Tackling abuse for all genders

Men stigmatized in an overburdened system

November 1 marked the beginning of Family Violence Prevention Month in Canada. The awareness campaign was launched in Calgary in Bankers Hall where crowds of passersby gathered over the lunch hour to hear presentations on the issue from Calgary police chief Rick Hanson MLA Sandra Jansen who is the Associate Minister of Family and Community Safety and representatives from the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective.

While the campaign refers to all individuals who are victimized talk of domestic abuse still focuses on adult female victims. That trend is slowly changing as the government aid agencies and society begin to recognize other victims.

The least discussed group says men’s rights activists is men. It is a politically charged topic as adult males are also seen as the main perpetrators of abuse. Toronto social worker Adam McPhee says that doesn’t mean male victims can be ignored.

McPhee is employed at a Toronto AIDS counselling centre and an emergency drop-in shelter. He is also a spokesperson for the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE).

CAFE says its mandate is universal equality but that it is focused on male well-being at a time when men are suffering from disproportionate rates of suicide poor educational performance and legal bias.

CAFE has also been accused of being a hate group. Protestors forced it to call off a presentation at the University of Toronto in November 2012.

“We’re having our discussion kind of squashed and being told that any discussion of men’s issues is kind of misogynistic and by its nature it’s got to be in opposition to women” says McPhee. He says he wants society to talk about abuse regardless of gender.

“What about the men who are being victimized the men who want to flee the situation and feel they can’t? And if we can’t even have that discussion we’re never going to make any [headway] into safe spaces for those men if we don’t even acknowledge that they exist.”

CAFE has raised $45000 of the $75000 it needs to establish a men’s resource centre which McPhee says will include an emergency shelter for men fleeing domestic abuse. He says currently men are referred to homeless shelters where he finds they are likely to be further abused by other shelter patrons especially if they are homosexual.

In Alberta only one shelter the Community Crisis Centre in Strathmore accepts men fleeing domestic abuse. It has two beds available in a shared bedroom. Executive director Karen Pease says it sees about seven men every year.

Pease says her shelter’s decision to accept men was opposed by many working in domestic violence issues but the idea of male victims is gaining much more acceptance lately. However she says assumptions about gender still permeate society even within social services agencies.

“We need to advocate more strongly for men for services that women get automatically” says Pease.

Alex Cameron of the Calgary Counselling Centre manages the only program in the city for male abuse victims. He agrees male sufferers receive almost no support. He also believes that rates of abuse are even more under-reported for men than women because abused men face overwhelming social stigma.

“A big part of it is the not being believed. I’ve had men say to me ‘I’ve talked to or I’ve called the police and they didn’t believe me.’ Or ‘I spoke to my doctor and they said “listen to yourself. What are people going to think if you say you’re being beat up by your girlfriend?’” Or ‘I’ve spoken to my friends and they’ve said you know “stop being a wuss” or “stop being a wimp.”’ People don’t know what to do…. There’s such a lack of resources it’s sort of when they do try to reach out a) they can’t find where to go and then b) it’s also when they do reach out to people who don’t have the knowledge or are equipped to deal with it they’re not getting the best advice” Cameron says.

Sixty-five men entered Cameron’s program in 2012. He says that sounds like a lot but he expects far more need help. The statistics around all forms of domestic abuse are notoriously flimsy because it is believed most victims never report it. Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey itself of questionable validity found approximately 6.5 per cent of men and women reported they had suffered intimate partner violence but that is one of many widely varying statistics on the subject.

Another problem explains Cameron is that male victims typically suffer more from emotional and psychological abuse than physical violence so police statistics aren’t useful in determining abuse rates.

Cameron’s program is provincially funded but with Alberta’s shelters already turning away more than twice as many women and children as they accept due to lack of resources finding support for men remains a low priority.