Don't forget male victims of domestic abuse

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It is almost 20 years since the American TV series Friends aired an episode called “The One with the Girl Who Hits Joey” in which a new love interest ‘playfully’ punches him hard.

His fellow characters poke fun at him and make jokes about his lack of masculinity when he confides in them.

Male domestic abuse

Male domestic abuse

One has to wonder if a storyline about a man hitting a woman would have ever featured in a comedy show, let alone be peppered with artificial audience laugh tracks throughout.

A clip of the episode was played to guests at a conference raising awareness of male domestic violence, which the Post attended this week.

Sadly, the Friends episode is not an isolated example.

Others include a more recent news report in which presenters laughed at a report of a man being stabbed by his wife, and an occasion in 2015 when Jeremy Kyle show audience members sniggered at a domestic abuse victim who was forced to jump off a three-storey balcony to escape his violent girlfriend.

The One with the Girl Who Hits Joey - would we still laugh at this today?

The One with the Girl Who Hits Joey - would we still laugh at this today?

They are typical examples of how society portrays violence from women to men, and although one clip might be nearly two decades ago, it seems such attitudes - coupled with a lack of provision - are still a barrier preventing many male victims from coming forward.

Almost a quarter of Lancashire’s 13,000 domestic violence reports involved male victims in 2017, with only 2,289 coming forward compared to 7,507 were women. 3,424 people did not specify a gender.

To add to the challenges there are only three refuge places for men in Lancashire - though it is one of only a handful of counties to actually have provision for men.

Alex Atkinson, of Lancashire based charity Safenet, which helps women, men and children fleeing abuse victims, was among delegates speaking about the challenges facing male victims of abuse in the county during a conference to tackle male domestic abuse.

Safenet, which operates under a charitable arm of housing association Calico, operates three refuges - two in the Burnley area and one in Preston, and a safehouse in Lancaster.

It also offers independent domestic violence advisors (IDVA) who address the safety of victims at high risk of harm from partners, to men in Blackpool.

It opened the county’s first refuge spaces for men with three spaces in Burnley, and safehouse provision in Lancaster and Burnley after recognising there was a demand.

From April 2015 to March 2016 95 men were referred to Safenet, with the first resident travelling from out of the county for around 10 hours to get to safety.

The following year the charity had a rapid increase to 128 referrals.

Alex explains: “We saw it increase rapidly, and we were limited as to what services we could offer.

“What we were finding is homeless services were coming to us for advice.

“We recognise just a roof isn’t enough - what we needed is service that could help them deal with housing needs, health needs, etc.”

After doing research and meeting survivors, Safenet approached Calico with their idea and were given three bed spaces in a rent free property, which was full within a month.

She adds: “We’ve not been empty since.

“There is only three beds in our current refuge. It continues to be full.

“In the first six months we were able to evidence the need."

Since its official launch in June 2017 it has had 52 referrals but could only accommodate 17.

Alex explains: “That might not seem like a lot but the average length of stay is three to six months in a refuge.

“Because there isn’t a massive amount of provision it impacts on the referrals.

“If you look at the numbers 35 men were turned away, we are refusing about 67% of our referrals coming into the service.

The service is striving to improve its response to men and boys and offers one to one and group work for the men that stay in the services.

She adds: “We look at all aspects of the need, and we assess them at three points during their stay to look at their experiences coming through the refuge. We’ve only been doing it for two years and are still learning and still consulting with men in our services as to how we can get that right.”

“Historically we were an all women project. We really visited this and wanted to get it right and had to look at debates around gender and who to support. We had to do a lot of thinking around that but our overriding thing is we meet the demands going forward.”

Safenet is hoping to launch a further dedicated male safehouse next year.

Delegates at the conference were also given examples of how Lancashire solicitor Dave Edwards, murdered in 2016 at his Chorley home by his abusive new wife, came into contact with several professional services in the run up to his death, with little action taken.

They were later described as ‘missed opportunities’ in a review by Chorley Council.

David’s former partner Debbie Livesley was among delegates in the audience.

For advice and support contact SafeNet on 0300 303 3581 or the Mankind Initiative on 01823 334244.