The final speaker at the 2015 Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium is Paul Elam, the founder of A Voice for Men. Elam begins his lecture by describing what he sees as some of the obstacles in the way of a broader understanding and solution to domestic violence. According to Elam, one of the main problems is the cultural tendency towards gynocentrism—a tendency where the needs, wants, and desires of women are continually put ahead of all others.
Elam talks about his experience as a counsellor and the hostility he experienced when, like Dr. Ahmed, he openly broached the subject of female-perpetrated domestic violence. “When I started asking my male clients if they had ever been abused recently in relationships I was shocked. I was absolutely shocked by how many of them starting speaking out,” said Elam.
But while the former counsellor was able to discuss his male clients’ experience of domestic violence he wasn’t able to source them the help that they needed. “The first place that I called was a place called W.I.R.E.S (Women’s Information and Referral Exchange Service.) There were no men’s programmes – there none to be had… The response was ‘we can put him in anger management…’ That was in the mid-1990s and the situation is still the same; it hasn’t changed one bit,” he said.
Elam finishes his talk by pointing out that violence is a generational problem and one that will not change until it is addressed honestly. As children bear witness to violence in the home they repeat the patterns that they see in their own lives as adults. Ultimately, for Elam, tackling the ideas that support a gynocentric societal view is key to starting a process where domestic violence is addressed in an effective and equitable way.
Dr. Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist and politician from Australia, and during this lecture he speaks candidly about his experience working for The White Ribbon campaign in Australia. While there, Dr. Ahmed was a tireless advocate for victims of domestic violence, even helping to expand the campaign in Pakistan. However, once he attempted to draw attention to the fact that both men and women experience domestic violence, and that ideas of ‘male privilege” didn’t tarry with domestic violence statistics, he quickly found himself dismissed and ostracized. Ahmed was eventually forced to resign.
In addition to discussing his time at White Ribbon, Ahmed addresses a number of related issues. He talks about the crisis in masculinity that is affecting the current generation of men. For Ahmed, the breakdown of traditional values and the family unit is one of the defining causes for the crisis, and one that simply hasn’t been investigated honestly. The changing of power dynamics in relationships is also a contributing factor, according to Ahmed leaving men feeling isolated, unsure, and without anyone to turn to for help.
Ultimately, however Ahmed’s lecture works as a sort of appeal where he makes the argument that men are just as deserving of help as women.
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.
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The The Canadian Maltese Charitable Service trust will be holding its second annual Domestic Violence symposium at Ryerson College in Toronto, Canada on June 5 & 6 from 9am to 6pm.
The event is needed to bridge a severe information gap. While hundreds of thousands of dollars are dedicated to promoting awareness of the plight and experiences of abused women and girls, little to nothing has been done to inform the public about abused men and boys.
Funds for relief for abuse victims are almost exclusively dedicated to female victims even though half of the victims are male. Anual funding to assist women in Ontario, Canada alone is at about $140 million by the Ontario Government, while Ontario men have no such support. While The Canadian Maltese Charitable Service Trust is dedicated to bringing awareness and promoting assistance for all victims of domestic violence regardless of age or sex, other organizations only recognize DV against women, and children with boys excluded by the age of 12 who are then not welcomed in Women’s Shelters with their mother. This leaves male victims over the age of 12 with little advocacy and no assistance to escape their abusers, in many cases leading to reciprocal violence and perpetuating a cycle of abuse. Even barring compassion for men and boys, such a circumstance is also harmful to women and girls.
Speakers, include Australian psychiatrist and victim’s advocate Dr. Tanveer Ahmed, Sen. Anne Cools, and men’s human rights advocate Paul Elam, will discuss these issues, to bring awareness to the public, judiciary, police, MDs, educators and lawmakers as the phenomenon affects men, women and children. However, getting the word out has been a difficult challenge.
Following a press release, social network campaign, and many attempts at making contact with news outlets, establishment media has maintained radio silence on this event. All attempts at informing the public about the event have been left to the organization itself, necessitating increased expenditures for promotional materials and services.
This second annual Symposium is costing about $10,000 between the venue, equipment, promotional materials, and speakers’ travel and accommodations expenses. Last year, it was funded entirely out of the pockets of Attila Vinczer, Executive Secretary. This year the expense is $3000.00 beyond Mr. Vinczer’s reach. Fundraising within the community is hampered by the issues themselves. Many advocates are victims themselves who have been economically impacted by their ordeals.
For this reason, the organization is seeking donations for the event from the greater community. This symposium is an important and much needed event which provides a service the community is lacking by making available vital information which would otherwise be pushed aside. Please give male victims of domestic/intimate partner violence a voice by donating to help make this event possible.
Please donate $5, $10 or more dollars to help reach our goal and help us make this annual event another success.
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.