No refuge for men

 

Men who are abused by their partners have very little support and often feel the legal system is against them

WHEN THE subject of domestic violence is mentioned, an image of a woman, beaten, bruised and cowering, comes to mind. The woman is the victim, powerless beneath the fist of her abusive partner. But in some relationships, the reverse is the reality. Some men are the recipients of emotional, physical and mental abuse, and they are often more trapped than their female equivalents.

A recent storyline on RTÉ’s Fair City resulted in an increase of about 20 per cent in the number of contacts to Amen, a helpline for male victims of domestic violence.

The popular soap featured a plot involving married couple Suzanne and Damien Halpin, played by Sarah Flood and Maclean Burke, in which Suzanne verbally, emotionally and physically abuses her husband.

According to Niamh Farrell, manager of Amen, as the abuse on the programme escalated, the contacts did too. The programme made some men recognise their own plight, she says.

“It was particularly important that the doctor in the programme acknowledged that what was happening was wrong. People think that if a doctor says it’s wrong, it must be wrong.”

The men made contact via the helpline, but also by e-mail. They complained their wives or partners had controlling behaviours such as hiding keys, medication, phones or wallets, they said they were subjected to unfounded accusations of infidelity and verbally demeaning comments. On the end of some e-mails men had written “don’t send me any post as she opens it”.

Some men were asked to lie to doctors about the cause of their injuries, Farrell says.

“Men trapped in domestic violence know if they hit back they will be portrayed as the perpetrator and will lose their home and children,” she says.

“They also often still love their wives and don’t want to hurt them.”

Brian (not his real name) first experienced domestic abuse when he was on honeymoon.

“She beat the s**t out of me on the honeymoon. It was very strange, it was all new to me,” he says. He didn’t know what to do, where to turn. He made excuses for his wife. She had a tough childhood, raised in a home where her mother was violent to her father, she didn’t know any better.

Over the 14 years of his marriage, he was kicked, punched, beaten and humiliated. He recalls one occasion when his wife threw a bottle of deodorant at him from their bedroom window as he stood in the street.

“I hate the smell of that,” she shouted after him. There was also continuous psychological abuse.

“I don’t know how many times I was accused of having affairs or told I was a big, fat, useless b****x. I believed for a long time it was all my fault. If you hear something so often and continuously, you believe it.”

In 2001, he went to see his wife’s psychiatrist looking for help. He was laughed at, he says.

By 2003, he would regularly find gardaí in his home when he came back from work. His wife would have called them complaining about him.

“I’d be a big fella, six foot one, and my wife could cry for Ireland, so as soon as the police saw her I hadn’t a hope. I was the perpetrator all the time,” he says.

“It wasn’t until I spoke to the superintendent and told him my story that I was believed. I told him I was the one being hit, having things thrown at me. He was the first person to listen.”

He was advised to speak to Amen. He got in touch with the charity and found support there, but he stayed in the marriage for the sake of his two children.

Then last October, the violence intensified. Brian was taken to Beaumont Hospital with 12 stab wounds.

“My wife told gardaí and the doctors they were self-inflicted,” Brian says. “The next day she moved out of the house and took the children.”

He tried to get her charged, but the medical report was inconclusive. The doctor said he couldn’t tell definitively if the injuries were self-inflicted or inflicted by a third party, although they were described as “typical of third party infliction”.

Brian’s wife subsequently moved into a refuge and took out a protection order against him. He has very little access to his children now and had to go to court last year to be allowed attend their communion and confirmation.

“I had to sit at the back of the church,” he says. “These are my babies, I cut their cords. I want to be able to see them. I would do anything to hug and kiss my kids goodnight.”

Psychotherapist Dr Michael O’Shea, who treats men and women who have been subjected to domestic violence, says the emotional scars experienced by male victims are similar to those experienced by female victims, but men may be more trapped in their situation than women.

“Like in women, there is a lack of confidence and feelings of self-worthlessness. Their confidence levels are eroded. What makes it different for men is that women have more control over child access. If he leaves the marriage, he may not get to see his children,” O’Shea says.

If a woman pushes a man, she has the same legal culpability as in the reverse, but it is not seen the same by society, he says.

Men who leave abusive relationships find themselves out of the family home, often without their children and fending for themselves.

They still have to provide for their family, but there is less support for them and, if they do talk, they may not be believed.

They also feel the legal system is weighted against them. “There is no such thing as a men’s refuge,” O’Shea says.


Anyone experiencing domestic violence should contact Amen on 046 9023718 or visit its website at amen.ie