Regina Leader-Post

Friday, October 22, 1999

Men can be victims of domestic violence as well

of the Leader Post

Many people see the roles of perpetrator and victim in cases of spousal violence as being assigned by gender, the woman being the victim and the man being the perpetrator.

Some agree with that distinction. Others do not and want it recognized that both sexes can be victims or perpetrators.

"Women are getting the perception that women can't be violent, so they can't see their own violence," said Joni Andrychuk, president of the Saskatchewan chapter of the National Shared Parenting Association which supports children's rights after divorce.

Recent studies in Alberta, Manitoba and the United States done by social scientists show both sexes as aggressors and victims. The Alberta study, led by Simon Fraser University PhD student Marilyn Kwong, concluded that while the violence against women is obvious, the violence against men is being ignored.

In that study, 52 per cent of women and 62 per cent of men surveyed reported both partners were violent. Minor acts of violence, such as pushing, grabbing and throwing objects at their partner were committed by 10.8 per cent of the men and 12.4 per cent of the women surveyed.

Severe acts of violence, such as choking, kicking or using a weapon, were committed by 2.5 per cent of the men surveyed and 4.7 per cent of the women. The study used the answers given by 705 people in 1987.

Two U.S. studies by Suzanne Steinmetz, Murray Straus and Richard Gelles assumed men hit women more severely before doing their studies.

After completing their studies, they found that women were responsible for more of the severe violence. Women also were more likely to strike first. They found that men hitting women did more damage, but for that reason, women resorted to more severe methods, such as using weapons. This finding was supported by a U.S. Census Bureau survey.

A study in Manitoba found that women committed violent acts more often than men, but more women needed medical help. Reena Sommer's 1990 and 1992 data showed 21.4 per cent of men said their female partner required medical help as a result of domestic violence compared with 14.3 per cent of women who said men needed aid.

"I would be extremely suspicious of their findings ... a lot of men recognize violence against women, but a few men are coming up with these theories by making it a simplistic, trivialized issue," said Kripa Sekhar, spokesman for the Saskatchewan Action Committee for the Status of Women.

Sekhar and others say the dynamics of the disputes must be considered.

"If the man weighs more, is that a fight that's balanced? Are women trying to defend themselves against men?" asked Sekhar.

Deb George, co-ordinator of domestic violence programs at Family Service Regina said, "Men can't be controlled by physical violence. If a woman starts swinging, a man can protect himself. Women can't protect themselves from men's blows."

She said women who experience violence are fearful and can be controlled with that fear.

The NSPA's Andrychuk said people should be questioning the statistics women's groups produce on domestic violence. She said they often do not name their sources of information or rely on police statistics and surveys done by shelters.

This information does not give an accurate picture of domestic violence, she says. Police statistics only show how many have been charged, not convicted. Shelters collect information from women because shelters are for women and children.

Andrychuk says "society has been warped" by the misuse of statistics. The result is men feeling ashamed of their gender. Also, she says social and police policies unfairly label men as the sole perpetrators of domestic violence. "We need to make sure society is being driven by credible policies."

Sgt. Dave Wyatt with the Regina Police Service said "Any statistic can be used any way you want it to be used." Wyatt says police investigate reports of domestic violence the same way they do any other crime.

Charges are laid if enough evidence is found, which is almost all incidences, approximately 230 calls a month. Eighty per cent of the charges are against men. "They're the ones who committed the offence," said Wyatt when asked why most suspects are male.

Regina Police Service statistics show that one-quarter of the victims of reported incidences of domestic violence in 1998 were male. Females accounted for 74 per cent of the victims

Men have reported incidents of domestic violence against them at the Women's Centre at the University of Regina, but those incidents are uncommon, says Tammy Wagner, co-ordinator of the centre.

George also knows of occasions of men reporting incidents, but also says it is "very, very rare."

Those men who do report incidents to the U of R Women's Centre or Family Service Regina are referred to counselling services at the university or to individual counselling sessions, said Wagner and George. There are also male support groups, said Andrychuk.

Andrychuk says many men do not report assaults because they are embarrassed and want to remain anonymous. Many fear others will laugh or not believe them because women are commonly seen as less powerful. She also said they do not want to stand up to the woman because "women get a lot of financial gain" in divorces.

Because not all incidents are reported, a knowledge of how often domestic violence occurs, against men or women, is incomplete. Regardless of who committs the violence, it is wrong, says John Brown, a psychologist with Regina Mental Health.

"The real issue is in intimate relationships, not all, but many do abusive things to each other. All human beings can be violent and it is all our responsibility to stop it. Anyone abused should have the opportunity to be heard and have wrongs addressed."