We aim to publish meaningful stories of perseverance amidst mental health struggles.
When people hear the words “domestic abuse”, the first thing that tends to come to mind is of a man abusing a woman – normally in a physical way. Sadly, for many reasons, this image is as seemingly natural as thinking of the sky as blue, but there is more to this story…
Statistically, there does indeed appear to be a prominence towards women being victims (according to domestic violence charity Refuse, 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence in their lifetime), but do the stats truly reflect what is happening? Depending on where you look, such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), figures show that an estimated 695,000 men will experience domestic abuse each year. But that is just an estimate...
According to male domestic abuse charity Mankind Initiative, in a report titled “Male victims of domestic and partner abuse 35 key facts”, men are three times less likely to talk about the abuse they suffer than women. For these reasons, I believe it is possible that even more than the estimated 695,000 men suffer from domestic abuse each year.
Having worked in the domestic abuse field for just over 2 years directly as a support coordinator supporting male victims (and a few females) across Worcestershire, UK, I have heard so many different men share their stories with me, including details of the abuse they had been subjected to.
While listening to so many stories, one of the most noticeable things I found was that there are certain things that men will easily identify as being abuse, and most commonly these are physical in nature: from scratching, kicking and biting, up to the extremes of using weapons, or being doused in boiling water.
However, many didn’t recognise the other aspects that are still classed as abusive – psychological or emotional abuse.
This is particularly alarming because evidence from agencies that support male victims (such as in the ManKind Initiative report mentioned above) show that, by far, emotional and psychological abuse are the main reasons that the men who do access support do so.
Looking closer at the emotional and psychological abuse suffered by men, one of the most common examples are ‘name calling’ and ‘put downs’.
On the surface you may think that this is nothing, but imagine yourself in a position where you are experiencing these 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Imagine how that would feel over a period of months – let alone the several years that most victims will endure.
For example, it could include seemingly little things, like a partner saying, “Don’t you think you should lose a few pounds? It’s starting to get a little embarrassing being seen with you”. However, several small statements can become part of a larger tactic involving chipping away at a partner’s self-esteem, until they are a mere shell of the person they used to be. Hearing the above repeatedly can lead to body dysmorphia or a complete lack of self-worth and/or self-love. Eventually, the abused becomes under the complete control of the abusive partner.
It is undeniable that this behaviour is totally unacceptable, whether exhibited towards a woman or a man, and yet quite often men who experience this abusive behaviour are expected to “man up”, or “take a joke” – in short, it’s sadly often not taken seriously. The stigma of appearing weak or “unmanly” can lead to serious eating disorders and other grave mental health issues.
Having worked with male victims, I can say that this is all sadly more common than anyone might think.
Certainly, during my work with male abuse victims, another tactic or behaviour that I have witnessed as a form of control or abuse is the use of children as “weapons” or “bargaining chips”.
Often, one of the main reasons that men stay in abusive relationships is for their children – the threat of losing contact is a fear that so many face. Of course, this obviously doesn’t only negatively influence the emotional and mental well-being of the men that have to face this, but also of the children themselves…
The emotional abuse from name-calling mentioned earlier might also take part, with the victim being called a useless father, perhaps – and in so many cases, the children are encouraged to join in… Again, the perpetrator will use guilt as a tactic to keep their partner in the relationship by saying that they could not cope without him, meaning that the children would suffer if he chose to leave [read: remove himself from an abusive situation].
No good father wants to see their children suffer and considering that it is unlikely he could leave with them – due to a legal system that typically avoids splitting mother from child – what other option does he have but to remain and be abused?
Most of the cases I have worked on have been after my patient has left the relationship and is either currently in a battle to gain contact with his children or are suffering as a result of restrictive measures put in place during contact.
The problem is that in the majority of cases, the UK legal system (as well as many others around the world) most often gives custody of the children to the mother by default – and when that person is the perpetrator, this is giving ultimate power and control into the wrong hands.
Any slight “transgression” could halt contact: things like new relationships, or mental health struggles, (which is especially concerning when the perpetrator is the main cause of those mental health issues), meaning that the father often has to start the whole process again and again.
“Hand-overs” can be a constant flash point for abuse as well, I’ve been told by my patients, because as the fathers collect or receive their children, they have no protection against the barrage of abuse many of them have to face. I worked on a case, for instance, where the mother would block the entrance to the house until she had finished her tirade of abuse before handing the children over. This happened on a weekly basis.
There are many strategies out there that provide good efforts towards protecting victims of abuse, such as the “Strategy to End Violence Towards Women and Girls 2016 to 2020”, for example, which is undeniably an important policy, however, the lack of understanding (and of reporting) about how men receive domestic abuse means the same level of effort isn’t being achieved for men and boys.
This is why I have dedicated my time to male domestic abuse victims, and continue to campaign, educate about, and work for better provisions for men.
Statistics, such as reported ‘here’ by Mental Health Foundation, show that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 49 in the UK, as well as one of the leading causes of death in males aged 16 to 24 in the LGBT community. There is some evidence from research papers and projects, such as compiled by Dr Elizabeth Bates of University of Cumbria, to suggest that there are very real connections between suicide, mental health and domestic abuse.
What those connections are specifically is hard to determine – even with the many commonalities we can identify, every case is remains unique… However, I am convinced that the distinct lack of services for male victims, coupled with the lack of understanding about the many ways men can receive physical, emotional and psychological abuse, contribute to high levels of mental health struggles and suicide, alike.
Mankind Initiative does provide a much-needed lifeline for male domestic abuse victims, offering advice and guidance, but relies purely on donations from individuals and companies to raise the £45,000 a year needed to fund the helpline. They currently receive no government funding.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MofHCL) – which in 2018 pledged £18.8 million to domestic abuse services – have stated that they recognise men can be victims of domestic violence, but that women are much more likely to be so. This links back to an earlier point of mine, that how we collect statistics (and that men are less likely to report or even recognise domestic violence) needs to be addressed in order to ensure adequate services for male victims. The MofHCL assert that the “Government is determined to ensure that no victim of domestic abuse is turned away from the support they need”.
Awareness and education, then, is key.
All of the above and more is what led to the creation of my book “Break the Silence”, which is a support guide and educational tool for male domestic abuse victims. My aim is to raise awareness of what domestic abuse is and the tactics used by perpetrators of abuse, so men can understand and identify abusive situations.
I myself have experienced domestic abuse and like so many other men out there didn’t see it for what it was. I faced criticism for anything I did, and I experienced the small seemingly innocuous attacks on my personal appearance mentioned earlier: “You’ve let yourself go, it’s embarrassing”. I’m also one of many that was left with a mountain of debt that I didn’t incur in the first place.
When I considered my own experiences, and of those that so many other men have shared with me, I knew that I needed to do something more to try and lift the lid on so many silent victims.
My initial hope is that Break the Silence, reflecting my continued drive to raise awareness to everyone in society, will begin the conversations about how men can receive domestic abuse. It is about giving a voice to all domestic abuse victims – initially to men, as the level and breadth of support is not adequate. Yes, there are several helplines (that are for many quite literally lifelines), but there is also a real lack of face-to-face services available, and those that exist are stretched thin. It’s about giving a platform for those who campaign to government to change the way domestic abuse is viewed – as a crime against all.
I consider myself to be lucky. I have been able to move on with my life, to meet my wife who has redefined for me what a healthy relationship is, and who supports my campaign to help so many other men that suffer in silence.
If anything written here rings true with you, you too could be a victim.
Break the Silence can help; within its pages it explores the importance of ‘safety planning’ (which is advice and guidance for staying safe in the relationship during, whilst leaving, and after). It also details what services there are available to help and support you, including all the legal options that there are to be accessed.
Abuse is abuse, regardless of what gender you are, regardless of your sexuality.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a male victim I once worked with: “People see domestic abuse as physical violence towards another. I would have preferred this, as scars can heal. But the effects on my mental health – from the emotional abuse I experienced – could last a lifetime”.