Ally Fog recently put up a post about the treatment of male victims of domestic violence that which was especially interesting in light of the last two installments of my memories which dealt with the first time a boyfriend hit me and my violent reaction to being hit.
Fogg’s piece, “Male victims, screening and victim-blaming,” was prompted by a post about male victims of domestic violence which appeared on Crimestoppers, “an official UK central government public information service.” Fogg’s criticism of the Crimestopper’s post centered around the issue of whether or not men accessing services for victims of domestic violence are, in fact, victims or perpetrators. The Crimestopper’s post states:
Another issue some callers bring is the use of violence by both partners – working out who the ‘primary perpetrator/aggressor’ is in these cases and who was genuinely in self-defence is crucial if we want to manage the risk and increase the safety of victims. It is well established by now that some perpetrators approach victim services claiming they are the victim in their relationship. This has important implications for service delivery as perpetrators may be offered support as victims and victims as perpetrators.
About which Fogg comments:
One of the nastiest stereotypes that hovers around male victims of intimate partner violence is that he must have done something to provoke it, to deserve it, or that the abuser must have been defending herself because the man is invariably the violent one.
A report by Abused Men in Scotland about the Men’s Advice Line said
that some men who had called the Men’s Advice Line felt as if they were being themselves ‘screened’ as perpetrators and all but accused of being wife-beaters when they called for help.
Reading Fogg’s piece, it occurred to me that they way we see the words “victim” and “perpetrator” may be itself be problematic. We tend to talk about victims, and even more so about perpetrators, as if these were roles that inheres in the individual rather than being a transitory state that is a function of a given situation or a given action. In the first of my two memories, I was quite clearly the victim while in the second I was the perpetrator.
The desire to assign blame and to punish is often at odds with the desire to help. A few months ago, on Makagutu’s blog, Random Thoughts, there were some exchanges regarding the question of freewill and how that relates to our punishment of crime. Are we seeing perpetrators as immoral individuals who must somehow be redeemed through punishment?
I hope no one misunderstands. I am not trying to minimize or excuse domestic violence. Years after the incident in my adolescence, I would live with a man and, as the relationship deteriorated, he became physically threatening. He started to do things like pushing me up against the wall and yelling in my face. One day he slapped me. Immediately afterward I made plans to leave and was gone within a few days.
A few years after that he phoned me and asked to meet in a Coffee Shop. After I arrived he told me that he wanted to apologize for the behavior he had exhibited towards the end of our relationship. Then he added that he didn’t think it was acceptable for a man to hit a woman and that he wasn’t trying to excuse what he had done but, he added, he felt that the circumstances had contributed. He seemed surprised when I agreed. Indeed, it would take pages upon pages to describe just how unhealthy our relationship had become. To give some slight indication, we both had jobs we hated and were poorly paid, we were always short of cash, we lived in a small basement apartment with no privacy between rooms, there was a leak in the ceiling for over a year that the landlord wouldn’t fix, there was mold growing on the ceiling, I had developed a series of respiratory infections, he couldn’t maintain an erection, he reluctantly agreed to let me sleep with other men but became jealous when I actually did…. I think I was right to leave him because it was the only way to stop the downward spiral, but apportioning blame seems to be beside the point. Most importantly, I have no reason to believe that he hit any other women.
It would have been very nice if some intervention had occurred before it had gotten as bad as it did. It was only after he hit me that other people stepped up to help. Now he was an “abuser” and I was a “victim” and people suddenly knew what to do, which was to help me move out.
Returning to Fogg’s article, which I do recommend reading in its entirety (it’s not long):
Someone who approaches a victim support service – whether a helpline, a refuge or anything else – must be assumed to be in need of support and be offered the help they need. There is a good argument to say that as part of the support process, all victims should somehow be offered help with any violent or aggressive tendencies of their own.