Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium, June 5, 6 and 7th, 2015.  Get your tickets here.

070By: RICH HAROLD – For decades women’s rights activists and feminists have taken to the streets and marched, lobbied legislators, and made their voices heard in the name of equality. Yet while women’s rights activists and feminists often talk about the struggles they endured, and the barriers they face, they still often enjoyed a sympathetic audience. Indeed, many involved in the feminist struggle were taken quite seriously when they raised issues.

Those who advocate for men, especially men who are victims of domestic violence, however, don’t have this experience. Attempting to bring attention to the plight of male domestic violence victims is a thankless task, but it is a task that organizers of the Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium (TDVS) are determined to see through.

The conference, now in its second year is the work of Attila Vinczer—a longtime equality advocate. For Vinczer, domestic violence is an issue that society doesn’t approach in an equitable fashion. While the needs of female domestic violence victims are taken seriously, there is a dearth of services available to men. The prevailing attitude is one of indifference, fuelled by a domestic violence industry that seems invested in denying the very idea of male suffering. It was this indifference that spurred Vinczer to work as an advocate, and to push for a broader social understanding of the true nature of domestic violence.

“In 2009 I went to a domestic violence conference put on by C.A.S. (Children’s Aid Services) of Ontario. I listened to the keynote speaker and I was astounded that there was no mention of the domestic violence that men and boys are subjected to;” Vinczer said. “There was this tremendous finger-pointing at how fathers and men were responsible for [all] domestic violence. How can we do anything about it when we’re only looking at half of the problem?”

Vinczer makes a good point; as numerous reports and studies have demonstrated, domestic violence is not a gendered issue—and the rates between male and female-perpetrated violence are largely similar. In certain instances men can be more abusive than women, but in others women are more abusive than men, something the TDVS organizer knows all too well. “My own family situation, while there was never any physical violence, I did experience psychological violence,” said Vinczer. “When I finally broke free from it it was clear to me what I was subjected to and so I began to do more research. But when I went to seek help, the authorities laughed at me. It blew me away that there was nothing out there for men.”

Dealing with authorities was an alarming experience for Vinczer who, perhaps naively, assumed that his queries would be taken seriously. “Now imagine that you’re a man who’s just been attacked by your wife or girlfriend,” says Vinczer. “Imagine that you’re trying to find a place where you can take your kids out of the violence. Imagine being laughed at.”

The ridiculing and shame that men are made feel when they seek help has serious consequences. Shame is a key driver in self-destructive behaviour, something that men are more prone to than women—especially when dealing with severe amounts of stress or depression. When men ask for assistance in escaping domestic violence situations, then, the absence of psychological resources, and the indifference displayed by authorities can exacerbate an already delicate situation. Some men, already mentally fragile from dealing with incredibly difficult situations, can be pushed over the edge.

According to Vinczer, part of the TDVS’s mission is to find a way to remove the stigma surrounding domestic violence victimhood and to create environments free of judgement where men can seek help for their problems. “Men are encouraged to believe the myth that only they can be abusers. So there is a stigma there. It’s incredible that in 2015 we’re still at this point, but it’s time to acknowledge that domestic violence against men and boys is very real. It exists.”

The Canadian government, at least in its official statistics, agrees with Vinczer. According to their 2009 General Social Survey, the numbers for male and female victims is roughly equal. “Of the 19 million Canadians who had a current or former spouse in 2009, 6% reported being physically or sexually victimized by their partner or spouse in the preceding five years. This proportion was lower
than that reported in 1999, but has remained stable since 2004 (Table 1.1). Overall, a similar proportion of males and females reported having experienced spousal violence in the previous 5 years (Table 1.2). (My emphasis.)

Where the Canadian government and the domestic violence industry differs with Vinczer, however, is on how resources should be allocated. The Canadian government is yet to make any significant policy decisions addressing the problem of domestic violence as experienced by men, while the major players like the YWCA, White Ribbon and others refuse point blank to acknowledge the reality of men’s suffering.

“It is very important that we have men who are able to admit that they’re victims of domestic violence. We need to tell males, whether through the media, social media or through educational programs that it’s okay to seek help. We need to teach police that when men call looking for help you don’t laugh at them. You treat them with the same degree of compassion and care that you do women.”

The fact that such foundational awareness raising is still necessary makes the problem’s extent shockingly apparent.

The Real Gap Between Men and Women isn’t the Pay Gap: It’s the Empathy Gap

Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium, June 5, 6 and 7th, 2015.  Get your tickets here.

CAFE billboardBy: Rich Harold – When the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) bought a billboard spot at Davenport and Avenue Roads in downtown Toronto, they expected some push-back. Their poster was designed to draw attention to the plight of men who suffer domestic violence and featured an angry, shouting woman, photographed to appear as though she was about to lash out violently. But that wasn’t what made the poster controversial; it was the claim , in huge lettering overlooking Davenport Road, that half of all domestic violence victims were men. It was a bold claim and one that immediately had the media in a tizzy. So outraged were some journalists that they attempted to debunk CAFE’s claims in print, albeit with little success. Days later CAFE members met with press in downtown Toronto to discuss the poster and found the same, unresponsive audience. No matter what they did, no matter how reasonable their message, they couldn’t make those assembled understand two simple facts: men are sometimes victims of domestic violence, and men need help too.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where this refusal to acknowledge basic realities stems from. Clearly, there are individuals and groups who are hostile to the ideas that organizations like CAFE espouse. Repeated demonstrations and protests at CAFE events, some of which bordered upon violent, attests to that.

For many in the feminist movement concepts like misandry are complete misnomers; the very idea is bogus because it stands in direct contradiction to one of the central tenets of feminist theory—patriarchy. Under this model, society is structured by and for men, to the detriment of women. Applying this standard to domestic violence results in a framework where only women are seen as victims and a model that denies the suffering of men—at least on a scale comparable to women. Not only that, but those men who are victimized are actually regarded as victims of patriarchy. At least, that’s how the theory goes.

But while the media may display incredulity at the idea of the existence of male victims of domestic violence and while feminists may display antipathy towards an equitable solution to the problem, there’s still a much bigger part of the picture.

The general public.

As people, we have become utterly desensitized to the ideas of male suffering. This is evidenced by the obvious fact that the overwhelming majority of homeless people are men. The majority of suicide victims are men. The majority of combat victims are men. The majority of assault and homicide victims are men. The majority of workplace deaths are also men. In almost every category, where people are hurt, abused, or victimized, it is men—not women—who suffer most.

As a society, we place immense expectations on men’s shoulders. They are the protectors, the breadwinners, the builders, the fixers. They keep the lights on, keep the water running and are encouraged, at almost every point to never complain, to never ask for help or to never admit that they might have a problem. Men are told to “suck it up” to “man up” when they fail to meet the expectations demanded of them.

Little wonder then, that there are no services for men in need. We’ve shamed men into fearing to come forward to tell their stories. We’ve shamed men into thinking that the abuses they suffer and the needs that they have must always come second. Society would stop functioning, after all….

It’s time for that to stop.

Society will not stop functioning because we allow ourselves to recognize men’s needs. Society won’t collapse under its own weight because rather than telling men to “get over it” we take some time to pause, and to listen. If anything, our society will be all the better for it; we’ll move one step closer to a society that’s truly inclusive and accepting.

In Canada today there are some 593 shelters for abused women. That’s a good thing. There are hundreds of helplines in almost every language in the world. That’s a good thing. There are groups, lobbies, organizations big and small that do outreach work and awareness raising all to reduce the impact of domestic violence on women. That’s also a very, very good thing.

But when we look at the services afforded to men there is practically nothing. There are no shelters. There are no helplines. There are a handful of bodies that operate to raise awareness and offer some basic psychological services—but most of them are operating on a shoestring. For those groups the mountain of work that they stand before has no summit.

It doesn’t have to be this way and it can’t be this way if we are to continue to call our society fair, if we are to continue to call our society civilized.

How domestic violence is violence against children


Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium, June 5, 6 and 7th, 2015.  Get your tickets here.

Domestic Violence is Child Abuse
Domestic Violence is Child Abuse

Attila Vinczer – It’s a sad, but everyday fact of life that not all relationships are destined for success. The fairytale of high school sweethearts walking down the aisle and raising a loving family together in a house with a white picket fence, is today really just that—a fairytale. There are any number of reasons why relationships can come to an end. Some people just drift apart, eventually coming to the understanding that the partnership is no longer working. But in some cases, relationships can turn particularly sour, and at times, violent; and a relationship turned violent is made all the more tragic when children are involved.

The impact of domestic violence on a child’s development cannot be overstated. Children raised in homes where domestic violence is the norm are more likely to act out and to be hostile to others. They can develop a panoply of emotional and psychological problems as a direct result of the trauma they endure. Issues such as heightened sensations of fear, depression, shame and anxiety are extremely common as are issues relating to self-image and self-esteem. Children can become so traumatized they may seek to protect themselves from what they’re seeing by withdrawing emotionally in everyday life—or in some cases literally running away. Concentration levels are also affected which makes academic success highly unlikely, and increases the likelihood of dropping out altogether.

Unfortunately, these problems are often compounded by a system that does not understand the root cause of the problem. Behavioural issues instigated by the trauma of domestic violence are often categorized as mental or behavioural disorders which are sometimes treated, oftentimes unnecessarily so, with medication.

While the most damaging effects of witnessing domestic violence for children are psychological, they’re not the only ones. Such children can also have a wide array of physical, stress-related ailments. Persistent headaches, stomach aches, rashes and sleep-related problems such as bed wetting and night terrors are extremely common.

But the impact on children doesn’t just stop there. As Children grow and develop so too do the attendant emotional and psychological issues. Children who grow up around domestic violence are far more likely to develop substance issues such as alcoholism and drug abuse. They are more likely to become homeless and far more likely to end up with criminal records. Girls are also at a far higher risk for juvenile pregnancy.

Finally, and perhaps most tragically, is the fact that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to become victims themselves. In relationships where domestic violence is the norm, it is an unfortunate reality that children too can find themselves at the centre of such carnage especially when alcohol and drugs are involved.

But while the realities of domestic violence are horrific, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. The so-called ‘cycle of violence’ doesn’t need to be a cycle at all; there is room for hope. Children who come from such homes deserve to be given the best possible chance at success in life. One of the most important ways of doing this is by making the point to children that violence is wrong and is not an appropriate way to deal with conflict. Children should be made aware that violence in the family is an aberration, and that there is an alternative.

Relationships don’t always work out. Feelings can fade and things can go wrong. But children, who are the very embodiments of the love and care upon which relationships are very often based, should never become victims of such unfortunate circumstances. They deserve so much better.

Intimate Partner Violence: Not A Zero Sum Game

Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium, June 5, 6 and 7th, 2015.  Get your tickets here.

Dr. Tanveer Ahmed
Dr. Tanveer Ahmed – Psychiatrist, author, father, DV advocate.

The story of inter-partner violence is inextricably to the story of gender relations. There has been an upheaval of masculinity in recent decades, with men over-represented in suicide, school drop outs and relationship failure. Fatherlessness is on the rise. While we rightly celebrate the tremendous empowerment of women, there remains a degree of reluctance to fully acknowledge the worsening vulnerabilities being exposed among men. Gender relations is often treated as a zero sum game with advocates fearing that speaking out for men may result in a corresponding loss for women.

In my view, the position that male violence towards women is driven entirely by patriarchy and male entitlement is increasingly bogus. Both the research and my own clinical experience suggests that male violence occurs for many of the same reasons violence occurs in others settings, varying from mental illness, substance abuse and poor regulation of rage. The ethnically diverse migrant nature of Western societies add further complexities regarding the effects of accelerated male disempowerment. Without acknowledging this, the well meaning advocates working to help female victims will lack effectiveness. They also help perpetuate the myth of the universality of male strength and female weakness, directly at odds with feminist demands of equality in other fields.

Women remain disproportionately affected by inter-partner violence but there can be little doubt that female violence towards men is on the rise, as is public awareness thereof. Women are also more likely to be abusive to their children. The issue has importance because male victims lack legitimacy. Worse, they are often figures for ridicule.

Inter-partner violence remains a scourge that diminishes not just the people directly involved, but the environments in which we raise our children. For anybody interested in relationships and wellbeing, the real causes must be highlighted beyond the dogma.