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Male victims of domestic abuse

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March 2010


The Welsh Assembly Government has recently launched Wales’s first integrated strategy to tackle all forms of violence against women (VAW). Welsh Women’s Aid has been lobbying for such a strategy for some time and welcomes this commitment to improving services for women who have experienced gender-based violence, in addition to increased work on prevention of violence and protection under the law.

In his Ministerial Statement, Social Justice Minister Carl Sargeant AM stated that the Strategy will incorporate responses from the public consultation on a Strategic Action Plan to Update the Domestic Abuse Strategy and to Tackle Violence Against Women, which ended on 21 September 2009. The Minister identified three key messages to arise from the consultation, one of which was ‘the need to provide more services for male victims of domestic abuse’.i
We acknowledge that men can be victims of domestic abuse, and proportional services are therefore required. The vast majority of domestic abuse services are catered towards women and have been developed with women’s specific set of service needs in mind as a result of over thirty years of tailoring services to meet the needs of women and children. There is relatively little research into the specific needs of male victims. However, the available research and experiences of service providers working with male victims suggests that the services required by men may differ from those required by women, including important differences in scale, incidence and effects. As such, and in line with the Welsh Assembly Government’s commitment to providing citizen-centred services, service responses will differ both in terms of level of need and type of services required, according to whether the victim is a man or a woman. The assumption that services which have been created with women’s needs in mind will be a perfect ‘fit’ for male victims, or that single-sex domestic abuse services can become mixed-sex, fail to take into account men’s and women’s specific, and often different, needs. As such, gender-neutral approaches are not helpful (and indeed can sometimes be dangerous) for either male or female victims.
The purpose of this briefing is therefore to inform policy and service provision in this area. A number of expert organisations who provide services to men are in support of the points made in this briefing; a list of supporters can be found at the end of this document.


There are important quantitative differences between the domestic abuse experienced by women and that experienced by men, which needs to be considered when planning appropriate levels of service provision for male victims of domestic abuse:

  • In 2008/09, around 1 in 3 (31%) of reported violent incidents against women was domestic violence, compared with 5% of incidents against men.ii Women were victims in over three-quarters (77%) of reported domestic violence incidents.iii

  • In 2008/09, 94% of callers to the gender-neutral Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline were from women and approximately 2% of calls were from male victims.iv

  • In 2007/08, 44% of all female homicide victims were killed by a current or former partner – compared with 6% of male victims being killed by a current or former partner.v

  • Between 2008/09, the prevalence of domestic abuse decreased for men but not for

It is certainly the case that men are victims of domestic abuse, and that both national and local governments have a duty to ensure that these victims have access to support. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission points out: ‘an effective approach would be to respond to local and national needs and provide additional funds for services to men where these are identified as lacking, without distracting from women’s services or funding.’vii

Men-centred services

It is clear from the rigorous research available and the experiences of service providers working with men that male victims of domestic abuse not only have a different level of need to women, but also require different kinds of services.viii There is broad agreement across men’s and women’s organisations that a gender-neutral approach is not helpful and does not support the Welsh Assembly Government’s commitment to citizen-centered services. This was also highlighted by the United Nations Committee’s recommendations to the UK Government when they last reported to the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): ‘The application of a “neutral” policy can have the outcome of disadvantaging women’.ix

It is a disservice to men to assume that male victims require the same services as existing women’s services, which have been developed over the last 35 years with the specific needs and experiences of women in mind.x Existing services and methodology of delivery must not be skewed in an attempt to meet men’s needs. Men’s experience of domestic violence and abuse are different to women’s and they must be treated differently, with active efforts made to reach male victims and respond appropriately.xi The Men’s Advice Line signposts callers to a wide range of voluntary and statutory agencies for further help, based on what callers ask for. In 2009, out of 1659 ‘signposting actions’ 462 clients were signposted to a legal advice centre, 266 to the Police and/or Community Safety Unit, 153 to a housing advice agency for housing matters other than emergency accommodation (refuge), 135 to individual counselling and 47 to a refuge for men. These 47 ‘signposting actions’ were to men who specifically asked for a refuge and to frontline workers who asked for a refuge on behalf of a male client; however, it is unclear whether the frontline workers asking for a male refuge had carried out an assessment to determine whether their clients would benefit from a refuge or a different service. Therefore, potentially less than 47 clients needed a refuge.

Assessing and screening men presenting as victims

Research and practice suggests that a clear screening protocol is absolutely essential when providing services to men who present as victims of domestic abuse because a significant number of men who initially present as victims are found to be perpetrators.xii Techniques used by male perpetrators who present as victims may include the language of victimisation, denial, transferral of blame and justification using gender roles. In some cases, ‘the mis-reporting of abuse can itself be a form of domestic abuse’.xiii xiv

  • The Dyn Project is a WAG-funded service provider working with male victims of domestic abuse in Wales. The Project strongly advocates a need for clear screening mechanisms, particularly when working with heterosexual men, where ‘it is not possible to rely on a statistical probability that they will be a victim’. Of a sample cohort of 171 males surveyed, Dyn found that 46% were heterosexual men with a known history of abusive or violent incidents (33% were heterosexual men with no known history of abuse). xv

  • The Men’s Advice Line is a telephone helpline providing advice and support to men in abusive relationships. In a recent research exercise over a brief period of time, 79 callers initially presented as male victims of female perpetrators, and workers identified 36 of these as perpetrators by the end of the call.xvi More interestingly, approximately 11.4% out of those who originally presented as victims accepted, by the end of the call, that it was their own behaviour that was abusive – in other words they accepted they were the perpetrator rather than the victim in the relationship.xvii The Men’s Advice Line reports that historically, approximately one-third of men who initially present as male victims of perpetrators appeared to be perpetrators.xviii This one-third take up significant time and effort from helpline workers, making it more difficult for the other two-thirds (the genuine male victims) to get through and access the service.

These experiences are very different to the experiences of service providers who work with women, who spend the vast bulk of their time actually providing services.xix Screening clearly needs to be an essential part of any domestic abuse service for men. Failing to screen may result in collusion with a perpetrator, providing services to someone who does not need them, equipping a perpetrator with information that may be used to abuse his partner, and failing to accurately assess risk to a partner and children.xx

Single-sex services

Given the numbers of men who present as victims but are actually perpetrators, mixed services may put women and their children at risk. Over 90% of women support a woman’s right to access women-only services.xxi Male victims have also been reported to feel ‘uncomfortable’ in a service geared towards women and children; services for men should be tailored towards men in their own right.xxii

Gender-neutral policies within WAG are having a damaging effect on the ground. Local authorities in Wales are misinterpreting the Gender Equality Duty and thinking they need to provide the ‘same’ services to men as to women, including within mixed-sex settings. Several Women’s Aid groups are being forced to open their doors to men or risk losing funding, or are unable to bid for funding contracts due to being women-only. This is leading to local authorities being at risk of prosecution by the EHRC for improper use of the Gender Equality Duty.xxiii Under the new WAG Violence Against Women Strategy, the EHRC will be taking further action to remind local authorities of the need to retain single-sex domestic abuse services under the Gender Equality Duty in recognition of these pressures faced by Women’s Aid groups on the ground.

On an international level, the UK has been pulled up by the UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) Committee, who recommend that further guidance be provided so that the Duty is interpreted and applied properly and that single-sex services are safeguarded. This is due to service users preferring single-sex services, and the wealth of best practice and research supporting single-sex approaches.xxiv

A multi-agency response

While it is essential to safeguard single-sex services, these should work within a multi-agency framework.xxv Benefits of this include increased information-sharing between advocates working with men and advocates working with women (including identifying perpetrators); providing a holistic picture of male clients; raising awareness of male victims; improving response to male victims; and providing specialist services to GBT victims.xxvi

The Dyn Project recommended that ‘a heterosexual men’s project will always need to be linked to a service for women ... because the boundary between victim and perpetrator is often blurred for these men, a close coordination between these services is vital’.xxvii Sharing databases and protocols, as well as close liaison between staff of men’s and women’s services (but not sharing office space necessarily), could increase women’s safety while providing services for legitimate male victims.

Do men require refuge?

Emergency temporary refuge accommodation forms a cornerstone of specialist women’s domestic abuse services. This has sometimes led to the assumption from non-specialists that male victims require the same service.

However, the current need for male refuge spaces is substantially less than that for women.xxviii The Home Office Select Affairs Committee heard evidence on this subject in 2008 and concluded that ‘the need for bed spaces for men is not of the same order of magnitude as for women’.xxix The Men’s Advice Line said in their evidence to the Committee: ‘the issue of men’s refuges has been somewhat misrepresented by some for political reasons that have more to do with misogyny than concern for genuine individuals’.xxx Respect recommend that further research is needed to ascertain what the demand for all-male refuges actually is,xxxi before local authorities make misguided assumptions based on misinterpretations of the Gender Equality Duty and assumptions that men require ‘the same’ services as women. In the last nine months, two out of the UK’s seven recognised refuges for male victims have closed due to lack of demand.xxxii Despite the evidence, in Wales a projected demand for male refuges has been prioritised in Supporting People Operational Plans, which in turn prioritise resource allocation.
Reasons reported for men not requiring refuge on anywhere near the same scale as women include:

  • Most male victims do not express the same levels of fear as women,xxxiii xxxiv and in particular are significantly less likely to feel fearful in their own home.xxxv

  • Women experience a greater amount of abuse from their male partners than vice versaxxxvi (89% of those who suffer sustained violence are womenxxxvii); men are less seriously injured.xxxviii

  • Men report women’s violence as ‘inconsequential’ and not affecting their wellbeing or safety; women report greater emotional, psychological and physical impact.xxxix

  • Men’s violence creates a context of fear and control, which is less often the case for women’sxl xli

  • Most will remain in their own homes due to commitments relating to gendered roles, such as being more likely to be in full-time employment, more likely to be home owners and more likely to be financially independent than women.xlii

  • Women still make up the vast majority of primary caregivers. Children are at significant risk of being abused in domestic abuse scenarios, or of witnessing abuse which has significant damaging effects. Over half of all occupants of Welsh Women’s Aid refuges are children.xliii

One important possible exception is male victims of honour-based violence. Gemini found that 4 of their 14 male victims who they supported in refuge were fleeing honour-based violence.xliv The Home Office Select Affairs Committee also reported that male victims of forced marriage may need emergency housing.xlv This client group represents a more specific set of service user needs (for example, they are more likely to be younger, more isolated and fleeing more than one perpetrator), and strengthens the argument for specialist service provision.

Sexuality and male victimsxlvi

Research and practice has found that Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (GBT) male victims have different experiences and needs to heterosexual male victims. This must be taken into consideration to design appropriate victim-centred service provision. The Dyn Project report gives in-depth information on these differences from its experiences supporting heterosexual and GBT male victims. Briefly, the following differences apply and show that ‘male victims’ are far from being a homogenous group with singular service requirements.


  • For genuine male victims, twice as many gay men as heterosexual men were identified as ‘high’ or ‘very high’ risk, accounting for almost 1 in 3 gay male referrals

  • 27% of gay male referrals were repeat referrals compared to 3% of heterosexual men

Types of abuse:

  • Sexual violence is often central to GBT domestic abuse (but is not a common factor for heterosexual male victims).xlvii xlviii

  • The threat to ‘out’ remains a central weapon that GBT perpetrators can rely on as a means of exerting control over their victim.xlix

  • Fears of homophobia from services and the police and a lack of specialist resources mean that many GBT victims do not come forward.l

Service provision:

  • Heterosexual men seem to prefer outreach and GBT are more likely to need to actually leave their homes in order to be

  • GBT men require specific referral routes, risk assessment tools and long-term counselling.

  • The need for specialist services is even more acute in the cases of GBT victims; workers must understand the ‘unique aspects of domestic abuse as they affect the GBT communities’, and the Dyn Project report questions ‘whether a service designed for men experiencing domestic abuse can adequately serve men across the sexuality spectrum’.

  • Gay male clients were more likely to accept services and long-term support and to express desire for support and advocacy than their heterosexual counterparts, many of whom were either unwilling to engage with service provision or were ‘satisfied to only receive an initial contact letter and leaflet’ and to know that the Dyn Project’s services were available to them in addition to helplines

  • Gay male victims were less likely to recognise or disclose their experiences as abusive, yet much more willing to take up services and support than heterosexual men.

  • Screening mechanisms are also essential when working with gay, bisexual and transgender (GBT) men ‘because the dynamics of the relationship may not make it possible to easily identify the role of each partner or there may be a history of counter-allegations.’lii

It is clearly not appropriate to offer the same type of intervention to all ‘men experiencing domestic abuse’ and neither is it appropriate for men’s services to be tacked on to women’s; this could decrease the likelihood of men accessing services, whatever their sexuality. A specific strategy should be developed for GBT male victims of domestic abuse to account for these different needs, including the development of specific material and referral routes (e.g. GBT domestic abuse literature and outreach in LGBT community venues and events). The Wales VAW Action Group has recommended previously that a specific strategy for male victims of domestic abuse be developed.liii Generic policies and services fail men and women across the sexuality spectrum.

Men’s needs

The available research suggests that male victims of domestic abuse are likely to require different services depending on need.liv The following are some examples of services required:

  • Target-hardening and crime prevention (e.g. specialist lock fitters such as Homesafe).

  • Housing referrals, including linking specialist male domestic abuse service providers with (L)GBT organisations to provide suitable housing and advocacy and support for GBT victims.

  • Alternative accommodation such as hostels, bedsits, privately rented flats or social housing rather than male

  • Outreach community services encourage reporting, including approaches which holistically address issues of masculinity, as men are more likely to feel shame if a woman hits them.

  • Raising awareness of the available services. Heterosexual men are reluctant to engage with services in comparison to women and GBT men.lvi

  • Informal but direct, non-social-work-driven contact may be successful. Men are less likely to engage in the group self-help approach that works for women.lvii

  • Helpline serviceslviii

  • Referral to an organisation that works with perpetrators of domestic abuse and violence.lix

  • Appropriate risk assessment procedures.lx

Engaging men takes time and significantly different methods to engaging women, and differs according to the sexuality of the male victim, as well as other equalities strands such as age and ethnicity. Further research is needed on the Welsh context.


The need for services for male victims of domestic abuse is not at dispute within this document. However, it is important that services are evidence-based and draw on best practice, practitioner experience and research findings. In particular, services for men should:

  • Be proportional to local need

  • Be evidence-based and not based on the model of service provision to women

  • Be single-sex (with single-sex services retained for women)

  • Be victim-centred and specific to the needs of men

  • Include robust screening mechanisms and staff trained on screening

  • Be delivered in a multi-agency setting with information-sharing protocols with women’s domestic abuse organisations and (where appropriate) GBT organisations

  • Be citizen-centred, including services catering to the specific needs of GBT male victims.

The One Wales Agreement compels WAG to have due respect for equality of opportunity – that does not mean that exactly the same services, at an equivalent level, should be provided for men and women. If women are overwhelmingly victims of some forms of violence, then the balance in service provision should reflect that. We need to ensure that services are proportional to need and that funding is not directed away from women’s services to serve a projected need for numerically equivalent services for men, particularly in a time of public spending cuts.

For more information on anything in this briefing please contact Hannah Austin (Policy Officer): / 029 2039 0874.

With many thanks to the following organisations, who have informed and are in support of this paper:
Coalition on Men and Boys

A coalition of organisations aiming to explore the problems that men and boys face and create; harness the potential that men and boys have to contribute to the wellbeing of society; and identify how policy and practice can engage more effectively with men and boys in the UK.

The Dyn Project

Raising awareness of male domestic abuse and providing accessible support to men experiencing it within Cardiff and across Wales.


Domestic abuse service provider, including for male victims, in North Somerset.

Men’s Advice Line

The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for all male victims of domestic violence. We provide emotional support, practical advice and information on a wide range of agencies for further help, including legal issues, parenting, mental health etc.

Relate Cymru

Relate works to promote health, respect and justice in couple and family relationships through relationship counselling; family counselling; counselling for children and young people; and sex therapy.


UK membership association for domestic violence perpetrator programmes and associated support services. Our vision is to end violence and abuse in intimate partner and close family relationships.  Our key focus is on promoting, supporting, delivering and developing effective interventions with perpetrators.

Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline

The national free support and information service for women, children and men in Wales who are experiencing or who have experienced abuse at the hands of someone close to them.

Wales Violence Against Women Action Group

A coalition of organisations tackling violence against women in Wales through raising awareness, challenging attitudes and pressing for change in government policy. Members include Amnesty International, the EHRC, NUS, UNIFEM, the United Nations Association, Welsh Refugee Council and many more.

White Ribbon Campaign

UK branch of the global campaign to ensure men take more responsibility for reducing the level of violence against women.

 Carl Sargeant AM, Ministerial Statement, 5 January 2010.

ii Home Office Statistical Bulletin (2009), Crime in England and Wales 2008/09, Volume I: Findings from the British Crime Survey and Police Recorded Crime.

iii Ibid.

iv Welsh Women’s Aid (2009)

v Povey, D., Coleman, K., Kaiza, P. and Roe, S. (2009), Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2007/08, London: Home Office.

vi Home Office Statistical Bulletin (2009).

vii Equality and Human Rights Commission (2009), Better Public Services: Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women, p.5.

viii This is supported by The Dyn Project, Gemini, the Men’s Advice Line and Respect.

ix CEDAW Committee 41st session (paragraph 17)

xServices developed with women victims in mind (such as MARACs and risk assessment protocols) may not translate adequately to male victims. See Robinson, A. and Rowlands, J. (2006), Final Evaluation Report of The Dyn Project: Supporting Men Experiencing Domestic Abuse

xi Debbonaire, T. (2008), A Report of an Evaluation of the Men’s Advice Line

xii Hester, M. (2009) Who Does What to Whom? Gender and Domestic Violence Perpetrators, Bristol: University of Bristol in association with the Northern Rock Foundation, p.4.

xiii Watkins, P. (2005), ‘Police Perspective. Discovering Hidden Truths in Domestic Violence Intervention’, in Journal of Family Violence, 20(1), 47-54.

xiv Hearn, J. (1998), The Violences of Men: How Men Talk About and How Agencies Respond to Men’s Violence to Women (London: Sage).

xv See section on Prevalence

xvi Respect (2009), Toolkit for Work with Male Victims of Domestic Violence

xvii Ibid.

xviii Ibid. Respect’s toolkit provides information on assessing the needs of male victims, including screening and Respect are currently providing training on working with male victims of domestic violence

xix Including The Dyn Project, Gemini, Respect, the Men’s Advice line.

xx Robinson and Rowlands (2006).

xxi Women’s Resource Centre (2007), Why Women-Only? (London: WRC)

xxii Robinson and Rowlands (2006).

xxiii Equality and Human Right Commission (2009), p.4

xxiv See, for example, Women’s Resource Centre (2008), Why Women Only?

xxv Robinson and Rowlands (2006).

xxvi The Dyn Project worked closely in a multi-agency setting with the Women’s Safety Unit (now Cardiff Women’s Safety Unit)

xxvii Robinson and Rowlands (2006).

xxviii See, for example, Debbonaire, T. (2008).

xxix Home Office (2008), Select Committee on Home Affairs 6th Report, paragraph 220, available at

xxx Ibid.

xxxi Respect (2009)

xxxii Including Caldmore Housing and Alan Hardie Partnership (information from Gemini, March 2010)

xxxiii Men’s Advice Line, in Ibid.

xxxiv Hester (2009).

xxxv Analysis of Scottish Crime Survey 2000 in Gadd, D., Farrall, S., Dallimore, D., & Lombard, N. (2002). Domestic Abuse Against Men in Scotland (Scottish Executive CRU: Edinburgh).

xxxvi See, for example, Hester (2009).

xxxvii Walby, S. and Allen, J. (2004), Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey, Home Office Research Study 276, London: Home Office.

xxxviii Ibid.

xxxix Dobash, R. P. and Dobash, R. E. (2004). ‘Women’s Violence Against an Intimate Male partner: Working on a Puzzle’, in British Journal of Criminology, 44 (3), 324-349.

xl There is a plethora of research over the last 40 years to support this, and most women’s service providers work to the definition of DA that it creates a context of coercive control. See e.g. Dobash and Dobash (2004); Walby and Allen (2004); Hester (2009).

xli Robinson and Rowlands (2006).

xlii Respect (2009), Position Paper on Gender and Domestic Violence.

xliii Welsh Women’s Aid, 2010.

xliv Gemini (2009).

xlv Home Office Select Affairs Committee (2008), para 220.

xlvi Unless otherwise stated all information is from Robinson and Rowlands (2006).

xlvii Robinson and Rowlands (2006); Coalition on Men and Boys (2009), Man Made: Men, Masculinities and Equality in Public Policy.

xlviii Greenwood, G.L., Relf, M.V., Huang, B., Pollack, L.M., Canchola, J.A., & Catania, J.A. (2002). Battering Victimization Among a Probability-Based Sample of Men Who Have Sex With Men. American Journal of Public Health, 92 (12), 1964-1969; Heinz, A.J., & Melendez, R.M. (2006). Intimate Partner Violence and HIV/STD Risk among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(2), 193-208.

xlix For example, Coalition on Men and Boys, Dyn Project, Respect, Men’s Advice Line.

l Ibid.

li Women’s Aid Federation of England (2007), Safeguarding Survivors and Services: The Future of Specialist Independent Quality Domestic Violence Services

lii Robinson and Rowlands (2006).

liii Robinson and Rowlands (2006); Wales Violence Against Women Action Group (2009), VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Why an Integrated Strategy in Wales?

liv A new piece of work is underway at the University of Bristol to identify the specific requirements of different male survivors. This will address the recent experiences and knowledge of the Men’s Advice Line, the Dyn Project and other services that work with men such as the Nottinghamshire Domestic Violence Forum and the Gemini project.

lv Men’s Advice Line (2008).

lvi Robinson and Rowlands (2006); British Crime; Mirrlees-Black, C. (1999). Domestic Violence: Findings from a new British Crime Survey self-completion questionnaire. London: Home Office Research Study, 55.

lvii Lloyd, T. (2001). What works with Fathers? London: Working with Men.

lviii Debbonaire, T. (2008), Men’s Advice Line Evaluation Report

lix Robinson and Rowlands (2006)

lx Ibid.

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