BBC Panorama featured a programme on “Domestic Abuse.” Or did it?

by Ian McNicholl, male domestic abuse survivor and Honorary Patron of ManKind

On Monday 8th December 2014, BBC Panorama featured a programme on “Domestic Abuse.”  Or did it?

Having watched the Documentary, undertaken a period of reflection and reviewed the Documentary once again, I would encourage you to watch the Documentary and ask the following question:

What message did the BBC and the Producer(s) of Panorama seek to deliver?

It is unclear as to what influence certain well known groups had over the final content and if this was influential to their “Terms of Engagement.” Furthermore, it also remains unclear if the professional opinions expressed within the Documentary were edited.   However, it is evident that as a direct result of conscious decision making by those in an influential position connected to the end product, that comparable, and influential statistical information was withheld.  For example, “”80 Women were killed” and “1 in 4 Women will experience Domestic Abuse.” The inclusion of comparable statistics would have aided balance and increased awareness.

 

As a Male Survivor of Domestic Abuse, I must give immense credit to the brave women who featured in the Documentary and I am confident that their individual and collective contribution will encourage many more Female Victims to come forward and escape their abuser.

 

Looking forward, I remain of the view that the Media will continue to play a pivotal role in the delivery of “Public Policy” and it is this policy that that will continue to influence society’s perception of “Domestic Abuse.” We must all remember that as Victims of Domestic Abuse launch their personal escape bids, it is the “Public” who facilitate many valuable assists and this intervention is certainly life changing if not life saving.  Has Panorama supported or placed barriers in the way of these escape bids?

 

Despite a period of reflection, I remain of the view that the Panorama Documentary simply reinforced the stereotypical view that Domestic Abuse is experienced by Females at the hands of Males.  This is deeply worrying.  For example, t he “White Ribbon Campaign” seeks to end “Male Violence Against Women.”  Have we forgotten about the poor females experiencing Domestic Abuse within same sex intimate partner relationships?

Panorama has, in my opinion, failed in its “Duty of Care” as the message the Documentary delivered was in direct conflict with the introduction.  The introduction did not indicate that the Documentary was an insight/investigation into Female Victims of Domestic Abuse.  Furthermore, Panorama has failed to support the many professionals working tirelessly to encourage all victims of Domestic Abuse to take their very first brave steps on the road to recovery.  Disappointingly, Panorama has simply watered the seeds of exclusion.

 

Whatever the aims and objectives of Panorama, the BBC have failed on numerous counts by giving air time to a Subject Matter that affects many within our Neighbourhoods and Communities by presenting a Gender Bias (therefore lazy and misguided,) view, of Domestic Abuse which can only negatively influence the perception of society further.

This will no doubt place additional barriers in the way of support for those perceived as “minority victim groups.

 

Panorama needed to send out a clear and concise message:

Domestic Abuse is everyone’s business, FULL STOP.

 

Annex 1: Reply from the Producer of Panorama to my complaint

Thank you for taking the time to write to BBC Panorama.

 

I am the Producer Director of Domestic Abuse: Caught on Camera. I wanted you to know that I have read your email, Mr McNicholl…

 

Our initial research into domestic abuse was conducted with an open mind. The eventual decision by the Panorama programme to focus on the experience particularly of women of what is called “coercive control” does not diminish or deflect from the fact that men can suffer violence at the hands of women, or that women can also be controlling. However those latter issues were not what this programme chose to focus on. Domestic abuse is a very complex and multifaceted area. There are a number of subjects we would have liked to touch on but were not able to in a single film.

 

But, the programme did include the script line, “Women can be violent or controlling too and same sex relationships can be abusive. Too often domestic abuse against anyone is only tackled once someone is hurt”. We were careful to use gender neutral language (e.g. “people”; “partner”; “abusive partner”; “violent partner”; “abusers” etc) where possible and relevant.

 

Also, the online piece for the BBC news website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30330669) associated with our film, written by BBC reporter Victoria Derbyshire included the line, “That’s because – irrespective of whether the abuser is male or female….”.

 

Across the balance of its coverage the BBC and BBC News and Current Affairs has endeavoured to tell a range of stories about the important issue of domestic abuse, from different angles.

 

For example, on the Friday before our Panorama film was broadcast a Newsbeat reporter Nomia Iqbal did cover the issue of men experiencing domestic abuse at the hands of women: http://m.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/30303405. The Victoria Derbyshire show has done an hour long programme about men talking about their experiences of emotional and physical abuse (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01yszr4), BBC News has repeatedly done pieces, particularly locally (just one example: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-29108616). Women’s Hour has featured the abuse of men as well. There has been a relatively recent piece on one group of men (Asian men) who have suffered domestic abuse (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01gw0gr).

 

We note that from the relevant organisation Mankind Initiative’s own tally of media coverage which included male victims between 7th Dec 2007 – 4th Dec 2013, over 50% was BBC produced coverage. (http://www.mankind.org.uk/pdfs/(4)%202007%20to%20Dec%202013.pdf).

 

We are confident that we have overall taken a balanced look at these issues, as a Corporation.

 

 

 

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One comment

  1. Readers may well be aware of the recent debate in Wales around a consultation on a Violence Against Women bill. http://www.inside-man.co.uk/2014/09/10/welsh-gender-politics-putting-male-and-female-victims-at-risk-says-mens-charity/
    Given the very strong socialisation to be protective to women and girls it can look churlish not to say “unmanly” to object to such a thing. Surely societies in the “west” have for centuries placed women in the role of damsel in need of care and protection and simply modernising this very traditional paradigm is all to the good. Protecting women and girls from harm, nothing could be more worthy. .
    So why has there been such a debate and why does it get so heated in some circles?

    As is so often the case, the devil is in the detail. The centuries old tradition of protections and support for women and girls is still alive and well. Few in the debate seriously challenge the view that women and girls need to be protected from harms, though perhaps pointing out that boys and even men should be supported too. At the core of the debate is the idea that these harms are uniquely “gendered”. The notion that the collection of abusive behaviours covered by the bill are always committed by males and always against females. And here is the problem. Put simply this view is both wrong in terms of actual fact and elsewhere has contributed to both misunderstanding of the causations and direct and indirect discrimination against boys and men, and women and girls who are on the “wrong” side (who need help with their abusive behaviour or find they are abused by a female.).

    The early years of looking at domestic abuse in the UK was driven by interest in “Dating Violence” in the United States. In the United States there had been a series if large scale quantative research reports indicating that Violence (which was generally taken to include “emotional violence” and other non physical abuse) was relatively common in adolescent relationships. As is often the case this concern was picked up in the UK and there were a small number of relatively large scale pieces of research done. At the same time Sugar magazine and some other publications for girls and young women did online surveys of their readership.

    In terms of covering the experience of both boys and girls navigating the transition to adulthood there was research done for NHS Scotland, Southwark, NSPCC and the Northern Ireland Government. Though not on the scale of the research done in the US these were on relatively large populations with attempts to make sure these were “typical” of the age cohorts. Simply because of the difficulty in gaining funding most such research tends to be focussed on specific smaller populations (children in care, care leavers, victims in court cases etc.) so these reports remain the rare examples of a more typical population.

    The results reported in the data tended to reflect some interesting trends common in US research. In particular in each the researchers reported a number of “surprises” or “anomalies” in the results. These were noteworthy as they were challenging to the Hypotheses of the Authors which reflected the gendered understanding of abuse in relationships.

    First of all the research found a much higher incidence of both violence and other abusive behaviours towards males than expected. In fact in some cases higher than that experienced by the females. Indeed where girls were asked about their behaviours towards their partners they were indicating even higher incidence. This particularly was so in “emotional violence” but included such things as hitting or throwing things.

    Even more surprising is that more boys than girls reported being forced or coerced into sex. A result startling to the authors and not at all what had been expected.

    The clues to this surprising set of findings perhaps can be found in the attitudes expressed by the young people. In a sense these perhaps reflect a combination of widespread public information programmes particularly directed at women and girls and some traditional social norms about males being uncomplaining about receiving “punishment” from partners. Perhaps the higher reporting of their own abuse of their partners reflected that girls were much more likely to view even their own behaviours as abusive. They were also much more likely to regard some behaviour as upsetting and having a long term effect. The boys reported as being very much more tolerant of violence of all forms against themselves and fatalistic about this while reflecting the generally condemnatory attitudes to violence and abuse to females.

    So how does this link to the debate in Wales. Well it has to do with what happened following these reports. The first thing is that the recommendations from the above mentioned reports were focussed on the findings for girls. At least in part because the commissions came from programmes focussed on abuse against women and girls. So anyone reading the Exec. Summaries and Recommendations will have little clue to the intriguing and unexpected findings with regard to boys within the introductions and text.
    The second is that because the “surprising” findings are about boys the researchers suggestions that they should be further researched have gone un-headed. The cynical might think it’s because they represent a serious challenge to the authors’ lead hypothesis. But it is true that research funding in this area is driven by the VAWG strategy and so funding is much more likely simply because the strategy guides research funding bodies. So for instance the Bristol University unit followed up their research with a further piece looking at children in the care system again with a focus on vulnerable girls.

    As there is no funding to explore the intellectually interesting findings about boys’ victimisation then it takes considerable determination to research it. Without any political will to further investigate typical populations(rather than specific small populations) nor to fund outside the gendered paradigm not only does the opportunity for paradigm shifting research get lost but far more importantly the widespread abuse of boys in relationships remains concealed from policy making on education, awareness, treatment and prosecution..

    Nina Schutt from her work for Safer Southwark Partnership sums up

    “The survey carried out among young people in Southwark overall identify that young people both experience and perpetrated various forms of adolescent domestic violence in their dating relationships. The survey also showed that this is something that is being experienced by both young men and women, and that in some cases young men report experiences higher levels than young women. The young men are also more likely than young women to accept aggressive behaviour in a relationship, as well as justify such behaviour with actions made by their partner, such a cheating on them”

    And she goes on to suggest education about healthy relationships for young people is needed and should based around their experiences, male and female. From today’s vantage point this seems hopelessly idealistic.

    The process of ignoring boys is facilitated by the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy (VAWG)which is policy in England and the adoption by the Scottish Government of a “gendered” definition of Domestic Abuse. In this small way these create indirect discrimination that “silences” the experiences of men and boys. Of course this reflects a much bigger silence about Domestic Abuse. One can see similar processes in forced marriage, elder abuse and abuse of disabled people as the actual variety and complexity gets more and more reduced to issues of Gender and so a very specific paradigm reinforced by funding being attached to this paradigm.

    Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships
    Christine Barter, Melanie McCarry, David Berridge and Kathy Evans October 2009 http://www.nspcc.org.uk

    Young People’s Attitudes to Gendered Violence. By Michelle Burman and Fred Cartmel University of Glasgow Published by NHS Scotland 2005.

    Domestic Violence in Adolescent Relationships. By Nina Shutt. Published by Safer Southwark Partnership 2006
    Attitudes of Young People towards Domestic Violence, Pr Judith Bell
    Community Information Branch
    Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Northern Ireland) 2008 Safety

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