When Lavinia Woodward’s case first hit the news, there was disbelief everywhere. Some cried white privilege others cried class privilege. Some cried both. But what was not touched upon was the gender bias around domestic violence. Woodward’s case is a case of domestic violence against a man. An extreme case actually. One that involved a man being stabbed in the leg. With a bread knife. Had the victim been a woman and the perpetrator been a man, people would have taken to the streets to protest if he was acquitted because he had amazing prospects as a future surgeon. This case is more than white privilege. It is a silent cry to society to change the way we think about domestic violence along gendered lines.
The truth is, domestic violence can happen to both men and women. In fact, the British Crime Survey (2011) reported 40% of men had suffered from domestic violence. This of course is a conservative figure, as many men – for various reasons – do not report the abuse. The British Crime Survey does not specify the statistic in terms of ethnicity either, so it’s difficult to get a sense of the prevalence of abuse in different communities across the population.
For my undergraduate dissertation however, I explored whether migrant husbands from Pakistan were subjected to domestic violence in five UK cities (Birmingham, Bradford, Luton, Manchester and Oxford). After two and a half months of fieldwork, I collected a total of 113 cases of domestic violence against migrant husbands in the Pakistani community. I even had calls from victims from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria, but these were not included in the final thesis as they went beyond the scope of my research question at the time.
There were cases of migrant husbands who had been verbally and mentally abused, and some who were also physically abused. Psychological and emotional abuse included wives and in-laws of migrant husbands teaching their children to call migrant husbands by their names and not ‘dad’, insults, preventing them from speaking to family in Pakistan and in one case, this meant that a migrant husband did not learn of his brother’s death a year a half after he had died. Physical abuse included cigarette burns, pushed from the stairs leaving one man paralysed from the waist down, being beaten leaving them with fractures and broken bones, and having their homes set on fire to find themselves trapped inside.
Domestic violence against men is happening. And its happening across communities and across religio-ethnic lines. While I am now exploring the topic more widely as part of my PhD research and hope to contribute to the field, its important to call out cases such as Lavinia Woodward’s that undeniably carry a gender bias.
It is time for us as a society to call out against the domestic violence narrative from being a women’s only narrative.