Homicide research reveals society ‘blind’ to male victims of domestic violence

Photograph courtesy of: Credit to University of Cumbria
Homicide research reveals society ‘blind’ to male victims of domestic violence

Ground-breaking new research shows society still does not readily recognise male domestic abuse victims and some may have lost their lives as a result.  

The research looked at homicides featuring male victims of domestic abuse and found that opportunities to help them were missed due to gender bias and outdated stereotypes.  

The bias dually inhibited male victims from reporting their abuse and public support services, such as police and health care, from recognising them as victims.   

The research examined 22 Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHR), a type of statutory multi-agency review conducted in the event of a person’s death when it appears to result from domestic violence, abuse, or neglect.   

The study identified several findings where there were missed opportunities to help and support male victims, including repeated dismissal of female partners’ abusive acts by services and a lack of professional curiosity. Some of the men found themselves suspected instead.   

Half of the reviews showed support services lacked guidance to help identify and treat male victims and a considerable number of men whose injuries were dismissed by the police and other services as well as friends and family.  

Taken from the DHR of “James” who was later fatally stabbed by his partner: “when James attended MRI with a police officer for treatment of the stab wound, he was not asked any questions by attending professionals in relation to domestic abuse. There was no targeted enquiry and no apparent consideration that James may have been a victim of domestic abuse.” 

Many DHRs explicitly acknowledge the lack of provision for male victims. "...no local agencies were known that deal solely in supporting male victims of domestic abuse" (taken from the DHR of "Mark").

Men were often seen a perpetrators rather than victims: "Mr D was often seen as the perpetrator and therefore there were missed opportunities to undertake a DASH risk assessment with him as a victim... Mr D was not referred to the local specialist support service for domestic abuse or victim support team because he was not recognised as the victim." (Taken from the DHR of "Mr D who dies by suicide.)

The research began as a masters’ dissertation by Katie Hope, 25, from Manchester, who is now a psychology graduate from the University of Cumbria.  

Katie sent freedom of information requests to local councils to track down the reviews. She suspected there would be some bias, yet she was surprised by the extent.  

She said: “I was astonished at the level of bias and how little support some men had. The attitudes of some individuals who encountered the victims was very surprising. It was shocking and incredibly sad to read.”   

Now the dissertation has been transformed into a published paper by leading male domestic abuse researcher, Dr Liz Bates of the University of Cumbria, who was Katie’s tutor and who has done much to elevate the issue of male victims of domestic violence into public consciousness. Recently appearing on the Channel 5 programme When Women Abuse Men - Channel 5. 

Dr Liz Bates argued that current domestic abuse services are not working inclusively and that this is stopping male victims from seeking help. 

She said: “The findings of this study reveal the number of missed opportunities to help these men and they faced a number of barriers to getting support. This is the first analysis of its kind, and it gives a strong indication of how we need to change our approach to working with male victims”  

It is the first time that domestic homicide reviews have been examined collectively* as currently councils are not bound to share reviews and nor is there a central library to house them. This issue has been raised with the Home Office by the charity, ManKind Initiative, which supports male domestic abuse victims across the UK, who have set up their own Domestic Homicide Library to compensate. 

Chair of the charity, Mark Brooks OBE, who has long campaigned for recognition and better support of male victims, is also a co-author of the research.   

Recently he welcomed the Domestic Abuse Act, which came into force in April, but raised concerns that although the new law is meant to apply to everyone, he is not confident it will until male victims are recognised by society.  

Mark said: “This ground-breaking research shows how male victims of domestic abuse are still too invisible and for many of these men, it is likely to have cost them their lives. Too many professionals still simply failed to recognise, ‘see’ or understand that men can be victims and because of this they missed obvious signs or did not ask the right questions. Repeatedly these domestic homicide reviews highlighted this which shows it is a systemic issue.   

“For the new domestic abuse laws to be fully successfully, we need a cultural change that ends this societal and professional blindness. Otherwise, nothing will change and opportunities to save men’s lives will continue to be missed.” 

Although this research is the first of its kind, the authors recognise its limitations due to the small number of DHR’s studied. This was because not all reviews from that period were shared with the authors at the point the research was carried out.  

However, the authors stand by their recommendations of increased funding for community services and more awareness campaigns and issuing guidance on recognising victims to safeguarding services as vital to change the situation for male victims.