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an unfortunate reality, but a reality nonetheless that generally accepted ideas around domestic violence are hopelessly outdated.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.