With widely held fears that domestic violence and child abuse and neglect rates are increasing during this period and the reduction of informal and formal supports for adult and child survivors, it becomes even more important than ever for us to find news strategies for addressing domestic violence. As always, we need to be heavily focused on how we can best provide support and safety options for adult and child survivors. At the same time, the current situation offers us a potential new angle of approach for outreach and engagement of men, especially in the area of domestic violence perpetration. Up until now, systems’ responses have focused primarily on how to work with men who choose violence and come to their attention through criminal justice. A criminal justice-centric response reinforces racial and economic disparities and limits our wider engagement of men, their family and friends and other professionals in the problem. In a few places like the United Kingdom and Australia, there have been other, more proactive efforts, like offering a men’s hotline focused on providing assistance to men who are already abusive or worried they might abuse. With families trapped in their homes, now is the time to increase our outreach efforts to men around a raft of issues including domestic violence, child abuse, substance use, mental health issues and even parenting.
Historically, social services and family interventions have been more focused on women and children. The pandemic and the social distancing response may be offering us a unique moment in time to engage men who are in their homes with a new message. The unique, urgent and unusual nature of the moment may make more men open to this message. This idea is supported by an uptick in calls to existing hotlines for men.
A new message would hit the following key points:
A message like this is needed because we need to make sure perpetrators’ behaviors, not survivor choices, are being identified as the cause of domestic violence. The wider community and survivors need to hear that we are holding perpetrators accountable as a form of validation and support. We need to put these “tools of engagement” into the hands of professionals, friends and families who deal with men that choose violence and control. By implementing new engagement strategies for perpetrators in this context, we are adding to the toolkit for helping adult and child survivors.
Why might a message like this work right now:
This message can be communicated through multiple channels including:
Each of these messaging channels can help provide useful guidance to those who want to help combat domestic violence. Family and friends may know about the abuse but not know how to broach the subject. Professionals working on helplines can use this approach with callers for different issues. Child welfare workers, either statutory or voluntary, need an approach and language to use when they are talking to families together. This type of language can be used in multiple settings.
A public health campaign tied to a hotline number may be one of the best and fastest ways to impact the problem. As a thought experiment, envision the potential for this message by imagining your favorite male athlete reading this script in a video:
“Many men have been told to be strong, to conquer their fears, be independent and look out for others. To be strong and silent. I know I was taught that by people I loved and cared about. Even in the best of times, these attitudes might not be healthy for men or for their loved ones. Right now, the uncertainty and danger in the current situation means fear, anxiety are all normal, healthy responses. If you are dad, you are likely worried for your children, feeling the weight of financial instability and the concern that one of them or you or your partner might get sick. It’s okay to feel those feelings and to talk about them. What’s not okay is taking out your fear and anxiety on others. Lashing out, trying to control every move your family members make or drinking too much are not ok. It’s okay to reach out for help. Call X if you are worried about hurting someone else or yourself, if you are drinking more, or if you feel overwhelmed. Call X if you find yourself verbally being mean or are scaring others with your behavior. Call X if you feel like you can’t be the parent or partner you want to be. There is help. You can still be the parent and partner your family deserves. Families are healthier without abuse.”
If this kind of message was sent out and backed up with resources to help men, we may be able to reduce levels of violence and prevent new abuse from emerging. This could do a lot right now to help women and children be safer and healthier in their own homes.