Back in the late seventies, to my prepubescent eyes, Eddie Kidd was quite simply the coolest guy on the planet. The motorcycle stuntman seemed to be a perennial presence on John Craven’s Newsround and Blue Peter, highlighting his latest daredevil leaps over gullies, gorges or strings of double decker buses. While the USA had Evel Knieval, all jumpsuits, rhinestones and Confederate flags, we had Eddie Kidd, a sneering, punky, denim and leather-clad teenager. No contest.
The courage and determination which took Eddie Kidd to stardom stayed with him, even after a horrific accident in 1996 left him with severe physical disabilities and brain damage. Doctors declared that he would never walk again, but five years later he completed the London Marathon. It took him 43 days but he finished it.
It must have taken a similar kind of courage for Kidd to open himself up on his experience as a victim of domestic abuse. In August, his ex-wife was imprisoned for five months for a series of assaults that included kicking, punching and throttling him, accompanied by foul verbal attacks, sometimes in full view of witnesses. Last week Kidd told the Sun on Sunday:
“As a man, any man, to be beaten by your wife is desperately humiliating and, in a way, shameful. I ended up blaming myself – thinking she had taken too much – or, that it was my fault. I took on so much when I was riding. Then after all the stunts, all the fanfare, I am sat in a chair being beaten by my wife and there is nothing I can do.”
This desperately sad story brings into sharp focus one of the most neglected aspects to domestic violence policy: disability, and especially its interaction with masculinity. Home Office research has found that both men and women with disabilities are around twice as likely to become victims of abuse as their non-disabled equivalents and while disabled women are at greatest risk of all, disabled men are at significantly greater risk than non-disabled women. An analysis of users of a male victims’ helpline in the US revealed that 17.9% of callers were disabled. Other research has found that disabled people are likely to suffer greater trauma and mental ill health as a consequence than other victims of abuse.
To its credit, the domestic violence sector has at least begun to address the very real needs of disabled women, in terms of identifying abuse and providing appropriate interventions. Academic searches bring up swathes of papers, books and chapters on the needs of disabled women at risk. In contrast, when the charity Abused Men in Scotland published a recent systematic review of evidence on male victims’ needs, they were forced to admit: “An extensive search produced no specific literature on disabled men and domestic abuse.”
Numerous studies have suggested that disabled people are less likely to report abuse than others, and that men are less likely to do so than women. It is reasonable to presume that disabled men are uniquely isolated from support. We might hope that health and social care professionals would be attuned to these risks, and yet if one looks at the stated positions of their relevant national bodies, there is cause for concern.
The Royal College of Nurses provides a resource sheet on domestic violence which begins with the words “Increasingly, nurses working in all specialities are expected to respond to women who are experiencing domestic violence.” It continues in that vein for ten pages, mentioning male victims only once, to dismiss their significance. The British Association of Social Work resource section has 28 documents on domestic violence and not one of them addresses the needs of male victims. When the Royal College of General Practitioners launched a new training package on domestic violence, their chair was quoted as saying “this vital work [will] develop the skills and confidence of GPs and transform the lives of many women and children.” NHS London provides an extensive resource site for health professionals on domestic violence which presumes male perpetrators and female victims throughout.
In practice, many individual doctors, nurses, social workers and other frontline care professionals are sensitive and aware of male victims, especially those with disabilities. Victims and their advocates report that sadly, many are not and one might ask for how long their national organisations are going to legitimise that failing. This week NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence closes a major consultation on domestic violence policies across our health services. Let us hope it provides a platform for change to systems and attitudes which currently leave many of the most vulnerable victims neglected, forgotten and at risk.