In 2017, Welsh grandmother Anne O’Regan complained to the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) about the Dyn Project, a Welsh domestic abuse service for men operated by Safer Wales and supported by the Welsh Government. She complained that the service was discriminating against men by subjecting callers to a vetting procedure, something not done for female callers to similar helplines. Despite the complaint being directed through her Welsh Assembly member, the EHRC’s initial reaction was that there was no basis for the complaint. The EHRC Wales Commissioner’s office initially replied,
“The Dyn Project provides support to Heterosexual, Gay, Bisexual and Trans men who are experiencing Domestic abuse from a partner. The Dyn Project has developed five guiding principles for its work with men. These include that a clear screening protocol is essential in order to identify, and respond appropriately, to counter-allegations. Screening is not commonplace within services for women because women constitute the overwhelming majority of those abused.”
The informed reader will spot some problems with this, one being that the repeated claim that “women constitute the overwhelming majority” of domestic abuse victims by a Cabinet Minister in Parliament has been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority. They stated: “The phrase ‘overwhelming majority’ is a subjective statement. However, it may imply that a larger proportion of victims are female than the statistics show.” But more fundamentally the argument is spurious anyway, and actually quite horrible. Would those proposing this preposterous rationalisation agree that screening ethnic minority callers to helplines would be justified on the basis that they are just that – minorities?
But helpfully, the above quote does tell us this: “screening is not commonplace within services for women”. It also very usefully confirms that, in the context of the Dyn service for male complainants, that “a clear screening protocol is essential”. You will not be surprised, but it is useful to have it confirmed.
Mrs O’Regan and her AM persisted. The persistence paid off, the EHRC being persuaded to seek independent legal advice. The result was, it seemed, clear enough. In a further communication later in 2017 the EHRC Wales wrote,
“…our view is that a policy of screening male but not female callers to an advice line is likely to constitute direct discrimination, in breach of section 13 of the Equality Act 2010. Although women comprise the overwhelming majority of victims of domestic abuse, this does not mean that a comparison between the way men and women are treated by the providers of the helpline is not a comparison between similarly situated individuals.”
Great Scott – logic! In these benighted times this constituted quite a triumph and so hit the press, e.g., the Western Mail 21 Nov 2017. If you expected that this would be the end of vetting male callers to domestic abuse helplines, think again. This was not the final word. The final word was that any service offering support to both sexes which treated the two sexes differently based on their sex would be in breach of the Equality Act. But a helpline may provide support to one sex only – such as the Dyn Project. There is then no breach of the Act if their procedures differ from the procedures applied by another service providing support to the other sex. You didn’t imagine the forces of institutionalised prejudice would be defeated so easily, did you?
The screening of male complainants can be traced to the charity Respect, which provides guidance on how male callers to domestic abuse services are to be treated. I had something to say about this matter in my 2017 article, UK PV Perpetrator Programmes – Part 1. At that time Respect’s Toolkit for Work with Male Victims was in its 2nd edition, dated 2013. The principal author of the Toolkit was none other than Thangam Debbonaire, Labour MP for Bristol West and a shadow Minister, who was then (in 2012/13) the Research Manager at Respect. Immediately prior to that, Debbonaire was an officer in the Women’s Aid Federation of England. We must assume that, with her background, Debbonaire would have been familiar with the procedures employed with female callers to Women’s Aid charities. And we already know what that is: screening is not commonplace within services for women. Well, of course not, because Women’s Aid is the very organisation which promoted the dictum “believe the victim” – in the context of women.
Imagine, then, you are in Debbonaire’s position in Respect in 2012/13 having been asked to author guidance on the treatment of male callers. As a person dedicated to equality, what could one possibly do but recommend the same procedure already familiar from its use with female victims? Instead what Debbonaire and her co-workers produced was the Toolkit for Work with Male Victims 2nd ed, some 81 pages of hurdles for male victims to clear before being believed. I’ll say a little more about what the Toolkit contains when I get to its more recent edition shortly.
However, Respect also accredit perpetrator programmes and you may want to see what I had to say about their approach to this in my 2017 blog. I note that The Respect Standard has been reissued since that blog article and I have not deconstructed it. Unlike the preceding Standard it does not explicitly exclude the very idea of female perpetrators of male victimisation. However, it requires that programmes to be accredited share their Principles, one of which is,
“Organisations work in a way that is gender informed, recognising the gender asymmetry that exists in the degree, frequency and impact of domestic violence and abuse. They understand that men’s violence against women and girls is an effect of the structural inequality between men and women and that its consequences are amplified by this.”
Nothing fundamental has changed in the feminist mindset which underpins all Respect’s advice and operations, although they may now be better at disguising it. That being the case, the perceptions which inform their work will be just as they expressed in their 2008 Position Statement, long since removed from their site,
- Gender is a critical determining factor for whether or not someone will use any form of violence and assumptions about the right to use violence are therefore likely to be associated with gender.
- Men are the abusers in most incidents of domestic violence against women and in many against men*. Gender is therefore the most significant risk factor for domestic violence. [*Aside: Of male callers to the Men’s Advice Line in 2014 – 2019, 98.9% were heterosexual].
- When women do use violence in intimate relationships it is often, though not always, in order to defend themselves or their children from a violent partner. It is sometimes an act of resistance or anger after being abused or an attempt to prevent it. If we identify this violence as equivalent or equal to violence from primary aggressors in intimate relationships we will fail to respond appropriately to either party. [My translation: women’s violence is justifiable, men’s is not].
- Women remain a small minority of primary aggressors of ongoing domestic violence in opposite or same-sex relationships. They also present and describe their abusive behaviour in ways that are often very different to the ways in which male perpetrators present and describe their use of abuse.
You should not expect equitable treatment of men and women to emanate from this source. But I digress.
The latest incarnation of this saga relates to the covid-19 lockdown and concerns over potential increasing incidence of domestic abuse and victims being “locked in” with their abusers. If you have two hours to spare, here is a discussion hosted by Yvette Cooper on the topic under the auspices of the Home Affairs Committee (Evidence Session 15 April 2020). The Mayor of London’s office has issued a video advising victims to call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. Fair enough, but some people are a bit brassed off with the usual one-sided depiction of the issue being pushed again in this lockdown situation.
The first thing you notice about the National Domestic Abuse Helpline website, if you’re a man, is that it’s in “aggressive pink”. Next, top left, is the logo: “Refuge” (yes, it’s run by Refuge), and the caption to the logo reads “For women and children against domestic violence”. Scroll down to the pictures of only women. Click on “what is domestic violence” and you are told it is “a pattern of behaviour on the part of the abuser designed to control his partner”. And on it goes. You know the stuff, same old same old. This has led to some pointed questions about provision for male victims, such as that from psychologist Deborah Powney who has asked “Can Refuge be clear whether the 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline directly supports male victims of domestic abuse or not? Can they clearly state what happens when a man calls?”
One senses some reluctance in that, as of 21/4/20, Powney has now asked the same question eight days running without a response. The same question has been echoed by Mr GlassBlindSpot (whose recent video on the subject is a must-watch, BTW).
Amongst other things the issue of vetting, or screening, male callers to male-specific helplines has arisen again, this time in connection with the Men’s Advice Line. And what is the first thing you see on that site? It’s run by Respect. So, they’ll be deploying Respect’s Toolkit for Work with Male Victims, 2019 edition then.
The same bunch of suspicious characters has been asking pointed questions about screening male callers to Men’s Advice Line. At least they have a response from RespectUK, namely, “we wanted to confirm that the Men’s Advice Line doesn’t screen callers, no one has to prove they’re a victim to get a service”. Oh really? Time to see what their 2019 Toolkit for Work with Male Victims actually says.
Oh, but before we do – and I’m almost embarrassed to raise so painfully obvious a point – if it’s all so equitable and everything, why do we need a 107 page Toolkit for men but we don’t need anything at all for female complainants other than “believe the victim”?
The answer, of course, is the feminist mindset expressed by Respect themselves, above.
The Respect Male Victims Standard sets out what is required in terms of the model of work, management and operation of these services. It includes a set of 10 principles of which this is one: “Gender matters: organisations work in a way that is gender-informed”. They recognise that (amongst other things) “some perpetrators present as victims and need a response which addresses this”.
What exactly is “a response which addresses callers presenting as victims” other than vetting? Does a similar “response” apply also for women calling domestic abuse helplines? No, we know it does not.
So how does Respect’s 2019 Toolkit for Work with Male Victims get around the little awkwardness posed by the Welsh EHRC’s legal observations, quoted above? This is how the Toolkit gives the casual reader assurance,
Section 4.1: “Organisations supporting female and male victims of domestic abuse must ensure that their assessment processes are consistent and cohesive. Respect does not recommend the use of a separate assessment process for male and female victims, as there is a risk that one client group might inadvertently be discriminated against, by having to overcome added barriers to receive a service. For example, the organisation should decide that both female and male service users are proactively asked about their use of violence and abuse when assessed, or that neither male or female service users are asked.”
Section 5: “The assessment tools and forms that follow are designed for agencies offering a face-to-face service to male victims of domestic violence, ideally in a multi-agency setting. Respect does not recommend the use of separate assessment processes for male and female service users to organisations supporting both client groups. Before using this assessment tool with male service users, the organisation should consider what assessment is carried out with female service users, and ensure that neither client group is disadvantaged by processes that may be disproportionately onerous.”
I did forewarn you about the loophole in the EHRC’s ruling. And note how carefully the above paragraphs are phrased. The casual reader will be reassured. But the principle of equal treatment only applies to an organisation providing services to both sexes.
Respect’s Men’s Advice Line, and Safer Wales’s Dyn Project, provide services only to men. They are not obliged to adopt the same processes as another service supporting women. The above paragraphs are a smokescreen. My guess is that they have been included to provide a cover against the EHRC’s ruling. Indeed, it may be that the 2019 re-issue of the Toolkit was prompted by that consideration. But, make no mistake, the purpose of the Toolkit is explicitly to present a process for male complainants which differs radically from how women are usually treated by women’s helplines. And this remains legal.
Recall that the feminist position on equality is that “equality does not mean treating everyone the same”. The word “equality” is used as a bludgeon to push through different treatment based on “need”. And “need” is interpreted through the feminist lens which distorts both the present and the past.
It is no exaggeration to say that the bulk of Respect’s 107 page 2019 Toolkit for Work with Male Victims is focussed on screening out male callers who cannot prove their case. Here are some extracts,
Section 2.4: “…you will find that perpetrators of domestic violence perceive themselves to be the victims. This is a very common strategy (unconscious or conscious) for perpetrators to use and one which they may use very effectively if we don’t have ways of identifying who is doing what to whom and with what consequences. Commonly perpetrators whose partners have used some form of self-defence or violent resistance will identify themselves as primary victims in that moment.”
Section 4: “Victim who is actually a perpetrator: Sometimes, if the person using intimate partner violence has experienced force used by their victim as self-defence, defence of children, resistance or retaliation they may be wrongly identified – or wrongly present – as a victim.”
Section 4.2: “The dangers of incorrectly identifying someone: ….if men are incorrectly identified as the victim when they are in fact the perpetrator, this will mean that their partner/ex is identified incorrectly as the perpetrator or as part of a ‘mutually violent couple’.”
Section 7: “Given that the majority of perpetrators are male and that perpetrators are often prone to manipulation or minimisation of the violence they have used, practitioners are rightly concerned that they may be approached by men who present as victims but are in fact perpetrators. Evidence from current male victims’ services confirms that this happens. A significant number of men calling the Men’s Advice Line who initially identify as victims change their own identification by the end of the call or provide information about the violence in their relationships which strongly suggests that they are either not a victim or in fact are the perpetrator….practitioners are also concerned that they don’t make situations more dangerous for the partners of men who present as victims but are actually perpetrators.”
Section 7.3: “During the course of a relatively short conversation, men provide a great deal of information in response to the questions put to them, which help staff to make an initial assessment of who is doing what to whom and with what consequences….It will also help to inform them about when it is appropriate to ask a man to consider some of the effects of his behaviour on his partner or to challenge him more directly.”
One of the most surprising claims in the 2019 Toolkit is in Section 5: “Most research indicates that mutual violence is very rare, some even suggests that there is never an equal use of violence and abuse”. This is in flat contradiction with the PASK (Partner Abuse State of Knowledge) project, which concluded, based on a vast meta-analysis, that most of domestic abuse is bi-directional.
One of the tools provided to carry out the recommended vetting of male callers is the Checklist of 23 questions in Section 4.4. The striking thing about this checklist is that it requires recording of evidence, or absence of evidence. Quite what constitutes evidence in the context of a telephone call is something I find mystifying, but apparently “professionals who are skilled and experienced in working with responses to intimate partner violence will be able to use their experience, clinical judgement and sense of authenticity”. Oh, righto. If you are believed or not, then.
The first 5 questions in the Checklist are about forms of abuse which the caller might have experienced, as one would expect. Question 7 asks whether the caller’s accounts of abuse appear to be “authentic” (that’ll be about being believed again, then). The other 17 questions all relate to the caller’s potential abusive behaviours or issues which would undermine his credibility.
No vetting then – just a checklist that concentrates far more on discrediting than believing. And to be believed you must have evidence.
On this basis the caller is assigned to one of five categories, only one of which is “victim of domestic violence”, the others all include, to varying extents, a degree of culpability.
In what way can Respect’s insistence that “the Men’s Advice Line doesn’t screen callers, no one has to prove they’re a victim to get a service” be regarded as anything other than mendacity? The requirement to provide evidence is precisely a requirement to prove they are a victim. And no one applies this standard to women.
From Respect’s analysis of calls to Men’s Advice Line in years 2014 to 2019 they concluded, “in about half of the calls from men identifying as victims they had experienced no physical or sexual assault and did not describe being in fear or feeling controlled. There were no obvious risk factors and questioning the caller sometimes resulted in the caller describing incidents in which their partner was injured by them”. But what credibility can be attached to that conclusion given the nature of the vetting procedure and the almost total reliance on a “professional’s” subjective opinion – professionals emerging from, and working within, a feminist culture?
There is much that is valid within the Toolkit, for example the description of the sorts of abuse which men face in section 2.1, some of which are specific to being male. In particular it is significant that forms of abuse which use children as weapons are included here, such as “telling him if he tries to leave he will never see the children again”. The inclusion of sexual coercion or belittlement is also to be applauded in this section. Also listed is “telling him that nobody will believe him because he is a man”. Unfortunately that is likely to be true, and ironically this very Toolkit promotes precisely that.
There is a new section on toxic masculinity which they redub as “harmful expressions of masculinities” because, apparently, they have noticed that we unwashed idiots seemed to be getting the impression that “toxic masculinity” means that men are toxic. Allow me to return the compliment. Supergluing the adjective “toxic” to “masculinity” is itself harmful – and you, feminist lobby, did it. Deliberately. However, there is truth in this section too. For example it is observed that…
“Perpetrators might use the expectation of gendered roles to abuse, this might take any of the following forms;
- • If you were a real man you wouldn’t put up with this
- • If you were a real man you’d provide better for your family
- • If you were a real man you would be able to satisfy me sexually”
But, I ask you, why is this not called toxic femininity? Why does it appear in a Section on toxic masculinity?
The reason is that the feminist mindset adheres firmly to the ancient gender scripts, despite the pretence to be the exact opposite. Feminism still insists on seeing men alone as agentic when it comes to causing harms. So, the above example of female perpetrated abuse becomes reinterpreted as the fault of toxic masculinity. To quote a survey of male victims, one abusive female partner said, “why do you make me hit you?”. There’s denial of agency for you – denial of responsibility, that is. Under feminism, women must never be perceived as the primary aggressor, and this is why “believe the victim” prevails in the female domestic abuse services. The exact opposite – suspicion – applies to male complainants because men are the approved recipients of blame. The vetting of male callers is a manifestation of the ancient gender script.
But what about Deborah Powney’s question: what treatment do male callers receive from Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline? This is what I think the answer is, but it’s an answer Powney will never receive,
- some basic contact details are taken;
- the man is told they do not support men – goodbye;
- the alleged abuser and/or the police are then informed of the allegation.
To close, here are all the comments relating to the Men’s Advice Line and the Dyn Project left in a survey of male victims of partner abuse carried out by the charity FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru in 2018…
- Men’s Advice Line are rubbish. They work on Duluth model of male control theory. They assume man is perpetrator. Advice from them was to basically walk on eggshells and not upset the abuser.
- Men’s Advice Line was a waste of time, they just talked through things and did not offer practical help.
- Men’s advice line judging me as the perpetrator on initial contact.
- Dyn Project were initially supportive, but became very critical, and avoided talking to me once I began to struggle with the legal process because of my PTSD.
There were innumerable comments stating that unnamed helplines treated the caller as the abuser. Mankind Initiative and the various incarnations of FNF, including FNF BPM Cymru, received 35 mentions, all uniformly positive. (I declare an interest, but that was the result).
For completeness there were also some surprising positive comments on assistance from DA services, namely these,
- Leeds DV Helpline (Women’s Aid run it I believe): really believed me and made me feel understood.
- S.a.f.e in Exeter (Exeter Women’s Aid) very helpful with a course to help me to deal with coercive control.
Why could this not always be the case? I expect that it depends currently simply on the individual who picks up the ‘phone.