Are the voices of male domestic abuse victims heard?
Domestic abuse has increasingly become a public health concern due to the emotional, physical and financial stress it causes. Even though the demand for support services is growing yearly, statistics are not a true representation of the extent of the issue. Many victims may not report their abuse due to stigma and male victims in particular struggle with society’s expectation of being ‘robust alpha males’.
Male victims may face immediate barriers to disclosure of abuse, in particular within their circles of family or friends. Understanding the main causes of these barriers could improve further development of educational tools. My research assists in empowering male victims to report their abuse and educate service providers on how to response to a disclosure. Victims must build their confidence to report, and if their initial disclosure is met with negativity, it can result in them not seeking professional help or reporting their abuse in future. Reviewing whether male victims feel supported and their voices heard in their initial disclosure will provide an outlook on how society views domestic abuse. Revisiting their experiences will capture the raw information of the true stories behind the statistics and provide an in-depth understanding of the potential failures of society in protecting and supporting male domestic abuse victims.
Domestic abuse has been endemic in the UK for many years resulting in devastating consequences not only for the victims but their families and society too. The Department of Health (2005) states that the yearly cost to the NHS for domestic abuse is £1.2 billion due to the physical injuries and A&E attendance. This does not reflect upon the devastating affects it has on the victim or their families, emotionally or physically. ManKind Initiative explains that there were an estimated 600,000 male victims, and 1.3 million female victims of domestic abuse in 2014/5 - for every three victims, there are two females and one male victim.
Domestic abuse is considered an obstruction of the victim’s ability to live a healthy existence, potentially resulting in them feeling powerless when making the simplest decisions such as what clothes they wish to wear and where they can go. Domestic abuse is gender-neutral, yet UK policies such as ‘End Violence against Women and Girls 2010-2015’ focus on female victims. Society has developed the illusion that men are perpetrators, the aggressor, the dominator within an intimate relationship, however men can suffer domestic abuse. This has increased the stigmatisation suffered by male victims, as they are expected to be strong, independent characters.
Male victims are statistically under-reported, but according to the Office for National Statistics an estimated 13.2% of men had been a victim of some form of physical, emotional or financial abuse within their relationships and Storey and Strand (2012) suggest that male victims often fear disclosure, due to the potential reaction, further abuse or stigmatisation. Noone and Stephens (2008) explain that men often seek medical or supportive services in dire situations, emphasising how much of a public health problem this truly is. Further understanding is needed about whether male victims feel supported by their families and friends following an initial disclosure. Victims tend to report their abuse to trusted individuals, and reviewing their reactions can provide an insight into whether further public education is needed. Reviewing the victim’s approaches to disclosure and the aftermath could assist in highlighting the struggles male victims face and whether societies understanding of domestic abuse pressurises them to un-report. The provision of a platform for male victims is greatly needed, to provide a voice to those struggling. Story-telling their experiences will assist in broadening public health knowledge of how people react to disclosures and whether the public has received adequate education to support male victims in seeking professional help. Delving into families’ reactions will provide an insight into the family dynamics and whether male victims are encouraged to seek support or discouraged.
Even though the world has progressed with technology, education and the provision of a vast array of healthcare services, we as a nation are struggling to provide the basic need of safety to individuals as according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Without the further exploration of why male victims struggle to report and whether they receive an initial positive supportive response; these victims will struggle to achieve self-fulfillment, feel empowered or reach their potential.
Natalie Quinn-Walker is a PhD student and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton. She previously worked as a Sexual Health Specialist for the Terence Higgins Trust.