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five reasons why domestic and sexual violence is men’s business

The last ten years have seen a 261% increase in domestic and sexual violence in Australia. In 2009, the total cost to the Australian economy was $13.6 billion. More often than not, domestic and sexual violence sits under the ‘women’s issues’ umbrella, but men have a huge role to play in turning these statistics around.

1. Men represent the vast majority of perpetrators in sexual and domestic violence. Men perpetrate approximately 95 – 99% of reported rape cases. This is an indisputable fact, but still society is uncomfortable naming men as perpetrators, as if some kind of unjust blame is being dished out to all men just by acknowledging this fact (like an accusation toward white supremacy groups for their hate crimes dishes out unjust blame toward white people in general!). We never say ‘men’s violence’, or ‘men who rape women’. The focus is directed toward women, resulting in victim blaming and shaming: ‘Don’t get raped, girls. Don’t leave your wine glasses unattended, don’t wear slutty clothes, don’t go out alone after dark.’ Do we warn racial minorities not to act or dress a certain way for fear of being attacked? No, we focus on the perpetrators.

2. Men are victims of sexual violence. Even though 95 – 99% of rape and sexual assault perpetrators are male, approximately 10% of reported victims (and plenty more go unreported) are also male. In Victoria between 2000 and 2005, over 80% of these men were under 17. In prison, approximately one in four Australian men between 18 and 25 report being sexually assaulted.  Placing instances of sexual violence under the term ‘women’s issues’ ignores the plight of these men, and as a result we’re left tongue-tied on how to help them. Even more problematically, the same culture that calls sexual and domestic violence a ‘women’s issue’ teaches men that they cannot be victims or ask for help. More often than not, men feel too ashamed to report their experience and instead suffer in silence and confusion.

3. Men are victims of domestic violence. In 2010 – 2011, 35% of reported domestic violence occurred either to or in the presence of children. Young boys growing up in families with someone abusing their mother, sisters or themselves inevitably experience trauma. These boys grow into men.

4. Male peer groups affect violent male attitudes. Our culture teaches boys to remain silent when witnessing violence, especially towards women and homosexual men. I’m not just talking about the physical: violence is defined as an ‘unjust or unwarranted exertion of power’ – anything so much as a sexist or homophobic comment is a form of violence. Society pressures men to go along with these types of comments and actions. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched men – good men – remain silent when their peers objectify and degrade women, whether in the form of a sexist comment, verbal abuse, or repeated cheating. Even physical or sexual violence is largely dismissed as ‘not my business’ when it comes to other people’s relationships. If more men spoke up, this behaviour would become less acceptable in peer groups and perpetrators would be pressured to stop. Prevention is a question of what is expected of men in general, not just violent men.

5. If men care about the women in their lives, it makes sense that they would take part in preventing sexual and domestic violence. 1 in 5 women will experience some form of domestic or sexual violence in their lives. This means a vast number of sisters, mothers, lovers, and female friends. If a man wants to prevent harm coming their way, it only follows that he would want to be involved in preventing harm to women in general.


By Elisabeth Morgan

You can access a page of materials from Jackson Katz and the Victorian Women’s Trust on men’s role in sexual and domestic violence prevention here:

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12 thoughts on “five reasons why domestic and sexual violence is men’s business

  1. Really good article. I’ve been trying to say this for quite a while but coming from a man it’s often viewed as being patronising. It is also good to hear this talked about properly and not with a stupid list that does nothing real.

    1. Defiantly true but I don’t think that talking about rapists being men is the best thing to do. It would be better to say rapists aren’t men. To imply, even so vicariously, that men are rapists does nothing to wage the peer pressure war mentioned later.

    Defining types of people by gender (even if the other gender only makes a statically negligible part of the group) is also a bad move.

    2. This is a very important point and one that needs to be made more. I remember a few months ago when the website of rape victims using the words of their rapists was talked about on the news. There was not a single male victim shown. Too many men think they are alone in this.

    The only decent representation I have seen recently on tv was on Tru Blood.

    3. Also very important. One of my close friends used to get beaten by his father up until the day the father went to kick him, missed, and broke his leg on a table.

    I would also like to see this treated with more respect on tv. I once heard that the reason that domestic violence hospitalisations are strangely even by gender compared to the number of people hurt by their partner was that women are more likely to use objects.

    4. So true. I wish I had more guts when I was a teenager. To stop bullying in any form. But one of my friends was particularly bad. Now I am older I think he got off on ruining girls mentally as much as possible. I still foolishly believed ‘don’t hate the player hate the game’. Now I know to expel the player from the game. He was the one I mentioned earlier who was beaten as a child btw.

    I’m not so sure about the definition of violence though. I think it is a bit broad. My mind goes back to the article a month or so ago where the writer cried when her bf wouldn’t say he was a feminist. By that definition emotional blackmail counts as violence. I don’t think emotional blackmail is good in the slightest but we have to be careful about watering down words so we can describe horrific acts properly. Perhaps I just read too much about newspeak.

    5. One of my best female friends had her father try to stab her at 9. Was raped by her step-father at 12 (who got off) and raped again at 16 by her then best male friend (who got off). I met her mid 20’s. The level of anger I feel towards those men makes me kind of glad I will never meet them. If we men love our women we need to defend them from other men. We would be helped in that if women gave us more obvious permission to, not in articles like this but on a day to day basis. We can only prevent what we know about.

  2. I so hoped you were going to have a balanced account of men as victims of DV, but you’ve failed me. It seems that every time I post something about domestic violence on social networking sites I have people pipe up with “but men are victims too though!” To be honest, I’m pretty over it, as they try to make it appear that violence directed at men is equal to that directed at women, which is just not true.

    However, totally ignoring that men are direct victims of DV feeds their attitude. It’s a lot more than your example of boys witnessing it and then growing into men! I would much rather see the true figures than to have men’s pain glossed over.

    I am a counsellor and I have two male clients who are experiencing domestic violence. It’s a huge issue for them. Part of their problem is that it is not taken seriously by police and they feel they cannot call for help. I’ve also made reports to Community Services with my concerns of the impact on their children and been given a lack-lustre response.

    It may be a minority issue, but it’s still an issue.

    True equality is recognising that we are not the only ones who are being oppressed.

  3. Valli, didn’t Elisabeth’s second point directly address the issue of men-as-victim?

    You indicate that the third point disappointed you, but it contains far less content than the one preceding it.

    The author in no way indicates a repudiation of the notion that women ‘are not the only ones who are being repressed.’ In fact I read it as the opposite.

  4. And Brett, I’ve heard good and bad things about Tru Blood. Could you refer me to the specific episode (or sequence of episodes, if necessary) that you’re talking about re point # 2?

    I should note also that your point re parent-to-child domestic violence might well be weighted towards (er, against) males, on both axes – parents and children.

    I was hit a lot as a child (I was also a very troublesome child!), but it was always dad doing the hitting, not mum.

  5. Sure Brad.
    We only really know what we are exposed to. I have had no violence directed at me personally. My friend I mentioned it was Father-Son. My girlfriend was Mother-Daughter (but no where near as bad.)

    As for the tru blood. Season 4 I think, I saw it a while ago. Sookies brother is captured by a girl he has a thing with and her boyfriend. They are were-panthers and the pack in completly inbred. So they want him to impregnate all the women. So far so male fantasy, but he is reluctant when he finds out it is beyond the girl he likes. Its when he finds out they will (against his will) bite and claw him to turn him into a panther that he really has a problem. So its over a few episodes. Him slowly dying/ turning and being taken by all the women of the pack. Eventually he convinces the 14 year old girl who was obviously reluctant to untie him and he escapes.

    The dynamic isn’t that simple as the desision to do this was made by the male pack leader. The best writing comes when his mate ignores what he went through and starts to complain his marraige is failing. The brother gets seriously pissed off that he isn’t being taken seriously. The brother also never reports it.

    Thats as detailed as I can be without giving spoilers.

  6. Brett, I think the problem that women/feminists have with you saying that men need to get involved with ending domestic and sexual violence comes from statements like “If we men love our women we need to defend them from other men”. If women need to be protected by men, then that does nothing to change the status quo – it might “protect” individual women, but it doesn’t change the sheer amount of violence being perpetrated. I don’t want a man to not hurt me because I’m with another man or because he’s scared of what the men in my life will do to him; I want a man to not hurt me because it’s the wrong thing to do.

    I suggest you check out the Coalition for Men Supporting Non-Violence, they do work around changing attitudes that support violence:

  7. Sorry Dunja but I completely disagree with you. Men need to stop other men. It’s that simple.

    While I hope for that utopia in the future where women are safe they won’t ever be truly safe. For as long as there are unbalanced men and men are physically stronger the law and society cannot completely protect women.

    As you know I am not a slight chap. For too long I have stood to one side thinking that it was somehow wrong to get involved. That I was taking away something from the woman by overriding her decision (on the assumption she would ask for help if she needed it).

    More recently I have stepped in a few times. A simple movement into his personal space and asking if she is ok. Harassment over. I have found the women in the situation thankful after and other women who knew about it. I have also threatened violence to stop a man in a slightly worse situation. It works.

    I bring you back to the opening paragraph of the article. The incidence rise. The last 10 years have also had a generation of men who believe that protecting women like that is somehow a bad thing. I suspect you might disagree with that. But I am a man. I know my own thoughts and those of my male friends.

    Give us back the permission to be chivalrous in this regard. To sort out a wife beater behind the pub. Bring back the rough music of old England. Things will improve.

  8. I think such archaic views belong on forums other than feminist publications. If the role of men is only to step in and threaten violence to protect women, that does nothing to actually change attitudes. That’s already happening without some feminist tick of approval; nobody would ever suggest that others just stand by and do nothing if someone is attacked, but rather that this alone is not going to change things. It will protect people in individual circumstances, it won’t protect people more generally. There is no simple solution, and broad cultural change is necessary. Encouraging physical violence (which is a staple of patriarchy, ie. the structure that feminism wants to change) as THE solution to protect women will ultimately change nothing.

  9. Hard to accept the “incidence rise” at face value, anyone who’s spent a bit of time immersed in the news cycle would know to be suspicious when such broad and multi-faceted social phenomena are collated to exact percentages and economic costs are quantified to the decimal point. Without any information about how the stats were collected, one has no way of knowing whether incidents have actually risen or the reporting of incidents has increased.

    re Brett: I think the problem with your “chivalry” argument is the simplistic assumptions. Your axiom that “men” need to protect “women” assumes that all individuals are amalgamations of the average properties of their gender. Therefore, if “women” need to be protected from violence by “men”, than it follows that *all* aggrieved women that you come across will need your masculine assistance.
    Your simplistic reasoning actually reminded me (funnily enough) of the 2003 Iraq War whereby the US invaded in the name of Freedom and yet left the country in a far more parlous and unstable state. Rather than study and effect the cultural factors that produced social inequality, the US thought it could solve everything by going in cocks-out with guns-a-blazing, because they knew they were doing The Right Thing. Your argument seems essentially similar, just replace “American defenders of freedom” with “men” and “poor 3rd world civilians who need the US to show them what freedom is” with “women” and the analogy’s exact.

  10. Brett, how is sorting out a wife beater behind a pub, a chivalrous act? In my eyes that’s assault and a criminal act, making you no better than the man you beat.

  11. Chris: All statistics of this piece have been taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics: I am referring to an increase amount of *reported* cases of sexual and domestic violence – another reader has pointed out that this was unclear, my apologies. This statistic could well be a good sign (in that more victims are speaking up), but I think it still highlights the immensity of the problem.

    Brett: We are working towards a society in which women have a broader range of freedoms than having to rely on men for their own personal protection. As written in point 5, I absolutely believe men ought to be actively involved in this prevention, but as equals rather than ‘protectors’. As discussed in point 4, there are other ways men can tackle this violence than by resorting to violence themselves.

  12. Pingback: Five Reasons Why Domestic & Sexual Violence is Men’s Business | This is what Elisabeth looks like...

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