Tom Wood: Male victims of domestic abuse subject to blatant inequality

Tom Wood notes how the Scottish government has neglected one minority group.

Scotland has come a long way in its recognition and response to domestic violence. It’s barely 30 years since this endemic curse was dragged out of the shadows and police forces and other authorities started to give the issue the attention it had always deserved.

Since then progress has been swift. Powerful legislation has been enacted and across the country local Women’s Aid and Rape Crises groups have developed a range of services that bring huge benefit to women and girl victims. Their achievement in building such a network is hard to overstate; their work invaluable.

During this same period, the Violence Reduction Unit was formed by my old colleagues in Strathclyde Police bringing, for the first time, a thoughtful evidence-based approach to the whole spectrum of violence, public and domestic.

Their conclusions are important, dispassionate, utterly objective and intuitively right: all areas of violence are connected. The knife-carrying teenager of tomorrow is the brutalised child of today. Broken families make for broken children and self-harm, substance abuse and violence in later life, is directly related to emotional abuse and early exposure to violence in the home. These are important evidence-based conclusions and should rightly influence policymaking and funding.

In part they do. A steady stream of funding has gone to women’s and girls services, new legislation passed to strengthen powers to protect, and gendered analysis adopted as a guiding principle.

No informed observer could argue with the evidence behind these priorities. Police Scotland figures tell us that some 80 per cent of victims of domestic violence are women and girls. Gendered analysis simply recognises that violence affects men and women differently and that, accordingly, they require tailored responses. So far so good, except for one mathematical inconvenience – if 80 per cent of recorded victims of domestic violence are women and girls, then 20 per cent are men and boys, and it is here that the logic falters and evidence-based policy fails. For while services for the four-fifths of women and girls are well funded, services for the remainder – male victims – get nothing, in what has become an example of blatant inequality.

It is easy to see why this has been allowed to happen. The truth that there are substantial numbers of male victims clashes with lazy, black and white thinking that brackets all women as victims and all men as perpetrators. The attitudes they face are simplistic, flying in the face of the evidence and are just plain wrong. Most importantly the status quo seriously detracts from the overall goal to drive down all domestic violence, protect families and reduce self-harm, suicide and substance misuse.

This summer I was delighted to see the government stepping in quickly to rescue two rape crisis groups that had lost their funding. It was well done, but it also contrasts sharply with the public agencies’ approach to services for men and boys.

The logic is simple. To achieve a synergy, all areas of domestic violence must be addressed with the needs of individual victims in mind and with principles of fairness and equality at the centre. Women and girls, men and boys, people of no gender – all have the right to live lives free from the horror of domestic violence and its perpetrators and so we need to step up and provide the support they need. Fail in one area – fail in all. Politicians are right to rescue valuable services they see threatened but they should also remember the importance of services for men and boys.

All they have to do is follow the evidence.

Tom Wood QPM is chairman of Abused Men in Scotland and former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police. This article first appeared in The Herald.

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