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The Trial of Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard is Shinning a Light on Male Survivors of Domestic Violence

Recently Fox 5 News reporter Liberty Zabala did a report on May 16th highlighting Male Victims of Domestic Violence, a topic that is becoming increasingly popular with the constant news coverage of the defamation lawsuit that Johnny Depp filed against his former partner Amber Heard.

In light of Depp's vindication in the trial verdict many are asking will this help other male survivors of domestic violence who seek justice. We will take an indepth look out how things are and what progress is and can be made.

Zabala states in her news piece that “Now, some are saying that this massively public trial is giving more men the courage to come forward with their own stories of abuse.” For male survivors of domestic violence this has to be hopeful and any positive exposure for this mostly unseen community is helpful.

In the Fox 5 SD news piece Matthew Longoria, a domestic violence survivor states “I think that it’s reassuring for men to hear this, especially as somebody that a lot of people look up to in society.”

Additional Longoria sought to encourage other survivors by saying “I would want to encourage male victims that it’s not that way. There’s more of us than you might think.” Therapist Navid Zamani states further that “It’s embarrassing to say anything.” And for this reason, many survivors are unwilling to come forward due to shame and fear.

April Ross, Executive Director, Georgia Commission on Family Violence said, "We have to, as a society, give men the space to admit that they are victims." Themes of suspicion of alleged victims and lack of services are a common theme amongst those seeking services and unable to find them.

When asked about statistics regarding male survivors of domestic violence Zamani said, “No, there is very poor data. It's difficult to assess in general, and most of the research is conducted on female survivors (further perpetuating the problem for male survivors).” This is an unfortunate reality that makes this community invisible to many who might otherwise seek to assist.

Fox 5 News Atlanta reports in a February 9th story headline reads “New study suggest more male victims of domestic violence,” further stating that “A new study suggests there are much more male victims of domestic violence than originally thought.”

A Georgia Commission on Family Violence Study suggest domestic violence against men is often under-reported. The 20-page state agency report is the first of its kind specifically focusing on male victims of family or domestic violence in Georgia. The hope is that Georgia Commission on Family Violence report may help with better training law enforcement and providers of domestic violence services how to better handle male survivors of domestic violence. Male victims often face challenges as their assaults often fall through the cracks. The hope is to bring light to survivors and be able provide more access to needed services.

The commission's research identified that according to the report, “one in 10 men experience stalking, sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime,” and that “While woman make up the majority of family violence victims, the report found that men account for 30%.” The agency believes that the number of male survivors is much higher than reported and isn’t properly reported due to “social norms around gender roles, the idea of disbelief by law enforcement and other stakeholders, and a perceived lack of services for men.”

When asked about statistics domestic violence worker Luis Canseco had this to say, “I tend to use the CDC’s statistics which is, approximately 1 in 10 men in the U.S. experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact. Commonly reported IPV-related impacts among male victims were fear, concern for safety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.”

According to the CDC Report on ‘Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Among Men’; About 1 in 3 men experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and / or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Nearly 56% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 25. Nearly 1 in 4 men in the U.S. experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Among male victims of completed or attempted rape, about 71% first experienced such victimization prior to age 25. The report made distinctions between Rape and Made to Penetrate (MTP). MTP is a form of sexual violence that some in the practice field consider similar to rape. 79% of male victims of being MTP reported only female perpetrators. 82% of male victims of sexual coercion reported only female perpetrators. 53% of male victims of unwanted sexual contact reported only female perpetrators. Stalking: 46% of male victims reported being stalked by only female perpetrators. 97% of men who experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner had only female perpetrators. These statistics show us that there is a lot of work to be done to provide sources and services for male survivors of domestic violence.

When asked about common themes from survivors of domestic violence that he worked with Zamani had this to say, “Invisibility of experience. The trauma that comes not from the experience itself, but the lack of reaction or support from communities who are supposed to help. The deep love these men have for their families, and the grieving of not just their relationships, but of a hopeful future.”

When asked the same question Canseco said “A common theme is “masculinity” and how it affects men for seeking help. This always makes think of all the men out there who are suffering in silence with mental health illness and traumas because they do not have the courage to ask for help, because society considers that weak or not “man enough.” This same perception is what causes there to not be enough resources for men because people like to think that men do not experience violence or do not suffer “because they’re men.””

Zabala notes that therapist Zamani who has worked with male survivors of domestic violence for many years “observed the lack of resources for men when he worked with victims.” There is a lack of resources for male survivors and therefor it is hard for men to reach out for services that do not exist.

When discussing why he got involved in working with male survivors of abuse, Navid states that “There (were) no services for male survivors and there were no, specifically, support groups. And so, in my context as a therapist, one of the things I am really interested, in is creating a context where people can connect to each other and feel seen and heard.” This is a common refrain among the male survivor community, that there are not specific resources.

Canseco says “As a domestic violence educator, I got to learn that violence happens to folks of all genders. And that there is not enough services and support for male-identified survivors. Being one of the few males in the field, I choose to dedicate a portion of my time in advocating for male survivors.” This lack of services and support leaves a measurable game in the lives of many people and for those who take on the task of filing this gap are true heroes in this community.

One factor that Zamani said he believes maybe helpful with the current situation is for survivors “being able to observe that- see themselves in that story- it puts wind in their sails to say like ‘hey perhaps people might believe me, too.” Hopefully this is the case and hopefully it inspires some to provide services to those survivors who need it.

Having been involved in the support group that Zamani ran as well as being involved with a presentation for the San Diego Domestic Violence Council has given me a passion for this unheard community. I wanted to take things a little further and so I interviewed Navid Zamani and Luis Canseco who both work in the field to get into some of his deeper insights into what the successes and struggles of working to help male survivors of domestic violence have been.

Zamani is the Chair of the Mens' Advocacy Committee of the San Diego Domestic Violence Council. He has been doing with trainings to support DV agencies in acknowledging male survivors and developing services for them. The Support Group for Male Survivors was one of these initiatives, where he conducted a 14-week group in which he gathered pre- and post-group data around efficacy. Zamani told FOX 5 that in the course of two years, roughly 20 male survivors benefitted from his free support group. He also runs a 52-week Domestic Violence Intervention Program where he saw ALL men funneled into - both survivors and perpetrators of violence.

Canseco holds a Men’s Support Group the 4th Wednesday of the month. He states that “This space was designed to fill in a gap in our community regarding the lack of support groups for males who have experience domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking or any other form of violence. This is a space where men can share their concerns and the struggles they are experiencing after being exposed to violence, whether this violence occurred recently or some time ago. This group offers men connection and support which are essential for healing and overcoming obstacles. This group is funded on the principle that every person is worthy of love, healing, and healthy relationships, and as a group that is the journey we embark on.”

When Zamani was asked why he got involved with working with Male Survivors of Domestic Violence, he said, “I noticed a huge gap in services while I served for the Domestic Violence Response Team, where I responded with law enforcement officers on DV calls. The female survivors had a long list of resources and multiple DV-specific shelters they could access. Male survivors were told to go to the homeless shelter and that was about it. I also noticed how male survivors were treated - often with suspicion. It took a LOT for the involved systems to believe a male survivor.”

The challenge of providing services to a community that is invisible and getting a system to believe in helping them that see’s them as anything but the victim has been challenging for Zamani and others who work in this field have found out.

Ross says, "If there is a man identified at a scene who is a victim, I think there is an unconscious bias, so men may not get referrals at the scene for services." The report does illustrate that all victims experience barriers to reporting their abuse and getting support.

When asked what are some of the challenges and obstacles male survivors have when accessing services, Zamani said the following, “The men's advocacy community is filled with "bad-faith" actors, or people who are aligned with very harmful ideologies that end up pushing the movement backwards. For instance, when I took over the Men's Advocacy committee, it was originally chaired by a couple of men who were "red-pillers", and believed that women are the primary problem in our society and perpetrated really harmful, misogynstic attitudes. These ideologies unfortunately reinforce stereotypes held about male survivors, and make it more difficult for men to access needed services.”

Canseco states “There are not enough resources for healing opportunities such as support groups, and counseling. There are not enough DV legal advocates for men. Bias in the court and in service providers.”

According to Zamani and Canseco bad faith actors and the lack of legal sources advocating for male victims is one of the largest obstacles that is needed to overcome to be able to provide better services to male survivors.

The Georgia Commission's Executive Director April Ross explains, "the belief that the domestic violence organizations, shelters and safe houses out there, I believe among males, is that they aren't there to service them." This belief that there aren’t available services and general attitudes of disbelief present barriers to many in this community being able to access services they need.

When asked what societal narratives and gender bias exist that prevent men from accessing services, Zamani replied, “Domestic violence epistemology centers gender as the primary driver of violence, and the institutional response is situated around gender-based responses and treatment modalities, where the victim is female and offender is male. It's very very difficult to move providers and court systems away from this assumption.”

Canseco says “We live in a culture that teaches us that men are not supposed to cry or show emotions and weaknesses. These are internal biases that people collectively hold and so this prevents men from asking for services because they don’t want to be shamed upon for not being “man enough.” We humans fear being shamed upon or stigmatize, we fear what other people are going to say or think about us, so is easier for men to remain quiet and not speak up.”

As you can see the stories that we tell ourselves as a society create narratives that make it hard to see male survivors of domestic violence as victims who need services to help them. Ross explained that one of the common themes is that "when it's a female who is the abuser, the natural inclination is to assume he can handle himself, and he should be able to deal with the situation." This kind of narrative is harmful to male victims of abuse.

When asked how gender roles and norms can be expressed differently and without bias so that men can access services without feeling like they are taboo, Zamani said, “We need trainings and treatment modalities that aren't dedicated to simplifying and standardizing treatment. We need services that are invested in the FAMILY, not individuals, and are invested in family connection and JUSTICE, not making money off of court processes. These services also need to be invested in identifying stories in families in the complexities in which they come, rather than trying to fit them into very clean, neat legal boxes that diminish all the critical context in which DV and relational troubles occur.”

Canseco says, “We need to teach men that expressing your emotions and asking for help is not a sign of weakness but of strength. As I said, it’s easier to hide and be silent, and it’s harder to speak up and ask for help. Therefore, to be vulnerable is to be strong. As an educator, I do know that younger generation (not everyone but many) are changing this narrative, which makes me really happy.”

There is hope because as a society if we learn to adapt our messages to be more wholistic in our approach we can end up with better outcomes. Family First legislation can help focus on children and equal parenting and help balance out some of the gender bias that creates barriers. Male victim face barriers that are amplified by gender bias and social norm that create a perception that men are perpetrators of violence, whereas sometimes this is true it is not always true.

Zamani’s suggestion for agencies to make change to better serve male survivors is as follows, “Set up services that follow family needs versus what the grant/funds need them to do. Get profit motives out of the court systems and mental health fields. Create advocates for male survivors. Basically, open up existing services to men too would be a strong start.”

Canseco says, “Agencies can invite educators and guest speakers that speak about the men survivor’s perspective. This “will bring awareness to service providers. Also, hiring men so men can feel more welcome rather than going to place where all staff are females.”

Zamani believes that focusing on wholistic families along with removing the profit incentives out of the court and mental health fields will help create a better environment.

Canseco states that he believes that “hiring male advocates, trainings for service providers on male-survivor perspectives, and displaying more men in the marketing of domestic violence. For example, every time you see a flyer, poster, pamphlet or a commercial about DV, it’s always women who are portrayed. I think portraying more men sends the message of, “hey men also experience domestic violence.”

There are ways to improve the messaging about domestic violence to be more wholistic and family centric that makes services more readily available to male and female survivors of domestic violence.

Zamani states that finding the cultural and community support are among the biggest challenges of male survivors. He says that often male survivors are driven into parallel services (homeless shelters, food drive programs, etc.) instead of services geared towards them specifically. This means that a lot of time they are receiving services along side female survivors of domestic violence which at times present challenges.

Canseco says that his “biggest challenge is bringing men to the support groups.”

When asked about his experience working the male survivors of domestic violence community has been, Zamani states, “I'm always honored and privileged to be trusted with the stories of male survivors. It's very touching to me. I've been in contexts where I’ve been the recipient of sexual harassment in work contexts, and nobody bats an eye. So, in a VERY small way, I'm aware of how invisible these experiences can be for men. Being able to observe the inertia necessary to make public experiences of violence, and the challenges in being heard, motivates me to fight harder for this community.”

Canseco states that “The men who have come to my support group are very open to share about their experiences, they are also receptive to perspectives of others in the room. However, the challenge in my experience is bringing men to the support group.

Navid says the most rewarding part of his work has been, “Identifying and actually being able to help a marginalized community in DV services. Being able to connect with some really great people with beautiful souls.” So even working in a marginalized community there can be great joy in helping those who have need of services that it is hard to find.

Canseco says that was been most rewarding to him is when he sees “that a male survivors feel safe in the support group and that his experiences are validated, that’s very regarding.” Giving safe space to male survivors can be very rewarding.

When asked what he thinks could be important to include to help give agency to men needing services Zamani ended it by stating “I really think a community of peers would be helpful. I wish men would check in more with each other, and be willing to have necessary, deep, and difficult conversations that are loving and reflective.”

Canseco says, “One of the topics that you just don’t hear enough about but that a lot of men experience is sexual violence. I’ve come to learn that many men are sexually abused as children, yet we don’t talk about this, and as a result so many men are suffering in silent.”

Ross says "Without adequate services, we risk more lives being lost."

As you can see that there are challenges and triumphs for male survivors, as well as hurdles to overcome in helping them get the services they need to overcome difficult times.

Hopefully the fact that the story of Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard trial is shinning a light on male survivors of domestic violence will lead to real change and more access to services for those who need it. Hopefully the current news on this will create awareness and improve responsiveness and accessibility to services for anyone in this struggle.


The Fox 5 Atlanta News Story can be found here:

The CDC Report on ‘Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Among Men’ can be found here:

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