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Domestic Abuse Against Men in Scotland


Domestic Abuse Against Men in Scotland



The final stage of our research project sought to discover what kinds of service provision exists in Scotland for adult men who have been abused by their partners. We contacted the following service providers to ask if they had a representative willing to participate in a short-telephone interview:

  • The eight Scottish Police Services;
  • Domestic Abuse Forums and Working Groups;
  • Victim Support;
  • Couple Counselling 82;
  • Specialist Organisations providing services for gay men;
  • Campaigning groups for men's rights;
  • Specialist organisations providing services for male victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Each organisation was supplied with a list of questions in advance of the interview (see Appendix E). In total, 43 agencies provided representatives who took part in this phase of the research. Thirty-three of these representatives engaged in tape-recorded telephone interviews with us. A further ten replied to our questions by email and/or post.

The Police

All eight of the Scottish Police Services provided responses to our questionnaire. Those who responded were either Domestic Abuse Liaison Officers (DALOs) (n = 2), or the more senior officers responsible for overseeing police work in this area (n = 6). The police's role in relation to domestic abuse victims is more complex than that of other agencies. As the ACPOS Domestic Abuse Policy document (2001: 2) explains, the aim of the Scottish Police is 'to provide a professional, caring, and victim-centred approach to victims of domestic abuse and their families' prioritising:

  • The safety and wellbeing of victims and their families;
  • The full investigation of all domestic incidents;
  • The arrest and detention of the offender where sufficient evidence allows;
  • Working in partnership with support agencies;
  • Providing the Scottish Executive with statistical data to enable effective monitoring of domestic abuse in Scotland.

In all forces most officers receive training in dealing with domestic abuse. This training takes the form of attendance at workshops on issues around 'protection, prevention and provision'. Some DALOs receive further training on a degree-accredited course about 'Domestic Violence' that touches upon issues related to men's victimisation. Two forces (Strathclyde and Grampian) also have a trained officer to deal specifically with sexual minorities who become victims of crime.

Although the police response to domestic abuse is 'offence-led' and hence non-gender specific, most of the DALOs we spoke to had few contacts with male victims. This was possibly a consequence of both the DALOs' tendency to concentrate on repeat victims, and the lower take-up rates amongst male victims when support is offered. All of the police representatives mentioned that they often struggled to find suitable agencies to refer male victims to, apart from Victim Support.

When we asked officers what aspects of their service provision they would develop or change if their budget was doubled, most officers prioritised the following things:

  • Increased numbers of staff in order to improve response times and conduct follow up visits (especially in rural areas);
  • More training about the issue of domestic abuse for divisional (non-specialist) officers, and;
  • The integration of examples of good practice piloted in other forces.

A few officers also mentioned the need for:

  • More publicity to encourage male and female victims to report to the police;
  • Extending partnerships with those other agencies that are better equipped to support victims;
  • The linking of databases (i.e. child and family protection) to allow better identification of those who are at risk, and;
  • Fast tracking for perpetrators using 'domestic abuse courts'.

Only one officer identified 'a need for a specific service provision for male victims of abuse'. Other officers said there was not a need for more provision, only a need to assure male victims, especially gay male victims, that the police are sufficiently aware of the problem and that Victim Support was there to service them. One of these officers also pointed to the need to establish the size and characteristics of the population of male victims before more service provision is put in place.

Domestic Abuse Forums and Working Groups

Domestic Abuse Forums, Working Groups and Partnerships were created to foster and develop effective and strategic multi-agency approaches to the problem of domestic abuse. Forums aim to implement, at a local level, the Scottish Executive's 2000 National Strategy of 'Prevention, Protection and Provision' (Henderson, 2000). Within most forums Women's Aid and the police typically take leading roles, although the following agencies and workers are often significantly involved: Local Health Authorities, Victim Support, the Benefits Agency, Education and Welfare Officers, Child Protection Officers, Mental Health Workers, Social Services, the Procurator Fiscal, Solicitors, Rape Crisis, Housing Agencies, Drug and Alcohol Workers, representatives from Children's Panels, Family Mediation, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender groups (LGBT).

There were 32 such forums (or equivalent organisations) in Scotland at the time we commenced this research. We endeavoured to contact all 32 of these, and succeeded in eliciting responses from 22. Nineteen of these 22 organisations referred to themselves as Domestic Abuse Forums, Domestic Abuse Working Groups or Domestic Abuse Partnerships. The remaining three were organisations specifically concerned with 'male violence against women and children'. For convenience we refer to all 22 of these organisations as 'forums' in the remainder of this report.

All of the forums subscribed to the definition of domestic abuse detailed by The Scottish Partnership on Domestic Abuse for the Scottish Executive (see Henderson, 2000: 2). But eight added that their work included same-sex relationships and that a minority of domestic abuse cases involve women being abusive to men. Three forums had also adopted their own gender-neutral definitions.

The training programmes provided within domestic abuse forums typically cover a broad range of themes including:

  • The debunking of myths about domestic abuse;
  • Understanding the 'double victimisation' of some women (lesbian, elderly, disabled), as well as the heterogeneity of female and child victims of domestic abuse;
  • The provision of legal advice and advocacy, places of refuge, benefits and housing, etc., and;
  • Awareness raising amongst members of the public and practitioners.

These programmes are used to train workers from member organisations and non-member public sector workers. Two forums had developed training packages that promote gender-neutral themes (such as 'citizenship' and 'respect') for use within schools. Although not specifically concerned with domestic abuse against men, these packages aim to promote healthy, respectful relationships amongst the general population.

When asked whether the issue of male abuse arose during the training sessions, nearly all of the representatives said that someone invariably asks 'What about men?'. Most responded by saying that the majority of victims are women and children, and consequently the needs of male victims are not usually prioritised. All of the forum representatives explained that the skills taught during training sessions about 'domestic abuse' were not completely transferable to situations involving male victims.

When the representatives from the forums were asked what they would do if their budgets were doubled, the following priorities were mentioned:

  • The development and expansion of training within forums, and the promotion of best practice amongst public sector organisations and private companies;
  • Preventative work with children and young people;
  • Expanding the number of workers available to co-ordinate forums and work with children in refuges;
  • Awareness raising work amongst the general public;
  • Making services more accessible to people living in remote and rural areas; and,
  • More refuge buildings, spaces and 'cluster' housing.

Only one representative prioritised the development of services for male victims. Many representatives stressed that the difficulties men face in approaching generic services are also experienced by women. More than half of the representatives said they believed the number of male victims to be too small to merit new service provision. Several went on to highlight past attempts to make such provision which had failed because of a 'lack of demand'. For some, the issues surrounding teenage boys living in women's refuges, together with the complexities of working with male perpetrators were considered more immediate issues. Encouraging the greater involvement of non-abusive men in campaigning against domestic abuse was also highlighted as an important priority by some forum representatives.

Many forum representatives hoped initiatives for male victims would come from men themselves. The reasons given for this were two-fold. First, certain forum members felt that men themselves should initiate campaigns on behalf of male victims, just as women have initiated campaigns on behalf of female victims. Second, several forum representatives argued that men experiencing domestic abuse face issues that are not identical to those experienced by women and children:

Abuse against women is something that is related to women's general position in society. Its about inequality and lack of power and its about abuse of power… I'm not sure that those things would apply in the same way to address issues of abuse against men. (Forum representative)

Couple Counselling in Scotland

Couple Counselling provides a counselling service for people in intimate relationships. Many couples attend together, although Couple Counselling also counsels individuals. Clients do not have to pay for the service, but can make a donation. There are 14 affiliated Couple Counselling agencies across Scotland. All Couple Counselling volunteers receive two years generic training at university.

We interviewed one counsellor who represented the views of the service in Scotland. In this counsellor's experience physical aggression between two male partners is more common than women's physical abuse against men. Amongst those heterosexual couples that use Couple Counselling, it is usually the man who is violent. This counsellor maintained that an aim of Couple Counselling is to reduce the need for abused women to have to report their partners to the police. Counsellors encourage male perpetrators to take responsibility for their physical violence, and urge both partners to undertake more activities independent of each other.

This counsellor claimed that when women are abusers, the abuse typically takes the form of constant undermining and goading. This counsellor stressed that partner abuse often starts after the birth of children, some men complaining about the abuse that followed after they had 'hassled' partners to give them more 'attention'.

Victim Support in Scotland

Victim Support is a nation-wide service, funded primarily by central government, to offer emotional and practical support to people affected by crime. Volunteers have a basic training in issues that affect victims. Volunteers can also undertake advanced training in domestic and sexual abuse issues. The Victim Support representative we spoke to claimed that in 2001 1,116 victims of domestic abuse contacted Victim Support in Scotland, of whom 123 were men.

Victim Support does not differentiate between male and female victims in terms of the level and quality of service offered. However, the representative we spoke to explained that because Victim Support works in the absence of other services for male victims of domestic abuse, the male victims its workers encounter often need more sustained assistance than the female victims they encounter. The representative argued that men's needs are often 'more immediate and apparent' than women's. The representative we spoke to said that if Victim Support received more funding it would develop its work with ethnic minority communities, male victims, the young, the homeless, refugees and asylum seekers.

Specialist Organisations providing services for gay men

We interviewed five representatives of specialist organisations providing services for gay men in Scotland. 83 Three of these representatives spoke on behalf of several LGBT organisations. Much of the work undertaken by these organisations focuses on HIV prevention and generic health issues. In Scotland none of these specialist organisations were established to deal specifically with domestic abuse, although work with victims and perpetrators has gradually become integrated into existing LGBT counselling services. However, LBGT organisations refer most male victims to Victim Support and Couple Counselling. One LBGT worker insisted that statutory service providers should do more to reach victims of domestic abuse within the gay community. Another worker reiterated that not all gay men want to access services exclusively for gay men.

All of the LGBT workers we spoke to were concerned that there are insufficient support services for male victims. Some also expressed disappointment at the way men are discussed within domestic abuse forums, explaining that some of these organisations oversimplify the complexity of gender relations and the power dynamics intrinsic to intimate relationships.

There is a lot to be gained by developing an approach to the problems of domestic abuse which has a gendered analysis of the situation at its core without creating divides. (LGBT worker)

The vast majority of specialist organisations for sexual minorities claimed to be under-resourced, and there are relatively few such agencies outside Scotland's 'central belt'. All of the LGBT workers we spoke to expressed a keen interest in partnership work with other agencies. We were told by some workers that most LGBT services do not want to specialise in domestic abuse, even though individual workers are interested in sitting on domestic abuse forums.

Campaigning groups for Men's Rights

We contacted two organisations specifically concerned with campaigning for men's rights in the UK. One of these organisations was unable to respond to our questionnaire in full, saying that our questionnaire had prompted his organisation to conduct its own in-house research on their client groups' experiences of domestic abuse. Although domestic violence is not a core issue for this organisation's membership, the wider term domestic abuse addresses issues of a central concern to many of this organisation's members. The representative from this organisation explained that he considers:

The widespread denial of contact with children for no good reason…highly abusive of non-resident parents, who are of course mainly fathers…It is also, and more importantly, abusive of the children concerned. (Men's Rights campaigner)

The second men's rights organisation responded in full to our questionnaire. Although not specifically concerned with 'male victims', abused men had approached this organisation through their website, in response to publicity material, and because they had been referred by other organisations campaigning for men's rights. These abused men are typically offered 'counselling' as well as 'advice' on how best to deal with the police. Abused men contacting this organisation are sometimes referred to Social Work Departments and Housing Departments.

This organisation does not 'accept either women or homosexuals as members'. The representative from this organisation went on to say:

[W]e…offer no advice [to gay men] other than to get out of the relationships. [W]e have no interest in encouraging individuals to continue a lifestyle that makes them more prone to physical and mental illness, and …a dramatically reduced life expectancy. (Men's Rights campaigner)

The representative from this organisation told us that if his agency's budget were to be doubled the money would be spent on campaigning for legal reform. He also added that his organisation was apprehensive about the development of a parallel service to Women's Aid for men, arguing that such organisations have a tendency to 'exploit victims' and 'exaggerate statistics' to ensure their continued existence.

Specialist organisations providing services for male victims of domestic and sexual abuse

We attempted to contact four organisations that had been set up to deal specifically with male victims of domestic and/or sexual abuse. Two of these (one in England and one in Scotland) had closed down before our research commenced.

The third organisation we contacted had not yet opened to the public, although its workers were accepting some referrals. This organisation will provide advice and counselling support to men and children who are victims of domestic abuse, provide facilities to enable non-resident parents to maintain contact with their children, and offer transport assistance to men who have to move home. This organisation plans to make its services available to women, even though its ethos has prevented it from joining the local domestic abuse forum.

The fourth organisation within this category offered a telephone helpline for men in Scotland who have been sexually abused either as children or as adults. The police had referred a few men who had experienced domestic abuse to this helpline. However, when we asked the representative from this helpline if his organisation would help more male victims of domestic abuse were it given the funding to do so, he replied negatively, insisting that his organisation's remit is to concentrate solely on male victims of sexual abuse.


Because of the size and significance of certain organisations we could not interview an even distribution of representatives from each. We interviewed more representatives from the police and domestic abuse forums because these organisations have regional representatives across Scotland. The representatives from the police and from the forums tended to share similar perspectives on the issue of male victims of domestic abuse. For example, both the police and the forums are committed to multi-agency work in the field of domestic abuse interventions. When asked what forms of service provision or training they would change or develop, the forums and the police both prioritised the need for more staff (on the ground and in supervisory/coordinator roles), together with more awareness raising and training.

Police and forum representatives alike highlighted the need to identify the size and nature of the problems experienced by male victims in Scotland. In addition, police officers mentioned the need to publicise existing services available to men (especially Victim Support), although like many within the forums, police representatives tended to emphasise the need for work that broadly raises awareness about 'domestic abuse' (rather than narrowly about 'male victims'). Many forum members and the police are reluctant to foster the development of new services specifically for male victims whilst men are not making use of those services already in place.

Victim Support was a service that was identified by the majority of police and forum representatives as an agency that could help male victims. However, one officer pointed out that many men 'do not naturally think of Victim Support'. Interestingly, the majority of the representatives from LGBT organisations agreed with the aforementioned police/forum perspective, arguing that the needs of gay male victims of domestic abuse should be addressed primarily by pre-existing statutory services for victims, not through discrete specialist services. Many of the representatives from LGBT organisations said that statutory service providers could do more to advertise that they are willing and able to work with gay male victims (as opposed to just accepting referrals as and when they arrive).

However, the representative from Couple Counselling we spoke to added two caveats to the argument for generic service provision. First, the Couple Counselling representative explained that it is important to establish services for those victims who do not wish to have their partners arrested and/or prosecuted. This could be a problem for some users of Victim Support, who are typically referred by the police. Second, the needs of heterosexual male victims and gay male victims of domestic abuse are often different to each other, and from those of female victims.

However, one could respond to this first argument by pointing out that such policies encourage victims to stay with abusive partners who are unlikely to change (Burton et al., 1998), and that violence within the home should not be exempted from criminalisation - criminalisation serving an important 'symbolic' function (Edwards, 1991). Equally, one could respond to this second argument (about specialist needs) by saying that training should be provided to foster versatility amongst pre-existing statutory service providers.

The representatives from the men's rights organisations also argued that statutory service providers should address the needs of male victims. However, these campaigning groups are also arguing for more broad-ranging legal reforms. Nevertheless, one of the men's rights representatives was clear that the social change he desired was not for all men, only 'straight men'. This representative expressed some particularly disturbing misconceptions about gay men.

The fact that some projects established for male victims of domestic abuse have closed down was cited by some forum representatives as evidence of a lack of demand for service provision in this area, but some of those who established these specialist services would argue that their organisations closed through lack of funding, and concomitantly, their incapacity to adequately publicise their work. There are relatively few organisations in which there is overwhelming support for developing greater and more specialised services for male victims. There are even fewer people from 'specialist' organisations (either for male victims, gay men or men's rights) willing to commit themselves to such an endeavour, although most would welcome another organisation taking this initiative. To date, only one locally based organisation is currently taking this initiative in Scotland.