Equal rights, different needs

Equal rights, different needs

Yes, men need support for domestic abuse. No, domestic abuse is not gender-neutral. Our Chief Executive Polly Neate blogs on why we can’t treat men and women the same when it comes to domestic abuse

We need to encourage all victims of domestic abuse to come forward, writes Michael Malone for the Telegraph. Yes, indeed. Until we are a society in which seeking help is normal, and abuse of any kind no longer tolerated, we tacitly allow those in situations of power to exploit it. This is to the detriment – or even destruction – of those who have less power.

Superficially, Michael and I agree. But the key to where we differ is in that word “power”.

And let me say right now, I am not pretending to support the arguments his article makes. Where we differ is where there is any notion that supporting all victims of abuse means treating them all the same. Because doing that means ignoring the causes of so much of the most deeply ingrained abuse, both in our society in the UK and across the world: unequal power, and the sense of entitlement, the tools to abuse and the protection from censure that this inequality brings.

It ignores the huge part of the iceberg that is underwater – yet is the most dangerous. The centuries-old oppressions that may be concealed by good manners (sometimes) but whose pull is still irresistible today: the racism and sexism that led mostly white people and men to elect a racist and sexist President of the United States. This is a furious, overwhelming, disproportionate backlash against even the gentlest notion that their assumed superiority might be in doubt.

That’s why, at the tip of that iceberg, nearly half of women killed in the UK are killed by an intimate partner or former partner, compared to 6% of men killed (and not all of those killed by a woman). That’s why 89% of victims of four or more incidents of abuse, and the overwhelming majority of victims of repeated patterns of coercion and control, are women. That’s why women need to be able to flee for their lives to a refuge. But men fleeing abuse are almost never hunted down as women are – and women are often hunted with the collusion of others, and harshly punished. And that is why an average of two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a partner or ex-partner.

That’s why, when we talk about violence against women, the response, “but all violence is wrong” simply misses the point. Just as the response, “but all lives matter”‘, when made to Black Lives Matter protesters is itself racist, the riposte “treat all victims the same” is sexist.

But those responses have power. I wrote about the damaging effects of so-called gender neutrality on services for women survivors of domestic abuse some time ago. The statistical arguments I made then, that show how we routinely misrepresent the true levels of violence against women in the UK, are still valid. The most recent Women’s Aid survey of local domestic abuse services showed unequivocally that resources are being removed from services for women in order to create services for men. This is a twisted version of equality which ignores the realities of power, who wields it, and who is harmed by it.

The survey also showed that there are more local services for male victims of domestic abuse than ever before, with at least 146 local specialist services providing specific support for them around the country. And yes, contrary to belief in some some quarters, I think that’s a very good thing.

To listen to some men’s rights activists, you would think there is no help available for men. I can only imagine this propaganda is designed to fuel a sense of victimhood. And when those who in reality have power start to feel victimised, and therefore justified in demanding change, frankly they become dangerous – as recent political developments have shown.

Victimhood is not a competition. There should be help for all who need it. But by cutting services for women, lives are put at risk. Of course men need support to recover from domestic abuse. But to deny that iceberg exists, to deny the roots of the still-rising tide of violence against women in misogyny and inequality, is to turn our backs on prevention.

If we don’t acknowledge the cause of domestic abuse, we can never stop it. So no, don’t treat men and women the same. Treat them according to their needs.

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