There are many unhelpful things that advocates for domestic violence awareness say. At Coode & Corry we do want increased public awareness so that there is increased focus, government funding, police resources and legislation in this area. However, it is important that these resources are directed towards the actual problem and not the perceived problem.
One of the unhelpful things that we hear is that 'only women die' in domestic violence incidences. This ignores a large number of children that are killed as a result of undetected or badly managed family violence, but that is not the focus of this article. Men are killed in family violence incidences, because domestic violence is not about physical power, and it is not about gender inequality.
One in three victims of domestic violence is male (click here for more on that statistic). Homosexual relationships apparently experience almost identical rates of domestic violence to heterosexual relationships. If domestic violence was about physical strength, or men vs women, this wouldn't occur.
Recent government statistics covering a two year period in NSW showed that five men died at the hands of a male domestic violence abuser, and women killed 19 children in family violence situations. To say that only women die, or only men kill in family violence situations is not accurate even on the government's own statistics.
First things first
First of all our major objection to this statistic is that it focuses only on deaths caused by domestic violence. Surely most people would agree that we want to do something about all domestic violence, for women and men, not just domestic violence resulting in the death of the victim. Even though you are talking about men here, measuring it by death only is unhelpful as it leaves out too many victims.
Statistics show that in one third to one quarter of homicides where there was domestic violence, this domestic violence had not been reported to police. There is an accepted issue in domestic violence that under reporting is making protection of victims difficult, and collection of statistics to better protect victims difficult. We need to treat all forms of domestic violence as serious, not just those that end in death. Apart from anything else, some domestic violence that is reported does lead to the death of the victim so we should respond to it.
The Courts don't always get it right
Additionally remember many of these government statistics are taken from court cases, that is matters where someone has been found guilty of manslaughter or murder. Unfortunately homicides do go unsolved in NSW, and deaths can be incorrectly written off as accidents or suicides when they were indeed homicides. Statistics only give us part of the picture. That is the reason why a government report might say that 30 men and women were killed in NSW in two years, but another agency like Destroy the Joint says that 71 women were killed in Australia in one year.
How many male victims of domestic violence die?
In short, we don't know. The NSW Domestic Violence Death Review team, which is part of the NSW Government's Justice Department, prepares semi regular reports into the deaths that the government attributes to domestic violence.
In their 2013-2015 Annual Report they repeat the intimate partner domestic violence homicide statistics for NSW from 2000-2012, and during that time 22% of the victims were male, and 78% were female. You can read their report by clicking on this link.
The government found that in all of the cases involving a male and a female, male was the abuser, not the victim. That is the woman acted in self defence. The government report did not find any domestic violence perpetrated by any of the women in any of these cases, despite the fact that government ABS statistics show a significant rate of domestic violence in relationships is perpetrated by the woman and not in self defence.
In no case did the government find that there was reciprocal violence (that is, both parties were abusive). Our government doesn't collect statistics about reciprocal violence or apparently acknowledge it as a category. In other countries like England or the USA those governments do. In no case did the government find that the woman was the abuser. Remember, the male is dead. If he has not reported domestic violence to police, he is unable now to report the cause of his murder.
In NSW in that same report we know that of the children who died during that period, 19 of them were killed by a female and 32 were killed by a male. Women are certainly capable of killing. In that same report five men died at the hands of a male partner, that is in a homosexual relationship. So actually at least five men have died.
Shame and suicide
Lastly, remember that the rate of men who commit suicide is three times higher than the rate of women who commit suicide, and because our society believes that only women can be victims being a male victim of domestic violence it is still a very embarrassing and emasculating thing. We do not know how many of these men are (non-lethal) victims of domestic violence, particularly more emotional or manipulative forms of domestic violence, who had no way of coping with their situation because as a society we believe they are only capable of being the abuser.
What does it all mean?
Remember our premise at the beginning, that we shouldn't only measure the damage of domestic violence by deaths. However in answer to the question, men do die as a result of domestic violence, some of them die because the female has acted in self defence, some of them die because they are the victim of the domestic violence. Surely we can agree that any deaths from domestic violence, men, women or children, are tragic.
More importantly, the portrayal as men as always the abuser is unhelpful because it means men won't ask for help, and others in the house who are exposed to the violence (like children) will continue to be exposed to the violence.
We need to change our dialogue. We need to accept that men are victims, women are victims, children are victims, every category of person in our society is capable of being the victim of domestic violence. We need to allow male victims, and children living with male victims, to speak out.
Want to know more?
If you want to read more of our articles about domestic violence then follow this link.