The politics of violence

Originally posted on September 12, 2012

In the ten years that I have been involved in advocacy for male survivors, I have learned that male survivors are seen as pariah in the abuse awareness community. Most of the organizations to do outreach are women’s groups, and few of them make any attempt to help abused men and boys. When one asks them about male survivors, most organizations will say that male victimize is bad and a legitimate problem, yet their actions rarely match their words. I have written about that on this blog several times.

The most impressive example that comes to mind is what happened in the UK several years ago. The United Kingdom had to mandate that domestic violence shelters provide assistance to male survivors or the shelters would lose their funding. Then there was the women’s shelter that chose to close its doors rather than admit men. My personal favorite was the case where a rape center was booted out of the Scotland’s national rape crisis network for deciding to help men.

As powerful as those cases are to me, I am sure that few feminists or women’s groups have ever heard of them. That is why some people like Ron Couchman can write things like this: 

In Ottawa, as one example of many, I have been working with the Ottawa coalition to end violence against women for 4-5 years now. During my support work I often speak with men,or friends of men that share your legitimate concerns about resources for men. Almost every women’s org I have approached about it have been VERY supportive about creating awareness, improving access to services for men, going an environmental scan of services for men etc. The opposition only comes when the idea is presented similar to the way it is presented here…

As someone doing graduate research on gendered language I can tell you it is really important to recognize that most violence of this nature (over 85%) is by men towards women.. even 80% of men who are abused are abused by other men. The language has to stay gendered even if there are exceptions to the rule.

I would suggest we recognize that WRC has a mandate to address violence against women. I myself work with Men for Equality and Non-Violence, we work in solidarity with WRC, as well as womens groups, but very much have aa focus on peer support for men… both men who have been abused and men who have been abusive and want to change etc. Every org has to h ave a mandate that is specific and narrow otherwise no one will fund them.

Have you considered approaching women’s orgs that deal with these issues compassionately about trying to increase visibility for men’s experiences of violence? I have and have been amazed ant the change in conversation here.

You can agree that it is important for this language to stay gendered for this purpose, and also agree that men need more support, it is not an either or problem, you can have both.

I have advocated for male survivors of sexual violence for almost ten years. During that time, I have seen few women’s organizations support addressing sexual violence against men and boys. Most are open to the idea of acknowledging male survivors as long as people, particularly the male survivors themselves, state that what happens to males is rare and less traumatic. Most of those organizations do not provide any services to males, and for the few that do there is little counseling, no legal advice, no assistance for men with children, little public outreach, and very little information to even hand out. Many of these places simply refer abused men to homeless shelters or batterer programs. And when asked to create services for male survivors, most show zero interest in doing so.

Ron’s statistics do not match any study I have seen. The most recent study I read about this issue, the CDC report from last year, showed that the majority of sexual violence against males is committed by females. This claim that only men abuse just does not ring true.

The reason why gendered language is problematic is because if you tell people that only women are victims and only men are abusers, people will not bother to look for male survivors or create services that may compel male survivors to come forward. Gendered language is simply about playing politics. It is about pushing a political agenda rather than helping anyone. That does not mean that anyone in favor of such language does not care about female or male survivors. Yet it does mean that they are willing to let rhetoric, not facts, dictate who they help.

While I agree with Ron that is not an either or problem (although his side seems hell-bent on making such), I disagree that he can have it both ways. You cannot on one hand frame sexual violence as something only men do to only women, and then on the other hand try to help the male survivors you just said do not exist. It costs you nothing to do for male survivors what you do for female survivors without any caveats or conditions.

It is time to stop playing this game because it obviously does not work.


14 thoughts on “The politics of violence

  1. Over the years I have met men who were sexually abused as children. I’d like to think that I didn’t discriminate against them. I felt very open to hearing their stories and being involved as a self-help/mutual aid peer support person I was able to provide support, information and even referrals when asked. I never felt being a female survivor of child sexual abuse gave me any “special” privileges and I was never told by male survivors that I showed any behaviors that would lead them to think so. I always believed that we started where we were in acknowledging that we were sexually abused in our childhoods and experienced similar effects. We shared, supported, informed, acknowledged, encouraged, believed, advocated and helped each other in a compassionate and friendly process.
    We are all persons first! Survivors of child sexual abuse cover the broad spectrum of sexual orientation. It’s not simplistic and it’s up to the person to determine how they feel comfortable talking about their abuse issues. It’s not a one size fits all! Blaming women for not creating an atmosphere that is conducive to male survivors really isn’t fair. In my experience I have been told that sometimes male professionals do not provide welcoming environments for male survivors to disclose nor discuss their issues. We, as survivors, can contribute to helping make services available to all who need them by advocating for the broad spectrum that is required. Some people do well in groups others prefer individual therapies and support.
    We need more not less services and supports. Sexual abuse during childhood has not been eradicated and probably never will be. We can all do our little bits to contribute to easing the pain of fellow survivors. That’s what counts, I think!
    Thank you for listening,
    Carol Crocker
    Brampton, ON

  2. Is anybody else bothered by the way Couchman seems to treat peer support for abused men and peer support for repentant abusive men as if they were just facets of the same activity? It’s possible I’m being oversensitive to something that’s just an unfortunate-sounding phrasing, but this guy doesn’t really inspire me to assume that the most innocuous interpretation is the correct one.

  3. They’ve closed comments, but before they did both Couchman and Joanna Schroeder trotted out a gambit I find really contemptible:the demand to know what people who have the temerity to complain about erasure of violence against men have done in “real life” to address the problem with either the implication (Couchman) or outright statement (Schroeder) that complaining about such erasure is illegitimate unless we can show them some “credentials” first.

    What I always want to ask these people is this. Suppose they came across a group of women criticizing a poster put out by a men’s group that, in their (the group of women’s) view, trivialized or erased violence against women and promoted the idea that it is women’s job to be responsible for men’s safety and well-being,

    Would either of them demand to know what those women had done in the “real world” to stop violence against women, implying or outright saying that they should stop complaining unless they have sufficient activist credentials? Would they assume, in other words, that women- including those who are themselves victims- also have to EARN the right to object when they believe that someone is marginalizing or erasing female victims of violence, or otherwise encouraging sexism or misogyny

    If I went around doing that, what would they think of me?

  4. Yup, gendered language rarely helps in my opinion. We can’t respond to Ron either now, the comments are locked.

  5. Forget about Ron. He pretty much admited his desire to support gendering of domestic violence and sexual abuse. There’s little you guys can do to persuade him anyway.

  6. And the fact that they locked comments pretty much says all there is to know about what The Good Men Project has become. I posted a comment and it was promptly moderated and deleted into oblivion.

    Not to mention we’ve had two “List” articles men could follow to not be a (Insert baseless stereotype here. One list even suggests they become a feminist), Joanna throwing support in one thread behind a lawyer well know for his anti-father bias, telling Danny and others who voiced their protest against that article you linked “Do something about Male Victims” (Like she hasn’t figured speaking out IS DOING SOMETHING!)

    The place has become such a joke now. The genuine articles about men doing good without baseless assumptions are vastly outnumbered by the aforementioned articles about how men can fit the gynocentric feminist mold.

    I feel really dirty. To think I poured all my heart and soul into their trust. Then again, my articles came before this change.

    Forget them.

  7. Timely post for me…

    After years of trying, I’ve decided to give up working with rape crisis centers, their allies and the like. As you say, they have zero interest in male victims, and sabotage my efforts. As you say, “It is about pushing a political agenda rather than helping anyone.” and I support the angry, confrontational tactics and activism of political opposition now because talking and facts mean nothing when it’s all about fighting your political enemies. You just loose doing that. It’s a disgusting political agenda that pits female rape survivors against male rape survivors while pretending and taking money to be health care providers. It’s totally corrupt.

  8. I honestly think the problem is that even the people who work at these centers that are right hearted in their goals, they are in fact radical feminists. They read and believe the tripe that is fed to them at staff meetings and by going to other like minded organizations. Just as men have to take the red pill to open their eyes to the truths that are all around them, so do women.

    One of the strongest supporters of men’s rights that I have met that was a woman was a radical feminist in her past. She was smacked in the face when she found out the truth of a woman who came into her clinic. The woman came in with a black eye and a cut on her face. As a worker at the clinic she went to court to support her in the hearing to keep the restraining order. The man came in with casts on his arms. He was bruised all over his face. Turns out he had hit and scratched her while she came at him with a baseball bat for coming home late. The judge upheld the restraining order. She was appalled that the order was kept in place. The man had made two requests separate in addition to trying to get the restraining order overturned. One was to go get his things from the home, and the second was for his own restraining order. The judge refused the first on the basis of the restraining order preventing him from going to the home. The second he found no basis for the man needing protection from the woman. Surprisingly this woman started to sit in court just to see these cases come through, and found that most of the restraining orders were in the mildest cases being given when their was reciprocal violence, and in the worst cases when the woman was clearly the aggressor. She found her red pill and pulled away from the abuse industry completely. Its a rare thing.

  9. That’s really heartwarming, HeligKo. And I say it with no sarcasm or snark.

    If more see the other side and are convinced that domestic violence and sexual abuse isn’t focused one way, then we’ll see great progress.

  10. Carol, thanks for the comment. I do not think I am blaming women for anything. The majority of the support groups are run by women, primarily feminists. They create the environment, so if male survivor feel unwelcome, the responsibility lies with those who caused that situation. There is no reason to be hostile to male survivors, yet often the services either do not want them there or offer the smallest amount of help possible.

    I am all for individual services because many survivors prefer same-sex peer groups. However, I do not think that wanting to give women those same-sex groups means that men should have next to nothing.

  11. John, I caught the same thing with Ron’s statement, so you are not being oversensitive. What he said is actually quite common. Several organizations will refer abused men to batterer programs or treat them as if they are batterers rather than victims.

    As for them closing the comments, I am not surprised by that. Being the cynic that I am, I would not be surprised if the article was posted just to get prompt the response it got.

  12. I think it’s posted because white ribbon day is coming up, I remember around this time last year the brou-ha started as well. Soon I’ll be asked as a man to pledge against violence against women, but I won’t. I pledge to help stop violence against all, not just one group of people.

  13. As a survivor of childhood sexual, physical, and emotional abuse as well as a survivor of rape as an adult, I find comments such as the one by Mr. Couchman to be problematic on many levels. I find his efforts to maintain a survivor hierarchy, and to use statistics as a bludgeon in order to silence male survivors, beyond disgusting. The irony of this is that while many anti-violence campaigns urge a zero tolerance stance on violence against women — such as the high profile ” 1 is 2 Many” campaign … — Mr. Couchman seems quite comfortable in marginalizing and dismissing the pain and suffering of male survivors because, according to the statistics he quoted, we represent a smaller percentage when compared to women. Even if we take the statistics he presented at face value (and I have issues with the stats he presented but that’s a topic for another time), he is comfortable enough in his position that he outright dismisses the suffering of many, many men. Apparently, “1 is 2 Many” only if the victims aren’t male.

  14. “The reason why gendered language is problematic is because if you tell people that only women are victims and only men are abusers, people will not bother to look for male survivors or create services that may compel male survivors to come forward.”

    If that is not obvious to you, there is strong scientific evidence from cognitive science too to support that, by people like George Lakoff, (author of “The Political Mind”). He argues the reasoning of the mind is governed by physical structures in the body. It’s “embodied”. It’s the basis for some of our enduring political divisions, and how they play out. In his language, if you accept the frame of “Violence against Women”, male victims will always be ignored or even harmed (as being perpetrators). It’s just fixed in our biology. You must strategically use language to challenge and change the frame, build and strengthen an alternative frame. I’m not quite sure what that alternative frame is though. Without that frame, I think too male survivors will fear each other and never unite in common cause.

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