Women’s refuges told they must admit men

During the last few decades there has been an increase in the support of victims of violence. Great headway has been made in terms of promoting awareness about the problem and acknowledging some of the dynamics that cause them. While this increased social concern has helped many female victims, male victims remain largely marginalizing, not only by society, but also by the support network that is supposed to combat victimization.

A perfect example of this are domestic violence shelters. Despite that the majority of the shelters are publicly funded, male victims of domestic violence are often turned away. The few that provide services to male victims usually do so with hotel vouchers, which are good for only a few days and rarely allow for abused men to take their children with them. However, as a result of the efforts of men’s groups and domestic violence organizations that support male victims, the marginalization is beginning to budge.

Such an effort occurred recently in the United Kingdom. There has been a push to require government-funded domestic violence shelters to provide equal services to male victims under the current equality laws. Of course, some of the organizations that run female-only, government-funded shelters are none too pleased with that development:

Fiona Mactaggart, the former Home Office minister, said some refuge services had lost grants or contracts in what she said was an “unintended consequence” of changes in equality law.

“There are some local authorities who interpret equalities to mean that a refuge has to provide for men, not only for women,” said Mactaggart, co-chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party, a grouping of female MPs. “There are some stupidnesses developing in the system that nobody intended.”


Nicola Harwin, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said its branches were still allowed to exclude men from refuges, but were being told when council contracts came up for tender that they must provide services such as advice and outreach to men or lose their funding. Decades of progress in setting up refuges were being undermined, she said. In some cases contracts were being given to inexperienced providers who would deal with both sexes but did not follow important safeguards to prevent violent partners continuing to harass victims.

The Guardian article is slanted towards the view of the women’s groups. No one advocating for the inclusion of male victims was interviewed, from either the government or the men’s groups that were mentioned in passing. The slant of the article is that granting male victims access to established domestic violence shelters hurts female victims. What is curious is not so much the tone of the article or the wildly unsubstantiated claims, such as “Surveys have suggested that many allegations of being assaulted by women are made by men facing prosecution for domestic violence.” (The surveys are coincidentally not mentioned by name nor are their statistics listed anywhere in the article)

No, what is curious is the response of the groups. Mactaggart considers the application of the equality laws “stupidness,” yet the application is exactly the same as it has been applied for decades in regards to male-only organizations, both publicly and privately funded. The equality laws have always dictated that no one be excluded based on gender or sex, regardless of how the impact of forcing a co-ed situation would have on the boys and men who benefited from a male-only environment. Countless outreach programs, sports programs, after-school programs and a host of schools and businesses have been required, as a result of the interpretation Mactaggart finds stupid, to open their doors to the opposite sex. Most of those cases did not deal with victims of violence either.

It seems odd then that women’s groups would complain and consider it an example of silliness and gross misinterpretation to hold them to exactly the same standard of gender and sexual equality that they demand. More so, the spokeswomen who commented in the article demonstrated the likely reason why they are against granting male victims equal access:

[Nicola Harwin] said that many volunteers and staff at domestic violence charities were survivors of abuse for whom it was important that the organisation was all-female. “We are going to see a shrinking of provision. Women do appreciate being engaged in women-only organisations. When you have been disempowered and had no control of your life [through domestic violence] it’s important for a lot of women to see that this is an organisation run by women for women.”

In other words, men are oppressive and abusers and women are the oppressed victims. The victimology at work in Harwin’s response is typical. The implication is that if males were granted access, female victims would feel in danger and abused all over again. Amazingly, it never occurs to people who make such comments that male victims, having been victimized by women, might be triggered and feel equally in danger in a mostly female environment. It also never seems to occur to anyone that no one would reasonably suggest that male and female victims be treated by the same group of people in the same area. It would be far better if males had a separate space with staff that focused on their needs as opposed to having everyone piled into the same space with the same staff assisting them.

The irony of the all this is that there is no valid or logical reason why government-funded groups should not provide outreach and advice to male victims. In lack of knowledge about the needs of male victims could be addressed by those groups asking for advice from the few organizations that do provide help to male victims. When it comes to this issue, to violence against men and children, one would think that the political agendas would be set aside. The goal is supposed to be to prevent violence after all, and helping male victims of such violence ought to fall into that prevention.

That said, it is unfortunate if some organizations lose their funding as a result of their blatantly sexist refusal to provide services to male victims. No one advocating for male victims wants anyone denied services, and that includes the shutting down of existing services for women. However, this is one of those issues where without any real consequences the shelters will continue their sexist discrimination, weakly justifying it as they did in the article. There is simply no excuse not to provide services to male victims, and perhaps cutting the funding to some organizations would demonstrate that sexism and discrimination will not be tolerated whether against women or men.

9 thoughts on “Women’s refuges told they must admit men

  1. Personally I would be for separate facilities for men and women (and both be capable of handling those with children). It is a shame that trying to get help for male victims is seen as hurting women but frankly I’m not surprised.

  2. Danny, since so much progress in the women’s movement came as a result of appeals to conscience, and because that often turns into appelas for pity, the victim stautus of women is a strategic asset to these campaigners. They assess that there is only so much charity t gt around and worry about compassion fatigue.

    I certainly see what men and women ened seaparte shelters. But we probably all agree that this has in practise led to lots of ihnequities – 12- year-old boys being excluded, men getting no facilities or support, so maybe this move is a useful pressure tactic.

  3. I think separate facilities are the best option as it would reduce the chances of victims feeling threatened by people who remind them of their abusers and also to meet the specific needs of each group.

    However, since it will take time to provide that kind of service, it is better to use the existing services to help both groups. I do not think the situation is hardly as dramatic as it often gets made out to be. Difficult, yes, especially when it comes to determining the needs of male victims and providing adequate space and support. But hardly a travesty of justice.

  4. “I think separate facilities are the best option as it would reduce the chances of victims feeling threatened by people who remind them of their abusers and also to meet the specific needs of each group.”

    Wouldn’t separation by gender run the risk of signalling to the victimized that something is wrong with the birth group of the victimizers?

  5. Not necessarily. It is more about acknowledging the distrust and mistrust that has resulted from the abuse. If a person fears the opposite gender, it is best to work out the issues leading to that fear first rather than place the person in an environment where they feel threatened. Another reason for the separation is because often times victims prefer speaking with people who share their experiences.

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