Tuesday, March 31, 2009
THERE is small, but undeniable evidence that men trying to escape abusive relationships are poorly served in Manitoba. Given the level of services available to assist men suffering violence in the home, it is not surprising that few ask for help.
The few men who overcome the social stigma to reach out must, in Winnipeg, do so during regular working hours of the work week, or stumble through with the best efforts of stand-in aid organizations that answer the call when other resources have closed for the day. The problem, advocates say, frequently a man running from violence gets short-term help through emergency shelters established to help women -- there is no full-time shelter open to men -- they are typically put into a hotel room for a night. They then disappear back into the community. Those men then miss a critical part to breaking the cycle of abuse -- counselling. That counselling is widely available to female victims of domestic violence, who have full-time shelters at their disposal and a cadre of practitioners plugged in to the centres where women frequently seek help.
The extent of the problem of abuse against men is poorly defined. Statistics Canada has historically charted alarming levels of domestic violence against men and women, far outstripping the number of charges Winnipeg police lay in such incidents. Stats Can records six per cent of men surveyed in domestic relationships experienced violence in the last five years. In Winnipeg, those numbers would involve more than 8,000 men. Winnipeg police statistics record 14 per cent of domestic violence cases, or 304 charges, involved men as victims in 2008. Those numbers, however, rarely break into the light of day.
It took decades of activism to change societal perceptions, including those of the police and courts, of domestic violence from a private affair that happened behind closed door, between married people, to a complex social scourge that requires social solutions.
Domestic violence, in fact, is a pernicious crime that threatens lives and indelibly marks the development of children, setting in motion a tenacious cycle of abuse that visits upon future generations. That activism is only beginning to address perceptions about men as victims of domestic violence, whether in same-sex or heterosexual relationships.
Defining the size of the problem is a critical first step. To that end, the Men's Resource Centre is working with Osborne House, a shelter for women, to begin tracking the number and nature of calls they receive from men who ask for help. Changing attitudes to dispel the stigma men battle will take time, probably decades. The first step is admitting there is a problem -- something that would come as a surprise to many people who cling to antiquated views of roles in relationships. That discussion must start in the public forum, with the kind of advertising campaign that helped put wife abuse in the public consciousness.
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Does anybody take this issue seriously? I noticed that the staff writer didn't even want to be associated with the topic. Who is the lobby behind this movement? This is the second such op-ed calling for a men's shelter and more govt. moneys allocated to this supposed need. Most assault charges of female domestic violence are countercharges made by men who also have been charged with assault, thanks to our zero tolerance policy. As for those few men who are being physically or psychologically abused and need someplace to hide, I suggest you leave the province.