#Beneath the Surface: Was an awareness campaign by Northumbria Police in late 2015 in the run up to the introduction of a new law making “emotional and financial” abuse a criminal offence. It received significant criticism for it’s gender exclusive language which was interpreted as suggesting that domestic violence perpetrators are exclusively male.
The aim of the campaign was to highlight coercive control and how a relationship can be very different in reality than it appears on the surface. It was launched in December 2015 in the lead up to the introduction of new legislation to address coercive control such as emotional, psychological, sexual or financial abuse, in relationships.
“Domestic abuse is everyone’s business and that’s why this campaign is designed to speak to everyone – mums, brothers, friends, neighbours, the lady you see on the bus, the receptionist at work and so on. Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse and anyone can spot the signs too if they realise what they are looking for. Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird
Initially it received some positive coverage with domestic violence charity Wearside Women in Need (WWIN) who worked with Northumbria Police on the campaign reporting that the force were way ahead of the rest of the country in being acquainted with what ‘coercive control’ is and how they can help the victims.
The campaign began to receive criticism on social media after people started noticing that all of the posters were using gender specific language with every scenario describing an apparently heterosexual male perpetrator of coercive control in relationships with heterosexual women.
A spokesman for New Fathers 4 Justice said: ‘Northumbria Police are disgracefully using out of date gender stereotypes and are living in the dark ages turning a blind eye to modern day life’.
After the allegations of sexism received national media coverage Northumbria police released a statement committing to consider the feedback they had received from the campaign, acknowledged there are male victims and encouraged anyone experiencing domestic violence to contact police and seek help and support.
“Isn’t coercive control a mother denying a father access to his children? Or do Northumbria Police think only men use children to manipulate women? Tell that to all the dads who couldn’t see their kids this Christmas.” New Fathers 4 Justice Spokesperson
Remarkably when a male victim of domestic abuse tweeted the Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria with a complaint she simply blocked him from her account.
“When I saw that Vera Baird had blocked me with her MP and Police Commissioner Site I was mortified. Here was someone who was pushing a very important campaign for victims of abuse, someone who is on the boards of charities and affiliated with RESPECT who was point blank shutting herself off from the lived experiences and concerns of someone who she is supposed to be protecting.” @MahdDogg
At the end of December the North East Chronicle ran a poll asking their readers wether or not they thought the posters were sexist.
70% of initial responses agreed but after a further five days the majority of voters said they agree with the posters. Over this time a number of high profile individuals encouraged people to vote no, including the CEO of Women’s Aid and the Chief Executive of Northumbria’s Police Crimes Commissioner.
In early January Northumbria Police then issued a second statement:
“We are pleased that 60% of those who voted in the Chronicle’s poll agree with us that it appropriately targets women victims and male perpetrators, and is not, in doing so, sexist.
“Guidance on the new legislation states that 84% of last year’s victims of this kind of abuse were women and 92.4% of perpetrators are men.
“The government guidance, not that of Northumbria Police, states that: ‘controlling or coercive behaviour is primarily a form of violence against women and girls and is underpinned by a wider gender inequality in society.’
“This does not detract from the work the force does to support male victims and this has been the subject of earlier campaigns. Overall the campaign centres on a poster which does not mention gender and focuses on a non-gender specific agenda.”
The final image used in the campaign was gender neutral.
The final result of the poll showed that 54% of respondents believed that the campaign was sexist.
In my opinion this is an attempt by Northumbria Police to dodge the complaints of sexism without realising that they are actually revealing something incredibly important. Men aren’t reporting their abuse to police. Why aren’t they doing that? It’s simple, because they, like me, feel that because of campaigns only focussed on women as the victims and not perpetrators of abuse and violence, that if we come forward to the police we will not be believed. After all, from my experience, the first question people ask me when I talk about my abuse is “Well you must have done something to deserve that, right?” This is the reality of male victims of abuse.” @MahdDogg