Sadly,the ‘us’ and ‘them’ fight between the sexes is often most clearly illustrated when it comes to discussion of domestic violence. As a domestic violence support worker of several years the most common response I got when I told people what I did was: “Well what about the men?”
This came from both men and women, as if the help offered to women escaping from life threatening situations was undeserved. Here, the backlash against feminism seems to have gone to extremes.
‘Feminism’- often used as a dirty word- is not something that all women identify with, as highlighted at the Fabian New Years Conference. Shunned my women, feminism can move some men to vitriolic, defensive attack.
Discussing male victims of abuse in Scotland, one online commentator wrote: “One always feels that the feminists in Scotland always go the extra mile just to be really, really hateful against men, like as if it's some sort of sick competition where they have to outdo the sexism of those south of the border.”
Feminism really does have an image problem. Surely any woman, indeed any reasonable person, fighting for women’s right to live free from violence does not wish the abuse on men instead. So why such anger in return?
The recent British Crime Survey reported that in 2008 young men aged 20-24 are more likely to be abused than women of the same age. Many have repeated this fact as a sort of validation of men’s hard-done-by stance across the internet. It is still remains that violence against women of all ages is more serious, more sustained and more common that female abuse of men. But it's not a competition.
Yesterday Jacqui Smith unveiled plans for bankers to help prevent victims of abuse being financially reliant on violent partners- a fundamental problem facing far more women then men in abusive relationships. It is a move that also recognises that domestic violence increases in times of financial hardship. (It may also aim to raise the justifiably low opinion we have of bankers at the moment.) The government has also allocated extra funding for helplines and domestic violence training for benefits officers.
Despite being a positive step in the right direction, it really isn’t enough. More money is allocated to far more public knife crime for example, despite it claiming fewer lives each year. Somehow society is more appalled by the idea of dying at the hands of a stranger then they are a supposed loved one.
It is indisputably true that support for men experiencing abuse is horribly lacking. The same is true for people from the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgendered community, and for ethnic monitory women. It is also true for women. There just isn’t enough money. London's Rape Crisis centre faces closure and services all over the country are struggling for cash.
(Any angry men may want to bear in mind that what little money is around hasn’t just been handed to women on a plate. The cash, services and basic rights they have are the result of years and years of lobbying.)
Domestic violence, against women, against men, and against children just isn’t prioritised. It is a hidden crime with appalling consequences that costs society and the state an exorbitant amount of money each year, not to mention a large number of lives. Energy put into the battle between the sexes would be better placed in fighting it. After all, an eye for an eye and the whole country goes blind.