Men Against Violence’s IMD Report

Violence Against Men conference

in Blackburn, Lancashire on 19th November 2013

-a review by Chris Flux

I’m the Campaign Director of Men Against Violence, a men’s campaign to end violence against women. However I’ve always been concerned about male victims of abuse and whilst the focus of our campaign is violence against women I’ve always intended to raise awareness about violence against men too.

We have helplines for male victims on our leaflets, a page about the issue on our website, we’ve raised awareness via our social media and discussed it during our events.

Therefore it was very exciting when earlier this year Ms Anjum Anwar MBE approached me with the idea of running a Violence Against Men conference in Lancashire. Anjum is the leader of an east Lancashire based charity called Woman’s Voice who have brought together men and women to address various social issues including disability hate crime, racism, inter-faith relations and violence against women.

However whilst organising the Violence Against Women event back in March she also began to think about how violence affects men. How many men suffer domestic abuse? How do men and boys experience sexual abuse? Do male victims face extra stigma and shame than female victims?

Anjum felt this was a largely unaddressed issue and therefore wanted to see her organisation ‘Woman’s Voice’ bring together various experts for an event about the issue. At our first meeting I agreed that Men Against Violence could support this work and after telling her about the existence of International Men’s Day we then agreed on the 19th November for the date.

After much stressful planning, research and media promotion the evening finally came for the conference to take place in a lecture theatre at Blackburn University Centre.

Now what was really interesting was that out of the 78 people in attendance, 57 of them were women! Despite it being a Violence Against MEN conference done for International MEN’S Day, around 75% present were female! Is this due to women being more comfortable with these issues? Or perhaps it can be explained by the fact that many of them were health professionals and students of the social sciences. (both of which are dominated numerically by women) Interestingly one of the speakers (Simon Bjora) would go on to say that from the experience of his service provider women tend to take violence against men more seriously than men do.

The first of two keynote speakers was Duncan Craig who talked about the work of his organisation Survivors Manchester who provide support for men and boys who have suffered from rape and sexual assault.

Duncan was an excellent speaker and despite the difficult subject matter was able to use humour appropriately at certain points. Duncan shattered the myth that most male victims of sexual abuse are gay when he stated that only around 10% of his service users identity as being gay or bisexual.

Of course someone’s sexuality doesn’t matter, but the idea that sexual abuse only happens to gay men or that the abuse ‘turns’ men gay is often used to shame men from speaking out about their abuse.

Simon Bjora co-ordinates the Dyn Project a men’s domestic abuse service run by Safer Wales. He gave an informative presentation about the issue of men as victims of domestic abuse.

Simon explained that it was a more complicated issue than domestic abuse against women for various reasons including that sometimes men presenting themselves as victims were also perpetrators.

Simon said that much of the abuse from female perpetrators was verbal and emotional bullying with household items often being used as weapons in many of the physical attacks. Simon said the issue of domestic abuse against men was currently at the same place as domestic abuse against women was 30 years ago and he wanted to see work within this field develop.

The next section of the conference was a plenary session with a variety of professionals including the keynote speakers, a Policeman, a psychologist and a solicitor making up a panel that took questions from the audience.

This led to some very interesting conversations and to the credit of everyone there it the discussion was always constructive and respectful.

The final section of the conference was a presentation by myself which gave an overview of the work of an American social researcher called Brene Brown who has focuses much of her research into subjects surrounding vulnerability and shame.

Brene passionately believes that people can find strength within their own vulnerability. She is best known for her TEDx talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability”  which has had more than 1,600,000 views on You Tube. I spoke about how the ideas expressed in that film could be applied to work supporting male survivors of abuse to overcome feelings of shame.

This Violence Against Men conference was an excellent and perhaps ground breaking event which has started a conversation in East Lancashire about this issue. The biggest question I left with was ‘How can we engage men with the issue of violence against their own gender?’ ‘How do we change the culture of masculinity so that men can speak more freely about such issues?’