Time for Fresh Thinking on Domestic Violence

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


By RICH HAROLD – It is an unfortunate reality, but a reality nonetheless that generally accepted ideas around domestic violence are hopelessly outdated. False perceptions are often strengthened by the insistence of certain groups and individuals who for a number of reasons, are strongly invested in maintaining perceptions that are not only inaccurate, but ultimately incredibly damaging. In some cases the interest is financial, or political, but in many cases it is purely ideological. For those of an ideological bent there is too often a stubborn refusal to take in the full panorama of domestic violence, which includes female-on-male violence. This refusal stems from beliefs in over-arching sociological theories and ideas (like patriarchy theory) which make sweeping generalizations on gender power dynamics. The problem though, is that theories like patriarchy theory are unscientific, reductionist, and simplistic.

Many still believe that domestic violence is simply the act of a man hitting, or physically abusing his wife or partner. This isn’t true. Domestic violence can be psychological and emotional. It can also be directed at men and children, by women.

There are many negative outcomes that arise as a result of this obdurate and wrong-headed thinking. One such outcome, which has already been covered on this site and will be addressed by the speakers at this weekend’s Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium (TDVS,) is that there are no shelters and no help available to men who are victims of domestic violence.

But there is another, more foundational consequence of this thinking. That is to say, there are no shelters or supports in place for men specifically because authorities and government agencies are encouraged to ignore (whether knowingly or unknowingly) the suffering of men. And it is this encouraging of ignorance, in effect, that becomes ingrained in policy.

When police are trained to deal with domestic violence situations they are taught to view it as a male-perpetrated crime. The Canadian Department of Justice issued a handbook to police in 2004 on understanding and responding to domestic violence. On page 6 of the document is something called the “Power and Control Wheel” a diagram that details different forms of domestic violence. One of the forms listed is “male privilege,” under which are the following ways a man can use such privilege to inflict violence upon a woman. They are:

treating her like a servant
making all the big decisions
acting like the master of the castle
being the one to define men and women’s roles

The diagram is taken from the Duluth model of domestic violence, which has been widely criticized for its lack of a gender neutral approach and its incredibly lax scientific standards. It should come as no surprise then, that the Duluth model is heavily influenced by feminist ideology. It is also unsurprising that it is an utterly inappropriate tool for equipping law enforcement officers to deal with the often complex and difficult realities of domestic violence. In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, Donald Dutton, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, said that the Duluth model was “developed by people who didn’t understand anything about therapy.” Dutton went on to say that “Feminists don’t like psychological explanations, but they’re necessary if we ever want to stop domestic violence.”

Police trained to view domestic violence in this way, as a male-on-female crime, respond to domestic violence calls with a preordained picture of what they are going to see when they arrive at the scene, and act according to that training.

By teaching police officers to think along these lines we end up with a system that re-victimizes male victims of domestic violence. Too often it is men who are arrested by police even when it is men who make the initial call to seek help.

“The message and mandate given to police has been a damaging one,” says Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium (TDVS) organizer Attila Vinczer. “There’s a lot of advocacy and publicity that distorts the issue. We’ve encouraged police to think that it’s always going to be the man who is the perp and the woman who is the victim. But in my experience, that’s not always the case.”

“You have to remember there are tens of millions of dollars spent on putting out this message. Don’t get me wrong, domestic violence against women is a horrible thing and it’s great that we’re doing something about it. But we can’t keep looking at this in the way we are. It’s not only unfair but dangerous.”

Police and authorities that work within the sphere of domestic violence need to have the complete picture. It’s no longer acceptable to keep pushing the tired, worn-out old narrative that domestic violence is a gendered issue.

When men call the police for help they should get help, not arrested.

9 thoughts on “Time for Fresh Thinking on Domestic Violence”

  1. Speak truth to power. Story of my life.

    When I was in the box, at night I’d get cleared to go down to the law library (a machine loaded with Lexis-Nexis case files and state statutes). It was kept in the same room where they held the DV classes. There on the chalkboard was the Duluth Model in all its glory, twice the size of an extra large pizza.

    In the town where I did my penance, Poisonville, the local women’s shelter had a complex in the heart of downtown. The shelter had an annual operating budget of more than $4 million with a board of directors that included all the city’s bigwigs, including members of the most prestigious local law firms and Fortune 500 companies. The lady that ran the place was a former women’s studies professor at one of our state universities who used to organize ‘Take Back the Night’ and ‘Slut Walk’ events, as well as other such get-togethers.

    The year I did my stretch was during the presidential election, when the ‘War on Women’ and the VAWA were on the front page of the local paper regularly. While waiting for the wheels of justice to run over me, I counted more than half a dozen op-eds from local VIPs on the scourge of male-perpetrated domestic violence. It was as though a hack Hollywood screenwriter had written the whole thing to spec.

    The kicker: my accuser testified that, after using violence to stop me from leaving our second-story apartment, a unit in a house that had only one exit, I repeatedly asked her–begged her–to let me leave and she refused. A jury of my peers still found me guilty and sentenced me to a year for a misdemeanor in which my accuser, according to the medical record, was uninjured. And that ain’t the half of it.

    Did I say Hollywood script writer? What I meant was my story was cooked up by the love child of Rod Serling and Franz Kafka and over-seasoned with madness and despair. I’ll never be the man I was. That man is dead, and every miserable day of my life I wish to the angry god that put me there that that man had taken me with him.

    1. Thank you for having the courage to tell your devastating story. You should know you are not alone, other than, you having the courage to speak up, about the horror you have endured. Most men suffer in silence. It is crucial that males who are victims of abuse, know that it is not only correct to speak up, it is crucial that they do. Why? Because it is the only way, we can begin to mitigate the terrible conditions so many men endure subjected to DV and then the humility of being laughed at and ridiculed by cops and society.

      I am extremely proud of you for speaking up and hope your example will give a glimmer of hope and courage for others to do the same. The worst thing men and boys can do, is suffer in silence. We need to work very hard to erase the stigma about male DV & IPV that currently has men stuck in a very dark, cold and lonely place.

    2. thankyou for this
      the physical abuse by a spouse, compounded by courts and society writing you as a villain, to satisfy an approved script, leaves a man hollow with little faith in humanity and country and his lifelong ideals. To know that being a good honest hardworking man of honour, willing to sacrifice all for women or country, means being a punching bag, and scapegoat, one of a million indescript pawns to be casually sacrificed, for nothing more than a meal for an ideological monster, is a terrible thing.

      1. I care about you my friend. To me you are very important. You are a human being that deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. There are ways to stop the abuse of men and boys. Your voice is very important as combined with other voices will become a loud cumulative sound that will not be ignored. In fact, it will be heard loudly as the corner stone of change.

  2. Looks like lots of organizations concerning DV are going to have a really hard shake up if they want to help end the problem.

    1. 25 years of perverting law enforcement to “enable” womens violence, and to persecute innocent males on false accusations ( just to get that federal pork bloating)….has led to a general feeling of helplessness when guys enter into a hetero-relationship…..thats why many are now opting out.

  3. It is not just that the message put out to police, gov, authorities etc, is that DV is just something men do to women. For one thing, it’s not just police, gov, the authorities, and it is not ignorance of false beliefs that are the problem. It is not just feminists, or women etc. I’ll tell you what the problem is right now. Understand this and you know what the root cause is. Nobody cares about men. it is that simple. Even men don’t care about men. Get this through your head…….it’s not that nobody knows women do as much, if not more DV to men then the other way around……it’s that nobody cares. You can’t solve this problem by showing the truth. Because anybody who hasn’t spent their life on another planet knows that women hit men far more often then men hit women…….nobody cares. Get it……they don’t give a shit. Women kill their children more then men do too……nobody cares. Look at the epidemic of female teachers banging their underage students………nobody cares. That’s the problem. And guess what…….you, as a man……yeah….talking to you……you don’t care either. How many times you see a homeless man sleeping in the street? How many times you see a woman hitting and pushing and yelling at her boyfriend or husband in a shopping center……car park….etc. And what did you do about it? What would you do if you saw a woman sleeping on a park bench as you strolled home one night? Even if you didn’t do anything….what would you feel? Something…….right……you would feel something……probably along the lines of sympathy…..is that what you feel when you see a man in the same situation………i think not…….you feel disgust….fear maybe…..maybe humor. You don’t care.

    You can educate the hell out of the whole world as to the truth…….but you can’t make them care. And they wont. Men are the disposable sex, the workhorses……slaves…..soldiers…….providers…..etc. That is how even you probably “feel” about men deep down. Bottom line is people care about men’s welfare when we will break their faces if they don’t……..and that’s it…….period.

  4. “The diagram is taken from the Duluth model of domestic violence, which has been widely criticized for its lack of a gender neutral approach and its incredibly lax scientific standards. It should come as no surprise then, that the Duluth model is heavily influenced by feminist ideology.”

    No it’s not just influenced by feminist ideology, it is the purest expression of feminist ideology: Everything is men’s fault because all men are perpetrators, all women are victims, any problem a woman has is the result of the perpetration of men as violent oppressors against victim women. Now which was I just talking about? Duluth or Feminism?

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