TW: Abuse mention
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are entirely the author’s own and do not represent Wessex Scene as a whole.
On 12 December, ITV presenter Caroline Flack was arrested and charged with ‘assault by beating‘. Police were called to her Islington home to investigate a fight that took place with her boyfriend Lewis Burton. On 23 December, Flack pled not guilty to charges of assault when she appeared at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court. Flack has also stepped down from her role as presenter on ITV’s Love Island.
Flack has also faced several controversial incidents in past relationships. Her ex-fiancé Andrew Brady posted a picture of a Non-Disclosure Agreement on Instagram that Flack had allegedly made him sign several weeks before they got engaged. The three page document was heavily redacted and appears to deal mostly with privacy concerning Flack’s personal and private affairs. However, Brady posted the NDA alongside the cryptic hashtag ‘#abusehasnogender’, perhaps implying previous instances of domestic abuse from Flack. Also, when Flack was 31, she dated a then 17 year old Harry Styles- a very ethically questionable age gap. Having faced almost no criticism from the media for this inappropriate relationship, it’s little wonder that Flack is currently facing next to no backlash from the British media.
The case of Caroline Flack reflects a disturbing trend: the minimisation of the actions of female abusers. Domestic abuse is a problem that runs rampant in the UK; according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, approximately 5.7% of men experienced domestic abuse from March 2018 to March 2019. As Andrew Brady stated in his Instagram post, abuse has no gender; however, the purveying attitude seems to be that men can only be perpetrators of domestic abuse, and not victims. The very forgiving reportage of Flack’s assault charges show this to be true- the Sun ran the headline ‘Devastated Caroline Flack quits Love Island after assault charges’, and the Daily Mail downplayed Flack’s role as an abuser by stating that she ‘cut her hand on glass during fight with 6ft 4in boyfriend’. Vilifying headlines such as these only serve to perpetrate existing stereotypes towards the role of men in domestic abuse.
While domestic abuse is still a majority female problem, the 15% of men aged 16-59 who have suffered from domestic abuse (according to Mankind Initiative) cannot be ignored. Stereotypes and stigmas surrounding masculinity and what it means to be male means that male victims of domestic abuse are less likely to report it. Toxic masculinity plays a key role in the lack of awareness of domestic abuse against males, be they in heterosexual or homosexual relationships. Toxic masculinity, the ways of behaving stereotypically associated with males that negatively impact men and society as a whole, tells men they need to show no signs of weakness, as that would be a threat to their masculinity. Core beliefs of toxic masculinity, such as the dominance of men over women, the idea that men cannot display emotion and the male tendency towards aggression, make it difficult for male abuse victims to speak up about what they are facing for fear of being ridiculed. This fear of speaking up can lead to abusers getting away with violent activities. Just because it is more common for women to be victims of domestic abuse does not mean that it can’t happen to men too.
The key thing to keep in mind in any and all cases of domestic abuse is that abuse is abuse, regardless of gender.