Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Hitting Out

It was the mid-1980s, and I was fourteen years old. I'd recently seen the movie An Officer and a Gentlemen, and became interested in karate as a result.

Now, I ask you, what teenage boy wouldn't want to do karate after watching that movie?

I think the scene where teenage Zack gets beaten up by a Filipino gang did more to get young boys involved in martial arts than anything else at the time. It certainly worked on me, and I started attending a local karate club shortly after. I became reasonably good at karate over the next year or so.

I'm not sure whether, if I'd have continued, I would have become exceptional or anything, but I was keen and that's what mattered. And I certainly looked up to the instructor of the club—he was a strong male role model for me, and I would have followed his every instruction without question. If he had told me to jump off a cliff as part of a martial arts training exercise, I would have done so without too much hesitation.

But there were some unhappy aspects of my childhood. I didn't mix too well, and in some ways, the truth was that I lonely and isolated. I spent most of my time reading science books, programming computers and listening to classical music. In fact, I thought that everybody my age did those kind of things, but later, I would learn that this wasn't the case. An interest in the opposite sex didn't happen for me until I was seventeen years old, but around the age of fourteen to fifteen, the only things I cared about were computers, electronics and science.

So getting involved in martial arts was an important break for me. It gave me an interest that was not solitary in nature, and it did a lot for my self-esteem. But then one week, a sequence of events would have unfortunate consequences for me. These are memories I've not been back to for a very long time.

The club I attended practised the Shotokan style of karate, and during training sessions, we would often find a partner and spar with each other. I liked sparring session best of all, because it was competitive. It was kind of like play fighting I guess, but it wasn't full contact and pretty harmless. However, I recall that in one of these sessions I was tapped on the shoulder by a woman who had been sparring with someone else behind to me. She told me that I had caught her hand with a stray kick. I hadn't realised, but she seemed OK, so I apologized and thought nothing more of it at the time.

Later the same week, there was another, but unrelated incident. An older woman attended the club one evening. She was in her forties perhaps. As far as I can remember, it was the first and only time she came, and as we often did, we paired up for a sparring session that evening. I found myself in the unfortunate situation of having to pair up with her.

Looking back now, it's obvious to me that a genuine desire to learn karate was not the real reason she was there. I suspect that there had been some anguish in her life, and perhaps she was there because she wanted to learn "self defence". I don't know, but whatever the reason, the only thing she wanted to do that night was to hit out at a male—any male. And a fifteen year old boy would do.

She came at me, her face contorted in rage, wildly swinging hook punches. This wasn't karate at all! Confused, I simply moved around and avoided all contact with her. At the end of the session I went to shake her hand, which was the custom, but she walked off toward the instructor. A few seconds later, he called me over.

When I got there, I caught the end of her calmly explaining how I had hit her. It wasn't true, but I never got the chance say a word.

Without, a second thought, the instructor turned to me and "punched" me in the stomach. He held back the blow, so the effect was more one of shock rather than physical harm. He said something about not hitting women and told me to get back in line. I just kind of accepted my "punishment" because I didn't really understand what had just happened. I remember thinking it was a bit unfair, but I don't recall reading too much into it at the time. I was more confused than anything. I never saw her again anyway, but things didn't end there.

I turned up for training at the club, as usual, the following week. What I didn't know then was that the first women, the woman who I had accidentally clipped with a stray kick the week earlier, had spoken to the instructor since. She had, apparently, received a fractured bone in her wrist. I say "apparently" because I hadn't known about it—I only learned that information quite sometime later through a chance encounter. However, on the basis of what he heard, the instructor had decided that he was going to teach me a lesson, I guess.

Toward the end of the class, he interrupted training and asked me to come out to front, where he had pulled out a table. He told me to get on it and to start doing press-ups, which I did. This went on for quite some time, and I began to struggle because the sweat that was dripping from me on to the smooth table surface was causing my feet to slide uncontrollably.

Next, he suggested that we spar—just him and me—in front of the class. As a lanky teenager against a fast and powerful adult black belt, I stood absolutely no chance. Time and again, he punched me in the forehead and my legs buckled underneath me, and each time he dragged me up by my hair and forced me to carry on.

In reality, the attack was controlled and I suspect that his targeting of my forehead, rather than landing punches on my nose, was deliberate. Nevertheless, it was a public beating and a humiliation that was intended to be some kind of example. Eventually it ended, and so did the class. In the changing room later, a guy told me that he thought what had just happened was "wrong".

I cried while cycling home that night, without actually knowing why.

I went back to the club a few times, but my heart was never in it after that and I soon stopped going. I switched from karate to running, fell back into solitary activities, and spent my evenings with computers, electronics, physics books and science fiction. People were too difficult, confusing and painful for me.

I had lost something important that night.

Afterword: I originally wrote this as an experiment in challenging society's attitudes toward males. However, the account is entirely true—it happened to me. But it's not your sympathy I want, but for you to ask yourself a few questions...

In the text, I qualify the woman's actions with, "I suspect that there had been some anguish in her life." Maybe you felt a little sympathy for her, despite her anger? I certainly did, and in fact, it felt almost obligatory for me to put in some kind of compassionate justification for her behaviour in there. But then I asked myself, why? Would I have been so considerate if she had been a he, for example?

Ask yourself this...

What would your reaction be on reading a story in which a 40 year old man turns up to a karate club one night and deliberately attempts to punch a 15 year old girl in the face?

No doubt you would simply regard him as a monster, and nothing more. Please don't misunderstand me; this isn't about a bad woman or a bad man, it is about the double-standards in our attitudes.

Moreover, were the actions of the club instructor in my story not really based on misguided notions of chivalry, rather than any rational assessment of the situation? Is it not true that it is often males who display prejudice to other males, but it is not actually regarded as prejudice in our society? Would he have been so willing to beat up a 40 year old woman, had he known the truth, I wonder? (I'm not suggesting that's what he should have done.)

Finally, I also wanted to communicate that men and boys have feelings—we hurt. Not just physically, but emotionally too. It seems that this needs to be said, because male suffering often goes unseen and unacknowledged. In fact, hostility toward males is normalized in the media to such an extent that males are seen as legitimate targets of aggression. How often do you see TV shows or commercials where a man gets slapped in the face or kicked in the groin, and invited to laugh?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The State of Play for Men: Domestic Violence

Myth: Domestic violence is a crime largely perpetrated by aggressive men against women.

Summary: Men under report incidents of domestic violence targeted at them, and society downplays the scale of male suffering, and in many cases, refuses to acknowledge that it exists at all. In fact, recent studies on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly showing that men are affected by domestic violence at least as much as women.

Discussion: In 2000, the National Violence Against Women Survey estimated that there are 830,000 male and 1.5 million female victims of domestic violence in the United States each year1. More recent studies are increasingly presenting a picture of approximate parity between the sexes in terms of partner violence, however. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, but it also recognised for its research into domestic and sexual violence. In 2011, it published the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey which shows that 5.0% of men and 5.9% of women reported experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to taking the survey2.

In 2006, the Journal of Family Psychology (an American Journal) published the results of research which found that, between couples, the incidence of male-to-female violence was 13.66%, but for female-to-male violence it was actually higher at 18.20%3. It also found that women were twice as likely as men to initiate severe violence against their partners. This finding is supported by a more recent California State University survey of some 286 scholarly investigations, 221 empirical studies and 65 reviews independent studies. It concludes that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships4.

In the UK, the British Crime Survey (BCS) for 2010/11 reported similar results as the CDC survey in terms of the male-female violence ratio. It found that 5% of men and 7% of women had experienced domestic abuse in the year prior to the survey5. It also found that 3% of men and 4% of women reported that they had experienced stalking in the previous year5.

PARITY, a gender equality campaigning charity in the UK, submitted a memorandum to the UK Parliament back in 2007 stating:6

"There is now a considerable body of evidence, in particular by a succession of detailed Home Office surveys in the past decade of interpersonal violence in England and Wales, to demonstrate the existence of a substantial level of female violence against male partners, including severe and/or repeated physical assault. Despite this, support services specifically for male victims are largely absent or inadequate, and few women are actually charged or prosecuted for domestic violence against a male partner."

The number of women convicted of domestic abuse in the UK has, in fact, increased fourfold in the last 7 years, from 806 in 2004/5 to 3,965 in 2010/117. However, of all prosecutions for domestic violence in England and Wales, approximately 93% of them are against men8.

Men are much less likely than women to tell others about what they had suffered. The BCS found that only 19% of male victims would tell someone in a professional organisation--half the number of female victims (44%). It also found that 28% of male victims do not tell anyone--more than twice the proportion for women8.

In fact, men attempting to report violent assaults against them can expect to face disbelief, ridicule and counter allegations. Only 10% of men will tell the police in the UK, three times less than women9. In their memorandum to the UK Parliament, PARITY stated, "Anecdotal evidence suggests that the police and other agencies...are often not even-handed in their response to male a significant number of cases arresting the male victim instead of the female perpetrator."

On the other side of the Atlantic, a recent Canadian study reported similar results. It found that women are four times more likely to report partner violence to police than men10, and concludes that: "Men who are involved in disputes with their partners, whether as alleged victims or as alleged offenders or both, are disadvantaged and treated less favorably than women by the law-enforcement system at almost every step."

Organisations working with male victims also report a high degree of scepticism amongst professionals and the public towards male victims of domestic violence11. Much of the literature produced in the field of domestic abuse quote female victim statistics only, while completely omitting those for males, thus suggesting that the problem only applies to women. In fact, some women's organisations even go as far as to make the highly dubious claim that a staggeringly high percentage of men (90%) who report that they are victims of domestic violence are lying (they are abusers pretending to be victims). This claim is refuted by the Mankind Initiative, a charity working with male victims in the UK. According to its own screening program, 98.75% of men calling its helpline are true victims12. It notes that no there is no equivalent research on females as no organisation is willing to make the same assessment.

Moreover, the very narrative of domestic violence itself is often framed in a female only context by international bodies, governments and support organisations around the world. For example, the United Nations defines domestic violence as follows13:

"Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life."

By this definition, therefore, male targeted domestic violence simply does not exist. This is the same definition used by many organisations in the UK, including the Crown Prosecution Service and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. In the US, there is VAWA--the Violence Against Women Act, which is administered by the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. There is clearly no recognition of men, other than as perpetrators, in this narrative.

Correspondingly, there is little in the way of support for male victims. There are over 1200 abuse shelters in the United States, but few will accept men. For example, Los Angeles County funds two dozen shelters exclusively for abused women, but only one shelter will accepts male victims14. In the UK, the situation is similar, if not worse. There are 7,500 beds in refuges dedicated to women, but there are only 72 beds that can be used by men15 (the majority of these can also be used by women). And while a woman fleeing abuse may find a shelter that will take both her and her children, a man attempting to do same will fear arrest for kidnap16, irrespective of whether he is the victim or not.

Over the years, large sums have been spent by governments around the world on campaigns to encourage women to report domestic violence and to seek help, with no similar campaigns targeted toward male victims, or provisions made for them. The crude negative stereotyping of men as aggressors and women as victims has no doubt obscured men's suffering from society's view. While the well founded fear and stigma that prevents men from coming forward to report their suffering remains, the true picture of domestic violence will always be incomplete.


1. Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes. Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. US Department of Justice. 2000. Link:
2. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010 Summary Report. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page 39. Link:
3. McDonald R. Estimating the number of American children living in partner-violent families.
Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 137–142. 2006. Link:
4. Martin S. Fiebert, California State University, Long Beach. References examining assaults by women on their spouses or male partners: An annotated bibliography. 2012. Link:
5. Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence. Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2010/11. Page 88. Link:
6. Memorandum (Appendix 2) submitted by PARITY to the UK Parliament Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence in 2007. Link:
7. ManKind Initiative, 21 key facts about male victims. Link:
8. Crown Prosecution Service. Defendants prosecuted in England and Wales for domestic violence crimes in 2009/10. Link:
9. Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence. Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2010/11. Page 96. Link:
10. Brown, G. (2004). Gender as a factor in the response of the law-enforcement system to violence against partners. Sexuality and Culture, 8, 1–87.
11. UK House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, Sixth Report May 2008. Link:
12. ManKind Initiative, 21 key facts about male victims. Link:
13. UN Declaration of Violence Against Women, Article 1.
14. Glenn Sacks. July 2012. Link:
15. ManKind Initiative, 21 key facts about male victims. Link:
16. Glenn Sacks. July 2012. Link: