Ignoring abuse and violence suffered by men is only compounding the family violence issue.
Domestic violence is at the forefront of media reporting in Australia and it is something that those of us in the front line have a firm grasp on. As a coach who supports male victims, I see a lot of myths perpetuated that are ruining vital conversations and stonewalling many efforts to actually stem the problem.
Myth: Domestic violence is about men’s anger
There are recognizable behaviours in most people who have been victims of childhood abuse. They are often defensive, aggressive and will project their hurt and pain onto others – be that physical, emotional or mental.
The Crime and Misconduct Commission of Queensland released the Child physical abuse and adult offending, 2007 report about childhood victims of domestic violence and abuse and their propensity to criminally offend with violence as adolescents and adults.
The report opens with a description of evidence that abused children are more aggressive, have increased risk of mental health problems and cites extensive research demonstrating higher rates of becoming offenders later in life.
The survey was comprised of 60% male respondents and 40% female, all of whom had become offenders.
Further evidence of this is reported in Psycho Social factors of family, domestic and sexual violence Australian Bureau of Statistics, which state that
Experience of sexual abuse as a child can affect later adult offending or victimisation. For example, a study that examined the relationship between child sexual abuse and subsequent criminal offending and victimisation found that both male and female child sexual abuse victims were significantly more likely than non-abused people to be charged for all types of offences, in particular violence and sexual offences. It also found that experiencing sexual abuse as a child impacts negatively on mental health outcomes, increases the risk of suicide and increases rates of re-victimisation (Ogloff, Cutajar, Mann & Mullen 2012).
In 2015 we are more aware of caring for children who have experienced family violence or sexual abuse, however we are missing a very large and integral part of the current problem Australia faces, which is caring for adult men and women who experienced family and sexual violence in their childhood.
Australia’s only current response to stemming domestic violence is to give men “anger management” courses, or for more serious crimes, jail time. Giving a man whose trauma has not been treated “anger management” is like putting a band-aid on a septic wound and saying “all better!” What they need is services which support men of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicity who have been victims of violence, abuse and neglect.
It is also not enough to wait for perpetrators to offend before they get help. Instead of dismissing men who have been harmed and hurt with some mythological ideation that they are strong enough to cope, we need to adopt a proactive approach to men’s emotional and mental wellbeing.
Clearly Australia, we have it wrong. We urgently need to provide services that also understand men’s experience of harm and victimization – and this extends to the vast number of men who are also victims of domestic violence in Australia.
The Federal Government has become so blinkered by its albeit necessary approach of supporting women, that they have missed the very desperate need to also address men’s experience of violence and abuse.
Myth: Women are the ‘overwhelming’ victims
According to an experimental data-set released of Family And Domestic Violence Statistics, 2014 from the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month, there were 53,847 cases of domestic assaults reported in 2014. It is indeed a frightening number of people who have been subjected to assault.
Women made up the majority with 38,617 victims and men a staggering 15,230 victims of domestic violence. Despite mythology, the majority of men who experience domestic violence are victims of women, and 46% of those surveyed experience fear around that abuse.
I find this staggering not by comparison, but by the fact that we provide absolutely no funded male support services for victims and yet dedicated $100m to women’s services this year alone.
Let’s not forget that of those 53,847 cases of domestic violence last year, a vast number of children may have witnessed or experienced violence first-hand.
Myth: Domestic violence is about power and control
Being a victim of childhood abuse predisposes people to two things. Firstly according to the research cited above, a predisposition to becoming a perpetrator. Secondly, a victim has a predisposition to being involved in ongoing dysfunctional and abusive relationships. Certainly, not all who are abused go on to perpetrate abuse, but many do become like moths to a flame in engaging in abusive relationships.
The belief that violence is about power and control is somewhat misguided. For perpetrators who were once child victims themselves it is about an irreconcilable breach of trust forcing them to create controllable outcomes for their survival.
The Crime and Misconduct Commission Report stated in its closing implications for prevention:
The study’s findings draw attention to the importance of schools as socialising institutions for youth, as well as the importance of parental support — in particular support from a father figure.
It may well be that many respondents in this population have limited exposure to father figures. For those who do have paternal support, however, this appears to be an important influence and strongly protective.
If Australia is to stem the rate of domestic violence into the future, we simply must accept that men and women who have endured childhood trauma are worthy of support and treatment and that every Australian is worthy of protection – including men.
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