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013: Meeting the needs of male victims of domestic and family violence - Part 5

This is a broadcast of a Panel Session called Meeting the needs of male victims of domestic and family violence, presented at the Australian Institute of Criminology's Meeting the needs of victims of crime conference held in Sydney on 19 May 2011.

Part 5 of the Panel Session features Dr Elizabeth Celi, psychologist, author and media commentator, hosting a panel comprised of Toni Mclean, Greg Andresen and Greg Millan, taking questions from the floor.

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Elizabeth Celi: Thank you to all of our speakers today. Time certainly has moved on as we now come to the question time. So in starting to raise some of this discussion with our panel members and amongst the audience members I’ll just remind you of some of the myths and assumptions and misperceptions that have developed to date. And having worked in this field, all of us in our various capacities are very clear that male victims are there, they’re in dire need of the support and we also know the blocks in resources that they face. And we do our best in our capacity to help them on that one-on-one level.

Clearly social awareness, community awareness and various service provider awareness is required so that re-victimisation or misjudgements don’t inadvertently occur. There’s still the shock and surprise that a male could experience this and how that could possibly occur.

As I open it up to any questions, given we’ve got short time left, we’d be certainly interested in everyone having a chance to ask a question. Please keep any commentary as brief as possible as you get to your question and we’ll aim to have some good discussion with you. So I saw a hand up the back there.

Q: Hi. Thanks for the speeches. I just wanted to ask, you know, one of the main things that you pinpointed is that men are scared to lose their kids, and access to their kids. I've got lots of friends who are not in abusive relationship but when it comes to the family court it's very hard for them even as good fathers not in a domestic situation to get access to their children. Is there any sort of progress in the family courts to, I guess, take note of these domestic situations and how do they perceive it?

Elizabeth Celi: (to the panel) Any of you  want to take that? The same kind of barriers and blocks are happening there. The system being able to assist female victims in this area may have the same kind of paradigm and perception, but nonetheless they’re still male victims as well. What we’ve found in work we’ve done is to keep on informing men about these difficulties they may face in that sphere and being aware, it’s another layer that they’re needing to deal with, whilst also being distressed, going through these difficult times and incredibly concerned for their children in the mere fact of protecting them. His thinking “If I leave or if I don’t really do my best for this situation, they’ll be exposed to the same abuse and violence”. So they’re incredibly protective and loyal, obviously to their kids, and loyal to their partner in that they don’t really want to go through that system anyhow. They’ll be the last to really bring up any slander toward their ex-partner.

I think it’s slow, but steady. There’s a service up in Queensland, Men’s Rights Agency, that assists in this process and is certainly more informed of the details of that, so if you want to look up their website.

Greg Andresen: Dad’s in Distress as well.

Elizabeth Celi: And Dad’s in Distress certainly looks specifically at the legal system with that. It (law system) is a very slow system as we all know. Yeah.

Q: Thank you.

Elizabeth Celi: You’re welcome. Were there any other questions? Comments? Should I take this as shock?!! Go for it.

Q: I think it was Greg Andresen mentioned the research, sorry I wrote it down, I've got a bad memory… predictability. The greatest predictor of perpetration down the track was the female to male violence. I didn't write down the study but it did sound interesting. Can you tell me the name of it or where I would look that up?

Greg Andresen: Absolutely. If you go to oneinthree.com.au it’s linked to there, but I will give it to you again here. So it was the National Crime Prevention Study (2001), and the title was Young People and Domestic Violence. It was produced by the Attorney General’s Department in Canberra. Because of the change of government, they’ve archived their document from their website, but there’s an active link from the One in Three website to the full PDF of that.

Elizabeth Celi: Okay, other questions? Greg, perhaps you can let us know about some of the outcomes and achievements that have come since One in Three was launched 18 months ago.

Greg Andresen: Okay, well the public response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had many emails of support from around Australia and across the globe. Many supporters have joined the campaign and they’re listed on the website, many high profile supporters. We’ve got a lot of media coverage, in the print press, radio and online. I just talked about three-quarters of a million dollars recently committed to Mensline Australia to support male victims of family violence. I can’t say we’re directly responsible for that, but these things have been happening since we started, so we hoped we’ve played a part in that.

The New South Wales Government domestic violence website now has a page for male victims. They’ve never had a page previously and we think that’s a big step forward. There is, as I mentioned, Mensline Australia now has tip sheets for male victims of domestic violence on their website, which they didn't before. We’ve commissioned some new data from the ABS from the Personal Safety Survey that was done in 2005, which shows there’s no significant difference between the levels of physical assault experienced by men and women in the home or from persons known to them, so that wasn’t teased out in the published report, so we had to commission some data for that.

We’ve lodged submissions with a number of inquiries including family law inquiries to try to make sure that the family law system is responsive to the needs of male victims and their children. We’ve attended consultation processes around the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children and around the New South Wales Domestic Violence Behaviour Change Programs. And I’ve been assisting Greg where I can with some information and resources for his training program.

We’re collaborating with an organisation in Western Australia you may not be aware of called the Global Good Foundation, which is a charity that works in the area of domestic and family violence. And we’re working together with them so that their domestic violence campaigns and resources include the voices of both men and women. And we’ve assisted with the program I mentioned that’s running in the Hawkesbury region of Sydney, where Windsor police are referring male victims to the Hawkesbury District Health Service for phone counselling. We’ve established a data collection program with them so that we can actually keep tabs on the data around these men.

So a number of things. It’s a slow, steady process of chipping away, but we feel that things are changing and it’s going to be a long road. And of course, none of that would ever take away from the need for services for women.

Elizabeth Celi: So one of the key things that we’ve often found along the way, and having done several radio and TV interviews on this topic, one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is, shortly after, the myriad of phone calls and emails that come in from men absolutely relieved that someone’s spoken about it. Just relieved – in tears. And just there listening if they’ve called, or reading their emails sharing their story and offering (to me) “…if you need more information or if you need this for somewhere else, please let m know”.

To be able to receive non-judgmental support and some initial understanding, knowing that they won’t be ridiculed or judged by unfortunate misconceptions that many have unfortunately received just by unawareness of people working in the field and needing to come to grips with this level of information, the dynamics involved and that men aren’t likely to tell you anytime soon.

So in our capacity, in our working levels, the screening and the questioning is important. Asking the questions we may not feel comfortable to ask, or haven’t even been alerted to ask, which hopefully today has given you some thoughts of other questions to consider. Not only of men, in terms of ‘do you experience certain types of abuse’. Typically a starting point would be the verbal abuse. The level of criticism, insults, being demeaned, being belittled and the pattern or frequency of that over time and the psychological impact that can have on anyone, in particular masculine thinking, normal manhood strengths being demeaned, if not their fatherhood role or their sexual performance. And unfortunately, in this case, women’s increased verbal literacy can most certainly maim with a “sugar-coated viper-tongue”. Often men can relate to that description when you’re asking them about this kind of experience or they just start to bring it up themselves.

And similarly asking women about their patterns of potential abuse or if they use any physical means. For example; “Do you throw a pan, do you threaten, do you scratch, do you throw insults or criticisms?” The kind of things that even unconsciously happen for women because of frustration or anger or the various reasons that Greg mentioned earlier, and don’t realise that, over time it creates an abusive pattern and a difficult situation in their partnerships. It’s certainly not helping them develop a respectful relationship and one where they can generate more satisfaction and fulfilment with each other. So these are very important questions to keep in mind for yourselves.

Just prior to us closing up, we’d be interested to hear, in terms of your working capacity or chatting with other colleagues about this topic, what you’ve tended to come across or any thoughts, questions, uncertainties and opinions that you may have come across, if you’re willing to share.

Q: I would really like to ask a question about how effective Victim Services have been in responding to the needs of male victims of domestic violence.

Elizabeth Celi: What we’ve encountered so far is the shock that Greg Millan had initially mentioned. It’s initially a bit of a jaw drop, initially, of ‘oh, how do I handle this?’

Q: From Victim Services, not from...

Elizabeth Celi: From Victim Services, yeah from Victim Services. And unfortunately at times, through many anecdotes and clients I’ve worked with and perhaps the others may comment as well, of unfortunately certain comments like, “What did you do to deserve it? You must have done something wrong.” Or “Come on, man up.” or “Suck it up, she couldn’t possibly hurt you that much.” So flippant comments that have come out that, unfortunately, re-victimise. And the silence is then encouraged. He’s taken a step to come out, already in a psychologically abused state, if not socially abused, financially abused and so on, and that unfortunately perpetuates him to just go back into the cave again.

Similarly though, depending on the services, they have also gained some support. When people have been able to overcome some of the initial thoughts of shock and surprise, of going, “oh okay, it’s a human issue. We need to help you regain your strength and your resilience.” So there’s anecdotes and evidence on various sides.

Q: I think some of the strengths have been where services have networked together and it's more the relationship of the expertise of the counsellor he's being referred to, the social worker, the psychologist, the victim services support group, and then you get a very close clique, and you know that client is going to be supported, male or female.

Elizabeth Celi: And that’s why on this level we want to keep raising this social awareness on the worker level, on the service provider level so that we can be the beacons of light for the men so they don’t have to face too many barriers beyond what we face systemically anyway, in knowing what our work’s about. And being able to network and knowing he may need to be in touch with the court system somehow or a lawyer or other counsellors. Greg?

Greg Millan: Sorry, I just neglected to say. I mentioned my training program: there’s some postcards here at the front if people what to know more about the training program and how you contact me. The program’s been run here in Sydney and Perth and up in the Hunter region. Every time we run a program for about 25 people, they form a network, which is what you’re saying, which is great. So they can support each other and share information and that’s how it works.

There’ll be another one in Perth in September and we’re planning… I’m planning, if there’s interest, Brisbane and Melbourne. So if you live in an area where you’d like the program run, we can do it if you contact me. So there’s some information up here if you’d like that.

Elizabeth Celi: Thanks Greg. Greg or Tony, do you want to make any final comments before I wrap up? Okay, well, we won’t hold you up from afternoon tea, it is the second day! So just in wrapping up with you, we do hope that your awareness is raised on variable levels as you return in to your professional capacities and hopefully open up these discussions with your colleagues in raising awareness and understanding.

Please bear in mind: he’s not likely to tell you any time soon, so if we can invite you to consider the questions that I’ll put up in a moment in your own context. Just before that, each of us are happy to have a chat with you during the tea break if you’d like further information or our contact details again. So please feel free to approach us with any questions or discussion points.

If we can leave you with these questions to consider within your own context.

Question: “Where are we at in our views and approach toward male victims of abuse and violence?”

Hopefully it’s either expanded or we’ve shifted some things for you. Importantly on the other side of the coin,

Question: “Where are we at in terms of female perpetrators?”

They need some assistance as well and both sides of the coin will help the overall dynamic for men and women and children, naturally.

So with that, please enjoy your afternoon tea and the remainder of the conference and thank you so much for being with us for this hour-and-a-half. We appreciate your attention.

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