Separate and Unequal Domestic Violence Victim Services

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Men are greatly under-served as victims of domestic violence. Credible but highly contested scholarly studies indicate that domestic violence victimization is roughly equal between women and men. National representative, general-purpose U.S. surveys of hospital emergency department visits indicate that men account for about 40% of U.S. adult victims of acute domestic violence. Men suffer hundreds of thousands of incidents per year of domestic violence injures that send them to hospital emergency departments. Apart from medical care for those specific injuries, domestic violence services for victimized men are separate and far inferior to those for women.

Domestic violence shelters historically arose to serve women. Women began opening domestic violence shelters for women in the early 1970s. By 1990, about 1000 such shelters for women existed. By 2004, about 2000 domestic violence shelters were operating in the U.S. Almost no one opened a domestic violence shelter for men. The executive director of a domestic violence shelter in California from 1990 to 1998 declared that men traveled long distances to her shelter because other shelters refused to provide services to men. According to this knowledgeable person, her shelter was the only shelter in the country available to battered men.^ In 2000, the first and only U.S. helpline for men suffering from domestic abuse opened.^ It has now closed. Domestic violence services for victimized men have similarly lagged in the U.K.^ In Canada, Earl Silverman struggled for years to open a domestic violence shelter for men. Driven to despair by the dominant women-centered domestic violence interests, Earl Silverman committed suicide in 2013.

Domestic violence shelters are women-dominated. Among U.S. domestic-violence programs providing shelter services to women about the year 2008, 73% reported being willing to provide shelter services for men.^ However, the median numbers of domestic violence victims served were 16 men and 800 women across the agencies surveyed.^ The first national census of domestic violence services, conducted by an organization advocating for domestic violence services, indicated that men accounted for only about one-half of one percent of domestic violence victims receiving emergency shelter or transitional housing in 2006.^ Analysis that advocated more funding for domestic violence services wrongly claimed that a 4% share of men victims is consistent with hospital emergency department data.^ Subsequent domestic-violence service censuses stopped reporting victims served by sex. Among the 117,436 victims of domestic violence served through federal domestic violence grant programs about 2009, only 8% of the victims served were men.^ These shares of men served are far less than men’s 40% share of acute domestic violence injuries as estimated from hospital emergency department visits.

Domestic violence services are often unhelpful towards men who are victims of domestic violence. In large, nationally representative crime victimization surveys from 2001 to 2005, men domestic-violence victims reporting receiving help from non-police agencies were less than half the share of that among women domestic-violence victims. Smaller, but more specific surveys from about 2008 show that 64% of male victims calling domestic violence helplines were told that the helpline helps only women. Among men victims who sought help from a local domestic violence program, 95% reported that the program “gave impression that they were biased against men.”^

Many domestic violence shelters treat men and women differently. Domestic violence shelters provide shelter for almost exclusively women and their families, excluding men in the women’s families and the women’s teenaged boys. Men and teen-aged boys sometimes receive motel vouchers. A scholarly study of domestic violence shelters justified domestic-violence gender stereotyping and housing segregation:

Although a small percentage of shelter respondents were men, female pronouns are used for linguistic ease and because domestic violence residential services for men are most commonly provided through motel vouchers or safe homes, and not through formal “shelters”, which were the focus of this study.^

The study also explained why domestic violence shelters exclude teenaged boys:

Because adolescent boys may be physically strong, some look much like adult men, and shelters have experienced incidents where teen boys have become violent toward other residents or made them fearful, many shelters have adopted policies of not accepting teen boys into shelter. Staff usually make efforts to help the survivor find other housing for the boys affected.^

As victims of domestic violence, men receive unequal service from domestic violence shelters. As non-victims of domestic violence, teen-aged boys are excluded from domestic violence shelters because they look like men or because they are stereotyped as violent persons.

Arguments against accommodating men and teenaged boys in domestic violence shelters would also justify not hiring men and not accepting men volunteers in such shelters. Whether rigidly sex-segregated domestic violence shelters are necessary is far from clear. Nonetheless, domestic violence shelters appear to be largely de facto sex-segregated. Highly unequal domestic violence victim services for men and women is an obvious and widely ignored outcome.

Separate and unequal domestic violence victim services have roots in decades of gender stereotyping domestic violence. Public discourse has supported highly exaggerated claims about domestic violence against women. Violence against men, in contrast, has relatively little public salience. Separate and unequal domestic violence victim services reflect the unequal justice that also generates highly disproportionate imprisonment of men.

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