Whenever the subject of domestic violence comes up, there is always a man keen to get in there and make clear that domestic violence is also something women do to men. I find this difficult and problematic. First up, I know a number of men who have been victims of domestic violence. I know it exists. I suspect women generally know it exists, and if we didn’t – there are always men about ready to remind everyone.
All the evidence that is out there suggests that domestic abuse, and domestic violence have a massive gender imbalance in them. The victims are overwhelmingly female, and the perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. Yes, female violence exists, yes, domestic abuse can and does happen in gay and lesbian relationships too. But mostly, this is male on female violence, according to all the statistics I have ever seen.
But here’s the thing. Men who wish to speak up about male victims of domestic abuse often say that the problem is under reporting. Men don’t talk about it because they’re embarrassed. Maybe no one has ever researched this, I don’t know – if you do know of research, I’d like to hear it.
Under-reporting is not an exclusively male issue. Here’s why women don’t report domestic abuse reliably. They are afraid that if they speak up, they will be killed, or their children will be killed, or their family members or pets. Or that they, their children, pets etc will be violently or emotionally punished in response to them speaking out. Or that social services will take their children away. The threat of violence is a reoccurring feature in domestic abuse, even when violence is not yet present. Not a fear of social embarrassment – which, sure, is uncomfortable, but fear of potentially fatal consequences. Fear of what happens if you speak up, and the perpetrator does not go to prison, and knows where you live. Or lives with you. If their name is on the property in some way, you can’t legally change the locks. Where are you going to go to be safe? Many women don’t talk about what they’ve been through until after they have safely escaped. Trying to get out increases your risk of being killed.
When a man is killed in a domestic violence incident, it tends to make national news. Typically, two women die every week at the hands of a partner in the UK, figures from other countries seem to be about the same, or worse. It has to be especially gruesome or also involve children to make the news. It’s not really news after all, it’s commonplace. This is not about victims reporting or not reporting, this is about corpses. This is about how many bodies can be attributed to spousal violence.
So please, can we stop suggesting that hypothetical men being too embarrassed to report domestic violence is somehow comparable, and overlooked, and in need of more care and attention, than the routine murder of female abuse victims.