Domestic Violence, Men’s Groups and the Equivalence Argument
Feminism and feminist activists have made their mark when it comes to domestic violence. It is largely through feminist efforts that men’s violence to women has become visible and that domestic violence is now seen as a serious social problem. Since the days of the 1970s, when the Chiswick women’s refuge was established, the issue has moved steadily up the legislative and political agendas; in the United Kingdom, women’s organisations have played an important role in achieving this. Changes have been introduced into the law with a view to increasing protection for victims and strengthening the criminal justice response to perpetrators. And, while it is true that changes to the law do not necessarily lead to changes in material circumstances, it appears that, in this area, change has been more than merely cosmetic and that it extends beyond the law. Government policies have been formulated, which are directed at meeting the needs of victims, and services appear to be making some attempt to implement these policies.
The influence that feminist activism and research have had on the law, on policies and on debate concerning domestic violence has extended to definitions of domestic violence, explanations of it and recommendations on how to respond to it. Perhaps most significantly, domestic violence is now seen predominantly as a problem of men’s violence and as being linked to men’s power and control over women.
A number of men’s groups, however, reject this view and are seeking to argue that it is women’s violence against men that should be preoccupying the authorities. They maintain that men are subjected to domestic violence and that their suffering is being ignored. Men, they say, are the silent and silenced victims of violent women, of an indifferent state, of callous welfare agencies and of an unheeding criminal justice system. They complain about lack of resources, they call for better services and they insist that it is the punishment of women that should be the priority.
This chapter will provide a brief overview of the impact of feminist thought on policy, practice and the law. It will then turn to consider the claims of the men’s groups in the light of the research evidence regarding the prevalence of male victims of domestic violence. And it will conclude that, while these groups are, to
some extent, concerned about men who are abused, they neither produce evidence to prove that abuse of men is a major social problem nor place protection and help high on their agendas. Their main interest lies elsewhere. Their primary aims, rather, are to reverse what they see as the gains that women have made and, most importantly, to store up ammunition in a gender war over shared parenting and paternal contact with children.