In the third in a series of posts examining perceptions and attitudes about the gendered nature of domestic abuse, EYE consider the options currently available to human beings experiencing domestic violence.
In my previous post EYE considered how some of the services funded to support victims of domestic violence use their resources to promote a biased and very political perception which almost exclusively blames men for a complex social issue affecting vulnerable children and adults up and down the country.
Just to get a sense of exactly how heavily the deck is stacked on one side of the fence I thought it might be useful to map the journey that someone involved in an abusive relationship might experience if they are looking for help.
Let’s consider the experiences of Samuel and Samantha, two desperate people sitting on a cold lonely bench in desperate need of some help, advice or even just a compassionate non judgemental ear.
When you type the words domestic violence into any popular search engines the top result you get will be the UK’s National Domestic Violence Helpline, so that would appear to be a logical place to start Sam’s journey.
The National Domestic Violence Helpline: is a freephone service open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge and is a national service for women experiencing domestic violence, their family, friends, colleagues and others calling on their behalf.
It provides a gateway to a range of services available at a local or national level including a non judgmental listening service; advice; refuge; accommodation; resettlement services; legal advice; outreach/ services, IDVA/ ISVA services; home sanctuary schemes; survivor support groups, signposting and specialist support for children and young people.
By way of an example of local services: in Greenwich Council’s area the Her Centre offers a range of different support to female victims including Emotional support; Risk assessment and referral; Advice on family legal issues, assistance with accessing civil remedies and referral to solicitors; Support when attending County, Magistrates and Crown court; Benefit advice; Housing advice and Immigration advice and referrals to counselling and support groups.
Back at the national level, the two charities that co-ordinate the helpline also lobby and closely liaise on the approaches taken by statutory services such as policing, health, housing, social services, education, the courts etc.
In the main neither charity offer any of their services to men, when they do they report an extremely low uptake consistent with their assessment that victims are overwhelming female.
Both promote the view that domestic violence is overwhelming something that men do to women and consequently neither charity will employ men.
Until the introduction of the public duty element of the 2010 Equality Act which threatened their monopoly on statutory funding many of their local branches actually omitted sex from the grounds recognized in their equal opportunity statement (race, diability etc) and even refused to offer victims refuge for any male child over the age of 12.
Their perspective can perhaps be best summed up by the most frequently asked questions they report on the helpline website which are:
- I feel like I’m being controlled – but my partner doesn’t hit me. Am I being abused?;
- Is the abuse my fault?;
- What about my children?;
- What is a refuge?;
- What should I take with me to a refuge?;
- Where can I get help?;
- Where can I go?;
- Will he change?;
- Will the police take me seriously?;
- I am an abuser – what can I do to change?;
- It’s not only women – I’m being abused.
- Err that’s it.
Not to worry though because, for reasons of pure human decency, or possibly for statutory funding purposes, they will signpost men to the national gateway to segregated support services available to them which is run by an organisation called Respect.
Respect promotes itself as the UK membership organisation for work with domestic violence perpetrators, male victims and young people
For the uninitiated Respect was originally set up in 2000 to work with male domestc violence perpetrators and this remains their largest area of work. The current and founding CEO of Respect has (according to her bio) worked in the domestic violence sector for over 20 years where her experience has primarily been working with female victims and subsequently male perpetrators.
In 2007 Respect secured state funding to provide a freephone mens advice line (for men experiencing domestic violence) which is open during regular working hours 10am to 5pm, (excluding lunch time), Monday to Friday (excluding holidays).
If you call the service you are put through to exactly the same people who manage calls made to the Respect phone line for perpetrators of domestic violence. On average the helpline takes between 40 and 60 calls a day and due to the level of demand calls are restricted to 30 minute maximum per caller.
‘Make it 24 hours. Sometimes you need someone to talk to, if you can’t sleep or if the situation escalates in the evening, the Men’s Advice Line is the only service that helped me. They even remembered me immediately without any notes, I’d called before, that was great!’ Men’s Advice Line User
An audit of the service in 2010 estimated that for every 3 genuine victim callers there were two calls from perpetrators posing as victims, although the report did not establish how this distinction was made.
By 2015 the service was reporting that the majority of callers are male heterosexual victims of domestic abuse. Not many callers are identified as perpetrators and those that are appear to be recognized as involved in bi directional abuse or using physical resistance as self defence
Callers will commonly talk about statutory services such as the police, social services, the courts, etc not taking them seriously or perceiving them as a perpetrator of violence
But Respect do not get involved in the politics and do not lobby statutory services on behalf of male victims. They do try to maintain a database of available services at a regional level but acknowledge that these are piecemeal and limited and that men do not generally ask for these type of services.
In my humble subjective opinion, the helpful helpline operator I talked to sounded slightly nervous when I asked why services are so segregated. They advised that some charities are only prepared to work with women and ‘that’s just the way it is right now‘.
Users have generally positive feedback about the service but also point out it’s limitations. By way of example of the support currently available, if you are looking help with refuge or accommodation the main main referral point is the homeless charity shelter.
‘I don’t think it was her fault, she advised me to do things I’d already done and I thought were obvious. The whole service was very disappointing because it didn’t give me anything new, if it’s called a helpline, then they should help. Where is the support? Why isn’t anyone coming round to my house to help me? They would if I were a woman’. Service User
Support options are slightly broader for gay and bisexual men, particularly in the greater London area. There is a specific helpline for LGBT victims but again a network of regional support services seems visibly absent and again the helpline service is only available on working week days.
Respect do apparently receive a ‘handful of referrals’ from the national domestic helpline which I’m guessing is a handful more than the Mankind Initiative receive.
For the Uninitiated ManKind is the UK’s leading charity for supporting male victims of abuse, since 2001 they have provided a helpline service to male victims and campaign to raise awareness of the issue and lobby the police, councils, the NHS and the Government to provide adequate services and support to male victims at a national and local level.
Remarkably an audit of signposting provided by the National Domestic Helpline, Women’s Aid, Refuge, Respect, and Greenwich Council revealed that none of them list the Mankind Initiative as one of the limited options available to men.
‘I learnt more off the internet, I got more optimistic from it. Speaking to someone actually pushed me back a bit.’ Mens Advice Line User
This approach is reflective of signposting provided by many other public authorities. I suspect this may be because they not support the UK Government’s current gendered approach to domestic abuse and hope that if they don’t fund them or promote their services they’ll eventually just go away and stop asking awkward questions about complying with equality and human rights laws when spending tax payers money on services for vulnerable human beings.
The charity does not believe in the gendered approach to domestic abuse because this is not appropriate in the 21st century and is not in keeping with ensuring there is equality of support, services and recognition for all victims. The ManKind Initiative believes firmly in the need to support all victims of domestic abuse.
When responding to the petition complaining about their anti-dad poster, Greenwich Council’s CEO advised EYE that the Council have always sought to get across that ‘domestic abuse is a gender neutral issue’. EYE for one is not convinced and even if Greenwich do have a more enlightened perspective than some councils, their approach is necessarily informed by the Government’s funding strategy for tackling domestic violence which is contained within their Action Plan to address (wait for it) Violence Against Women and Girls.
Whilst the focus of this document is on supporting women and girls, there is still a need to address the needs of men and boys who may be affected by domestic and sexual violence. Some of our work to end VAWG will directly benefit them; in particular our preventative activity and the service signposting that we are developing with partners. Overall, our investment in actions to end VAWG represents a commitment to greater equality which will benefit every member of society. VAWG Action Plan
When ITV listed their number after Coronation Street played a story about domestic violence experienced by men, Mankind Initiative saw a massive jump in calls. If you’re left sitting on the hope bench, I guess it can make a world of difference if you think theres someone out there who might listen, offer support and maybe even stand up for you. Particularly when so many people so very clearly won’t.
Which brings me to…