5.4.5 - Responding to men who claim to be victims of family violence
While men can be victims of family violence, men are more likely to be harmed by a stranger than by a family member. Quantitative research clearly indicates that the majority of incidents are perpetrated by men against women and their children.
The following sections look at things judicial officers should bear in mind, and some of the questions they can ask, when assessing a situation in which a man claims to be a victim of family violence.
Incidence of abuse towards men
The research evidence and experience of family violence professionals unambiguously demonstrates that relatively few men in heterosexual relationships are solely victims of intimate partner violence. The majority of women who use some form of violence towards their partner have been subjected to (worse) violence by that man before, or on the same occasion.
Often, men who are genuinely victims of family violence experience the violence from a same sex partner, carer or a male relative.
Men who are the principle users of family violence often try to present as a victim or the victim of violence. Sometimes they succeed in convincing themselves, police and others. This is because:
many men try to avoid responsibility by seeking to justify the violence (directly or indirectly) or to blame their partner - perhaps for ‘provoking’ an attack or for ‘giving him no way out’;
many men try to make their account of the situation seem more believable or credible by portraying their partner as being ‘hysterical’, ‘irrational’, and ‘a danger to themselves’ or even ‘mentally ill’ – while they present as calm, charming, eloquent and ‘in control’;
many men claim injuries (such as scratch or bite marks) inflicted on them by their partner in self-defence as evidence of their victimisation – self-defence actions can also be presented as ‘tit-for-tat fighting’, perhaps by saying that ‘she gives as good as she gets’.
It is important to remember that people experiencing fear or terror will sometimes make bad decisions, which might add to their portrayal as being ‘hysterical’ or ‘out of control’. Women, if they feel safe enough, may undertake small acts of retaliation, which can be construed as ‘evidence’ of a pattern of violence on their part.
Establishing whether a man is a victim
There are a number of questions a judicial officer can consider asking when a man presents as an affected family member (even in a police application), including:
Have you ever been violent towards your partner?
Were you at fault, in any way in causing her violence? This question serves two purposes. First, to assess whether he did anything that caused her to act in self-defence, or to retaliate. Second, people who are genuinely the victims often excuse the perpetrator to some degree and blame themselves for the violence.
Are you afraid of her? What are you afraid that she might do? If a man does not feel significant levels of fear, then this raises questions about his victim status.
Describe exactly what she did to you.
Describe the frequency and any patterns of the violence.
What has held you back from seeking help earlier or trying to escape the situation? People who are truly victims might have felt too frightened to seek help earlier. They might have lacked access to money, resources, information and support to leave. They might have felt trapped. Note that they might also feel ashamed for not having sought help earlier.
In addition to responses to the questions above, judicial officers might also wish to consider the following questions and issues:
Has the man had any history of criminal behaviour or allegations of such behaviour, particularly involving violence?
Has the man had any intervention orders taken out against him in the past?
Is there evidence of the man using controlling attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, or having rigid attitudes towards gender roles?
If the accused woman has attended court, has she ever felt the need to apply for an intervention order?
Does the woman say that she was defending herself, or is there any other evidence to suggest this was the case?
If in any doubt about whether the man is the victim (or the sole victim), judicial officers can refer the man to the Men’s Referral Service who can assess the situation further and make appropriate referrals (note that the Men’s Referral Service will not provide reports to the Court).
Men who are victims
Men who are genuinely victims of violence from female partners or other family members (e.g. adolescent or adult children) might be assisted by:
the Men’s Referral Service (which has a database of services for both users and victims of family violence);
the Victims of Crime Helpline;
the Victim’s Assistance and Counselling Program (see also VOCAT assistance); and