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.
DV Op-ed. By: Dr. Tanveer Ahmed – Gender relations can often be played as a zero sum game, no different from poker or derivatives trading, an advocacy theatre where one sex’s gain is feared as a likely loss for the other.
This is most marked in debates about domestic violence, which often occur around what is known as a feminist paradigm. This model has long dominated public discourse and centres on assumptions that domestic violence overwhelmingly affects women and is committed by men, that female violence is universally defensive and that the underlying causes of domestic violence reflect male entitlement and patriarchal social structures. By this reckoning, inter-partner violence is almost always a way to control women and limit their opportunities.
This is certainly the case in Australia, where a heated discussion on domestic violence is taking place, turbocharged by the awarding of a female victim of domestic violence, Rosie Batty, as the Australian of the Year. Batty’s son was tragically killed by a violent partner.
There are, however, inherent contradictions within this line of thinking. One is that the domestic violence paradigm paints women as fragile victims whereas feminist demands for equality in the workplace rests on assumptions that women are equally capable of dominance and aggression.
The other key problem is that it is inconsistent with much of the evidence coming from scientific studies, the most recent of which suggest female violence towards women is on the increase and that men are much less likely to report it because their place as victims is not socially sanctioned. At worst, male victims are targets for ridicule.
Another key change in the dynamics of male violence towards women is that whereas decades ago men may have committed violence towards women as an assertion of their power, nowadays, and as a direct result of the considerable gains made by the women’s movement, men are more likely to commit violence as an expression of their sense of disempowerment. This is not to suggest that men had any innate rights to such power, but that a sense of loss, isolation and sometimes outright humiliation underscores acts of aggression. Mere acknowledgement of such an experience, rather than an entire focus on male villainy, can be an important plank in addressing family violence.
The nature of this disempowerment, related in Stanford’s Professor Zimbardo’s publication “The Demise of Men”, paints a picture of a marked decline in all of the major statistical markers of functionality, from the worsening figures of boys completing high school to higher suicide rates among males. In Australia for example, the most vulnerable group to suicide are young men living in rural areas, due to their relatively poor educational outcomes in combination with greater rates of substance abuse and an easier access to guns. Men, young and old, are increasingly losing themselves in the online elixirs of pornography and gaming, stimulating but less demanding than the social and occupational demands of the real world.
The sense of disempowerment can also be starkly felt within more traditional ethnic communities, particularly those from South Asian or Arab groups. Much like Canada, Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, But the sheer speed of social upheaval that migration can bring, from the disintegration of the clan based extended family to the dilution of thousand year old cultures and traditions, can be acutely felt in men, who incur the greatest loss in status both in the workplace and at home. This accelerated shift from traditional masculinity combined with much greater female autonomy in the West, can underlie acts of male aggression.
This is not to suggest it is any way an excuse, but the decades old ideas underpinning radical feminism with its focus on male privilege and female victimhood scarcely apply in the twenty first century.
Just as women are more likely to attend university, be the bread winner in the household or use a screwdriver, they are also more likely to have affairs, be distant from their children and commit inter-partner violence. Studies show women are more likely to be violent to the children than the male partner for example.
There are limits to what extent the state can intervene to prevent domestic violence, but age old orthodoxies grounded in dogma do little to help victims of abuse, be they male, female or child. Communities coming together to minimise the effects of confrontation in households need not require gender based confrontation in the theatre of advocacy.
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.
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.
“John” was a U.S. marine who served his country in two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was considered by his peers and commanding officers as a brave and exemplary marine, someone who put the lives of others before his own. When he was discharged he returned to his hometown in Wisconsin, said goodbye to friends and family, and set out to begin the next chapter in his life, in Canada. John had married a Canadian woman and to be closer to her ailing mother, moved to Saskatchewan.
The first year went well. John and his wife “Sarah” were happy enough. But after a while, things began to change. Sarah had a temper. It became a daily routine for Sarah to verbally abuse John. If he came home from work late, or hung out with friends, she wasn’t happy. Pretty soon, that abuse turned physical. She started with slaps and hair pulling. Then the slaps turned into closed fists. Finally, she started to use whatever came to hand…
When Sarah was at a friend’s house for a baby shower, John went into the garage, put a rope around his neck, and hanged himself. He simply couldn’t take it anymore.
June 5-7 sees the return of the Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium. The event, now in its second year, will bring experts from around the world to discuss the issue of domestic violence—particularly as it pertains to men.
Among the featured speakers are:
Dr. Tanveer Ahmed, an Australia-based psychiatrist and politician. Dr. Ahmed will discuss domestic violence from a broad perspective in terms of how it affects families, and the role of the judiciary in understanding the issues.
Dr. Miles Groth, an American professor of psychology at New York’s Wagner University. Dr. Groth is editor of the International Journal of Men’s Health as well as the author of three books on German existentialist philosopher, Martin Heidegger.
Vernon Beck, a Canadian family conflict specialist and mediator. Mr. Beck is an expert on the Canadian family law system and will discuss the additional trauma that the system often inflicts on families.
One of the key aims of the TDVS is to undo the myths around domestic violence. Currently, the issue is broadly understood as one that mainly affects women, but decades of research shows conclusively that domestic violence is not a gendered issue—that it affects men and women almost equally. Unfortunately, men find it next to impossible to access services and help when they find themselves victimized. Speakers at the symposium will explain the roots of this misunderstanding and will argue for a system that is welcoming to both men and women and that understands the causes and effects of domestic violence for all people.
John’s story is tragic, but is also one that is repeated every night in homes across Canada. If more tragedies like his are to be avoided then the conversation needs to change. It is time to acknowledge men’s suffering as victims of domestic violence. It doesn’t help anybody if we keep ignoring the problem.