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.