Last month, the remarkable documentary Abused by My Girlfriend showed BBC viewers the depths of suffering that can be experienced by male victims of intimate violence. Alex Skeel was beaten, tortured and psychologically abused so severely that when police finally intervened, he was described by doctors as being just days from death. Last year, his partner Jordan Worth became the first woman to be convicted of coercive control domestic abuse and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. When he was finally rescued after years of torment, Skeel was only 22.
Published in The Guardian
Presumably he didn’t know it at the time, but everyone involved in the case – from police who declined to act when called because they failed to recognise a young man could be a victim of abuse, to the prosecutors who finally secured a conviction, to the charities which supported Skeel and helped him put his life back together – operates under one overarching cross-government policy: the strategy on ending violence against women and girls.
You should notice a paradox there. It is one that has vexed, distressed and offended male survivors of sexual and domestic abuse for many years. At government level at least, the estimated one in six males who are survivors of sexual abuse, the 700,000 annual male victims of domestic abuse, the male survivors of stalking, honour crimes, trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation – all are afterthoughts, incidental appendices to the suffering of others.
£1m boost for male survivors of domestic abuse
At least that was the case until last week. In a game-changing development, the Home Office has published its first-ever position statement on male victims of crimes within the context of the strategy on ending violence against women and girls (VAWG).
It’s an impressive and important document. First and foremost, it commits to more than a million pounds worth of much-needed ringfenced support for charities working with different groups of male victims, including gay, bisexual and trans men.
But perhaps more important than the funding is the recognition that male survivors face unique challenges due to their conditioning and the constraints, expectations and impositions of our gendered society. There are a dozen specific commitments, including a promise to ensure that awareness campaigns on issues such as domestic and sexual abuse are gender inclusive and do not exclude male victims, and to look again at the commissioning of survivor support work to address chronic gaps in service provision.
These are huge leaps forward for the men and boys affected, and testify to the efforts of campaigners from charities such as Survivors Manchester and the ManKind Initiative, which have been tireless in banging on the doors of Whitehall. Particular credit goes to their service users, survivors who courageously met the challenge of recounting their experiences of abuse and its aftermath, in a context where such stories had rarely, if ever, been heard.
Domestic abuse offences in London rise 63% in seven years
For all that, the biggest political struggle is still to be won. The long-term goal for the survivors’ sector is to extricate men and boys from the VAWG strategy altogether. The women’s sector has done immense work over the decades in highlighting, analysing and addressing men’s violence against women, developing theoretical and practical frameworks under which they can support women and campaign to eradicate abuse. It is right and proper that female survivors, their organisations and advocates, are at the forefront of these efforts.
It is now long past time that male survivors, their representatives and advocates are afforded the same dignity. A cross-government strategy ending intimate violence against men and boys, separate but parallel to that aimed at violence against women and girls, would allow male victims, survivors and their advocates to secure funding without being pressed into a damaging competition with the women’s sector. It would allow the men affected to campaign for the political and social changes required, within theoretical frameworks that accurately describe their experiences of abuse and recovery, while recognising that those experiences and needs are equivalent but different to those of women.
Above all, it would give male survivors the basic right to name and identify their experiences on terms of their own choosing, not wrestle with those imposed upon them in one last grim violation of their consent.
• Ally Fogg is a writer and journalist based in Manchester, and a co-founder of the Men and Boys’ Coalition
By Ally Fogg
Published in The Guardian
12 March 2019