Defender of abused women finds a new cause: male victims

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The Independent Online

Erin Pizzey, the campaigner who pioneered treatment for abused women by setting up Britain's first refuge centre for victims of domestic violence in the 1970s, is now turning her attention to another group of often overlooked victims: men.

Launching an online campaign and research project aimed at bringing the issue out in the open, Ms Pizzey is hoping to raise awareness of abuse perpetrated by women against men – a subject she describes as "one of the last taboos". She has put a questionnaire on the website femininezone.com that allows women to answer questions anonymously about how they treat men.

As many as one in six men are thought to suffer physical and mental abuse at the hands of women, yet the topic is widely seen as insignificant or implausible.

"I feel that this kind of violence is one of the last taboos – men are reluctant to talk about it, and so are the women who are doing it," said Ms Pizzey, whose father was abused by her mother. "Much is known and studied about male violence, but very little is written about women, and any attempt to discuss female violence is met with rabid attacks and howls of 'blaming the victim'."

During the 1970s, Ms Pizzey created safe havens for hundreds of abused women, but she found it increasingly frustrating that people could only see females as victims. As she tried to create similar sanctuaries for men, she discovered that even those who had been generous towards her women's centres would not consider giving funding.

"I imagined people who had given money to my women's projects would also give it over for the men, but not one gave money," she said. "It's shocking that across the world there are no facilities giving sanctuary for men, and no sympathy. I think it's a deeply held taboo that if a man is assaulted by a woman he is weak, but if a woman is assaulted by a man she is a victim. It's social conditioning."

Samantha Wilson, a therapist working in London and Manchester who specialises in domestic abuse, says she often sees men who were injured by women. "I've been working with cases of violence for 20 years, and many of them have been women abusing men," she said. "This could be happening to people you know and you simply wouldn't realise."

According to Ms Pizzey, the issue is greeted with scepticism by police and social services who, she says, often "refuse to believe" it. She hopes that by discussing violent women in the open she may be able to bring about change.

Next month, she is travelling to Sacramento, California, to attend the first conference on domestic abuse to deal with men and women as perpetrators.

Boyfriend became punch-bag

Anna, 35, appeared to have everything, but beneath the respectable facade, she was living a secret life of violence. Abused as a child, she found herself repeating the abuse. After just a few months with her boyfriend, Paul, arguments started by her became regular, and after a while she became violent. Sometimes it was a kick or a punch, but on other occasions she would throw heavy objects at him, until finally she threatened him with a knife. Anna knew she needed help and sought out a hypnotist. After several sessions she began to control her anger, and now she and Paul plan to marry.

Names have been changed to protect identities