Men suffer spousal violence too

 Anti-abuse poster found in men’s bathrooms on campus. Photo: Will Conner

Anti-abuse poster found in men’s bathrooms on campus. Photo: Will Conner

 October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, an annual international campaign bringing to light issues surrounding domestic violence in the community and to promote awareness of support for victims and offenders.

Anti-abuse poster foundin men’s bathrooms on campus. Photo: Will ConnerThis advertisement has been placed in men’s washrooms throughout campus, leading some to question the long held assumption that men are only the perpetrators of spousal violence and never the victims.

In September, the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter posted advertisements through Zoom Media in men’s washrooms throughout Mount Royal University, telling men on campus they don’t have to abuse their partners, and that there are better ways to handle relationships.

The advertisement reads: “One of these men abuses his partner. You don’t have to. Find a better way to handle relationships and change controlling or abusive behaviours.”

“The first thing I thought of when I saw this picture was ‘What? Me? I don’t have to? Of course I don’t have to, I wouldn’t!’” said MRU student Nick Konstantinov.

Shereen Samuels, manager of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University’s volunteer centres said via the Pride Centre’s Facebook page that she doesn’t think the posters are accusing men, but rather the culture of rape in our society.

“I think the purpose of those posters that were the subject of such lively discussion last week is NOT to tar all men with the ‘rapist’ brush, but to call out rape culture,” Samuels said. “To make us really look at the basic assumption of rape culture, and consider it just as disgusting and offensive.”

According to Statistics Canada, domestic violence incidents are nearly half what they were 30 years ago. This is good news; however, the idea that only women are the victims of violence in spousal relationships has persisted.

Statistics Canada, in a report titled Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, indicates that such an assumption is incorrect. Between 2004 and 2009, six per cent of Canadian men self-reported that they were the victims of spousal violence (including both current and previous relationships), compared to 6.4 per cent of Canadian women.

The report did not indicate the percentages of men or women who perpetrate spousal abuse, though it did note that those who identify as gay or lesbian are twice as likely to self-report spousal violence, and those who identify as bisexual are four times more likely to report the same.

It also stated that women are about three times more likely to report being the victim of “more serious forms of spousal violence,” which Statistics Canada defined as being “sexually assaulted, beaten, choked or threatened with a gun or knife.”

Domestic abuse is still a problem for men, and it is important to note that women are not the only victims — men also suffer from violence at the hands of their spouses.

This issue comes to a head when considering the strategies society has for dealing with the victims of spousal violence.

Resources for female victims are many, though levels of adequacy are open for debate. In Calgary there are six publically funded emergency shelters for women.

For men, there’s one. It’s privately funded and about to shut down.

Earl Silverman, executive director for the Men’s Alternative Safe House Society (MASH4077), Alberta’s only men’s emergency shelter, said MASH4077 is in the process of trying to raise $500,000 in private donations for operations or it will be forced to close next September.

MASH4077 does not receive public funding from any level of government. Repeated applications have been made by Silverman but turned down, with provincial government arguing there is no proof that men require shelters.

Silverman said most men don’t even know a men’s shelter exists in Calgary, so the situation is a catch-22.

Enrolment in the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, a collaboration of community partners of social profit agencies, funders and governmental bodies, is critical for public funding, Silverman said, but he added it is impossible to find any partners.

“One time we found a partner, but before we could use the reference I was told that if they became our partners, they would lose their funding. So they didn’t endorse us,” said Silverman.

Silverman believes domestic violence committees in Calgary have a male exclusion agenda.

Whether or not gender politics is playing an active role to restrict resources for men in Calgary, the reality remains there will soon be no place in Calgary for an abused man to turn in order to escape a violent relationship — at least not the same type of places available to women.

Though it was not, in all likelihood, the intent of the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter to publicly demonize men, those offended by the poster at MRU, such as Konstantinov, feel there needs to be better recognition of the fact that not all men (or even most) perpetrate spousal violence, and that they can also be victims in need of support and resources.