It’s time to challenge the myth of the male victim
By Glen Poole
24 Mar 2014
2014 looks like being a good year for male victims. It’s not yet the end of March and already a million pounds of new funding has been found to help men who find themselves at the sharp end of intimate violence.
First the Government announced £500,000 to help “break the silence” for male victims of rape, and now the Big Lottery Fund has more than doubled that with awards to several projects helping male victims of domestic violence north of the border, including the charity Abused Men in Scotland.
What this means is that men who have been battered by their wives and partners; raped by other men and sexually abused by men or women are more likely to get the support they need.
It’s a welcome sign that we are gradually coming to terms with the idea of male victims.
The unwritten mythology of masculinity and femininity drives our expectations that men should be strong, independent, protectors and providers while women should be vulnerable, dependent, nurturers and supporters. There are those who argue that such characteristics are hardwired into men and women, while others believe such traits are simply a product of our conditioning. In my experience, the reality is somewhere in the middle, with nature and nurture joining forces to shape our masculine and feminine tendencies.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which side of the nurture versus nature debate you come down on, if you look hard enough you’ll begin to see the negative impact that our shared beliefs about masculinity can have on individual men.
Our deeply ingrained expectation that men should be strong and invulnerable makes us collectively more tolerant when harm happens to men and boys. Men are trapped between a traditional, conservative expectation that it is the duty of good men to protect women and children from bad men and a progressive liberal belief that all men are somehow oppressors of women. Over the years these contrasting perspectives have combined to create a pantomime view of intimate violence in which men are either the perpetrators or protectors of women, while women are always the damsels in distress. Put simply it is women who have problems and men who are problems.
Any man (or women) who transgresses these mythological roles is largely invisible to the public. No-one should underestimate how difficult it can be for a victim of intimate violence to come forward an get help, but it is doubly difficult if you fall outside the paradigm of male perpetrators and female victims.
Advocates for the LGBT community have rightly observed that this “public story” about intimate violence makes it harder for those who aren’t heterosexual to get help. If men aren’t recognised as victims and women aren’t recognised as perpetrators, then there is no role in the pantomime for gay and lesbian victims.
The same is true for male victims, who have been hidden for decades behind a veil of fairytales and feminist tales that conspire to convince us that “all men are potential rapists” while women are made of “sugar and spice and all things nice”.
If you dig around in the data for long enough you find that as much as half of all domestic violence is committed by women; that one in six men experience rape and sexual abuse and that 46% of boys who call ChildLine about sexual abuse by a parent, name their mother as the perpetrator.
As with any statistics you can find figures that present contrasting views, but what you’ll consistently discover is that male victims are more likely to suffer in silence and less likely to report the abuse.
So how do we help more male victims to come forward? Having more services dedicated to helping men is part of the systemic change we need to see, but more important than this is changing the culture we all create. We need to challenge the myths and ask ourselves why we are more tolerant of the harm that happens to men and boys.
Most men are neither perpetrators nor victims, but we all have a voice and if we’re going to use it to speak out about violence, then maybe we should take a radical approach and try talking about men for a change.