Male Victims of Domestic Violence: A Question of Sexual
 Stereotyping?

Mary Cleary


When a woman turns to violence, society often provides excuses for her: post-natal
 depression, pre-menstrual tension, eating disorders, menopause, provocation, self-
defence… Many men will be sensitive to these problems in their partners, but they 
should not have to suffer violence as a consequence of them. In contrast, men are
 expected to take responsibility for their own violence and abuse.

When a woman is violent or abusive in a relationship, it is not necessarily assumed 
that she is a bad mother. If a man is violent towards his partner, it is automatically 
assumed that he is an unfit parent. The law generally presumes that the children
 will be better off with their mother. Consequently, the options for men seem to be 
to put up with the abuse or to leave the home. In law, a male victim faces two
 obstacles: firstly to prove that he is a victim, and secondly to ensure that his
 children are protected and do not also become victims. Men very often remain in
 an abusive relationship for the sake and protection of their children. Even when a 
man has proved that he is the victim, his only course of action may still seem to be 
to leave the home, becoming separated from his children and often experiencing 
difficulties in trying to obtain regular and realistic contact with them. Under these
 circumstances, he is being treated more like the perpetrator than the victim.

It is disturbing to realize that the improvements which have been made in the
 situation of female victims of domestic violence (including access to barring 
orders, etc.) have not automatically led to the same improvements for men in the
 same position. The vast majority of “recorded” incidents of domestic violence are
 of men on women. The only incidents of violence on men by their female partners
 which come to the attention of the authorities are near-fatal or fatal incidents.
 Although we seem as a society to be aware that male victims exist, they are treated
 flippantly, almost as a joke. Their plight is not viewed with the same sympathy as
 that of female victims. In reality, the male victim lives in fear, in isolation, feeling
 stigmatized, but society does not recognize this. The male victim is neglected 
because he does not conform to the stereotypical male image.

The effects of this form of the ‘double standard’ on the situation of male victims of
 domestic violence is similar to the by-now well publicized effects of domestic
 violence on women. Male victims too tend to react by staying silent, but in their 
case this is encouraged by factors such as the fear of ridicule and the realization
 that it is unlikely that their partners will be evicted. Indeed, once the matter is in
 legal hands, male victims often find that the chief concern of the courts is with the 
payment of maintainance and they may even lose access to their children. It seems
 now as if the law, seeking to uphold the mother-and-child unit, can only view the 
woman as victim, the man as perpetrator.

Recent studies show that children who experience violence in their families are 
much more likely to be violent in their own later intimate relationships,
 regardless of whether the violence in their family of origin was perpetrated by a
 man or a woman. It is not sufficient to say that it is ‘a woman’s problem’ – it is
 critically a children’s problem and a human problem. Until we examine the full
 picture, we are unlikely to achieve a balanced view and break the cycle of violence.

In December 1997, Amen, a voluntary Help-Line for men who are victims of 
domestic violence was set up in Navan, following the huge response to a national 
appeal for such victims to come forward and tell of their experience, and now also
 runs groups in Waterford, Monaghan, Dublin, Derry and Tipperary. Amen ran the
 first conference in the world on this subject in December 1998, in UCD, called
 ” The Silence is Over”, and it was warmly welcomed by people as varied as the 
Women’s Support Group of the Newtownabbey Community Development Agency, 
Justice Catherine McGuinness of the Family Court, Dr Gerry Byrne, Psychiatrist
 with the Charlemont Clinic, and Professor Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA
 Professional Resources & Research Group. As well as offering a Help-Line to
 victims, Amen runs support groups and works to increase public awareness about 
the issue, including lobbying the media. The organization aims to articulate the
 need for legal and legislative reform.

Since the Help-Line was established, calls from over 3,500 men have been
 received, ranging in age from 18 to 88 and from all walks of life. Many of the men 
who contact Amen are deeply depressed and feeling suicidal. They may be on
 sleeping tablets and anti-depressants. The injuries they describe include
 contusions, lacerations, abrasions, stabbings, kicking, biting, scratching, spitting,
 cigarette burns, pulling out tufts of hair, etc. Many cover up the causes of their
 injuries when presenting for medical attention, saying that they fell or injured
 themselves while working. They are subjected to emotional abuse as well.
 However, they do not have the ear of the caring agencies and social workers may
 regard them as ‘hen-pecked’ and ‘wimpish’, effectively reinforcing the abuse.

For many years now we have been told that the only victims of domestic abuse 
were women and children. There was a recent advertisement which said: “It is a
 crime to beat a woman.” But domestic violence is not just a ‘women’s issue’; it 
is a social issue, a family issue affecting men, women and children and it must be 
examined in this light.

Society does not have the right to discriminate against a victim of domestic abuse

because of their gender.
The Amen Help-Line telephone number is 046-23718; email – amen@iol.ie

Mary Cleary is the founder and co-ordinator of Amen, which is a registered 
charity. She urgently needs assistance from volunteer counsellors and others to set 
up a national office, access to legal advice for victims, a funded help-line, a 
national survey, etc.