Male violence against women is at epidemic levels – what to do?

Trigger warning – this post discusses statistics and incidents of men’s violence against women.

This morning I read the tragic news that the body of Karen Buckley, a Glasgow student, has been found (as it happens, not far from where I live – I’ll be going past the spot on my way to Glasgow this evening).

Karen Buckley - click the image to read the STV story

Karen Buckley – click the image to read the STV story

I cannot even begin to imagine how awful this must be for her parents (who I gather came here from Ireland once they heard their daughter was missing), and her wider family and friends.  Ms Buckley is another young woman who was simply enjoying herself at a nightclub before she went missing, who will now never again have the chance to smile at someone taking her photo by a loch, as she does in the photo here.

Her murder is not a solitary episode.  Men’s violence against women is of a magnitude that if the newspapers actually reported it, it would, I am sure, elicit such outrage that action would be taken.  Some statistics for Scotland, which only has a population of 5.3 million (UK and global figures also available, all referenced):

  • A domestic violence incident is recorded every 10 minutes in Scotland with 53,681 incidents reported in 2008-9.
  • In 2011-12 Crimes of rape increased by 13% to 1,274.
  • There were over 7000 reports of sexual offences in 2011-12.
  • 26% of Scots surveyed in 2007 thought that a woman bore some responsibility for being raped if she wore revealing clothing.
  • The number of reported domestic violence incidents steadily increase each year.
  • In 2011-12, 81% of recorded domestic abuse incidents were violence against a woman committed by a man.
  • 1 in 3 teenage girls in a relationship, suffer an unwanted sexual act.
  • At least 1 in 5 women in Scotland will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
  • In a 2005 study of young people’s attitudes, 1 in 5 young men believe that women often ’provoke violence’.

Did you read those bullet points in detail and let them sink in?  Or did you gloss over them because you already know that violence against women and girls ‘happens a lot’?  I wouldn’t blame you if you did that – I know that I do it at times.  But try reading those bullet points again, this time as if men were on the receiving end of women’s violence, as my italics show.  Ask yourself if our male-dominated press would not be outraged at this and demand change:

  • Every 10 minutes a man is attacked in a domestic violence incident in Scotland with 53,681 incidents reported in 2008-9.
  • In 2011-12 Crimes of men being raped increased by 13% to 1,274.
  • There were over 7000 reports of sexual offences against men in 2011-12.
  • 26% of Scots surveyed in 2007 thought that a man bore some responsibility for being raped if he wore revealing clothing.
  • The number of reported domestic violence incidents against men steadily increase each year.
  • In 2011-12, 81% of recorded domestic abuse incidents were violence against a man committed by a woman.
  • 1 in 3 teenage boys in a relationship, suffer an unwanted sexual act.
  • At least 1 in 5 men in Scotland will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
  • In a 2005 study of young people’s attitudes, 1 in 5 young women believe that men often ’provoke violence’.

These figures alone show men’s violence against women to be an epidemic, out of control.  Violence against women (or indeed anyone) is never justified: I don’t care how short her skirt is or even if she walks naked down the street, a woman is never responsible if a man chooses to attack her.  Let’s be absolutely clear about this: men make active choices in perpetrating violence against women.  Every man who acts violently against a woman could also choose to leave her alone.

One of the hardest parts of my job as a university lecturer is when a woman emails or comes to see me to explain she cannot submit her essay on time or take her exam etc., because her bastard boyfriend has attacked her, or she has been sexually assaulted in a pub, or raped on her way home etc. – understandably there’s no way she can focus on her academic work at that time.  It seems to me that this happens at least once or twice every year to someone in our programme.  I can’t do much to help these women beyond directing them to support services and offering essay extensions and so on, but for days afterwards I am consumed by rage at myself and my fellow men, too many of whom seem to view half the population as appropriate targets.

Of course, university environments are part of wider society, and are not necessarily safe for women, as the infamous Stirling University hockey team incident from 2013 shows.  A racist Stirling University football team incident earlier this year elicited a comment from one of the women involved in exposing the hockey team episode.  She notes that she and others were nearly expelled by the Principal, Gerry McCormac, which is in itself an indictment of male-dominant institutional culture:

To be absolutely clear about this: I am certainly not picking on Stirling University in particular – these things happen at other institutions all the time too (e.g. see here and here).  The point is that these attitudes from (too many) men towards women permeate society at all levels: this morning, a friend retweeted this:

Today also marks Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism Project’s third anniversary, an occasion I view with mixed feelings:

Sexism is everywhere in our society, and there is a connection between sexist banter and some men engaging in unspeakable acts of violence against women, including rape and murder.

So what to do?  We as men can self-loathe and rage against those of our half of the species who perpetrate acts of violence against women and girls, but that is not enough.  But: don’t not be angry – use that anger more positively.  For example, you can start by calling out incidents of sexism each and every time, such as:

  • someone talking about ‘mankind’ when they mean ‘humanity’;
  • telling jokes that rely on sexism (yes, even ‘women can’t park a car’ isn’t funny – if humour relies on sexism to be funny it actually isn’t that funny);
  • commenting on women’s appearance when they wouldn’t comment on a man’s appearance (it happens all the time with politicians: compare comments about Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and Ruth Davidson (Conservative), with those about Jim Murphy (Labour) and Willie Rennie (Liberal Democrat));
  • excusing sexual violence for famous people like Ched Evans; or excusing rape allegations against Julian Assange (David Allen Green notes ‘there is nothing which… means the due process of a current rape and sexual assault investigation should be delayed any further or abandoned’);
  • and so on…

This is all part of the wider problem of men’s violence against women and girls.  If your friends get sick of you calling them out on it, they’ll either change their behaviour, or you might find they are not friends you really want anyway.  If you want help with this kind of thing (don’t underestimate it – it’s not easy swimming against the tide!), have a look at the White Ribbon Scotland campaign, committed to working with men to stop violence against women:

White Ribbon Scotland - click the image to go to their site

White Ribbon Scotland – click the image to go to their site

There are White Ribbon Campaigns elsewhere too (eg for rest of UK, but avoid the mischief-makers at whiteribbon.org, who try to pretend they are arguing for the same thing when they’re not!).  I signed the White Ribbon Scotland pledge ‘never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women’ early on in their campaign, and would encourage all men to do so.  Also, they do excellent workshops and other activities to help prevent violence against women; as they put it: ‘Most men do not commit violence against women. But all men have a role in ending it.’ (And yes, they also comment on women’s violence against men.)

More generally, I’d encourage financial support to your White Ribbon Campaign, as well as to organisations like Women’s Aid (who help women who have been attacked) – either on a national level, or look for your local group, e.g. mine is Stirling and District Women’s Aid.

Rest in peace, Karen Buckley. Even in that simple photograph, your smile touched me.

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11 thoughts on “Male violence against women is at epidemic levels – what to do?

  1. Reblogged this on Arts and Academics and commented:
    With the update on Karen Buckley, one wants to ask, ‘why, oh why did this happen to her?’ And it also reminds us that anyone of us could be Karen Buckley. When one hears the news of a missing woman and almost ‘automatically’ assumes the worst, there is something completely messed up about the society.

    In this context, this is an excellent blog post channelising the anger we all feel reading about Karen Buckley and many more women. It is empowering, calling for us and men, in particular, to stand up against violence against women and stand up for what is a basic right- for women to be treated as human beings in this world.

    Meanwhile, rest in peace, Karen Buckley.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Why does an article about reducing violence towards women not include any of important solutions we know would have a significant effect on reducing violence?

    People saying “mankind” instead of “humanity” deserves a mention in the fight against violence, but the use of community sentencing instead of short term prison sentences (which can reduce violent recidivism by up to 300%) doesn’t?

    Even if for whatever reason you aren’t interested in solutions that would reduce violence unilaterally, why is there no mention about legal regulation of sex work? We know legal regulation reduces the amount of street workers (the vast majority of which are women), and we know street workers are the most likely to be subject to violence.

    However because it might be culturally unpalatable, sophomoric ideas like “tell men not to rape” get far more spotlight despite the fact there’s 0 credible evidence base for them.

    Minimum pricing on alcohol is one of the most effective short term interventions a society can do to reduce sexual assaults of women, yet again it gets ignored because its unpalatable.

    The only reason I can think of for ignoring solutions that have a serious evidence base in favor of completely hypothetical and solutions is because they don’t fit with a pre-existing political bias that places “bad culture” at the heart of violence. In many ways this is just a sophisticated parallel of right-wing conservatives who blame “ghetto culture” and “gangster rap” for black crime instead of all the important societal level factors we know actually contribute to violence.

    If systems level intervention was simply put on the same level as cultural hypotheses I could better tolerate it, but the fact they get nary a mention, as if the fact that they’re not explicitly feminist solutions means they’re not worth bothering with (despite the fact they’d massively reduce violence against women).

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    • I am not ignoring any of these issues, but they are not the primary focus of what I was seeking to highlight: the widespread misogynistic attitudes to women that permeate society and enable violence to be normalised.

      I am a member of a political party that seeks to bring about some of the changes you highlight here, but beyond that, there is a wider societal issue about many men’s attitudes to women. A fundamental element of feminist discourse is individual and collective agency – and that is why even in small everyday situations, steps can be taken. That is a key part of consciousness-raising, and is something that I have sought to highlight here.

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  3. Interesting post, and i find it great that there is now a white ribbon organisation. Violence against women is at epidemic levels in just about every country, and that is what is so sad. Women in every country have to take care when they are out as you never know who the sexual predators are. At home millions of women worldwide are in more danger than on the streets. I have never understood why men attack women. What is driving it? Is it a primitive sexual lust? or maybe an over riding feeling of superiority so they can take what they want? maybe it is the opposite feeling, driven by fear of women or feelings of sexual inadequacy. I have no idea, there are probably a multitude of reasons, so other men pledging to protect women and to speak out is a positive step. Women need to pledge too, and not turn a blind eye. Looks like we need white ribbon everywhere, which for a supposedly civilized and advanced society is pretty sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. MM: I’ve received a comment with a misogynistic and threatening username that I am not prepared to publish on my site. However, I want to note that the comment claimed that 2/5 domestic abuse victims are men, and that there is ‘shockingly’ little support for men.

    This is completely wrong, as the WRC campaign note on the page about violence towards men that I linked to in my blog posting: “In Scotland in 2011-12, 81% of recorded domestic abuse incidents were male violence against women.”

    As for support for men: it is undoubtedly the case that more can be done, as in all cases of victim support, but the overwhelming nature of men’s violence to women means it is not at all inappropriate to highlight the lack of services and support for women.

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  5. I don’t know what the post regarding violence towards men included, however you seem instantly dismissive of the point made.

    The Guardian recently published an article supported by figures from the Office for National Statistics, which stated that over the past year, 1.4m women and 700,000 men were victims of domestic abuse, thus showing it’s a bigger problem than you appear to appreciate. Furthermore, the figures you’re citing are now over 3 years old.

    Whist you make a point regarding ‘humankind’ you seem so focused on ‘womankind’ to see that bigger picture. Violence against both women and men is becoming more and more of an issue, nobody should be so afraid of violence and/or murder to go out, I don’t think this is exclusive to women and girls.

    I find the view you’ve taken to be terribly narrow minded, when there’s a far greater problem in society. I have I agree with other comments regarding solutions and tougher sentencing for all, something your post certainly lacks.

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    • I gave the key element of the deleted comment. I will not tolerate abuse or threats in the comments on my site, as noted on the comments policy page, and the commenter’s username was itself threatening murder.

      Note that the figures I was citing are for Scotland, not the wider UK. I had looked on the Scottish Women’s Aid site, and don’t see newer figures for Scotland there either. I can’t see how there can be disagreement over the fact that overwhelmingly, men attack women, rather than the other way around.

      I want to change attitudes, not just create legislative processes, that in themselves don’t necessarily stem from changed attitudes or engagement with those who have been victims of violence (sex worker and refugee/asylum legislation are two of the most obvious examples where failure to change attitudes and engage with the people involved makes the situation worse and worse for them). The Everyday Sexism Project (as linked to above) is in itself a damning indictment of a society riven by sexist attitudes. Altering that is harder than making laws, and requires consciousness-raising from all. A feminist approach to these issues helps EVERYONE.

      Liked by 1 person

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