Nicole Thompson/National Post

Barbara Kay: Only women get help for spousal violence, while men are ignored

A billboard in Toronto says half domestic violence victims are men.

A condition called hemispacial neglect, also known as hemiagnosia, is a rare phenomenon in the neurological world, characterized by the inability of those afflicted to process and perceive stimuli on one side of their environment. The most striking feature of the condition is that the victim not only fails to see what is in (usually) her left field of vision, but is also unaware of the fact that the other side of his environment even exists.

There is a cultural correlative to this condition that is remarkably common, affecting almost all academics in our university humanities and social science departments, most politicians and most media commentators. Cultural hemiagnosia presents as a failure to see, or even be aware of, the fact that half the population – the male half – are ever victims of violence by women.

Intimate partner violence is not sexual assault in most cases. The two phenomena should be kept separate.

The result is that a great deal of social, educational and legislative concern focuses on female victims of domestic violence, with lavish sums of money devoted to counseling, shelters and public service campaigns aimed at sensitizing the public to this shameful social scourge, but virtually zero funds are spent on the same services for male sufferers of the same scourge – without guilt, since male suffering is both visually and cognitively invisible to the hemiagnosiacs creating the policies.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has released a three-year, $41-million plan to combat sexual violence. Violence against women, that is, since she too is a cultural hemiagnosiac. The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFÉ) has mounted a counter-campaign, accusing Ms Wynne of forgetting “half the victims of violence.” They have mounted a provocative billboard ad in which a man is seen cowering before the figure of an angry woman, with the hashtag #Let’stalkmen. A CAFÉ press release includes the statement: “Premier Kathleen Wynne’s violence against women initiative reinforces gender stereotypes that ignore violence against men, gays and lesbians, and endanger children with abusive mothers.”

Penny Krowitz, executive director of Act to End Violence Against Women countered CAFÉ’s citation of Statistics Canada’s findings that almost as many men as women experience spousal violence (601,000 women to 585,000 men) with the argument that women are twice as likely to be physically injured during abuse and far more likely to fear for their lives.

Krowitz is correct that the most extreme form of spousal violence is male-on-female, but hard-core batterers and outright killers are rare (about 45 women are killed by male intimate partners in Canada annually, and about 25 men are killed by female partners, although the latter figure does not include proxy killings by boyfriends or others). In violence of the mild to moderately severe variety that constitutes most domestic violence – shoving, slapping, hitting, punching, throwing objects, even stabbing and burning – both sexes initiate and cause harm in equal measure. That includes gays and lesbians, where rates are higher than the general population.

Every major survey has borne out this truth. In fact, the most reliable, like Canada’s 1999 General Social Survey, found not only that most male and female violence is reciprocal, but also that the younger the sample, the more violent the women relative to men. A meta-analysis of more than 80 large-scale surveys notes a widening, concerning spread – less male and more female violence – in the dating cohort.

In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published its National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey to great fanfare. The survey’s central finding was that men and women inflict and suffer equal rates of domestic violence, with 6.5% of men and 6.3% of women experiencing partner aggression in the past year. More men (18%) suffer psychological aggression (humiliation, threats of violence, controllingness) than women (14%). Feminists often define IPV as a “pattern of power and control,” but the survey finds that men were 50% more likely to have experienced coercive control than women (15.2% vs 10.7%).

Krowitz alluded to data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics finding that most police-reported spousal and family violence was against women. Excuse me, but duhh. Key words here: “police-reported.” The common policy in law enforcement is to arrest the male in virtually all reported incidents of partner violence, no matter who initiated it. I know of cases where police arrive to find the man dripping with blood from a wound sustained by a sharp object, only to be arrested because it is as a matter of policy to be assumed he had provoked his partner into defending herself. So of course males were arrested “in nearly 80% of cases of intimate partner violence reported to police in 2013.” Arrest stats are an unreliable guide to what is actually happening between the sexes in terms of violence.

Yes, sexual assault is a crime mainly perpetrated by men against women. But intimate partner violence is not sexual assault in most cases. The two phenomena should be kept separate. And intimate partner violence – a phenomenon almost equally perpetrated by both sexes – should be accorded the same public services. Penny Krowitz justifies the lack of services by the fact that not many men come forward to ask for them.

It is true that men are ashamed to admit they are victims of a woman’s violence, just as women are often ashamed to say they have been raped. Feminists say there are 100 unreported rapes for every reported one. The situation for male victims of partner violence is analogous. Build the services for male victims of partner violence, just as services are being built for women victims of rape, and male victims will begin to come forward. Neurological hemiagnosia cannot be cured. Cultural hemiagnosia can be. The antidote is simple: respect the evidence and act on it.

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