Erin Pizzey took to internet community Reddit this past weekend to answer questions from users. She is known for her integral hand and tireless efforts in exposing domestic violence to the public consciousness throughout the 1970s by setting up one of the first battered women’s shelters and writing the groundbreaking book on the subject of domestic assault: Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear. In more recent years she has taken on neglect and abuse of men and boys as her cause and this is where the majority of her questions and answers focused.
Looking at it from a perspective of abuse and neglect, would you say that there is
a general attitude of neglect towards men today?
[…] My problem is that it’s men who’ve been victims of domestic violence, which is
largely ignored by society… and not only ignored, but ridiculed. Billions are spent
– billions I say – across the world for women’s refuges and virtually nothing for men.
And the one men’s refuge in Canada was so denigrated and despised by the Canadian
government, as you will see from our introduction, Earl committed suicide after he
was forced to sell his home and he lost everything.
The Earl she is referring to is Earl Silverman, a Canadian man who spent 20 years of his life crusading for better access to victim and emergency services for men and boys who are victims of abuse. Earl was a victim of abuse at the hands of a former spouse and dedicated his time, energy, and money towards creating a shelter specifically for male victims fleeing abusive situations.
For three years Silverman ran the Men’s Alternative Safe House out of his own home, taking in about 20 men and children over that period. Earl spent the entirety of his own savings to keep MASH running while trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the government to allocate funds for his and other projects directed at male victims. MASH was the only refuge of its kind in Canada.
After years of being unable to keep the shelter through his own funds and meagre private donations he was driven to financial ruin and forced to sell his home and, by association, give up his hopes for helping other victims. After selling his house he committed suicide on Friday, April 26, by hanging himself in the garage.
Silverman’s death appears to be caused entirely by what he and Prizzy have been fighting. He was a victim of abuse whose inability to find services eventually killed him.
Suicide is a predominantly male problem with rates in Canada making it the seventh highest cause of death for men here. In Canada just under one in every 5,000 men will kill themselves. In Yukon, Quebec, and Northwest Territories it is one in every 4,000 men. In Nunavut one in every 1,000 men will commit suicide.
There are many who would argue that men are incapable of experiencing abuse, physical or otherwise. Police statistics, for example, seem to tell a different story where only 20 percent of victims from domestic calls are male.
In fact, according to Statistics Canada, men are almost exactly as likely as women to be victims of domestic abuse:
“A similar proportion of men and women reported experiencing spousal violence
during the five years prior to the survey. Among men, 6.0% or about 585,000,
encountered spousal violence during this period, compared with 6.4% or
Perhaps the low rate of police calls for men in distress is not indicative of low rates of abused males but rather indicative of men being afraid to coming forward to police or attempt to escape their situation.
Male victims are being told from all sides that they are not victims; that statistics are so low they don’t matter; that if they were a real man they would just suck it up and take it; that women aren’t capable of delivering the same kinds of abuse that men can; that what they are experiencing is normal.
After hearing enough of that, it is no surprise that men would be afraid to step forward.
Even if they did manage to overcome everything they’ve ever been told, now that Canada’s only shelter for men is gone, where would they even go?
Ed Note: This story has been updated to include more reliable figures on suicide in Canada.