Opinion Piece by Nicola Fitzpatrick, Head of Domestic Abuse and Gender Specific Services

Years after joining Llamau, I still find myself profoundly absorbed in the experiences of the women and children we support. If I’m honest, this can bring a risk of always looking at provision and responses through a victim focused lens, where the perpetrator of the abuse continues their behaviours and often unchallenged by the system with a new victim.  

Let me clarify, that focusing on the impact of abuse on the victim is not a bad thing, and that lens of mine is right to be focused on the woman and her support needs; but I’m also very aware that as a society we are increasingly placing the responsibility of being safe on the victim and not challenging the actions of the perpetrator.  

In my opinion, it’s the faces, experiences and actions of women that always make up the picture of domestic abuse that most people see. However, awareness campaigns like White Ribbon really challenge this perception, giving men (who we know are most commonly the perpetrators) a platform to call out men on their attitudes and behaviours towards women, reminding us that it’s men that can end violence and abuse towards women.  

#AllMenCan is this year’s leading message for White Ribbon day, and the 16 days of activism following. A woman is murdered by a man every 3 days in the UK, a figure which has been consistent for the past 10 years (Karen Ingla Smith, counting dead women). In 2021, at the time of writing this, 129 women have been murdered where a man is convicted or charged with the murder.

In the wake of Sarah Everards murder in March by a serving Met Police Officer, women’s experience of violence and abuse by men has been further propelled into the spotlight. I think her death has shocked the nation because someone in a position of authority, there to protect and keep us safe, was the person who killed her using his position of trust. Sadly, this is too often the case, though we rarely hear it through mainstream media.

Over the years, I’ve seen the focus shift even more to ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ rather than ‘why does he abuse?’ with no understanding of the dynamics of abusive relationships and the risks faced when leaving an abusive relationship (the time a woman is more likely to be murdered by an abusive partner). 

It increasingly feels like the focus is always on the woman and how her ability to be safe is down to her. Unless we challenge perceptions on male violence against women and how we talk about that violence, nothing will change.

If nothing changes then those that are in positions to protect us will continue to remain blind to, tolerate or ignore men who use the system. For example, the cases we see in family court, where criminal convictions and intelligence of domestic abuse are disregarded in favour of the view that ‘just because they were abusive to you, doesn’t mean they’re a risk to the child’. These ignore the impact abuse has had on the child, or their profession/status, as a way to harm, abuse and kill women.

If we want to stop men abusing and being violent towards women, that often leads to their death, we must change the narrative we use when talking about domestic abuse. We must stop asking women why they didn’t leave and start asking men why they cause harm. We must stop threatening to remove children from a mother because she cannot keep her children safe, when it’s not her they’re afraid of. 

We must put men at the core of our arguments, our solutions and our minds if we want to alter the picture we see when we hear the words ‘domestic abuse’ but more importantly, we must do this if we’re to end domestic abuse and violence against women. Whenever media posts are put out about male violence against women, we get targeted with the ‘not all men’ narrative. The Police Scotland video ‘Don’t be that guy’ is welcomed as a call to action, and we cannot forget the fact that males are overwhelmingly those in a position to call out others behaviours and begin to challenge the endemic that is violence towards women and girls.   

We know it’s not all men but #AllMenCan do this.