Men’s Alternative Safe House only shelter for male victims of domestic violence
After years of sounding the alarm bell to deaf ears, men’s rights advocate Earl Silverman has been forced to close the only men’s shelter for victims of domestic abuse in Alberta.
The Men’s Alternative Safe House will be shuttered this spring, leaving male victims of domestic violence with no male-only refuge in the province.
Silverman says he’s disappointed to have to close the privately-run shelter, but added that without federal or provincial recognition and funding he can no longer afford to run it.
“I personally can’t afford to operate the safe house anymore,” Silverman said. “Family violence has gone from a social issue to only a woman’s issue. So any support for men is interpreted as being against women.”
The shelter, known as MASH, operated for three years, housing 15 men and two children who fled domestic abuse situations over that time, Silverman says.
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The problem with keeping it open, he says, has been getting the community counselling centres, committees and other outreach programs to recognize the need for such a shelter.
“I want men to be recognized and the service groups don’t want to admit there’s a problem,” Silverman said.
Silverman started Men’s Alternative Safe House after identifying a need in the province for male-centric services, he says. After fleeing an abusive relationship in the 1990s, Silverman says he saw first-hand that services for male victims of domestic abuse were severely lacking. Instead, there were programs for male perpetrators of violence. He started a helpline for men then and opened the house three years ago.
“It was a safe place. It gave men a chance to ground themselves and to figure out what their next step was,” he said. “That was what was provided to men, the opportunity to leave a violent situation, ground themselves and then figure out where they would go from there.”
One of those men was a male victim of female perpetrated domestic violence by the name of “Ken”, whose real name has been withheld. Ken says Men’s Alternative Safe House provided him with a safe place to stay while he tried to piece his life back together after leaving a domestic violence situation.
“I was abused for 10 years. Mostly mental and emotional, but there was a fair amount of physical abuse,” he said in an interview, adding the decision to finally leave came after his wife attacked him with a knife.
Leaving the situation was difficult, Ken adds, in part because of his two kids and also because of what he calls a lack of services specifically tailored to male victims of domestic violence offered by provincial agencies.
“None of the agencies in Edmonton ever said anything about [MASH]. All they ever told me was that they had nothing for me,” he said, adding he was told that getting a bed at the YMCA would take months.
“The services weren’t available at all.”
A spokeswoman with Alberta Human Services says there is programming available for men, including a provincial hotline for all victims of domestic abuse that offers resources and other supports.
“Regardless of gender it is still an issue that we’re continually striving to address,” said Cheryl Tkalcic. “Most of our services are available for males or females. Either gender that contact a shelter is provided with help and supports and resources.”
While no bed exists in Calgary for men, there is one in Strathmore in a women’s shelter that is available to men if it is not being used by a woman.
Tkalcic would not get into specifics about why the province rejected Silverman’s request for funding. She says the province does not fund all shelters and outreach programs and that decisions are made based on need, a solid business plan and the ability to provide services.
Local agencies, including Calgary Domestic Violence Committee and Peer Support Services, have stated in the past that male victims have not used their services as much as female victims.
Tkalcic pointed to Statistics Canada’s latest family violence report, which suggests that 30 per cent of all police reported family violence cases show men as victims. The province does recognize that men are victims of domestic abuse, she added.
“It’s built into our policies and planning. We want to make sure all services can be accessed by anyone who needs them regardless of gender, age or ethnicity,” Tkalcic said.
Silverman says that need has not been met. The numbers of male victims, he estimates, is much higher than reported statistics, but many are afraid to discuss their violent relationships.
“There are not too many men willing to come out and say they’ve been hit because there just isn’t the environment to allow men permission to talk about their abuse,” he said.
“Without a voice, there is no idea that there are male victims of domestic violence who need shelters. So it becomes a vicious circle.”
The house in which Men’s Alternative Safe House was based – Silverman’s home – has now been sold. He says he will still provide a pull-out bed at his condominium for any men who need it. He will also continue to operate the men’s helpline.
Ken says closing a needed service like the men-only shelter will have drastic effects for other men looking to leave domestic violence situations.
“MASH never got the support and the funding and help it needed to do anywhere near what its potential was. And that’s the real shame of it,” he said.
“MASH was an essential part of being able to at least survive. Without MASH I guess I could say I may have ended up dead.”