Breda O’Brien: Domestic violence – men are victims too

We need a second report on sexual abuse and violence in Ireland – and we must act on it

‘Being a male who experiences domestic violence is doubly stigmatising, because it is seen as emasculating, and because people are frankly sceptical that women can inflict damage on men in the same way.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘Being a male who experiences domestic violence is doubly stigmatising, because it is seen as emasculating, and because people are frankly sceptical that women can inflict damage on men in the same way.’ Photograph: Getty Images

 

Simone George, a solicitor and researcher, chose to introduce a report on domestic abuse in Ireland with an unusual image – a box of shoes. Sitting in a women’s refuge, waiting to interview a woman, she was puzzled by a clear plastic box containing all sorts of shoes.

Suddenly it hit her. Some women are so terrified for their lives, and for the lives of their children, that they leave their homes barefoot.

Safe Ireland is the national representative for 40 domestic violence support services in Ireland, and it commissioned the report, The Lawlessness of the Home.

It involves qualitative research: in-depth interviews with 13 women, and extensive research on Irish and international legal frameworks and perspectives on domestic violence.

There are lots of telling details about abusive relationships. For example, there is an account of a man who fills his wife’s petrol tank with a pint bottle so that he can control how far she drives.

There are disturbing stories of abusers’ cruelty towards animals. One child did not want to visit his father because he was so upset by how his father beat his dog. Despite the fact that animal abuse has been linked to personality disorders, some professionals who had seen these warning signs ignored them.

There are administrative failures. In the report, a domestic violence service provider claims that nine out of 10 women think they have made an official statement to a garda, just because he or she took everything down in a notepad.

It is only when they are asked later whether it was written out, signed and dated, and whether they were asked to swear that everything in it was true, that they realise no official statement has been made.

Then there are the courts which have no office or printer. So the court might issue a safety order, but there is no means of printing it.

A husband or partner then breaches that order but when the woman reports it to the Garda Síochána, there is no record of it. A week might pass before a copy of the order can be obtained, thus causing further delay and danger to the woman.

Double stigma

However, I think it is a pity that not even one man was included in the 13 narratives.

A male who experiences domestic violence is doubly stigmatised, because the situation is seen as emasculating, and because people are sceptical that women can inflict serious damage on men.

While women are usually physically weaker, it does not meant they cannot inflict damage. For example, in one case reported by the BBC, a woman poured a jug of boiling water over her husband, leaving him permanently scarred.

This is not to suggest that as many men as women are affected by severe physical abuse.

Abuse figures

National Crime Council

“One man in 25 has experienced severe physical abuse, one in 90 has experienced sexual abuse in a relationship and one in 37 has experienced severe emotional abuse. These figures show that while the risk to women is higher, domestic abuse is something that also affects a significant number of men. The survey suggests that in the region of 213,000 women and 88,000 men in Ireland have been severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives.”

Why are so many people being assaulted, abused and controlled in their own homes?

Don Hennessy, author of How He Gets Inside Her Head, controversially suggests male perpetrators are like paedophiles, in that they consciously target and groom their intended victims, but in this instance, choose kind and altruistic women who will put the male’s needs first.

While that may be true of some men, are there over 200,000 men in Ireland who fit this description? Or is the problem due to too much societal tolerance for crimes like alcohol-fuelled abuse? “Sure he was drunk – he didn’t mean it.”

Domestic violence often includes sexual abuse. One thing this report reinforced for me is the need for a second Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report. The last one is 13 years old.

With alarming reports emanating from universities regarding the inability of students even to recognise, much less report, sexual violence, and reports from Rape Crisis Centres of sexual assaults being filmed and uploaded to the internet, we need up-to-date research more than ever.

But research is useless if not acted upon. Creating a society where sexual, physical and emotional violence is completely unacceptable won’t happen just because we’d like it to.

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