Statistics show that the gender of domestic violence victims in some Nordic countries is not as one-sided as we are used to perceive.
By Annie Lee
With the lack of men’s shelters and authorities’ support, societies and even male victims have been blind to the male victimhood of domestic violence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
Names of victims or survivors have been changed to protect identities.
William has been suffering both psychological and physical violence from his 29-year-old wife. “She thrown things at me and did not let me sleep.”
The 35-year-old man previously worked as a manager at an international company. The attack was provoked by the lack of passion felt from his female partner since six months ago. And the assaults escalated.
“She once used a pen as a weapon. She kicked and hit me with a fist,” said William.
Society rightly give a lot of attention to protecting women, as it is widely acknowledged that the majority of domestic violence victims are women. But some battered and bruised men have been hidden in the shadows.
Joe was 60 and with a swollen eye when he first met Carl-Johan Collin, a social worker of a men’s crisis centre in Gothenburg. Joe did not live with his 45-year-old female partner but they had a close relationship. “He was brutally beaten,” said Collin, “his partner kicked him in the head during an argument and he was bleeding.”
“We want men to be violent in our fantasy. But it is just not always the truth,” Collin added.
According to a survey conducted by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 2009, 1.2% of all women reported experienced relationship violence and 0.3% for men. It revealed that one in six people who are exposed to domestic violence in Sweden is a man.
The 2014’s Violence and Health study in Sweden show that 5% of men had been subjected to physical violence in intimate relationship. The figure for women is 14%.
The Danish national population survey in 2010 showed that about 13,000 men were victims of physical domestic violence during the year. Emergency room registrations show 300 injury treatments due to domestic violence annually. Compared to domestic violence against women of about 3000 annually, the number is smaller, but not less negligible.
Men usually associated a feeling of shame, unmanly and weak to admit themselves as victims to domestic abuse. The number could be an underestimation of the true scale of the problem due to the taboo of domestic violence against men.
“There has undoubtedly been resistance and unwillingness, in central and local administrations, shelters and professionals, to accept the fact that women are also using violence against their partners,” said Ole Kristian Hjemdal, senior researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies.
Lack of men’s shelters
“There are no shelters for men that operate like women shelters in Sweden. But in some circumstances, a man exposed to domestic violence will be offered a living in an apartment,” said Collin.
The centre Collin works for accommodates men for four months in small apartments in Gothenburg. It provides them with therapeutic help during the temporary stay.
However, men’s rights advocate said the assistance offered by the local municipalities only focus on women.
“The Swedish municipalities are bound by law to help all victims. But most don’t have resources to help men,” said Pelle Billing, the founder of a men’s right organisation in Sweden called Men’s Network.
He said most men’s shelters could not get state funding so their supports are very limited.
“Many women’s shelters are independent ventures, meaning that they are not run by a municipality. However, they get state funding, which is tremendously helpful when providing housing for victims,” Billing said.
In Denmark, the government has targeted family violence against men in the national strategies in 2010 and 2014, in terms of research and male-specific measures. But currently the provision for men’s refuge places is still inadequate.
There are 10 centers catering men in crisis conditions in Denmark. But according to senior researchers Bjarne Laursen and Katrine Bindesbøl Holm Johansen from the Danish National Institute of Public Health, none of these centers are specialised in intimate partner violence.
“We have very few beds for male victims of domestic violence,” said Carsten Lundberg from Mandkriscenter Fredericia, a men’s shelter in Denmark.
“It’s an issue we’re trying to influence the politicians to change, so men’s safe houses will be a part of the government’s annual budget the same way as women’s safe houses.”
The legal recognition of domestic violence in Norway come with the Shelter Act in 2010, obliging local authorities to provide shelters for men. There are now 47 domestic violence shelters and 40 are providing services for male victims.
But Hjemdal said only a few communes in Norway have dedicated shelters for men. “The men are housed in separate flats or houses run by the women’s shelters. Or some are placed in hotel rooms.”
Collin said attitudes needed to change to protect men. “Society and authorities need to meet people in a equal way.”
He said Sweden has a well-established social welfare system for women but “they don’t often listen to men.”
But he added that the Swedish government and parliament are supporting a change by starting with more discussions now.
More training needed for social workers
To men, compounding the lack of assistance from social services, the biggest problem remains to be the social stigma attached to being a victim. They do not know their options and feel marginalised.
“The male victims are often left to deal with the problems themselves,” said Lundberg, “It seems incomprehensible in general thinking that why a strong man will put up with the maltreatment and not just move out. But often, men that are exposed to domestic violence are without a job and suffer from low self-esteem.”
Instead of holding perpetrators of abuse accountable, psychologist said male victims may blame themselves and their sense of self-worth is distorted. “They slowly develop a feeling of guilt and doubt and suffer in depression,” said Danish psychologist Bunde Bjarne.
Stereotyping by social and health workers can sometimes lead to difficulties in them being believed. The dual and divergent roles of men, may also be tricky for people to get a right picture.
“I have never hit a woman. But when she attacked me, I try very hard to restrain myself from fighting back,” said William.
However, there are no special trainings for social workers or volunteers on how to approach male victims.
“It might be the resistance or reactions to other’s violence that makes them use violence to protect their life. It takes a lot of skills for therapists to understand that,” Collin said, adding a male victim who has been threatened by knife for several times, told him that he once tried to grab his partner’s neck and threatened to strangle her.
Hjemdal said, “Most volunteers and social workers are mainly interested in working with female victims. More knowledge about male reactions to violence is needed, also more research and more professional training to volunteers and social workers.”
Men did not realise when they are victims
“Men may not be able to conceptualize what is going on, since many think that only women are the victims of domestic violence,” said Billing.
To most men, it is difficult to grasp the idea of them in the victimhood of family violence.
“Males sometimes deny domestic violence as they felt it opposes and even challenges the traditional views on masculinity,” Hjemdal said.
According to a study from the Danish National Institute of Public Health conducted on intimate partner violence against men in 2012, the interviewed men stressed that they feel less like “a real man” being attacked by the hands of women.
The perception made them bottle up their feelings instead of reaching out for help both in legal system and social services. Some think that a man, being generally stronger than a woman, should be able to stand some lighter violence.
Men mostly suffer psychological violence
“Men do not suffer from severe violence as much as women do. But men and women seem to exert violence equally in light forms, like verbal abuse and shoving,” said Fredrik Sörebo, press officer at a men’s shelter in Stockholm called Mansjouren I Stockholm.
The Norwegian research classified physical assaults of “less severe violence” as slapping, pulling and scratching. For severe violence, it includes hitting with a fist, kicking, beating, strangling and threatening with weapons.
In family violence, men are more often subjected to psychological violence than physical violence. For women, it is the other way around.
“Both kinds of violence are serious enough for them to be social issues that need to be taken seriously,” said Billing.
“I think women are better at talking to friends and family about the abuse once they break free of the relationship,” said Lundberg, “where men often just want to forget about it and move on without processing the effect it’s had on them.”
In Norway, only half of the men as of the women, which are 15.5% and 35.0% respectively, talk to health workers about problems resulting from the violence.
Authorities not taking cases seriously
William said, “After I told them the case, they just ask me to sleep on it.”
Even a man that he is being physically and psychologically abused, he may not file a report to police since he may suspect he will face disbelief. The authorities sometimes laugh at the idea of man being beat up by a woman.
“I’ve heard of a few cases in Sweden where men feel that they are not treated with too much respect,” said Sörebo.
A client of Collin, Ray, has attained high status in the business industry and lives in a wealthy area in Sweden. He tried to separate from his girlfriend who was stalking him. “One evening she stalked Ray and tried to get into his apartment. She screamed when he tried to get her outside,” said Collin, “The police came and caught Ray immediately.”
Ray defended in the court and he was proved not guilty. But the readiness for the police to quickly assume that male as the aggressor is also a concern for the male victims.
Despite so, Morten Kjaer Egebjerg, the manager of a men’s center in Denmark called Mandecentret, believed the numbers of reported violence against men is increasing.
He explained it as partly because of increased levels of conflict in some cases and partly since men gradually realise it is better to speak out on the subject, even humiliating.
More young men reported and accepted domestic violence
“Last year I met more young men being exposed to violence,” said Collin, ”One 23-year-old man was trying to get a protected address to avoid his girlfriend who slapped, pushed and stalked him.”
Lundberg also sees more are more young men contacting them.
In 2011, about 3.7% young men aged between 16 and 24 in Denmark reported being victims of physical, psychological, or sexual violence by a partner.
A Danish survey among adolescents showed an increasing acceptance of domestic violence against men.
Men are predominantly seen as perpetrators. While knowledge is still lacking on the extent of men exposed to intimate partner violence, people are starting to understand men can be victims too.
“But there’s still a lot of ignorance,” said Billing, “So things are moving, but quite slowly.”
Danish Psychologist Bjarne Bunde explains the depression and inner struggles male victims of domestic violence suffer.