Men experience higher rates of victimisation from violent offences than women (with the exception of sexual assault and kidnapping/abduction) but there has been less attention given to their responses and support needs following victimisation, their experience as victim/witnesses while attending court and of particular relevance to this report, the availability and suitability of support options open to them. Among the research that has been completed, male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence are noticeably absent. While it is not the objective here to speculate why male victims (and particularly those who have been the victim of non-sexual or non-domestic violence) have received less research attention, the contemporary focus on victims of extremely serious violence, such as sexual assault, domestic/family violence and homicide is a likely contributing factor. Another potential factor is men’s perceived reluctance to recount their experiences. One stakeholder observed that men tended to be underrepresented in victims’ surveys and often failed to attend focus groups (Service provider personal communication September 2012).
The range of victim support services available in New South Wales ostensibly provides victims of crime with multiple options for formal support. In practice, however, these options may be limited for some victims of crime and for male victims of crime this may be particularly true. The following summarises where male victims may be connected with formal support and the reasons why that connection may not be made. However, it is acknowledged that these signposts of disengagement are at present suggested by the findings and further research (see below) is necessary to establish where disengagement is genuinely occurring.
Avenues for receipt of support
It takes time for men to talk…about what they need (Service provider personal communication September 2012).
Male victims can notionally access formal support at any time following the incidence of violence but it is at several stages—initial contact with the police, at the pre-court stage and at the time of court proceedings—where support is formally extended. Each stage represents potential capture points but also points were disconnection can occur. When a matter is reported to the police, victims are provided with a select list of support options but the onus is ultimately on them to initiate contact with support services, unless they are a victim of homicide or the member of a community to which specialist liaison officers (eg Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers, Domestic Violence Liaison Officers) may be available. A vital ingredient in encouraging men to make that first step towards formal support was the nature of the contact they had with police when the matter was first reported. If rapport was established and a sense of empathy conveyed, male victims were more inclined to continue their engagement with the criminal justice system and potentially to approach support services if they felt they needed them. For the most part, stakeholders considered police as being dependably empathetic and supportive of male victims, but there were occasional circumstances where the nature of the interaction or preconceptions about the legitimacy of victim status could undermine a positive outcome. Male victims with trust issues with the police, such as young men from disadvantaged backgrounds, were also at risk of disengagement if rapport or a sense of feeling unsupported was not established.
It was acknowledged that substantial gains had been achieved in establishing rapport between the police and both the general population and CALD communities, such as the Chinese and Vietnamese communities, which has seen a genuine improvement in reporting rates. In recent years, there have been focused efforts to enhance community engagement and encourage reporting through the media, CrimeStoppers, Facebook and Project eyeWatch—the latter a NSW Police Force Initiative to connect communities with Local Area Command through social media (eg Facebook) with the purpose of facilitating the exchange of information and encourage participation in crime prevention. Relationship building with members of other communities, such as those from Middle Eastern backgrounds, and where fearfulness of reporting was believed to be particularly apparent was, however, still to be achieved (Stakeholder personal communication September 2012).
The likelihood for more ‘targeted’ engagement with formal support occurred when male victims decided to proceed to a court hearing. The prioritisation of matters used by the DPP WAS, with a focus on sexual assault, domestic violence, homicide and other incidents involving death, however, excluded the majority of male victims considered in this research, unless they had experienced severe trauma or injury and/or the matter was deemed to be of a particularly serious nature. Court support and options for referral were more commonly available once court proceedings had begun, provided by a small group of government and non-government programs based in selected local, district and/or supreme courts. As for police, establishing rapport was crucial, since men were, at times, harder to engage with than women. Men were typically process-focused and hence successful interactions with male victims were based on approaching prospective clients with an offer of support that emphasised the provision of information, such as what to expect when participating in court as a victim/witness. Stakeholders noted that men were not necessarily resistant to offers of other forms of support and when rapport was established, referrals were mostly accepted.
Contact with a court support worker represented an important capture point for male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence, but was dependent on whether such court support programs were operating in the court where the victim/witnesses’ case was being heard (see below) and to some extent, whether the male victim was identified as possibly needing assistance. In court settings where multiple programs were represented, stakeholders were confident that support coverage was adequate, although aware that they had to be careful to avoid competing with other programs already involved with the victim. Stakeholders were also confident of their ability to identify male victims who might need support, an aptitude developed following years of experience. Nonetheless, there was concern from a few stakeholders about inadvertent inconsistencies in the types of support that could be provided to victims in situ. An important example was the lack of availability of safe rooms for even exceptionally vulnerable male victims, which can and has resulted in them having to sit in the court or waiting area. Such exposure could be particularly confronting for male victim/witnesses who personally knew or were afraid of the offender and their family.
Research has shown that victims, and in particular male victims, who are not formally linked into the criminal justice system, are less likely to engage with formal victim support. For male victims who do not report the matter to police and therefore do not have a court hearing, or even those who do go through the criminal justice system but for some reason are not identified as needing support, will invariably have to rely on self-initiative to make contact. Stakeholders described male victims, however, as often needing impetus to seek or follow through with formal support, with a tendency to delay the first approach. They were also described as possibly less clear about where to look for support services if they felt they needed assistance. These observations, combined with the recognition there were no service directories catering specifically for male victims led a number of victim support agencies to compile and advertise listings specifically for male victims. Nonetheless, these men probably represent the victim group at greatest risk of being lost to formal support, although a group recognisably difficult to reach.
The appropriateness and accessibility of formal support
They don’t feel empowered to do something (Service provider personal communication September 2012).
…some men feel very unsupported (Service provider personal communication September 2012).
Male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence were variably represented in the caseloads managed by stakeholders interviewed for this project, from none at the time of consultation to just under half. This variation in representation was largely influenced by the prioritisation of matters adopted by the agency but also affected by the point of contact with the client and the type of service delivery model.
The likelihood of a male victim of non-sexual or non-domestic violence accepting formal victim support (where and if needed) is dependent upon a broad range of factors that, for different individuals, will exert a greater or lesser effect on their decision to engage with support services. These factors include:
- self-acknowledgement of the harm inflicted (and the physical, psychological, social and financial consequences of that harm);
- social and cultural constraints;
- receipt of informal support;
- previous and current contact and experience with the criminal justice system and other government authorities;
- eligibility and identification;
- availability and appropriateness of support service options;
- rapport with the police and support workers; and
- prioritisation of matters.
Personal and social barriers were perceived by stakeholders to be as acute as structural and systematic barriers to men engaging with victim support, if not more so. Shame, the challenge to masculine identity, the normalisation of violence, and negative experience and trust issues with various forms of authority (notably, the police) each and collectively have the potential to dissuade men from accepting formal support where it might be needed. Strong informal support from family and friends, however, could neutralise some of these more immediate barriers.
Structural and systematic barriers were equally problematic but more compliant to change. In any discussion of the appropriateness of service delivery, the focus is often trained on specific clusters of the client population. Reservations were raised about the suitability of support options for men from certain cultural backgrounds that had strictly defined notions not just about seeking support, but where and from whom that support may be sought. A consistent, although debated, theme was male reactions to engaging with female support workers. Women play a predominant role in victim support provision but for some men it may not be personally or culturally acceptable to engage with a woman in this context. Stakeholders did not perceive male victims as showing any overt preference for male or female support workers, although on occasion, some clients did request they speak to a man. If a preference was demonstrated, it was usually raised when being referred to a counsellor. Indigenous men, while seemingly comfortable engaging with a female court support worker, were, for example, described as inherently reluctant to undergo counselling if the therapist was a woman.It should be added, though, that part of this reluctance also related to the cultural background of the counsellor.
The cultural appropriateness of victim support services in New South Wales was not largely discussed, although there was an acknowledgment that there was a lack of Indigenous-specific services and a need for further investment in working with victims from CALD backgrounds. Indeed, it seemed that much of the work with victims of violence in CALD communities defaulted to community advocacy or welfare groups. Men from Middle Eastern cultures were, on occasion, particularly disinclined to commit to formal support and while some of this disinclination was possibly the product of personal and social barriers, stakeholders argued that better relationships and retention rates would be secured if culturally appropriate programs were in place.
For male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence more broadly, there was the matter of there being no male-specific victim support services available in New South Wales. MensLine serves as a telephone and online counselling and referral service for men but its priority is men experiencing family and relationship issues. The relative benefits of providing male-specific services needs to be explored in more detail, yet it was suggested by more than one stakeholder that in responding to customary interpretations about the object of victim support, men and their needs may not have been as well recognised. This is not to imply that current models of support provision are not catering for male victims, but rather a wider group of clients may identify themselves as needing support if service(s) tailored or opened exclusively to male victims were delivered. This may potentially benefit the group of male victims considered in this project, since services for male victims of sexual assault, according to stakeholders, are more readily available.
Accessibility invariably impacts on the reach of support services. Accessibility encompasses more than what is available and where it is available but these two aspects were commonly identified by stakeholders. Face-to-face support is mostly available only in metropolitan Sydney and a number of regional centres in New South Wales; telephone (and online) counselling and referral is provided by some support services and has observably a wider span of reach. The ‘pronounced’ lack of services in regional and rural areas is of consequence for all victims of violence but for male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence potentially afflicted by other help seeking constraints (see below), the scarcity of options or the extra effort required to obtain support might act as a further obstacle. Older men, for instance, were recognised by some stakeholders as being ‘quite isolated’ in relation to their capacity to engage with services and especially so for individuals living in regional and rural New South Wales. For some of these men, the VAL was their main or only reliable option.
One discussion with stakeholders about the availability and appropriateness of victim support services recommended an approach to improve engagement with CALD communities, which could be of equal applicability to male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence. This approach centred on three, interrelated principles of better messaging, targeted interaction and greater flexibility. Practically, it would involve the use of different mediums of information delivery, ‘taking (ie advertising) the service’ to the potential audience and coordinated promotion and delivery of services. Of particular value is improved or concerted messaging and interaction to attract men’s attention to the availability and benefit of victim support services. Prompting men in this way may offset reticence to seek support following the effects of past or future victimisation and to improve their knowledge about options.
Completing the narrative
The findings from this research indicate that many male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence are receiving notice of or having direct contact with formal victim support services. The findings also suggest, however, that some male victims may not be aware of the victim support services that are available, are choosing not to contact victim support despite needing assistance, or do not have appropriate or accessible options available to them that encourages or permits contact. As a group that may be less of a priority for services and resources, the proportion of male victims who are not getting the support they need is of issue.
To present a more complete discussion and to gauge more conclusively where disengagement is occurring, the thoughts and experiences of the victims themselves should be compared and coalesced with the perceptions and experiences of service providers. In recommending a second component to this research, which proposes speaking directly to and collecting information from male victims themselves, it is acknowledged that recruiting victims of crime to research studies is a complicated and sensitive undertaking. Male victims may require additional encouragement to participate. The AIC proposes a mixed-methods approach that uses generalist and targeted streams to promote a higher response rate and wider involvement of participants, and to collect both quantitative and qualitative information from surveys and follow-up interviews (see Appendix B for a detailed overview of the proposed methodology for the second phase of this research). The research would be undertaken in partnership with interested agencies to assist in recruitment to the research project. Documenting the experiences of male victims will provide a better understanding of the experiences and support needs of this under-researched victim group, as well as indicating where support options may be expanded or adapted to meet the needs of men.