Domestic violence is an issue that can affect both men and women in various ways and to various degrees. Provision of services for victims of domestic violence are woefully inadequate across the board, and there are particular problems when it comes to making homelessness applications. For example a Z2K client who had spent six months in a refuge after leaving an abusive partner was told by her local authority to return to the property registered in his name when she tried to make a homelessness application. But there is also a particular problem when it comes to male domestic violence victims.
Many people think that domestic violence affects women only, but as my experience of supporting people into privately rented accommodation shows, that is not so. Many men who are affected by it sadly suffer in silence, perhaps because of society’s attitude to domestic violence against men. Some men become homeless and try to soldier on quietly.
Take the example of Z2K client Gilbert, who rented a property in Westminster for a number of years and also ran a small catering business from home. Two years ago, he invited a female friend of his, who was homeless at the time, to share the flat with him. He asked the Landlord to add this lady’s name to the tenancy agreement as they were sharing the bills thereby becoming joint tenants. To his horror Gilbert discovered that his friend is in fact a very violent individual. He suffered both physical and emotional abuse and on the few occasions he tried to report it, he was not taken seriously by the authorities. Society can place a heavy stigma on men suffering at the hands of women. The resulting shame can lead to severe stress and depression.
Eventually Gilbert’s flatmate changed the locks to the flat and also obtained an injunction against him, rendering him homeless. Not only has he lost his accommodation, he has also lost his livelihood as he no longer has access to his equipment. Under homelessness legislation local authorities should consider domestic violence victims to be in priority need. But when Gilbert approached Housing Options they refused to accept that he was a victim of domestic violence.
Not only was not found to be in priority need but was also deemed intentionally homeless as he is considered to have ‘made himself homeless’. Gilbert is traumatised by the incident, has suicidal thoughts, and is confused. He has been denied his statutory rights and, while this also happens to female victims of domestic violence, it is all to frequent an occurrence for men. At the same time there are barely any support services he can access.
It seems there is a gap in provision of emergency housing services to male victims of domestic violence as demonstrated in this case. It may be the attitude of people working in the relevant sector or it may be a lack of proper structures and resources. Either way, something needs to be done. Meaningful conversations need to be had in order to address this issue. There are men out there whose lives have been shattered by domestic violence, who need support but are being denied it. As a first step to address this imbalance, in my view, emergency accommodation should be available to all victims of domestic violence regardless of gender. A thorough assessment should follow then a decision made. Rejecting applicants of hand is not right.
I believe its time someone acted, or at the very least, a meaningful conversation about providing shelter for male victims of domestic violence starts.