Any book concerned with men’s abuse of women must clearly begin by focusing on what women go through and what help can be offered. Women’s personal accounts can make one feel overwhelmed and hopeless but they also point to practical and supportive things that social workers can do, like emphasising safety and believing what women say. Better practice starts with listening to a woman’s own account and respecting her choices, recognising that they are made under pressure. Only by developing a keen awareness of abuse as a widespread but criminal behaviour, together with a sustainable model for understanding its patriarchal roots, can professionals avoid being part of the problem and help women take power over their lives. There is a long way to go. Although domestic violence is everywhere in the media at present—studio discussions on morning television, tabloid articles on how to spot a controlling husband, radio interviews with prominent researchers—and professions like the police can point to much improved responses, no one is yet mentioning social workers or probation officers as key sources of help. The extent of the problem indicates that we need to ally ourselves with the heightened activity and awareness.
This chapter will explore what is meant by men’s abuse of women in relationships, together with the geographical, historical and statistical evidence of its endemic nature—attempting to answer the what, where, why, when and how much questions. It will then go on to explore the who questions, which involves looking at common myths about the causation of abuse and the information available to counter these.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC ABUSE?1
The most familiar form of abuse men inflict on their female partners is physical violence. We are not talking here about the odd slap, though, in the view of the author, there is never any excuse for men hitting women. Furthermore, this is the point at which women should start to get worried.