of Gaby Miron Buchacra. His defence claimed that he was belittled by her intellectual superiority and that he lost control after rowing with her by text over a twelve hour period. That a jury accepted his defence is a further example of how men’s violence is minimized and excused. Not only by men and the women they assault, but by the legal system. The right to claim abuse as a mitigating factor in domestic violence homicide cases was vitally important for women like Kiranjit Aluwahlia, Emma Humphreys and Sara Thornton, all of whom had suffered years of violence and abuse at the hands of the men they killed. That such a defence could be used in Paul Keene’s case only illustrates how differently women and men who use violence are treated.

A radical feminist perspective, based on an understanding of socially constructed gender roles and differences within the framework of patriarchal society does not mean that all men are violent to women, or that men are genetically pre-disposed to violence. It means the opposite. It means that women and men are socialized and that – within the limits of choice permitted by the social environment – we can choose to be different.

Whether coming from an anti-feminist Men’s Right Activist perspective, or from a genuine desire to support those men who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, those who use statistics that overstate similarities between male and female violence are either doing so wilfully, to pursue their own agenda, or because they genuinely haven’t taken the time to – or have failed to – understand the statistics.

I have no desire to deny any man’s reality. Denying women’s much greater suffering as victims of domestic and/or sexual violence is a political act. The differences between men and women’s use of violence and experiences of victimization do not need to be denied or minimized for all victims to be deserving of safety and support. It is quite possible to believe that no woman, child, or man deserves to be a victim of sexual or domestic violence (or indeed of any other type of violence) whist maintaining a feminist agenda to end women’s oppression.

Karen Ingala Smith works for a London-based domestic and sexual violence charity. Follow her on Twitter @K_IngalaSmith

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • vouchsafer

    “it is quite possible to believe that no woman, child, or man deserves to be a victim of sexual or domestic violence whilst maintaining a feminist agenda to end women’s oppression.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    • drunicusrex

      Not quite. By portraying men as the problem and women as the victims “in the vast majority of cases,” or by stating things like “men and boys are usually injured because a female is defending herself” all but authorizes violence against males.
      Why don’t you tell Travis Alexander or Josh Hilberling’s mothers that domestic partner violence is “in most cases” a male abuser/female victim sort of thing? I suspect they’d disagree.

      • Meghan Murphy

        “By portraying men as the problem and women as the victims “in the vast majority of cases,” or by stating things like “men and boys are usually injured because a female is defending herself” all but authorizes violence against males.” Um, no. It doesn’t. Those are the facts. No one is authorizing violence.

      • AJ

        Yes – and providing young adults with comprehensive sexual education – including information about contraception options and abstinence – totally encourages young adults to go out and have sex with everyone and anyone they meet.

      • Henke

        Of course men can experience oppression—but not because we are men. Men may be subjugated in a myriad of ways—each abhorrent and deserving of resistance in its own right—but not because we were born not female. Indeed, even the most otherwise oppressed or egalitarian or radical men have the capacity to use their power as men to hurt women. We don’t need to ignore one injustice to see another.

  • Missfit

    Thanks for this article. It contains all the information to counter those (MRA types) who wish that they could make it appear as if domestic violence is a gender neutral phenomenon. This is done by manipulating statistics while overlooking the relevant factors highlighted in this article. Now, why this attempt at erasing the gendered reality of domestic violence ? As mentioned, this is a political tactic aimed at restraining feminist progress. The right of women to justice, security and body autnomy does not deprive men of anything, unless you’re an abuser yourself or support the right of men to do so free of consequences. Feminists do not prevent men from taking action aiming at preventing violence perpetrated against them and helping those who suffer from it. Somehow, they (MRA types) put more energy in arguing against everything they see as feminist than doing just that. And that says it all.

    • MRAtype

      I have no issue with stating that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence. But I’d like to point out that men are sometimes victims as well, sadly because that is not a well known topic people tend to not believe a man when he makes a complaint about his wife or girlfriend beating him up. I have personally experienced having a police officer laugh in my face when I reported a crime. Also just because I’m interested in men’s rights does not mean I want to take away women’s rights, that women don’t have good reasons for their grievances or that I hate women. You can not achieve equal rights for both sexes by focusing solely on the issues of one.

      • Grackle

        “But I’d like to point out that men are sometimes victims as well, ”

        Didn’t you read the article at all? Nobody said otherwise.

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  • Dufresne

    Ok, I believe that the gender symmetry in domestic violence is when you look at reciprocal violence between intimate partners. I believe that this is supported by the CDC’s most recent study on IPV. I absolutely believe that when there is serious physical injury or death at the hands of an intimate partner, then women are more likely to be victims there. Violence against men is real. Much of it goes unreported due to lack of funding for services for male victims (Google: Earl Silverman).

    The huge underlying problem with domestic violence (as I see it) is that it’s being treated as a gender issue rather than a public health problem. A significant percentage of domestic violence and abuse is fueled by underlying issues like substance abuse & addiction; poverty; unemployment; and generational dysfunction. The grass roots efforts, public policy and discourse should be directed at addressing violence in general, not just violence against women.

    • Hypatia

      I’m not sure how you can look at these statistics and contend that domestic violence is not a gendered issue. The reality speaks for itself.

      Also, and I can only speak to the situation in the US, as that is where I live and have worked in this field, your contention about the lack of funding for services for male victims is simply untrue. Despite what MRAs would have you believe, services made available to victims through VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) are available to men as well as women. I have worked in rape crisis and domestic violence advocacy, and I have very rarely encountered programs (regardless of the source(s) of funding) whose services are not open to men, from shelter to legal advocacy to counseling and support groups, etc. No program I have ever worked with has excluded men from any of its services, and in working to assist in finding services for victims nationally, I have very rarely encountered any program whose services were not available to men. I personally have worked with numerous male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (the vast majority of whom were victims of male perpetrators, by the way), and although lack of funding and available services is a serious problem in general when it comes to IPV, I have never had any more difficulty in finding services for men than I have women.

      As far as mens’ ability to secure assistance from the police and the legal system, the above article has already done a good job of explaining that situation (the article is about the situation in the UK, but its findings mirror the situation in the US as well).

      Consider: MRAs love to point out that women receive child custody more often than do men. This is true, but it’s only because they are taking into consideration all child custody cases, including those settled by agreement. When you look only at those cases which involve disputes, men are actually more likely, not less, to receive full custody, even in cases where those men are known perpetrators of domestic violence. See Lundy Bancroft for more information.

      Obviously this is a gendered problem with gendered consequences, and until we are willing to openly and honestly address it as such and commit ourselves to ending gendered violence, it will continue.

      • zaebos

        If they are so readily avalible, then they should be as visible. From my expierence, which is a lot of years. I wasn’t aware that there were services, at all. I knew there was services for women, but I always felt as if they were just for women, so I wouldn’t even contact them.

        Though, I really don’t understand why people are so obessed with numbers. This argument (both sides) sounds like an excuse to neglect either men and women, and I freaking hate it all.

      • Adam McPhee

        Dufresne mentioned Earl Silverman, which is Canada. I can’t speak for the U.S. (though I don’t know of any services that work housing men AND women who are IPV victims, so feel free to link me some). However, in Canada, IPV services don’t exist for men. One of my clients, when fleeing an IPV situation, was referred to a men’s homeless shelter (one of the worst in Toronto), where he was then further victimized and had his teeth kicked in.

        Examples of services for women that don’t serve men, since you think they all serve men as well (again, these are Canadian, Toronto to be exact): (family services for men, but only “fleeing violence” services for women)

        Best resource I can find that is willing to help men as well is women’s college hospital’s:

        • Meghan Murphy

          What on earth are you on about, Adam??? You think women’s services should not be for women but for men also? And somehow believe that it counts as discrimination for women’s shelters (i.e. shelters that support female victims of MALE VIOLENCE) should allow men in???

        • lizor

          “One of my clients, when fleeing an IPV situation, was referred to a men’s homeless shelter (one of the worst in Toronto), where he was then further victimized and had his teeth kicked in.”

          By whom? Women? The woman he was fleeing? No. This client was a victim of male violence, right?

          Are you suggesting that women’s shelters be made available to men because men’s shelters are unsafe because of the men there?

  • zaebos

    I really wish victims would stop being described as ‘derailing’.

    • Adam McPhee

      Derailing at best…

    • Lela

      From the article you are commenting on: “I have no desire to deny any man’s reality. Denying women’s much greater suffering as victims of domestic and/or sexual violence is a political act. The differences between men and women’s use of violence and experiences of victimization do not need to be denied or minimized for all victims to be deserving of safety and support. It is quite possible to believe that no woman, child, or man deserves to be a victim of sexual or domestic violence (or indeed of any other type of violence) whist maintaining a feminist agenda to end women’s oppression.”

      Feminists don’t condone abusive behaviour on the part of women. If we had it our way, violence and abuse would never happen, ever, to anyone. “Derailing” happens when a man disrupts a feminist conversation about the specific ways women are impacted by patriarchy in order to re-focus attention on men’s problems and lay a guilt trip on women in the process. He often does so by presenting an exception as a norm, misrepresenting facts and arguments and/or making claims directly countered by studies, statistics and readily observable reality. When feminists indicate that such a derail is unwelcome, he further demonstrates his lack of understanding about feminists’ position re: violence and demands more time and more explanations which he would not need if he were to familiarize himself with what feminists DO argue. The existence of feminist space on the internet where the sole focus is on ending women’s oppression does not mean that feminists are unaware of, or that we deny, the fact that men are victimized.

      • Lela

        Further, I find it hard to stomach that, while the internet is teeming with violent/misogynistic pornography (over which we have NO tangible influence thanks to “consent” arguments) that women risk running across every time we use a search engine, men can’t handle the idea of dedicated feminist space where women discuss feminist issues. Think about that for a minute.

  • Dufresne
  • Greg Allan

    Message to all male victims…back under the rug where you belong.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Jeez you guys are a whiny bunch.

      • zaebos

        Please try to understand. I’m not asking for a pity party because I already know there won’t be one. But it’s very for some of us (not all), that are feminist/pro-feminist/ally, whatever you would like to call it, it’s very difficult to own and advocate an attack that has damaged us very deeply while still giving full support toward what we believe in. I try not to object too often, but sometimes, I get worn down with some of the things feminists write about male victims. Everything from deciding how men are assaulted and how they react to it all the way to extremely dismissive pieces like the ones I see posted here quite often.

        I know you’ll tell me that you’re not dismissive of anyone, and give me the typical lip-service that’s as empty as ever. You might also give me the “Exception” speech and tell me to shut up. Or you’ll accuse me of de-railing, and to shut up. Or you’ll demand that I’ll tell you every little detail of how I became a victim so you can point out how I’m not ~really~ a victim, and then tell me to shut up.

        Yeah, I know I’m in your space (and in case you’re curious, I’m using a general “You” here) and you get to decide what is and isn’t on topic. But I know that even if I went through the trouble of making my own space, which I have, it will be filled with people like you telling me to shut up, or will be infested with MRA woman hating ass-holes.

        NB4 “You’re the exception” I already know that victims usually don’t have a penis like I do.

        NB4 “Stop derailing” Alright, I will, but when one brings up male victims, one can also expect the topic to be on male victims, and to have male victims take part. Odd that the ones usually excluded from these sorts of topics are…nevermind.

        NB4 “It’s only important when it happens to men.” First off, you don’t know what’s important to me. Secondly, even if it -was-, don’t I, as a god damn victim get to fucking worry about myself every once in a while? Or do I get to sit here and watch people scoff and wave their hand arrogantly at the single most important even in my life.

        NB4 “You’re not really a victim.” I will tell you the nitty-gritty details, if you really want them, and then please tell me how I was too powerful physically and socially. Go ahead, tell me that it’s my fault. I ~really~ know you want to, because deep down you -know- I’m lying, don’t you?

        NB4 “Wow, you’re REALLY whiny.” No I’m not. I’m pissed off and generally frustrated at everything.

        • Meghan Murphy

          This piece was in no way “dismissive”. It’s very difficult to take you seriously when you say such things while simultaneously claiming to be an “ally”. I don’t believe that you are one. I’m not buying your schtick here. Sorry.

        • uvuv

          I’m a feminist and a woman. First of all, I’m sorry you were a victim of domestic violence.

          I think it’s important to put the evidence out there to show that males are less often victims of domestic violence than females. But those articles should always make it very clear that even though they’re a minority, male victims of domestic violence need to be taken seriously, and that can start by expressing more compassion and support towards them in articles like this.

          • hihello!

            but WHY should articles, when writing specifically about violence against women, always talk about male victims of domestic violence? Why is it that absolutely any time women want to gather together to discuss women’s issues, someone pops up saying, “but you MUST stop and take time out from that to talk about men and their issues”? Why? Sometimes some women want to put resources and care towards women; it is only under a regime of male entitlement to female resources and care that this is seen as a problem in and of itself.

    • Henke

      I would say no to that and instead suggest we stand up against all forms of oppression alongside women.
      As Ive written before in this thread. Yes, men can of course be oppressed but not because we were not born female.
      We don’t need to ignore one injustice to see another.

      • lizor

        “Yes, men can of course be oppressed but not because we were not born female.”

        I am repeating that line because apparently a bunch who comment on this blog don’t get it.

        Here it is again (because I know this is reeeel hard for some folk to grasp):


        Thanks Henke.

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  • Lisa

    Instead of seeking help, male victims retaliate with abusive women by abusing them back and putting them where they belong.

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  • http://www/ Mancheeze

    What a wonderful piece on the gendered violence women experience. I’ve known for a long time that MRA’s were full of it when the try to claim there’s some ‘parity’ between men and women when it comes to battering.

    The problem is they only cherry pick studies that use a particular method of measurement called the Conflict Tactic Scale. Like you pointed out, it doesn’t measure the severity or the complex aspects of battering. It simply counts number of acts. So if a woman pushes a man it’s counted as HER being violent when in reality, if you add the context, it’s her pushing him away from hitting her with a bat.

    I’ll definitely use this article as a source on my blog when I discuss male battering of women. I regularly have to deal with ignorant MRA’s. With what’s happened with the full tape of Ray Rice beating his wife MRA’s have become totally silent. They were praising Steven Smith, the sportcaster who claimed women shouldn’t ‘provoke’ men into hitting them’

    Many MRA’s are abusers themselves so I’m not surprised.

  • LR

    I know here in North America and elsewhere male abuse and rape victims retaliate against female perpetrators by abusing and raping them back. My mom abused my dad and he retaliated against her by being violent.

  • arekexcelsior

    A really wonderful article! I used it in a debate with friends. I particularly like your points about the methodological problems, which are routinely raised in the literature against some of the studies that are more flawed. There’s several more points to be made.

    There are indeed many studies that find equity in male and female violence or abuse. And we do indeed have to admit that it’s always hard to talk about abuse because it is a problem that is by its very nature hidden. It is wholly possible that a lot of men are so ashamed that they couldn’t come forward.

    But that disproportionate shame would itself be a result not of evil feminists, but of patriarchy! Embracing feminist redefinitions of masculinity, a masculinity based on equality and duty, a masculinity based on love and sacrifice, would be the solution.

    Worse, MRAs cherry-pick their data. Many studies that point to apparent equity in abuse rates also admit that, for example, sexual violence and rape are much more likely to be part of a male-on-female abuse system than a female-on-male abuse system, or that women are more likely to be afraid and more likely to be injured. They will cherry-pick a CDC study in 2012 but ignore the National Violence Against Women Survey for precisely no reason. It’s methodologically dishonest.

    Moreover, if men don’t come forward, we can’t make shelters for them! We can’t provide resources for people who won’t get help.

    The main problem facing male victims of abuse is transparently, even within the data that MRAs use, not evil feminists. It’s that the sexual and intimate partner violence abuse infrastructure sucks in the USA (and apparently in the UK too).

    If MRAs were serious about any of this, they would be doing exactly what women did: Promoting awareness (without blaming feminists or women), creating their own shelters, advocating, protecting men, trying to coordinate with feminists. The fact that this is not their response and instead we get snark about how badly men are treated with no actual policy suggestions is really illustrative.

    • Tired feminist

      Fuck off, MRA. No one will buy into your shit here. There’s no such a thing as a “feminist redefinition of masculinity”. Fuck masculinity. Fuck gender.