Reported crime and crime victimisation data from Australia shows that, with the exception of sexual assault and kidnapping/abduction, men are more likely than women to be victims of violent offences (ABS 2013a, 2013b). However, a review of the victimology literature revealed that adult male victims of violence were largely missing from broader discussions around the impact of violent offences on victims and their subsequent support needs. In response to this apparent omission, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) was funded under the Victims of Crime Research Fund (administered by Victims Services, NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice), to undertake a small exploratory study examining the:
- support needs and experiences of adult male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence, including when they participate in the trial of perpetrators; and
- accessibility and appropriateness of existing formal victim support services in New South Wales for this group of victims.
For the purposes of the research, the victim population was defined as adult males (aged 18 years and over) who had experienced some form of non-sexual/non-domestic violence (eg aggravated or non-aggravated physical assault, armed robbery or stalking) that was committed in New South Wales.
The focus of the research project was to explore the:
- availability and appropriateness of support services in New South Wales for male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence;
- perceived barriers for male victims in accessing support services; and
- impact of participating in the court process on these victims.
The project involved two interrelated research methods—a comprehensive literature review and interviews, and focus groups with representatives from victim support and criminal justice agencies who had contact with male victims of violence as part of their everyday work. The AIC conducted nine focus groups and six interviews involving a total of 33 stakeholders during the research period. Key findings from the research are outlined below.
Support services for male victims of violence—A snapshot
In New South Wales, there are currently a number of support agencies and programs that male victims may choose to engage with following a violent offence. These programs and agencies differ from one another on a number of points, including their location, service delivery model, identified priority areas and types of support provided. None of these programs, however, were specifically targeted at men.
A review of these victim support programs and organisations indicated that support services were best placed to engage with male victims at a number of points—immediately following the incident, prior to attending court and during court proceedings. Some service providers acknowledged that they had experienced difficulty engaging with some male clients and a number said they used different engagement techniques when approaching men. While there was variability between programs in the proportion of their caseload that comprised male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence, male victims tended to represent only a small proportion of clients.
Stakeholder perceptions of the experiences of male victims of violence
To assist in understanding the factors that influence a male victim’s decision to engage with a formal support service, stakeholders were asked to comment (based on their experiences working with male victims of violence) on how this victim group respond to both their victimisation and participation in court as victim/witnesses. Stakeholders admitted their reticence in making general statements about male responses to victimisation, noting that other factors besides gender (eg prior victimisation and the circumstances, and level of the harm inflicted) influenced the way that men and women respond to experiences of victimisation. However, some noted that male victims were likely to experience feelings of shame as a result of the offence, which was attributed to feelings of failure and emasculation. Further, there was general consensus that male victims experiencing distress as a result of the offence often ‘presented’ differently to women (at least publicly) and were more likely to display emotions such as anger than were their female counterparts. Some of the more belligerent responses displayed by some men were particularly pronounced when they were attending court as a victim/witness. In these situations, stakeholders attributed victim behaviour to feelings of fear and frustration, and a lack of knowledge about the court process and the role of the victim/witness in the proceedings.
Of particular significance were stakeholder observations that some men normalise certain types of violence (notably ‘pub brawls’ and their ilk). In these circumstances, men may not acknowledge the impact of the victimisation nor see any reason to report the matter or seek assistance, other than from medical services to treat injuries sustained.
Groups of men who were identified by stakeholders as potentially vulnerable included:
- young men (ie 18–25 years);
- homosexual men;
- Indigenous men;
- men from culturally and linguistically diverse communities (CALD);
- men with a mental illness and/or an acquired brain injury (ABI);
- drug-affected men;
- refugees; and
Some of these victim groups were identified as being particularly vulnerable because they were constrained by social or cultural influences that affected acknowledgement of their victim status (eg Indigenous men and young men). Other groups were identified on the basis that their previous experiences with the criminal justice system (either domestically or in their country of origin) meant they did not believe the offence would be responded to appropriately and so were less likely to report the offence and/or engage with services (eg victim–offenders and refugees). Finally, some groups were identified as potentially more vulnerable because the support services that were available did not meet their specific needs (eg men with ABI and homosexual men).
The pathway of contact
The process through which victims of crime negotiate the criminal justice system and are presented with opportunities to engage with formal support services, may be likened to a pathway where points of contact take place, or preferably should take place, between victims and formal support services. The ‘pathway of contact’ described by stakeholders suggests that services for male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence were more readily available when males were formally linked into the criminal justice system. However, access to these services in the first instance and their likelihood of remaining engaged with the service, appears to be dependent on a range of factors. These include:
- the nature of first contact between the victim and attending police officer;
- service provider identification of the victim as requiring support;
- service provider priorities;
- appropriateness and accessibility of services, and referral options;
- service provider formal follow-up processes; and
- victim self-initiative.
The way in which programs came into contact with clients is similarly variable, but all program representatives were consistent in their view that the quality and content of the first contact with male clients was particularly crucial. Further, most of the stakeholders observed that male victims were much more receptive to an offer of assistance if it focused on guidance and information, with underlying emotional support.
Male victims were less likely to engage with formal support services if they did not report the matter to the police and if they were unable to establish rapport with the attending police officer (or the support worker). The support services that are available to male victims also appear to decrease significantly following finalisation of court proceedings. While these trends are not necessarily unique to male victims, the identified points of disconnection were potentially more acute among male victims and particularly male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence.
Barriers to male victims accessing formal support services
Barriers to formal victim support were described by stakeholders as comprising a mix of personal, social and structural factors. Personal and social barriers included:
- the shame of the victimisation and being seen as ‘weak’ and unmasculine;
- lack of knowledge about the availability and accessibility of support services;
- privacy concerns and fear of reprisal for reporting the offence (particularly among men living in small communities);
- prior negative experiences when dealing with the police and/or support services; and/or
- transient lifestyles.
Structural and systematic barriers included criminal justice partners failing to identify male victims as requiring assistance, support service eligibility criteria and priority areas, and the location of services. It was also suggested that some male victims may choose not to engage with services if they were not seen as appropriate or meeting their needs. In particular, the lack of male support workers was seen as a potential barrier for male victims who wanted to talk to a man rather than a woman.
Some of these barriers were quite specific to men, whereas others were more generic yet potentially more potent in combination with other recognised obstacles. Some groups of men were confronted with multiple barriers that acted to foster self-denial regarding the need for support and/or gave few options to the victim or referring service provider in providing support services. It is the combination of these barriers that may be perceived as potentially ‘discriminating’ against this group of victims from obtaining support where needed.
Male victims were described by one stakeholder as a ‘hidden group’ in that they were not being recognised as requiring the assistance of formal support services and hence resources were not being allocated to them. This ‘non-recognition’ may represent the most profound barrier for male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence, as the violence they experience, unless perceived as being particularly ‘serious’ (eg homicide), is infrequently identified by service providers as a priority for assistance. This is not to suggest that male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence are overlooked, but rather that services may not be as accessible to them as other victim groups.
The findings from this research suggest:
- violent offences and participating in the trials of perpetrators can have a significant impact on male victims;
- while many male victims of violence will obtain the support they require from informal sources, some would benefit from engaging with formal support services;
- there were, at time of writing, a range of victim support services operating in New South Wales that had some capacity to assist male victims of violence, particularly when they were participating in court proceedings; and
- there were a range of barriers that could influence whether a male victim engaged with formal support services, including social and personal factors (eg privacy concerns among men living in small communities) and structural barriers (eg support service eligibility criteria).
However, while the stakeholders who were interviewed as part of this research have considerable experience working with victims of crime as part of their everyday duties, to present a more complete discussion, the thoughts and experiences of the victims themselves should be compared and coalesced with the perceptions and experiences of service providers. It is recommended that further research, which incorporates the observations of male victims, be pursued to develop 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.