The role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is to champion all victims and survivors of domestic abuse and championing male survivors and their children is a vitally important part of our work.
This week I was invited to take part in the Mankind Initiative conference where I reiterated my commitment to improving provision and protection for male survivors and the expert organisations and practitioners who support them.
I also wanted to write a blog so I could share more widely the work that my office is doing to support male victims.
We know that men face specific challenges when it comes to domestic abuse. Harmful gender norms, shame or honour, and stereotypes of masculinity and sexuality can act as barriers for male victims and survivors to seek support and can impact on reporting. For example, some male victims have found that harmful gender stereotypes around masculinity prevent them from discussing these issues or reaching out for help until they’re in crisis.
It is crucial to ensure that male survivors of domestic abuse can make their voices heard and receive the specialist support they need. This is of particular importance in the context of COVID-19 and its long-term impacts.
During Covid we saw a sharp increase in helpline demand: Respect saw calls to the Men’s Advice Line rise by 37% for 2019/2020 compared to 2018/2019, emails by 61% and webchats by 230% and the National LGBT+ helpline run by Galop saw average increase of 40% in contacts compared to ‘pre-Covid’ level.
Across the board we also heard about the increase in the complexity of cases.
There was a rise in homelessness concerns. In many cases men felt they were unable to afford to move into a new property away from their abusers, or were reluctant to ask their partners to leave because they would be unable to afford to find a new place to live (especially given the implications for childcare). Men have described sleeping in tents in parent’s gardens due to Covid, as well as sleeping in cars, garages and on the street. Whereas in the past, men could stay with friends or family when fleeing their home, this wasn’t possible during the pandemic, and the lack of available and safe accommodation was thrown into sharp relief.
Male victims reported concerns about child contact – many talked about child arrangement orders being breached with lockdown being used as the excuse (despite clear Government guidance).
Helplines heard about an increase in mental health issues and substance misuse. There were reports that men (particularly GBT+ men) have found it harder to cope during this period, leading to crisis, suicidal ideation, particularly as it was difficult to access face-to-face services.
With this backdrop we are calling on the Government to deliver an ambitious and meaningful Male Victims and Survivors Position Statement to outline the specific experiences of male victims and ensure the specialist services required to support them are there.
We have recommended to the Home Office that this statement includes funding for a24-hour helpline support for male victims and survivors and targeted communications campaigns that raise awareness of male domestic abuse. These should include community-based campaigns as well as campaigns targeted to agencies most likely to be able to identify male survivors.
I am calling for coordinated and visible signposting for men’s support services across targeted agencies; and further research is needed into the specific services that male survivors want and need.
I would also like to see a review of how data on male survivors is collected, monitored and analysed by statutory agencies and services, with guidelines issued to promote coordination and build an effective evidence-base and inform best practice.
The Male Victims Position Statement, and the new National Statement of Exepectations also provides an opportunity for Government to set out best practice for commissioning gender-informed services. This should include how commissioners can provide bespoke provision for male victims focusing on the specific barriers and challenges faced by men. Services should not be a ‘one size fits all’ and we need to better understand what support men need and commission services accordingly.
While these are our specific asks of Government for the position statement, I would like to emphasise that the experiences of male survivors are centred across all of our work, from establishing a domestic homicides and suicides oversight mechanism, to long-term funding for the sector, to improving support for migrant survivors, and this is key to creating sustainable and embedded change.
This is particularly important in relation to the mapping work that my Office has been undertaking. We believe that community-based services should be available to all victims and survivors and well-funded across England and Wales.
Our office is currently mapping the provision of specialist domestic abuse services across England and Wales, as part of our work to secure longer-term more sustainable funding for community-based services. We hope that this will evidence the gaps in specialist service provisions and help end the postcode lottery for access to these services.
Our mapping work has also specifically explored the provision for LGBT+ survivors, and we were pleased to partner with Galop to identify provision of specialist support for LGBT+ people. It is important not to simply assume that ‘male victim’ means ‘female perpetrator’. So often the narrative of domestic abuse is steeped in assumptions about heterosexual relationships and GBT+ men’s experiences are often invisible. For example, people don’t think of young GBT+ people at home in family situations where they’ve been forced back ‘in the closet’, or where they are subject to conversion therapy – a form of abuse we are glad to see will soon be banned.
Consequently, service data has shown us that GBT+ men are dropping off from mainstream male victims’ services after referral. And yet our report with Galop demonstrates the dearth of services specifically for LGBT+ people. Never has sustainable funding for specialist by and for services been more needed, and we are calling on the Government to create a national fund specifically for ‘by and for’ services across England and Wales.
A final point I would like to acknowledge is the legislative gaps in protection for migrant survivors in the DA Act. We are particularly concerned about the extremely vulnerable position of some migrant survivors of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds. This creates additional barriers to leaving an abusive perpetrator because they are unable to claim housing benefit to secure safe accommodation or access other welfare benefits.
We are currently in the process of commissioning a report to quantify the number of survivors with NRPF; the cost of providing the necessary support; and a cost-benefit analysis of doing so.
Male survivors and their children will form an important part of this research, and we will be using it to make key policy and funding recommendations to Government to improve this provision.
To any male victim or survivor of domestic abuse reading this blog, I want you to know, that you are not alone. As the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, I stand with you and will do all that I can to get you the help and support that you need and deserve.