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The pathway of contact

The process by which victims of crime negotiate the criminal justice system and are presented with opportunities to engage with formal support services during this process, may be likened to a pathway where points of contact take place, or preferably should take place, between male victims of violence and formal support services. As described earlier, the three most identifiable points of contact occur when the matter is reported to the police, at the pre-court stage and while attending court. Victim support services, however, may be sought these points of contact and formal engagement with the criminal justice system.

Victimisation not reported to the police

Even before the first contact with police, many male victims of violent crime may be lost to formal support. The pervasiveness of non or under-reporting is well documented (eg crime victimisation surveys from Australia (ABS 2012b), Canada (Perreault & Brennan 2010), England and Wales (Chaplin, Flatley & Smith 2011), New Zealand (NZMoJ 2010) and United States (Berzofsky et al. 2012)). The most recent national data on reporting rates in Australia comes from the ABS’ 2010–11 Crime Victimisation Survey, although a breakdown of rates by gender is only available for incidents of physical and threatened assault. Of the estimated 283,600 male victims of physical assault (aged 15 years and over), 52 percent stated they did not report the most recent incident to the police (ABS 2012b; see Table 5). Among female victims of physical assault (n=203,000), 45 percent responded similarly. For incidents of threatened assault, non-reporting rates were greater still and again, more so for men—71 percent of the estimated 313,600 male victims of threatened assault did not report the matter to police, compared with 59 percent of the 230,100 female victims. Data from the US National Crime Victimization Survey also shows a greater (albeit not overly marked) propensity among males to not report violent victimisations (ie defined as including rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault) to the police. Between 2006 and 2010, an average 55 percent of males aged 12 years and older did not report the incident to the police, compared with 49 percent for females (Berzofsky et al. 2012).

The reasons why victims of violence choose not to report incident(s) include individual comprehension of the seriousness of the event experienced, particularly whether the event was believed to have constituted a crime, the likelihood of a (satisfactory) response from the police (and the criminal justice system more broadly) and perceived impacts on privacy. Other factors cited, although largely drawn from studies of female victims of sexual assault/intimate partner violence, include shame and fear of reprisal (Logan et al. 2005; Wolf et al. 2003).

Crime victimisation surveys usually find the perceived triviality of the incident or its treatment as a personal matter as the most common explanations for not reporting incidents of violence to the police, as well as assumptions that the police cannot, or are unwilling, to do anything about the matter (ABS 2012b; Berzofsky et al. 2012; Chaplin, Flatley & Smith 2011; Perreault & Brennan 2010). Crime victimisation surveys from Australia and the United States show some gender difference in reasoning but these are not consistent nor directly comparable. Australian male victims of physical assault who were respondents to the 2010–11 Crime Victimisation Survey were slightly more likely than female victims to state that they did not report the victimisation to the police because the matter was too trivial or because the police could do nothing or would be unwilling to assist, while female victims were more likely to indicate it was because it was seen as a personal matter (see Table 5). Among victims of serious violence surveyed in the United States, the main distinction between gender responses was that males were more likely than females to consider their victimisation as ‘not important enough…to report’ and females were more concerned than male victims of ‘fear of reprisal or getting [the] offender in trouble’ (Berzofsky et al. 2012: 7).

In the absence of knowing what individual victimisation experiences constituted, these data could be interpreted as suggesting that men are less inclined to report matters to the police. It is certainly implied in the literature that men are more likely to refrain from reporting to the police than women. However, where it exists, this evidence is not conclusive (eg Kaukinen 2002) and is often inferred from studies largely focused on help seeking strategies among female victims of sexual assault and/or intimate partner violence.

The importance of context (both historical and in the present setting), establishment of trust, the social environment and customary notions around gender responses (and masculinity) were all noted by stakeholders as influencing non-reporting decisions. While some of these factors are not necessarily gender specific, their effect may be more intense among men, or men from particular backgrounds. These factors are explored in the next section.

Another factor that could potentially influence non-reporting decisions is the circumstances and location of the victimisation. Clare and Morgan (2009) found that male perceptions around criminality of physical and threatened assaults were lessened if the incident experienced was characterised by heavy alcohol consumption and occurred in a licenced venue setting.

Stakeholders suggested such events were more likely to be viewed by male victims as personal, private and ‘normal’ rather than criminal. This may be particularly so for younger men, a supposition supported by Clare and Morgan’s (2009) analysis, which showed that men under 25 years tended to be less clear on the criminal nature of a recently experienced assault. One stakeholder surmised the ‘non-criminalisation’ of physical assaults, such as those between ‘mates’ and/or around drinking settings, were a potential consequence of the ‘normalisation’ of violence (Service provider personal communication September 2012).

Table 5 Non-reporting of incidents of violent victimisation to police and reasons for non-reporting
Male Female
n % n %
Australiaa
Did not report 148,700 52.4 91,000 44.9
Too trivial/unimportant 46,700 16.5 23,700 11.7
Thought there was nothing police could do 23,700 8.4 8,400 4.2
Thought the police would have been unwilling to do anything 7,000 2.5 1,900 0.9
Personal matter 28,100 9.9 25,400 12.5
Told somebody else instead 12,600 4.4 8,500 4.2
Other 30,600 10.8 23,200 11.4
United Statesb
Did not report 1,859,800 55 1,522,400 49
Not important enough to victim to report n/a 22 n/a 14
Police would not or could not help n/a 16 n/a 15
Dealt with in another way/personal matter n/a 36 n/a 32
Fear of reprisal or getting offender in trouble n/a 8 n/a 20
Other reason n/a 18 n/a 18

a: Victims of physical assault aged 16 years and older. Weighted estimates from responses to the 2010–11 Crime Victimisation Survey

b: Victims of rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault aged 12 years and older. Weighted estimates from responses to the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 National Crime Victimization Survey. These percentages refer to the annual average

n/a=not available

Source: ABS 2012b; Berzofsky et al. 2012

Making contact

The following describes how contact between male victims and formal support services are established and maintained.

Following the incident

A victim’s decision to report the offence to the police does not necessarily represent the starting point from which support and other kinds of services immediately become available or are sought. Victims who choose not to report an incident, or defer reporting, may still independently seek support from both informal and formal sources. Langton (2011), however, found that while nine in 10 violent crime victim respondents to the National Crime Victimization Survey did not receive ‘direct assistance’ from a victim service agency from 1993 to 2009, those who did report the crime to police were more likely to receive assistance (14%) compared with those who did not report the matter (4%). For the purposes of this discussion, initial contact with the police represents the first point, outside of contact with medical services and the like, where victims are first formally provided with information about services that are available to victims of crime.

For many male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence, police responsibility to the victim is largely formed during the initial series of contacts between them and the attending officer(s). It was observed by one stakeholder that contact with a ‘good police officer has a huge positive effect’ on the victim (Service provider personal communication September 2012) and many stakeholders agreed that the importance of these early interactions with the police could not be underestimated. The establishment of rapport was seen as vital for the victim’s continued engagement with the criminal justice system and may also influence their decision to engage with formal support services.

For the most part, stakeholders considered police as ‘very empathetic and supportive’ when interacting with male victims of violence (Service provider personal communication September 2012). Nonetheless, there was an undercurrent of thought from a few stakeholders that individual officers may respond less empathetically to male victims or not treat certain matters of violent victimisation ‘seriously’. It was also suggested that male victims were at greater risk of not being believed or being perceived to have in some way been responsible for their victimisation. This was considered to be especially apparent for victims of ‘pub brawls’ and similar physical assaults, and offender/victims who may be stigmatised by their previous or current contact with the criminal justice system as a perpetrator of violent (or other) crime.

Police do not habitually refer victims of crime to formal service providers, outside the provision of Victims’ Cards or where engaged as a specialist officer as outlined above. Victims with high support needs, however, can be referred to government and non-government service providers (often court support workers). One stakeholder remarked that where referrals were received, they tended to be for female rather than male victims. Whether this pattern of referral reflects genuine bias cannot be substantiated, yet the same stakeholder suggested that remarks such as ‘we’ve got a couple of blokes (here) but they’ll be alright’ inferred some preconceptions (among some police officers) about male coping and the need for support (Service provider personal communication September 2012).

Pre-court and court support

A review of the victims support services that were (at time of writing) operating in New South Wales indicates that services for male victims of violence are more readily available from this point forward. Once a victim has been listed as a witness to a matter being heard in court, they become eligible for a number of support services with which they may choose to engage. By choosing to engage with the criminal justice system and participate in the trial of perpetrators, male victims may be more likely to receive support and assistance.

As described earlier, the DPP WAS is the most widely available formal support service at the pre-court stage; however, the priority areas of support identified by the DPP WAS finds few adult male clients, other than those who are victims of historic cases of child sexual abuse, homicide or dangerous driving. One WAS officer calculated that of the 100 matters or so they had dealt with in the previous 12 months, only four involved male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence. Other WAS personnel interviewed indicated similarly low numbers of adult male clients who were victims of these forms of violence.

Court support available to male victims ineligible for assistance from the DPP WAS is usually more readily available once the victim/witness is attending court. These often followed offers of assistance from court-based officers who use a mix of identification techniques to recognise potential clients in need (see earlier).

It was suggested that, similar to engagement with the police, first contact between clients and court support workers was crucial, and particularly so when approaching male clients. One stakeholder observed that ‘the hardest part is getting them to engage…men do tend to really appreciate the support once they agree to receive it’ (Service provider personal communication September 2012). There was consensus among stakeholders that men were more receptive to an offer of assistance if that offer was couched in language accentuating the provision of information rather than emotional support.

By giving them information they get back some control (Service provider personal communication September 2012)
Guys are not going to identify they need counselling, but they might want information (Service provider personal communication September 2012)

Men, more so than women, wanted information that would enable them to understand the process they were experiencing. This point was also made by service providers who first interacted with male clients in the pre-court phase. Experience had shown that establishing a connection with male clients had ‘gone over better’ if service providers focused their assistance on the provision of guidance. Adopting this approach was usually received favourably.

Service providers, however, were emphatic that it should not be construed that adult male victim/witnesses were resistant to emotional support, rather that its acceptance may be delayed until its suggestion did not offend or threaten sensibilities. Some men, typically those referred by their solicitors or were receiving support from elsewhere, were usually open to ‘emotional’ conversations. For other men, some caution had to be applied—‘thoughts’ rather than ‘feelings’ were often referred to when the topic of support (outside the provision of information) was broached and some support workers said they typically avoided using the word ‘victim’ (Service providers personal communication September 2012). One service provider explained that they assessed the needs of male victims by talking to them and avoided asking them directly what their support needs might be. Therefore, they gained a sense of the client’s needs from what the client was saying and how they were saying it. Other service providers said that rather than working with the client directly, they occasionally would approach the ‘significant others’ of the victim/witness. This allowed the provision of indirect emotional support, but was also used to gauge how well their client was coping through the perspective of a loved one.

An interesting observation looked at the willingness of male victims of sexual violence to discuss their emotions with court support workers, compared with the willingness of male victims of other forms of violence. The former group of victims were more receptive to discussing the emotional impact of their victimisation because the specifics of the case were already well understood by the court support worker and hence the victim did not need to disclose again. Other male victims, particularly those who were approached in the court setting, were likelier to have to revisit their victimisation with the court support worker and hence may be less inclined to talk about their emotional response.

However, representatives from one of the consulted support agencies said that from their experience, men were receptive to emotional support from the outset—‘once the conversation has got to the situation at hand, men are quite willing to talk’ (Service provider personal communication September 2012). It was agreed among stakeholders that this difference in response may be influenced by the nature of the organisation the support workers were representing. In particular, it was suggested that services and programs that were easily identifiable as having a religious focus may be perceived by potential clients as providing spiritual and emotional support to victims of crime. Potential clients who either approach or accept offers of assistance from such agencies may have a greater willingness to accept emotional support at an earlier stage than others.

Another factor that may override issues of non-receptivity for support was familiarity. One court support worker, in describing their experience that men were ‘usually very open to talking with a support worker’, further reflected that their having been ‘in the game for more than 10 years’ had allowed them to establish relationships with some of these men. While not explicitly stated, the client’s trust had partly been fostered by familiarity with the support worker they were in contact with.

Women comprised the majority of professional and volunteer court support workers. The female-dominated volunteer base was attributed in part by stakeholders to difficulties finding men who were interested in support work, although one organisation mentioned they had experienced more recent success in obtaining male volunteers. A female bias among court support workers was generally not seen as an impediment to connecting with male victim/witnesses, although it was acknowledged that male court support workers may be better at validating the experiences of male victim/witnesses. As one stakeholder commented ‘Men [ie male service providers] may be good at normalising their [the client’s] reaction and reinstating their feelings of masculinity’ (Service provider personal communication September 2012).

Broader service provision—referral and follow up

Male victims may be referred to a broader range of services that include counselling, group therapy, compensation and welfare matters such as housing. Many service providers interviewed for the study acknowledged there were potential and actual problems with connecting male clients who were not a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or homicide with additional support services. They also emphasised that they could only suggest, not compel, victims to act on referrals and the agencies, irrespective of the sector they represented, had limited means to apply formal follow up. The uptake of support, where recommended, ultimately rested with the individual.

I can’t make them go to services but they’re happy to have a yarn with me (Service provider personal communication September 2012).
(Men) may make all the right noises…but they may just not follow through (Service provider personal communication September 2012).

Male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence who do not report their victimisation to the police, for whom there is no subsequent court hearing or who do not come into contact with a support worker prior to or during the court hearing, must effectively rely on their own initiative to seek and locate support services. For some men, that initiative may be tempered by a lack of knowledge or guidance as to where that support might be available, or by men’s apparently greater reluctance to admit they need assistance, not just to others but themselves. It was suggested that the ability of victims to seek wider support is possibly more acute among men from CALD backgrounds, which stakeholders attributed in part to language barriers and general unfamiliarity with what is available (Service provider personal communication September 2012). Individual barriers to seeking support will be explored in more depth in the next section of this report.

Points of disconnection

Disconnection refers to stages where individual decision making, experience, eligibility, identification and happenstance, independently or in concert, channel men who need assistance into or away from formal support. Personal and systemic barriers also influence what occurs along the pathway of contact and these factors are described in the next section.

The consultations indicated that male victims who do not engage with the criminal justice system (either because they do not make an initial report to the police and/or there is no subsequent court hearing) have fewer opportunities to be referred to and engage with formal victim support services. The first potential point of disconnect occurs with the decision to not report the incident to police. As mentioned previously, data from crime victimisation surveys described earlier show that men are less inclined than women to report incidents of violent crime to the police. Importantly, many of the programs listed in Table 4 do not require the victim to report the crime to be eligible for support. However, if a male victim chooses not to report the incident, the initiative is on them to contact victim support services and without ready information, they may experience difficulty in doing so.

Service providers noted that a composite list of victim support services is generally not available or easily locatable, although two provider had plans to produce service directories for men, or specific communities of men (eg homosexual men) in the future (Service provider personal communication September 2012). At least one victim support service indicated they did receive clients who had independently sought assistance after finding information about the organisation from their website, although this tended to be a small percentage of their overall client caseload. However, most stakeholders also stated that male victims, perhaps more so than women, were less likely to admit to themselves (or others) they required assistance and in turn, seek to engage with services of their own volition. In the absence of direct ‘prompting’ about support options, men were potentially more likely than women not to seek assistance and hence come to the attention of victim support services.

The second point of disconnect may follow contact with police. As described, NSW police are expected to provide all victims of crime with Victims’ Cards so they have, as a minimum, contact details for the Victims Services-operated VAL (and the Families and Friends of Missing Persons Unit), information about the Charter of Victims Rights and the name and contact details of the investigating officer. It was noted by many of the service providers interviewed that the initial contact between the police and victims was vital for the victim’s continued engagement with the criminal justice system and may influence their decision to engage with formal support services. While the majority of stakeholders were very positive about police interaction with victims, there was still the risk, according to some, that a proportion of male victims might not receive that initial empathy reserved for other victims of violence. Among male victims where there were trust issues with the police or the potential for misunderstandings on both sides about the ‘genuineness’ or seriousness of the victimisation, the first exchange was particularly vital. If rapport or a sense of being supported by the police was lost, men (in particular young, Indigenous and CALD men) may not see the point in continuing and withdraw at this juncture.

Disconnect appears to be least likely when a matter proceeds to a court hearing. However, the male victim population group considered for this study will have more chance of accessing support at the court rather than the pre-court stage. The prioritisation of matters used by the NSW DPP WAS to select their clients—primarily victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, homicide, driving causing death—effectively screens out the great majority of male victims of non-sexual and non-domestic violence from receiving court preparation assistance and potential referral to support services at the pre-court stage. Only where the male victim had experienced severe trauma or injury, or they had been assessed by the solicitor or the police as high needs, do they possibly become eligible for assistance from the DPP WAS.

Court support and options for referral were more broadly available once the victim/witness was attending court. Receiving an offer of assistance depends upon the male victim/witness being identified by, or less commonly notified to, the court support worker. Identification is based on some form of assessment, including the matter being heard (when court lists were used to select potential clients) and the demeanour of the victim/witness as observed by the support worker. Stakeholders indicated they had reasonably good success with getting men to consider or accept referral to other service providers but informal follow-up processes prevented them from being able to continue contact or know whether their client initiate or continue with the support service to which they were referred.

What is not as clear is how many men who need support are being lost before this pathway point is reached or who might have benefited from earlier support intervention. Service providers who engage with victims along the pathway continuum obviously did come into contact with male victims before and after the court hearing stage, and depending on the service, the contact was made autonomously or with a referral. However, from observations made by these stakeholders, many of the men they encountered had apparently taken a long time to make the decision to seek support or used the pretext of enquiring about information more generally (or their complaint about the process) before eventually getting to the topic of the impact of their victimisation and the support they might require. The point was made that a large proportion of men (more than might be realised) do need to talk but do not know where to go or how to broach the subject. The reality that men have ‘never been seen as a “target” for victim support’ (Service providers personal communication September 2012) has likely, along with personal and systemic barriers discussed in the next section, contributed to their potential disengagement.