Gender and domestic abuse

Gender and Domestic Abuse

At Shine, we recognize that people who experience or perpetrate domestic abuse may be either men or women.  We provide the same level of support to women and men who experience domestic abuse through our Helpline, frontline advocacy services, and KIDshine services .  We also recognise that people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, or intersex also experience intimate partner violence and abuse.  

We believe:

  • All abuse is damaging to individuals and relationships, irrespective of gender 
  • Most New Zealanders in an intimate relationship are not abusive to their partner
  • Attitudes and beliefs supporting abuse that are held by individuals, and widely held throughout society, are key components of its prevalence and reoccurrence.
  • Ensuring effective support for victims of domestic abuse is critical to ending abuse in New Zealand.  

Context is critical

Shine believes that, in order to understand how to best intervene in domestic abuse situations and to understand who is the ‘perpetrator’ and who is the ‘victim’, it is critical to look at context. In other words, which person in the relationship is controlling and dominating the other person?  Which partner is fearful of the other?  Which partner will change how they look, dress, speak, behave, in order to avoid angering their partner? 

It is critical to look at the effects of the abuse – both emotional, most importantly fear, and physical, such as injury and hospitalisation rates.

It is also critical to look at patterns of behaviour over time.  An incident of violence looked at in isolation will not always provide sufficient information to identify who is the dominant partner in an abusive relationship and who is the victim. 

The context of past behaviour, fear and the effects of past violence can give certain behaviours vastly different meanings.  For example, following an argument between a couple, one person has left a steak knife out on the kitchen table and left the house. 

If the relationship is abuse free, the partner who notices the knife left on the table will most likely attach no significance to it, and think about it no further.

  • If there has been a history of violence in the relationship, the partner who notices the knife may well believe that it was left as a warning, and it may cause anxiety or fear.

Understanding context is critical to understanding how to intervene safely, effectively and appropriately in a domestic abuse situation.  Context includes past patterns of behaviour in a relationship, whether one partner is fearful of the other, whether one partner has been effected by violence perpetrated by their partner in other ways such as injury or hospitalisation.

Of all of the contextual factors, fear is possibly the most important for victims of domestic abuse.  Living with constant fear and/or regular episodes of extreme fear, is debilitating and has far-reaching consequences for individuals.  A major consequence is the impact on sleep.  Sleep deprivation can play a major role in depression, anxiety, poor work productivity, poor parenting, and so on.

In an abusive relationship, a victim may be afraid of physical violence, or psychological abuse, or of any range of threats being carried out – including kidnapping children, harming children or other family members, and even of their partner committing suicide.

Research that looks at domestic abuse through a lens that includes context and factors such as fear and injury show quite clearly that men are far more often the perpetrators, and women far more often the victims. This does not discount the effects on male victims who are afraid of, or injured by, their partners.

So why is this the case?

One obvious factor is that, in heterosexual relationships, men usually have superior physical strength to that of their partner.  In most heterosexual relationships, a man threatening his partner with physical violence using ‘standover tactics’ would have the ability to cause fear, whereas a woman using the same tactics would be far less likely to cause fear in her male partner.

We believe that another key factor is social conditioning and widely held beliefs and attitudes about gender roles that specifically devalue the role of women in society.  These attitudes relate to women not having equal power or resources as men, and that their voices, ideas and work are not valued in the same way as men’s. These beliefs are about the idea that women and men should act in certain ways or are better at certain things based on their gender.

In the timespan of human history, it was not so long ago in western civilisation that wives were considered the property or ‘chattel’ of their husbands.  So it is unsurprising that there are still many widely held beliefs in our society that devalue the role of women.

We believe that changing these attitudes and beliefs is a critical and necessary step towards eradicating domestic abuse.  This is the reason we feel that it is important to understand the relationship between gender and domestic abuse.  We do NOT want to minimise or discount the experience of men who are victimised, as these men need and deserve support just as much as women victims.  We are NOT ignoring the fact that women also perpetrate violence, as they most certainly can and do.  We most certainly believe that it is important that every victim of domestic abuse – whatever their gender – should have access to the support they need to be safe.  

At the same time, we believe that improving society’s attitudes about women and working to prevent violence against women, is congruent with working towards a society that rejects all violence and abuse within families and all relationships.

If Shine works with female and male victims, then why does Shine talk more often about clients (victims of domestic abuse) who are women than those who are men?

This is simply because most of our adult clients who are victims of abuse are women.  Therefore, most of the stories that we tell relate to female victims and their children.

At least 85% of the victims referred to us from police are women.  Because of having limited resources to respond to a huge demand for our victim advocacy service, we prioritise ongoing support (after our initial intervention) for clients who are at high risk of serious injury or death. 

Our risk assessment looks at a range of factors including history of violence, threats, injuries and hospitalisation, possession and past use of weapons, military or martial arts training, and so on.  Clients assessed as high or extreme risk of serious injury or death are about 99% female.  High risk clients who are men are also prioritised and receive the same level of service and support.  

This situation is far less than ideal, as we would dearly LOVE to have the resources to be able to respond to a greater number of victims who are at less extreme risk of being killed or seriously injured.  It is a tragedy that there is not more support available for each and every victim of domestic abuse.

Our experience of working mostly with female victims does nothing to change our core beliefs, which are:

All abuse is damaging to individuals and relationships, irrespective of gender 

  • Most New Zealanders who are in a relationship are not abusive to their partner
  • Attitudes and beliefs supporting abuse that are held by individuals, and widely held throughout society, are key components of its prevalence and reoccurrence.
  • Ensuring effective support for victims of domestic abuse – women or men - is critical to ending abuse in New Zealand.  


Following are some websites we suggest for finding more information about research and statistics relating to domestic abuse in New Zealand and worldwide:

The NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse (based at Auckland University)

'It's not Ok' campaign (under the umbrella of Ministry of Social Development) 

NZ Family Violence Death Review (based within the Health Quality & Safety Commision NZ)

United Nations 

World Health Organisation 


“"When I got to the Shine refuge with my boys, I felt an enormous weight lift off me. I realised how much anxiety and fear I had been carrying around for so long. Shine helped me get a Protection Order and Parenting Order against S. Within days, I began sleeping and eating normally again." ”