Ask any feminist—no, wait, ask any woman—no, wait, ask just about anyone you know, male or female, young or old, dumb as a brick or a Brainiac—whether men or women are the victims of intimate partner violence (IPV: what used to be called “domestic violence”), and I promise you, almost everyone you ask will respond without pause, “women.” It’s just one of those things people “know.”
After all, how could it be otherwise? Men are bigger and stronger than women, men are way more aggressive to other men than women are to women, and men are responsible for most other criminal acts. Besides, you never see public service announcements raising awareness about male victimization. And there are hundreds of women shelters, but almost none for men. Case closed, eh? It makes sense to conclude that men perpetrate IPV, and women suffer from it.
That conclusion is wrong, and demonstrably wrong. Both men and women are victims of IPV, and both men and women are perpetrators of IPV. A new study, “Prevalence and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence in Canada as Measured by the National Victimization Survey,” published April 15 in the journal, Partner Abuse, confirms a great deal of previously documented bilateral epidemiology of IPV according to gender. The lead author is Alexandra Lysova of Simon Fraser University, with contributing authors graduate student Emeka Dim of the University of Saskatoon and the University of British Columbia’s Donald Dutton, amongst the international scholarly doyens on the subject of intimate partner violence, and Canada’s foremost expert in this domain. I will refer to it as the Lysova study.
The study “examined the prevalence of victimization [that] resulted from physical and/or sexual IPV, controlling behaviors and also consequences of IPV for both men and women in a sample representative of the Canadian population.” The data came from a random sample of 33,000 Canadians surveyed in the 2014 General Social Survey of Victimization, so ideologues should not even think about trashing the source, which, sociologically speaking, doesn’t get more echt than this. The study was particularly interested in examining IPV with regard to male victims, an under-researched element in this field, to say the least.
The results showed that in the last five years, 2.9% of men and 1.7% of women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual IPV in their current relationships. Yes, you read that right: more men than women reported being abused. Almost equal numbers—35% of men and 34% of women—reported experiencing what is known as “intimate terrorism”—extreme controlling behaviour in a relationship. Furthermore, 22% of male victims and 19% of female victims of IPV reported experiencing severe physical violence accompanying the controlling behaviour.
Women were far more likely to report these behaviours and experience short-term effects of IPV, such as anger or depression than male victims, whose under-reportage is linked to a tendency to feel shame at exhibiting weakness and being considered a victim of a woman’s violence. But the long-term effects—PTSD-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation—were experienced bilaterally. The paper argues for more reporting of IPV victimization among men as compared to women.
But those are not the kind of studies that are bruited in the media. What the media sees are studies by feminist researchers, whose study participants are women, because they choose violence against women as their subject. They choose violence against women as their subject because they subscribe to a binary belief system in which males are the perpetrators of violence and women are the victims. As one researcher cited in this study, observes, “[M]uch victimological work implicitly leaves us with the impression that victims are not likely to be male. It renders female victimization visible and male victimization invisible.”
In 2000, Stats Canada stopped “filtering” the message by presenting their survey as a study of violence against women. After assuming a stance of neutrality, they found 7% victimization for males and 8% victimization for women. That extra percentage point reflects the fact that men are responsible for violence at the extreme end. That kind of violence is what makes the news, and gives the false impression that men are responsible for all partner violence.
But in actual numbers—that is, epidemiologically speaking—extreme IPV is not significant when placed alongside the figures for other acts of criminal male violence, in which men are far more likely to be the victims than women. This is not to diminish the gravity of male violence against women partners, and intervention programs should prioritize women’s safety. It is only to say that any public policy around IPV should regard extreme violence against women by men as a fairly narrow subset of IPV in general, which affects both men and women virtually equally.
Stats Can doesn’t give an IPV detailed breakdown of specific physical and sexual behaviours, while this Lysova study does, including other forms of abusive controlling behaviours, such as possessiveness and intimidation. One of the more interesting aspects of this study is that StatsCan restructured their methodology to include “sexual assault” (very loosely defined) together with physical assault, doubtless expecting an outcome of higher numbers of female victims. That was not the case.
When women flee an abusive relationship, they can take their children with them to a shelter. When men flee an abusive relationship, they have nowhere to take their children who may also be at risk. This is one of the main reasons why abused men stay in the home: to protect their children. As I noted, there are many shelters for abused women—627 in Canada—and almost none for men. Shelter numbers do not reflect need, they reflect public perception of where the need lies, a perception formed not through objective observation or attention to epidemiology, but through deference paid to ideologues and a lazy media all too willing to promote feminist narratives and to ignore male suffering.
The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), on whose board I sit, is front and centre on this file. CAFE supports equality of attention and response to both men and women in principle, but focuses on providing services for men in crisis, and raising awareness of the huge disparity in resources for men’s evident, but ignored needs. You may have noticed, for example, that the overwhelming number of homeless people on the streets are male. A number of those men are victims of abuse. According to Justin Trottier, executive director of CAFE, his organization receives calls from over 400 men each year desperately seeking a safe haven and counselling. CAFE has been successful in receiving federal funds for a research project, “Male Homelessness as a Consequence of Domestic Abuse.” Stay tuned for a report.
Changing public perception to reflect the reality of IPV has been a Sisyphean task for many years. IPV policies needn’t be a zero-sum game, where women lose if men make gains. We have to alter our way of thinking about IPV, to understand that victims of violence can also be perpetrators of violence. The most common form of IPV is mutual violence toward each other in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. This is an established fact. I get that it’s hard to believe. But “hard to believe” doesn’t mean it’s untrue.
It is the duty of governments to look beyond ideology and narrative in all matters regarding social health. Resource allocation must be based on firm epidemiological grounds. On IPV, the evidence is in.