Scotland’s gender crime story

Scottish Review 17 September 2013

Nick Smithers (SR 10 September) rightly highlights the plight of male victims of domestic abuse in Scotland, although I have never maintained that domestic abuse is exclusively perpetrated by men against women. While women comprise the majority of victims in Scotland and throughout the world, I fully acknowledge that men are also victims of domestic abuse (as the harrowing account by a male survivor, SR 12 September, showed) and that it can occur in same-sex relationships.

To suggest that the reticence of male victims to come forward is the result of a false ‘public story’ about women’s inequality in a service sector dominated by violence against women services is, however, stretching things a bit. The United Nations recognises that domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women are both cause and consequence of women’s inequality. The Scottish Government does too. The debate about male victims of domestic abuse needs to mature beyond gender mud-slinging around that tired old binary, ‘who is the most victimised – men or women?’. What is important is to understand what is going on and to prevent it.

The growth of specialist violence against women services in Scotland is due in the main to women’s public activism, campaigning for services and research activity over the last 35 years. In that time, workers and researchers have developed sensitive, ethical and robust methodologies which encourage women and children to come forward and tell their stories.

As a result of listening to women and children, we have a more nuanced understanding of the complexity of domestic abuse, its calculus of harms and its impact. This has been central to the development of specialist domestic abuse services, more sensitive professional practice and increased public awareness. Police and criminal justice services are now better able to disentangle exactly who is doing what to whom when attending domestic abuse incidents, to keep victims safe and prosecute perpetrators. More victims are reporting abuse and seeking support than ever before.

Substantial public funding for domestic abuse services has been available in Scotland since 2000 and is based on the provision of a strong evidence base of statistics, what is needed and whether services are working. If large numbers of Scottish men are currently living silently in fear in their own homes that is quite simply a national disgrace. More research needs to be done to better understand their lives and why they are unable to come forward.

The experiences of those working with other excluded and marginalised groups may have lessons for those seeking to end the isolation of abused men. As with domestic abuse services for women, the need for Mr Smithers’ organisation and for the Men’s Advice Line may continue to grow alongside an increased understanding of the extent of the problem among Scottish men and how they may be supported.

However, last year’s Scottish police figures still tell us an important public story. While 10,000 male victims is a shocking figure by any measure, we should not forget the remaining 50,000 female victims and the many uncounted and innocent children involved in those incidents and their aftermath. That’s a gendered crime story in my book.

Anni Donaldson is a writer and visiting research fellow at Strathclyde University

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