Because it all comes down to the numbers.
When we think of domestic violence, the first images that come to mind are of battered, broken women, sometimes clutching terrified children, seeking a way out of a violent, abusive relationship.
And while these images are most definitely a reality, it can be easy to forget the fact that domestic violence is not an exclusively female-directed crime. Men are the less well-known victims of domestic abuse, not only from spouses, but from brothers, parents, and any other household figure.
To address this issue, Family Violence Prevention Inc. (FVP) in Batesville, Arkansas, opened the first male-only shelter, the Taylor House Domestic Violence Centre for Men, in October last year. Although FVP had already been housing men as well as women in its six-bedroom Safehaven shelter, they felt the need for an all-male shelter was pressing enough to take action.
“My perspective [is] we try to offer peer support, and I don’t want to necessarily segregate male and female, but let’s offer men a location that is run by their peers,” says FVP’s executive director, Patty Duncan.
“It’s going to be easier for a male victim to go into a program and speak to someone about their feelings, their emotions, their fears, their concerns, to someone who may not judge them and may not look like an abuser to them. Domestic violence is not just a women’s issue; it’s a family issue. A victim is a victim, and we want to help them become survivors in their own right.”
Okay, that’s fine, but here’s the thing: while a domestic violence shelter for men may seem like a step towards acknowledging the universal nature of the problem, there are certain variables to consider. Yes, men can be victims of domestic violence. However, the glaringly obvious yet very uncomfortable truth is, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 80 to 90 per cent of victims are actually women.
Before anyone starts shouting ‘double standard’, hear me out. Of course men deserve resources when it comes to domestic violence. Of course it affects male victims just as much as their female counterparts. Nobody is saying one gender is more important than the other. However, the fact remains that in terms of supply and demand, the need for female facilities is far more prevalent.
Look at it this way. The 80 to 90 per cent of domestic violence victims who are women often have a tough time finding a bed in a shelter. Accentuating this problem is the constant slashing of funds for transitional shelters to house women who are no longer in immediate crisis but unable to return to the outside world.
According to a report from Domestic Violence Arkansas, ‘ongoing funding cuts to our transitional housing program means victims stay in shelter longer. This longer stay results in fewer beds available in emergency shelter for other survivors.’
The result: a whole lot of abused women with nowhere to go – except back to their abusers.
Now look at the Taylor House facility. From October to February, the nine-bedroom shelter has housed a grand total of five men. Not five men a month, five men all up. While you could argue there are other men out there who either don’t know the facility exists or have not yet had the courage to speak out, the cold, hard statistics of the issue suggest otherwise. Therefore, that’s a lot of empty beds that could be filled by a lot of endangered women.
I’m not suggesting these five male victims don’t deserve the same support as women – they absolutely do. However, a lack of male-only shelters does not mean they will have gone without help; they would simply have been housed with women. Aside from anything else, considering male victims may have come from an LGBTI relationship, a men’s-only shelter is hardly going to remove the ever-present anxiety of a replica of their abuser.
While it may seem heartless to push this point, it all comes down to simple mathematics. There are many more female victims of domestic violence than there are male. Therefore, the money and resources poured into Taylor House may have been better spent opening a transitional centre for women, which was actually FVP’s second option.
Domestic violence is a very real problem for both men and women, but the numbers don’t lie. In a world with limited resources, sometimes we need to bite our tongues, swallow our personal feelings and put those resources where they’re really needed.
Comment: Do you agree?