In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse.
The Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 aims to reform the current legislation on domestic abuse and provide an effective justice system for all victims of abuse. The Government intends to do this by providing increased protection for the victims and families and bringing the perpetrators to justice. The Bill will create a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which includes several types of abuse such as physical, emotional, coercive and controlling behaviour and economic abuse. The definition created will be based on the existing cross-government definition which was introduced in 2012. This definition is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality’.
The new definition of domestic abuse will be divided into two parts:
- The first part of the definition deals with the relationship between the abuser and the abused. They must be personally connected to have a relationship which involves ‘domestic abuse’. They must be aged 16 or over. If they are under 16 the abuse would be child abuse rather than domestic abuse.
- The second part defines what constitutes abusive behaviour.The government listed broad categories of the different types of abusive behaviour. This includes physical, emotional and economic abuse.
It has been noted that this definition holds the most ‘symbolic weight’ in the landmark bill to tackle the problem of domestic abuse as it broadens the scope of abusive behaviours. The definition ensures that the severity of domestic abuse is understood, considered unacceptable and actively challenged across agencies.
The Bill will also establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner who can raise public awareness about the realities of the abuse and provide support for the victims. They will also be able to monitor the legislation governing domestic abuse. Their job role involves being committed to tackling domestic abuse across the UK.
From the 2.4 million adults who had suffered from domestic abuse in 2019, 1.6 million were women and 786,000 were men. The guidance on the 2020 Bill will recognise that statistically, the majority of the victims of (reported) abuse are female. However, the definition is intended to be gender neutral to ensure that no victim is excluded as men make up a third of reported domestic violence case,
The Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy is a government strategy to work alongside the introduction of the 2020 Bill. This is to allow for greater integration of policies on domestic violence against women and girls. This is to reflect the realities of the victims being mainly female, however it is made clear that this strategy is to be achieved without the exclusion of men and boys from the protection of domestic abuse legislation. In order to clarify the Governments response to male victims, they have published a ‘Male Victims Position Statement’.
Difficulties for male victims
Many victims of domestic abuse will consider not reporting the abuse they have faced, because they fear that they will not be believed and the abuse will worsen as a result of this.
The position statement issued by the Government recognises the difficulties that male victims will face, which include identifying themselves as a victim of domestic abuse. This is a result of the harmful gender norms and societal stereotypes of masculinity. These act as barriers for male victims and it may affect them reporting the crimes they are facing or seeking help at all. An example of this is produced by the Male Survivors Partnership, who concluded that 20% of the men sampled took over 31 years to disclose that they have been sexually abused. This may be because the help which is put in place is primarily designed for the main group of people who are affected by domestic abuse, heterosexual females.
Data from 2015-2017 indicates that gay and bisexual men are more likely than heterosexual men to be victims of all crime, which includes domestic abuse. Almost half (49%) of all gay and bisexual men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse from a family member or partner since the age of 16. A barrier which LGBT men may face is that they are unsure whether the support which is available to domestic abuse victims is LGBT friendly.
Galop is an anti-violence charity specifically for LGBT victims. They offer help and advice services in relation to domestic abuse, hate crimes and sexual violence. This may help victims to get help as they are specifically supporting LGBT victims.
Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
The proposed reforms have led to the CPS making a public statement on male victims. The purpose of the statement is to show the public that the CPS would like to help challenge the myths and challenges surrounding male domestic abuse.
They have laid out commitments to male victims which include:
- Exploring the issues that may arise because of discrimination, such as LGBT issues.
- Reflecting the male experience of these crimes in relevant media communications by working closely with male groups to increase confidence in reporting crimes.
- Being more involved with national male groups.
Male Position Statement
As discussed, the Male Position Statement was produced to reaffirm the government strategy on ending this type of violence. The statement outlines access to support services which are available to male victims, including Men’s Advice Line which offers online communication challenges allowing the victims to choose their preferred method of contact.
The paper also outlines commitments to further the support of male victims and survivors. This is to continue to work with the sector for male victims to improve the quality of support which is available to aid victims. The Government have stated that:
- £500,000 will be provided to specialist organisations that support male victims.
- £500,000 will be given to specialist LGBT domestic abuse organisations to improve support and raise awareness within the LGBT communities to increase reporting.
- They will ensure that education will be provided about building a positive and respectful relationship, gender stereotypes and outlining when to seek help.
The story of Alex Skeel – a turning point for male victims
Alex Skeel is a 24-year-old man who is a domestic violence survivor. His case attracted media coverage because of the extreme nature of the abuse that he was put through by his girlfriend, Jordan Worth. Alex was controlled from the start of the relationship, including the level of contact he had with his family and friends and what clothes he could wear. The abuse escalated, as Alex was beaten, stabbed and starved. He was left with severed tendons, fluid on the brain and severe burns.
Alex claims that he did not seek help or leave Jordan as they had two young children together, he feared that Jordan would turn her abuse onto them. Police officers visited Alex and he admitted what had been going on. After three years of mental and physical abuse, the police intervened and Alex told them the truth.
Jordan was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. She admitted to controlling and coercive behaviour, wounding with intent and causing grievous bodily harm. She was the first female to go to prison for coercive and controlling behaviour.
Alex now hopes that male domestic abuse will be taken seriously, as he admits the stigma that prevents men from speaking out. He is an ambassador for domestic violence charity, ‘The Mankind Initiative’. He hopes that because he has shared his story that it will save other male victims and to take the stigma away from men seeking help.
Male victims are faced with the stigmatisation that they are unable to reach out for help, as it may affect their ‘masculinity’. It is hoped that the reforms put in place by the government will provide justice to victims and effectively punish perpetrators.
This article was written by Aimee Sewell.