While it is certainly true that women can be abusers and that men can be victims of abuse (at the hands of women), saying that ‘abuse has no gender’ is problematic.
We know that over 90% of defendants in abuse-related cases are male. While legal statistics cannot present a full picture, this gender skew is also found replicated across different studies and statistics. More than 80% of the victims of high-frequency abuse (more than 10 incidents) are women, and we have to also remember that men being abused by men will make up some of the remaining number of victims. The distinct gulf between the number of male on female versus female on male domestic homicides cannot be ignored.
But I don’t want to simply go through the stats here. The issue is, that stats can be made to accord with any rule or reason. People who argue that abuse has no gender are likely to present with different stats, and to frame any stats in a way that brushes aside the gendered nature of the crime.
It is easy for people to argue that the same number of men are abused by women, and simply don’t come forward because of stigma. Or, it is easy to allege that there are huge numbers of false accusations (although this is factually untrue). The issue with these arguments is that they ignore the fact that a huge power gulf exists between men and women across society and has done for years.
The imbalance in the power men and women hold is structural, meaning that violence against women is often facilitated by our systems and processes. Why else would abusive fathers so often be allowed contact with their children? Why else would defences like the ‘loss of control’ defence so often be applied to instances of men killing their wives to mitigate a murder charge?
When we have a society that experiences a gender power imbalance, we are going to see that reflected in the way people of certain genders are treated. And we do, all the time. The only way to truly combat abuse is to recognise that most of the time it stems from misogyny – and that rooting out such attitudes everywhere they are found is crucial.