Everyday my husband and I work at raising our two sons. We make sure that they eat well and play well, that they use good manners and treat people and animals with care and respect. In short, we work at helping them to become good people and good men.
I would be appalled if either of my boys grew up to be the kind of men who used violence against other people. But nor do I want my boys to be the victims of abuse and violence, and this is where I wonder if as a society we’re taking a wrong turn in our methods to prevent domestic violence.
Campaigns against domestic violence seem to be very gender driven. Women are always the victim and men are always the perpetrators. But in truth, men are also victims of domestic violence, male victims are less likely to report abuse and, if they do, are less likely to be believed. Yet the impacts on male victims are just as significant as those on female victims. The majority of perpetrators of family violence against men are women.
My interest in this became aroused not just because I’m the mother of boys but because when I was writing Child of War I made a natural assumption that my female characters might be vulnerable to sexual violence but didn’t consider that my male characters might also experience sexual violence. A little bit of research stripped my naivety. That boys and men in war-torn countries experience rape, genital beatings and sodomy shouldn’t have been surprising to me but it hadn’t been something I gave much thought to. While we know, almost instinctively, that women and girls face sexual abuse where the rule of law has broken down we often don’t consider men and boys in the same situation.
Closer to home, by exclusively focussing on female victims of domestic violence, do we risk alienating male victims? Are men less likely to come forward if they believe that domestic violence is the preserve of women only? Does admitting to being a victim of spousal abuse as a man, emasculate that man?
Domestic violence is overwhelmingly committed by men, against women. That is not in contention. No woman should have to feel afraid of the man or men who share her life. All I’m saying is that men and boys can be victims too. All people deserve to live free from fear and violence.