Toronto’s first shelter for male victims of domestic abuse opens: a concrete sign of acknowledgement for a long-denied reality

As a member of the advisory board of the Canadian Association for Equality, I was particularly delighted to see CAFÉ’s press release last week stating:

“A capital campaign hosted by prominent men’s issues charity Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) has raised a quarter of a million dollars to open Toronto’s first family shelter for men and children who have experienced domestic abuse. This will make Toronto the first metropolitan city in North America with such a facility.”

Long overdue, but welcome nonetheless.

Some years ago, motivated by the deluge of personal stories I received once I started writing sympathetically about male victims of partner violence, I asked a male friend, presenting as a victim of partner abuse, to approach several different social service organizations for help. He was politely informed at each and every one (one funded by United Way of Greater Toronto) that the only help available to him without a fee was a course in anger management.

When he explained that it was his partner who had the anger problem and that he was the victim, he was met with frosty indifference. I called the United Way to inquire about this gender inequality.

I was told that helping male victims of domestic violence was not part of their mandate and would not likely appear on their planning agenda for the foreseeable future.

So the fact that male victims of DV finally have a refuge and resources to help them and their children (children heretofore have only been admitted to shelters in their mother’s company) when they are in crisis as a result of a female partner or parent’s abuse seems like a hopeful sign  that a gender apartheid wall in the domain of domestic violence is finally crumbling.

As a gender contrarian, I have for many years taken an interest in sorting out facts from myths in the emotive world of domestic violence – or as it is more precisely and commonly known, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) – and so, to avoid being caught up in “narratives” and ideological theories, I turned my attention to the epidemiology of this pathology. And when I did, I discovered a fascinating, but hidden world of incontrovertible evidence that beat against the current of received wisdom.

The “wisdom” has it that IPV is a scourge in which women are virtually always victims and men the perpetrators. There is no evidence-based reason for this generally accepted notion. No methodologically sound study supports such a conclusion.

In fact, all reputable studies, including those underpinning Statistics Canada, bear out quite the opposite conclusion: namely, that in all but the most extreme cases of abuse, men and women are almost equally likely to initiate physical abuse.

Educational materials are conceived by, or under the direction of feminists. They feature shocking visuals of extreme abuse to women. Certainly one never sees a public service announcement pointing to male victims of partner violence.

So it is understandable that most people assume this tip of the iceberg represents the whole. It doesn’t. It really is a small tip of a far more complex and balanced iceberg. But one must actively pursue the data hidden under the surface to appreciate how distorted the public image of IPV is when compared to evidence-based reality.

I got “woke” more than ten years ago when I read Rethinking Domestic Violence (2006) by University of British Columbia professor of psychology, Don Dutton. Now emeritus, Dutton is globally acknowledged as an expert in this domain.

Nobody of good faith can read this meticulously annotated text and maintain – without blushing, anyway – that IPV is a unilateral phenomenon, and that it is both a widespread and culturally significant problem.

IPV homicides are, statistically speaking, quite rare in Canada, where, for example, there were 83 domestic homicides in 2014, most of the victims women. But in a nation of more than 35 million people, epidemiologically speaking, that figure does not point to a systemic problem of “toxic masculinity” or general misogyny amongst the male population.

Homicidal violence characterizes a very tiny percentage of IPV in general, which afflicts about 7% of Canadian couples – a concerning, but again, hardly a systemic swath of the population. Indeed, if alcohol, drugs and socially dysfunctional environments were miraculously removed as factors, IPV would largely exist, amongst Canadians raised and educated here, as a relatively small cluster of psychologically damaged men and women who have difficulty handling intimate relationships.

I recently caught up with Dr. Dutton’s most recent publication on all forms of domestic violence, including siblings, children and parents (DV). He reviews longitudinal surveys, such as the National Longitudinal Survey on Adolescent Health, the National Comorbidity Survey, the National Youth Survey, and the National Survey of Couples, independent surveys conducted between 1985 and 2007. Unlike StatsCan, such surveys ask both men and women whether they have been victims, as well as if they have perpetrated violence themselves. Dutton finds the results to be “remarkably consistent.” Some findings:

  • The incidence of stereotypical wife beating is .008% for married couples, and for cohabitating couples .001% ;
  • The most common form of IPV is bilateral – men using violence against women, women using violence against men – matched for a level of severity (which can include hitting, biting, kicking, pushing, hitting with objects, burnings, etc);
  • Women are more likely to commit unilateral violence against a non-violent male partner than the reverse;
  • Male violence against non-violent women accounts for about 15% of all reported IPV, and 5% includes serious – i.e., potentially injurious – acts;

“In short,” Dutton concludes, “five large sample surveys have found that 5% of all reported DV roughly fits the stereotype of wife beating. About 1/3 of those who commit DV do so repeatedly. There are two predictors of chronic DV: 1) perpetrator chronicity- tied to a personality disorder in the perpetrator and2) couple chronicity – tied to a dysfunctional interactive pattern.”

Looked at positively, the vast majority of Canadians will neither inflict upon or suffer physical violence from, their intimate partners.

Anyone, female or male, who does suffer partner violence deserves our sympathy, and more than that, help in escaping it or resolving psychological difficulties to prevent further abuse.

Enough with the gendered stigmatizing. CAFÉ’s new shelter for men is a giant step forward toward the worthy goal of gender equality in social services and a model for other cities to follow.

Dr. Dutton’s report can be found here.