Invisible Men: The Forgotten Side Of Domestic Abuse

1 in 3 cases of domestic abuse are reported by men, yet there is a massive stigma attached to reporting it. A recent front-page news story has put it back on the agenda...
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1 in 3 cases of domestic abuse are reported by men, yet there is a massive stigma attached to reporting it. A recent front-page news story has put it back on the agenda...

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Domestic abuse is commonly viewed as a female-victim male-perpetrator problem, but statistics tell us a different story. One in three victims of domestic abuse will be male.  The social stigma for male victims of domestic abuse makes seeking help for victims difficult. But when an article on the subject makes mainstream media, the helpline at charity Mankind Initiative is inundated with phone calls, says Pat Moffat, the awareness coordinator and helpline trainer ofsaid charity.

Pat’s background is working with female victims of domestic abuse, but has turned her focus to male victims after she saw a post advertised and realised it was also a social problem that needed attention. She reflects on the progress she’s seen in awareness for male victims. “At one time awareness was appalling, if you were a male victim you just didn’t report it because it was too embarrassing” she says. “In a nutshell, where we are with male victim services is probably where Women’s Aid were 25 years ago, but the Women’s Movement didn’t move along at 100 miles an hour; it was very slow.” This illustrates a real divide between the two groups, but as Mark Brooks, chairman of Mankind Initiative says. “There really is a lot to do before we see equality in support and awareness for victims of both genders.”

The issue of domestic abuse is not only a problem in heterosexual relationships; the number of gay or bi-sexual men who suffered domestic abuse in 2008/09 is nearly double the number of heterosexual men.

Harry McNapp is an articulate 43-year-old English teacher, 5ft 9”, medium build, who decided two years ago to join an online dating agency. The woman he met online was 5ft 4” Jenny, equally intelligent, and they embarked on a relationship that seemed budding and normal. “Things started off really good, but after six months things started to go badly wrong,” He says. “She fell pregnant pretty soon on into the relationship and I found out she had some addiction problems which I didn’t know about.”

In a nutshell, where we are with male victim services is probably where Women’s Aid were 25 years ago

It prevailed that Jenny was a recovering alcoholic who had suffered from mental health problems and Harry felt he became a vent for her anger, which started when he discovered she was tracking his movements. “I found tracking software on my computer, which tracked my Internet use, my email accounts, and my bank accounts.”

Harry initially thought that Jenny’s actions were a product of her hormones due to her pregnancy. It’s around that time their normal-seeming relationship started to become a burden for Harry. “It built very gradually, but after the baby was born is when it became a real problem.” He says.

Harry has a son from a previous marriage, and Jenny repeatedly smashed displayed photos of his son, and social network sites were a real problem. “Facebook became a big issue, she was spending hours going through profiles and backtracking on there to before we met, and having a fit over general conversations I’d had with people.” He says.

“She took my laptop and poured water into it, she’d lock me in the house and take my house and car keys, and she told my sons mother that she was going to get me killed by one of her ex-partners.” Harry goes on to liken his situation to the protagonist from the 1990’s film, Misery. “Three months after the baby was born I was so worn out by the emotional attacks. I contracted Swine Flu, was house-bound, and she wouldn’t get the medication for me. It was like the filmMisery, that’s exactly how I felt.”

The parallels are easy to see - a man becoming increasingly weak, bed-bound and having no contact with the outside world. “The more ill I got the worse her behavior got towards me. She’d smash my things up and make constant threats of me losing custody over our daughter. It ended up at that point where I locked myself in the bathroom and called my parents to come and get me,” he says. “The day after, when my parents came to pick me up - she pretended to have an overdose.” He pauses. “She made allegations to my son’s mum of me being physically abusive. She called the police and told them that I was blackmailing her to get custody of our daughter, which was complete fiction; and actually what she was doing.”

"she’d smash my things up and make constant threats of me losing custody over our daughter. It ended up at that point where I locked myself in the bathroom and called my parents to come and get me”

The police as an institute have a poor record of dealing with male victims of domestic abuse, often resulting in the male being taken away, and arrested as the suspected perpetrator despite calling the police for help. “I was getting very threatening phone calls from an investigating officer,” says Harry, who was warned that if he resisted communication or arrest at any point then an officer would come into Harry’s classroom to arrest him.

Harry’s job as a teacher relies on him having a clean Criminal Record Bureau check (CRB), so it was an increasingly worrying time for Harry. He couldn’t trust the police, as their preconceived idea of domestic abuse: male-perpetrator; female-victim scenario was quite set, and he didn’t feel he could tell his friends; as he feared social ridicule. The emotional strain on him meant that he was advised to leave his role as “a high-flying head teacher” of a primary school.

While Harry’s abuse was unreported, Ian McNhicoll made headline news when his ordeal ended in 2008 after suffering a year of domestic abuse. It started for him three months into his relationship.

“I was sat in the front room, and she asked me a question about a previous relationship and I laughed thinking she was joking, she walked over saying ‘I’ve got a fuckin’ right to know’, picked up a baseball bat and cracked me across the face with it,” says Ian. “I just didn’t know what to do; I realised then that I’d become cut off from everybody - completely cut off from the outside world.”

The clear theme for victims of domestic abuse is the feeling of isolation, which is illustrated in both cases. Ian explained to me that he feels lucky to be alive after one particular incident. “She attacked me with this metal bar and I was completely out-of-it. I can’t tell you how many times she hit me with it, but from the tips of my fingers to my shoulder, my arm was the colour of a plum.”

Ian decided to take his girlfriend to court, and she received a total prison sentence of 18 years, for three counts of ABH (Actual Bodily Harm) and two counts of GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm).  He then contacted publicist Max Clifford as Ian felt that his case should be heard. “I sent him an email and he rang me personally, and I said to him, ‘if that was a human being doing it to an animal, you’d get all these animal rights cranks and the RSPCA going ballistic.”

Recent figures from the British Crime Survey show that only 10% of male victims have told the police

Ian’s case made front-page news in The Sun, “it was like a freeze moment in time, when I saw my own face on the front of the paper. It really was a surreal moment.”

Recent figures from the British Crime Survey show that only 10% of male victims have told the police (29% of female victims), 4% of have told a health professional (19% of female victims), 19% have told someone in authority (44% of women), and 28% of male victims and 13% of female victims have not told anyone they are a victim.

The overt differences between Harry and Ian’s cases are obvious, but domestic abuse isn’t just physical, or mental, and both can be equally damaging to either gender of any sexuality.

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