I WAS heartened by Sir Stephen House's comments about the urgent need to rethink the criminal justice response to those who perpetrate domestic abuse ("Police urge overhaul in treatment of domestic abuse cases",The Herald, October 14).

My recent review of more than 400 academic, policy and practitioner texts on domestic abuse experienced by trans, bi, gay and heterosexual men established that there are significant barriers facing male victims who seek help. For example, a significant proportion of men in mixed-sex relationships do not want their abusive partner arrested and prosecuted and their care for the interests of their children is such that they do not want to risk their children's relationship with their mother being undermined by inappropriate state action whether by police, courts or social workers. There is also evidence that men in same-sex relationships may be reluctant to report the abuse they experience for fear of a lack of understanding towards themselves but also a fear of how homophobia might affect the treatment of their abusive partner.

The biggest problem, however, is what researchers call the "public story" of domestic abuse, that is that in the political, policy and academic debate domestic abuse is constructed as "violence against women" by male partners. This has been shown to have a significant negative impact on those in same-sex relationships to the point where victims of signifi­cant domestic abuse cannot even acknowledge to themselves that what is happening to them is abuse, let alone be confident in seeking help because their relationship, by definition, does not include a male perpetrator and female victim. This is all the more true for men who experience domestic abuse in mixed-sex relationships; the toxic effect of sexism and hegemonic forms of masculinity makes their help-seeking all the more difficult.

The Scottish Government spokes­man's comment is part of the problem, not because he highlights the welcome increase in funding for responses to violence against women but because he presents funding for violence against women initiatives as the appropriate response to domestic abuse; he therefore contributes to the "public story" which marginalises male victims and their children.

The current approach is clearly failing male victims of domestic abuse in mixed-sex and same-sex relationships and also the children who are affected by this abuse. It is also failing those women who abuse their partners in mixed-sex or same-sex relationships.

Brian Dempsey,

Lecturer, School of Law, University of Dundee.