Canberra Times (Australia), July 4, 2010
Intimate partner abuse betrays the trust within relationships and can destroy families. The simple fact is that violence is never acceptable, but for decades governments and service providers have focused exclusively on protecting women and children.
Men, however, remained the silent victims of domestic violence.
According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey, a third of assaults in the home were perpetrated by women on a male victim.
The recently launched One in Three Campaign aims to raise awareness not only of the needs of male victims of family violence and abuse, but of the fact that they exist at all.
Men's Advisory Network executive officer Gary Bryant said the issue of intimate partner abuse against men was not widely recognised by the community or support services.
Mr Bryant stressed he was not seeking to divert funding from support for female abuse victims, but said there was also a significant number of male victims without access to vital support and counselling services.
"Men have traditionally been seen only as the perpetrators of domestic violence," he said.
"There is very little recognition that they can also be abused.
"Partly that has been because men are reluctant to admit they have been abused. "They might feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help." Those who did ask for help faced further barriers, Mr Bryant said.
"Police and hospital emergency services do not expect to see abused men and do not know how to identify or deal with these kinds of cases," he said. "It is completely off their radar." Edith Cowan University's recent Intimate Partner Abuse of Men Report found men would find it easier to seek help and disclose abuse if there was greater public acknowledgment that men could also be abuse victims and appropriate services were offered to them.
"One of the biggest problems is for men to recognise domestic violence," a service provider said in the report. "To try and see themselves as victims is very difficult it is really kind of feminising. "The way that we generally conceptualise domestic violence it is all about men hitting women." The report says services to victims of domestic violence are skewed towards this gender- biased perception of female victims and male perpetrators.
The One in Three Campaign, based on the report, argues established social and cultural stereotypes about masculinity and violence also reinforced the view that men could not be victims of abuse.
"A lot of it is the pride factor and the cultural issues of, you know, that that just doesn't happen to men," a service provider said.
"I think that it is an Australian stereotype where we are supposed to be all strong and silent." The report found evidence this stereotype was also in operation in government, health and welfare services designed for victims of domestic violence.
"Some of those gender biases might have operated within the field in ways that have prevented the development of services for male victims or of family violence services that are designed to serve both male and female victims," the report said.
A similar range of services should be provided to men as were currently supplied to women, including counselling and support services, gender-sensitive services specifically for men, accommodation services, help lines and crisis response, community education and prevention programs and specialist family violence services.
In the ACT, all funding for domestic violence services comes under the auspices of Minister for Women Joy Burch and is part of the ACT Women's Plan: "That the ACT provides strategies to break the cycle of violence against women and their children and to instil an anti-violence message".
A spokesman for Ms Burch said these services included Australia's only men's sexual assault service the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre's Service Assisting Male Survivors of Sexual Assault. But the program's executive officer, Veronica Wensing, said the service was almost exclusively used by men who were sexually assaulted as children.
Other services for male victims of intimate partner abuse included the Canberra Men's Centre, the Canberra Fathers' and Children's Service and the Domestic Violence Crisis Service.
In 2008-09, 8per cent of people accessing the service were male victims of violence, while 2per cent were men who used violence. The other 90per cent of clients were women and children.
Ms Burch's spokesman quoted the statistic that women were three times more likely to be victims of intimate partner abuse, but then disputed the same statistic when used by the One in Three Campaign.
"The recent One in Three Campaign, attesting that one in three victims of domestic violence are men, does not make it clear where this figure has been derived from and it overestimates men's victimisation compared to our most reliable population surveys," he said.
"The intimate partner violence that women experience is more likely to be part of a pattern of coercion and control and to cause fear, injury and death." When Ms Burch announced increased funding for domestic violence services in the 2010 ACT budget, men were implicitly excluded through the language used.
"We know that the level of sexual assault and family violence against women is significantly under-reported," she said.
"However, the Government's coordinated Family Violence Intervention Program and Sexual Assault Reform Program have provided increased confidence to women victims of violence." The One in Three Campaign says, ironically, advertising campaigns and government programs such as these designed to prevent violence against women have reinforced entrenched views about male perpetrators and female victims in the community and service providers. "Regrettably, while well- intentioned, many past efforts to reduce family violence against women have inadvertently used incorrect or misleading statistics which unfairly stigmatise men and boys as violent and abusive, while simultaneously denying or downplaying the existence of male victims of violence," the campaign's website says.
"For decades well-meaning governments and NGOs have presented the myth to the public that family violence is only something that men do to women. This message has prevented the development of more comprehensive policies, programs, services, campaigns and funding to cater for male as well as female victims of family violence and abuse." The One in Three Campaign wants state and Federal governments to include all victims and perpetrators.
For help contact Samaritan House: Single men (62476691); Minosa House: Single men over 18 (61633701); Mary's Place: Single men (62991619); CANFaCS: Men with children (61234000).
YWCA Families Experiencing Accommodation Transition in Tuggeranong (FEATT): 62918333 YWCA Family Housing Outreach Service northside (FHOS): 62426211 Saint Vincent de Paul's Family Services: 62087330 Service Assisting Male Survivors of Sexual Assault (SAMSSA): 62627377 or 24-hour Hotline, 62472525.
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