#MenToo: Unravelling The Myths Around Domestic Abuse Towards Men

“Male victims have often been overlooked, and remained a ‘hidden’ victim group, despite some researchers, and government statistics, evidencing their existence for decades.” (Sage Journals).

Is domestic abuse against men more prevalent than many would dare imagine? If so, what can we do to address and correct society’s misunderstandings?

Johnny Depp & Amber Heard [Photo copyright: The Daily Mail]

Since the defamation trial between actors Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard have been broadcast, there has been a more pronounced discussion and debate around domestic abuse towards men.

Over the years, society has taken a more stereotypical and narrow view towards intimate partner violence and abuse, perhaps because, statistically, more women than men experience it. However, this is not the end of the story. Domestic abuse towards men is allegedly on the rise, and it seems the abuse actor Depp claims to have suffered at the hands of his ex-partner, Heard, is opening up society’s mind to the validity of many men’s reality. In fact, since Depp’s time on the witness stand, where he has been describing distressing events in startling detail, many have taken to Twitter to share their own experiences, under the hashtag, MenToo.

“Men who experience domestic violence and abuse often don’t seek help until the problem becomes a crisis, researchers say.” (Male victims of domestic violence struggle to disclose abuse | Reuters)

A severed finger, a bruised cheek, scratches, cuts and ongoing verbal abuse — these are just a few of the abuses Depp has said to have experienced. The Depp Vs Heard case is ongoing, yet the issues it has brought to light are significant and are finally making many sit up and pay attention.

Men, too, can be the victims of domestic violence.

[Photo via Somerset Live]

Several studies have identified female aggression toward men, with examples including kicking, biting, scratching, and the use of weapons (Drijber et al., 2013; Hines et al., 2007). There have also been studies highlighting the fact that control and manipulation (such as making false allegations, or removing contact from a child) has become more prevalent over time. This is backed up by numerous qualitative surveys filled out by men. (SageJournals). Such deeply troubling issues are not to be taken lightly — let alone ignored in the way they often are in the mainstream media.

How do we break down the erroneous idea that women are not able to inflict abuse on their partners, and the misconceptions around domestic abuse as a whole? I invited Sharon Bryan, Head of Partnerships and Development at the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) to discuss the issue.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and the work you do regarding domestic abuse?

Yes. I have worked in the domestic abuse sector for the last 24 years. I have worked most of that time front line with people that have experienced domestic abuse. I started my career working in a refuge and then went on to be on the board of trustees for The Women’s Aid Federation of England. I developed and managed the first Independent Domestic Violence advocacy (IDVA) service in Westminster, London and then worked alongside Westminster Children’s Services as the Domestic Abuse Consultant. In January 2021, I came to The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) as The Head of Partnerships & Development of Domestic Abuse Services. I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

NCDV is a free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic abuse and violence regardless of their financial circumstances, race, gender or sexual orientation. Our service allows anyone who has recently suffered or been threatened with domestic abuse or violence to apply for an emergency court injunction. This can sometimes be issued within 24 hours of making contact with us. We work in close partnership with the police, solicitors and other support agencies to help victims and survivors obtain speedy protection.

Would you agree that there are big misconceptions around the topic of domestic abuse against men?

Yes, we at NCDV would agree with this.

What do you think the biggest misconceptions are?

We live in a patriarchal society which is a male dominated social system whereby males are seen to be the supreme authority figures and therefore hold the most power in a relationship. We are raised to believe this by many things we see and do.

Domestic Abuse is seen to be a women’s issue. Therefore, it is difficult for men to identify what they are experiencing as domestic abuse. Men are far less likely to seek help because of this.

The statistics involving emotional abuse are very difficult to quantify and sometimes this means that the research is skewed due to under reporting. Another misconception is that experiencing domestic abuse must mean that the person is weak. Because of the afore mentioned — men feel stigmatized by this and feel if they report the abuse, they will be seen as weak.

Mazibuko was badly burnt with oil allegedly by the mother of his two children. Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi/Sowetan Live

In your opinion, how can ordinary members of the public begin to change the misconceptions around domestic abuse against men?

Men who have experienced domestic abuse or know a man that has, need to raise awareness of this by talking about it more, and challenging the misconceptions that exist. All NCDV literature, information, posters and social media make it very clear that men can be victims and survivors too. Members of the public can actively follow NCDV and other organisations that support male victims and share these posts on their own social media platforms.

Can you share the most recent statistics regarding Domestic Abuse against men?

  • One in 6–7 men will be a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime.
  • Between April 2015 to March 2020, on average, 12 men per year were killed by a partner of ex partner.
  • According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales in the 12 months to March 2018, 49% of men (compared to 19% of women) told no one that they were victims of domestic abuse.
  • An estimated 786,000 men experienced domestic abuse in 2020.
  • The NCDV have received an increase in referrals from male victims year on year from 2018 to 2021.

Does abuse against men differ significantly in its presentation compared to men against women?

Many imagine physical violence would be less prominent. Not necessarily. The Government definition of domestic abuse is:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”

In my experience of working front line with victims and survivors, most will say that coercive control and emotional abuse is the more harmful. “A black eye will heal and fade. What goes into your head never goes away”

[Photo: ABC13]

What are the most common types of abuse?

The most common types of abuse for men and women are:

Physical abuse

Sexual abuse

Emotional abuse

Coercive Control

Financial abuse

What resources are available for male victims?

The following are the main ones:

NCDV — Free civil protection orders — https://www.ncdv.org.uk

Mankind Initiative — https://www.mankind.org.uk

Respect Men’s Advice Line — https://mensadviceline.org.uk

The Adam Project — https://www.adam-project.org.uk

Men Reaching Out — https://beapcp.co.uk

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Freelance writer and published author.

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