The plight of male victims of domestic abuse

10 Feb

PSNI poster for Domestic Abuse help

When you hear the words ‘Domestic violence’ what do you picture? A woman being beaten by a man? A child living in terror of an overbearing father figure? A woman with bruised face, cowering indoors afraid to upset an unstable male partner?

Recently the BBC News reported on warnings that ‘Men need more help‘ with regards to domestic violence. The article cites statistics from Belfast-based Mens Advisory Project (MAP) which have seen an increase in numbers helped through the organisation from 294 in 2013 to 536 in 2015.

We now seem to live in a society that automatically thinks of domestic violence as something which is perpetrated solely by men, and nearly always against women. Men have become increasingly demonised with sweeping generalisations which automatically set up a gendered prejudice when we hear of troubles in relationships.

A grossly misleading and gender-biased column by Frances Ryan in The Guardian just a month ago is typical of the weighted phrasing:

“The biggest danger for a so-called civilised society is to convince itself domestic violence is inevitable – that women will always be beaten, raped or killed (often in their own homes) and that there’s just not much the state can do.”

The article repeatedly voices concern about the (very real) abuse suffered by women and children in the domestic setting, but ignores any mention of men other than as perpetrators. This isn’t a unique situation. When ‘Clare’s Law’ was announced, much of the news headlines were worded such as to suggest that it allowed women to check on whether their male partners had violent pasts, rather than more accurately advising the public that it allowed anyone to check into their partners’ histories (thus accepting the reality that not all relationships are heterosexual, and not all abusers are men).

While I have no wish to belittle the fear that many women experience through abusive relationships, they aren’t alone.

Domestic violence, and more widely domestic abuse (including the various forms of psychological abuse, coercive control and other abuses) is something that can happen to anyone, irrespective of age, gender, orientation or social class.

Organisations like MAP and Refuge are badly needed for those caught in the abuse cycles. But while women’s organisations receive headlines and vocal support, men’s groups – which are thinner on the ground – often go overlooked. Men are more likely to suffer in silence, mostly through fear. Typically men appear to be physically larger, stronger, more dominant than their female partners. How likely is it that they are the ones to be struck rather than striking? There is a fear for many that they wont be believed. The judicial system simply doesn’t know how to deal with instances of men raped by women, conviction is highly unlikely. Most men simply don’t report what’s happening to them. Of those that do, a tiny percentage actually follow through with reports or charges, and those that do seek help from counsellors often don’t show up.

The statistics reflect reported instances of abuse, not the level of abuse that actually occurs, and I strongly suspect that the true figure is much higher. Women’s Aid suggest that 90% of domestic abuse is perpetrated by men. The NHS suggests that 4% of men are on the receiving end of domestic abuse each year. In 2013 the Belfast Telegraph reported PSNI statistics that showed 25% of domestic violence incidents that year were against men – itself a 41% increase in number of incidents in a decade.

It would seem that the statistics support an idea that more men are coming forward and reporting incidents. Though this is likely still the tip of the iceberg.

I am one of the statistics. The MAP organisation is just one of several that came to my aid as I struggled to come to terms with my own long-term experiences of abuse. It took several years from my first search online for help to actually contact anyone. I had MAP’s details stored in my computer for months before I made a call and set up an appointment – which I then had to cancel. It took several more months for me to call again and set up my first appointment proper.

MAP weren’t the first (or the last) organisation I’d spoken to. But they have provided a vital lifeline for me, and much needed counselling and advice. I transitioned from the depths of despair to a status of normality over many many months with their help. I was finally able to talk to someone about my entire story, about details that I’d overlooked or buried when I first turned to official channels. Their work, and the work of organisations like them is crucial. They help men like me from being a silent statistic, they give us some power, some understanding, and a vital safe space.

For help:
Mens Advisory Project
Women’s Aid
NI Direct pages on Domestic Abuse


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