Dan McKinnon (left front) explains that CCMF is working closely with other Calgary agencies to develop programs from male victims.

Statistics Canada continues to report that around 80 per cent of the intimate partner violence (IVP) victims in police-reported incidents are women. 

However, according to their own report “Family Violence in Canada: A statistical profile” men self-reported to have been abused by their partners at a higher rate than women- with 4.2 per cent of men and 3.5 per cent of women being victims. These two reports raise interesting questions about how and when to use them.

Experts explain that because these self-reported stats are often overlooked this can lead to male victims being left out of the conversation, and without proper support. They also explain that there has been an overuse of the police-reported statistics by both academics and the media. This has led to situations where male victims have not been believed by police, and in some cases even face accusations of being the perpetrator.

The family violence report which is released every five years and last published in January of 2016 polled a random sample of 33, 127 Canadians aged 15 or older. The survey asked respondents if they had been a victim of intimate partner violence (IVP) during the previous five years including if they had been abused in their current relationship.

The difference in the police reporting and the family violence report is not surprising to Alexandra Lysova who led a 2019 study on the discrepancies between the two reports.

“The bulk of crimes within the family are never known to the police. That explains this lack of any consistency between the numbers. The police data is very limited in a way that it only shows the crime that becomes known to the police,” says Lysova, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University.

“The Canadians in the victimization survey were asked if their victimization was ever reported to the police, and 70 per cent of them said no. That is why there are very different statistics.”

This survey is a better indication of what is actually happening in relationships where intimate partner violence (IVP) is present, Lysova explains.  

“In victimization surveys, individuals are asked questions not just about ‘have you experienced violence’ because everybody would give their own definitions, everybody would understand violence differently,” says Lysova.

Lysova explains the family violence victimization survey tries to overcome these barriers by asking more specific questions of the respondents. This can be very telling even if those answering the survey do not believe they have been abused. 

“So it asks questions about the specific behaviours that in the criminal code are seen as violent. If you ask them a direct question. ‘Have you’ve been a victim of violence?’ they will probably say no,” she says. 

“But when you ask them very different questions, ‘have you ever been hit at home or has your partner ever controlled your finances?’ Then even if they do not believe that they have been a victim physically because it’s the norm in their relationship, we see them as victims of intimate partner violence. [This is why] we see so many men because they are invisible in the police statistics,” she explains. 

“Men know from experience of other men and maybe from some previous contact with the criminal justice system or any help agencies that they will not be trusted. They will not be believed. They will be laughed at.”

 —Alexandra Lysova

MALE VICTIMS AND POLICE 

According to Lysova another factor is that men who seek help after being abused are often not believed, even by law enforcement.

“Men know from experiences of other men and maybe from some previous contact with the criminal justice system or any help agencies that they will not be trusted. They will not be believed. They will be laughed at,” she says.

Dan McKinnon, the clinical adviser of programs, services and counselling at the Calgary location of the Centre For Men and Families (CCMF) agrees. 

“I’ve certainly heard that a lot in men’s peer support groups, even when the violence is bilateral, [men are seen as the perpetrators],” McKinnon says. CCMF part of the large organization the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE).

Mackinnon points to what is called the Duluth Model which has become well known around the world. However, this model has also received criticism for the way it differentiates between male and female abusers, making it seem as if women are never the aggressor. This model states that a man’s use of violence is based on “many social, cultural and institutional avenues.”

As for women it says “Their violence is primarily used to respond to and resist the controlling violence being used against them. On the societal level, women’s violence against men has a trivial effect on men compared to the devastating effect of men’s violence against women.”

“The starting point is to keep women and children safe. And so the way to keep them safe is to remove the man from the scene. And it has worked, lots of women and children have become safer,” McKinnon explains.

“But then a good number of men aren’t harming anyone. But they still get treated that way based on the model.”

A study conducted by Denise Hines of Clark University and Emily Douglas of Bridgewater State University looked at the experiences of American men who had been abused by their partners. The  study asked 389 men about what happened when they tried navigating the justice system.

The majority of the men in the study reported not being believed by police, with one man saying “When my ex-wife tried to kill me, I went to the police. Instead of helping, they said that I must have done something to provoke her.”

Beyond not being believed by law enforcement several of these men were the ones taken into custody, even if they have evidence that they were the victim. 

“I was viciously attacked in my house, knocked out, concussion, thrown through the front window of my residence. I had my ass kicked and the police arrested me for second-degree assault even though I was not the aggressor,” one man said. 

Lysova says cases like these are common and have led to men being afraid to contact police.

“In terms of contacts with the police, men are even afraid of getting in touch with police because we know of the cases when male victims are arrested. So they are punished for calling for help because they are immediately seen as the perpetrator rather than a victim,” she says. 

Although this study looked at the experience of men in the United States, Lysova explains these experiences are similar to what men in other countries go through.

“This knowledge…comes from mainly qualitative studies in different countries, for example, Canada, the UK, US, Australia and Norway. This is a very consistent message we get”.

“I think there’s lots of support, but there’s a lack of support in certain spots. There are plenty of social services that serve women and children and there are social services that serve men. But there aren’t that many social services that serve men who’ve experienced domestic abuse.”

— Dan Mackinnon

LACK OF SUPPORT FOR MEN

In its press release on the study by Lysova and her colleagues CAFE highlighted the overwhelming disproportionate number of support systems for female victims compared to those for men. 

“Canada has done a good job of creating systems and services to serve abused women and children. We need to leverage this expertise and begin to build services for male victims and their children,” the release said. 

CAFE currently receives over 400 calls every year from men fleeing IVP.

The supports for women and children include 627 shelters across the country. There is currently only one operating shelter for men in Canada, the Men’s Resource Center in Winnipeg.

In the release CAFE executive director Justin Trottier was quoted as saying, “We strongly support the intervention programs and victim support services that have been built for women over the years. At the same time, men also suffer severe abuse with serious consequences for them and their children. It is appropriate that some resources be focused on that population.”

McKinnon highlights that particular need in Calgary. 

“I think there’s lots of support, but there’s a lack of support in certain spots. There are plenty of social services that serve women and children and there are social services that serve men. But there aren’t that many social services that serve men who’ve experienced domestic abuse,” he says.

One issue that McKinnon points to is that the majority of supports in Calgary are for men who are perpetrators, while there are very few for male victims. 

“These researchers have, in my view, presented front-line workers and policymakers with a flawed lens through which IPV can be viewed, understood, and ultimately diminished.”

— Don Dutton

MALE VICTIMS LEFT OUT OF THE CONVERSATION 

Lysova explains that simply relying on the police data can lead to male victims being left out of the conversation entirely.

“What unfortunately we see happen is that only one source is used to support the new ideological or theoretical position. So what is known is that some of the researchers are more likely to use police statistics only to support their argument, to support their position and policy.”

Don Dutton who worked on the 2019 report with Lysova calls this the gender paradigm. Dutton explains in a separate study that “The gender paradigm is the view that most domestic violence is male perpetrated against females (and children) in order to maintain patriarchy,” Dutton writes. 

However, in that study Dutton is extremely critical of this paradigm and the researchers that use it.

“These researchers have, in my view, presented front-line workers and policymakers with a flawed lens through which IPV can be viewed, understood, and ultimately diminished.”

McKinnon says this emphasis on female victims has led to some good advances in the fight against IVP.

“Over the decades the narrative and the ideology has been, rightfully so, focused on women who were victims who experienced domestic violence. And with that, there have been a plethora of programs and services,” McKinnon says.  

But he also thinks this has led to some negative consequences. 

“With that ideology and narrative has come a bit of a bias that says men are perpetrators of violence and women are victims of violence. And yes, that happens and it happens often, but what’s also happened is that the men who are victims, the men who experience it have gotten overlooked”.

Lysova explains the over-emphasis on female victims is systemic and goes beyond researchers.

“Unfortunately, it’s still the focus of the larger organizations like the World Health Organization. In their research hey still focus on violence against women and girls.”

The media also plays a big role in shaping the belief the general public has about domestic abuse, Lysova explains. 

“[There is] very much an imbalanced approach to how [the media] shows males and females. Women victims get more sympathy, understanding, and whenever women use violence it’s likely to be somehow explained away. Because they were victims of violence when we were children or they suffered somehow,” she explains.

“And when there is a discussion on male victims, there is almost nothing cited in terms to explain this relation. So they’re never shown as victims of abuse themselves.”

The Calgary Journal examined articles in an ongoing series produced by the CBC entitled “Stopping Domestic Violence”. Of the nearly 50 articles in this series, only one mentioned a male victim, and that was in the context of how the woman rehabilitated herself after being the perpetrator. It is unclear if CBC interviewed the person she abused. The only supports for men mentioned in the series were ones centered around rehabilitation and education to prevent men from becoming abusers. The articles which mainly focused on supports and shelters failed to mention CAFE, CCMF or the men’s shelter in Winnipeg.

“It’s hard to change a system that is working with a certain worldview,” says McKinnon.

While the reliance on police-reported incidents has its drawbacks it does also have advantages over the victimization report, especially given the fact that the report is based on a random sample of Canadians.

“We cannot detect many cases of violence just because we represent the entire population of Canada,” says Lysova.

“And this is where police data comes in. It’s very useful to see the more serious incidents of violence, homicides and so on. So that is why I think what it is important….when we report on intimate partner violence, always use both sources.” 

GOING FORWARD

Lysova says she has seen a small change recently in studies on IVP. 

“I see right now in academia in recent studies, there are many more papers right now on male victims being the target of violence around the globe. So in different countries, it looks like something is slowly and slowly changing”

McKinnon, however, says there was a positive response as soon as CCMF was established in Calgary, and that he is very confident going forward. 

“We’ve got a number of alliances in the domestic abuse community in Calgary. So these are key people in that world. They’re beginning now wanting to program for guys who experience abuse, too. We’ve had at least a dozen conversations with different agencies. And they say it’s about time there is someone specializing in men and their families,” he explains.

“And so the response has been strong.”