What do you think of when you hear ‘domestic violence’? Up until quite recently, I would’ve imagined a man abusing a woman. It would be the first thing that came to mind. After researching domestic abuse I realised that, like the rest of society, my ignorance was bliss. The Oxford dictionary defines domestic violence as ‘Violent or aggressive behaviour within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner’.
It’s very easy to accept that men are always the perpetrators of domestic violence and women are always the victims, because that is what is reinforced in the media and in our culture. Men are seen as ‘strong’ and women are seen as ‘weak’, so when a man becomes a victim of domestic violence he is seen as weak, but because he isn’t a woman he isn’t a ‘victim’. This gender stereotype is damaging to both genders, and does nothing to help men who are in a crisis situation.
As an experiment to see what would come up, I typed ‘domestic violence Ireland’ into the Google search engine, and I looked at what the first 10 results on the page brought up. The first 3 results brought me to Women’s Aid and their related services which are centred on women only.
The 4th and 5th results were for SAFE Ireland, which had a cluttered home page full of posts centred on women being the victims of domestic abuse, with a particularly shocking banner boasting the phrase, ‘man up – don’t control or abuse women or children’, which doesn’t cover the fact that you shouldn’t abuse another man either. It also reinforces the idea that it is only ever a man that is the perpetrator, which is of course not true.
The 6th result was a link to the Irish Examiner and the title of the article was ‘Third of women suffer domestic violence’. The article featured a picture of a woman with a bruised face looking out a window and holding a phone. It listed figures and percentages of women and children being abused with no sign of male victims being mentioned.
The 7th result was a UNESCO study on Domestic Abuse in Ireland, which seemed to have a balanced and gender neutral approach to the study.
The 8th result was a link to Breaking News and the title of the article was ‘Review of domestic violence law could aid 20% of victims’. After reading the article, however, I thought the title should have been re-worded to ‘Review of domestic violence law could aid 20% of female victims’, as the article only portrayed men as the perpetrator, without acknowledging that men can and are victims of domestic violence as well. In fact, the picture accompanying the article solidified the tone of the piece, as it showed a man’s hand striking out and an obscure women who appeared to be protecting her head fleeing.
The 9th result brought me to Adapt Services and onto a post called ‘Dedicated Domestic Abuse/Violence Services Operating Around Ireland’. Below the title, there were 5 help organisations listed. These included the Mid-West Local Area Network on Violence against Women, SAFE Ireland, Rape Crisis Network Ireland, National Domestic Violence Helpline and One in Four. Out of these 5 organisations, 3 were specifically for women’s aid, one for men and women, and one that offered support for both genders.
The 10th and final result brought me to the news section on rte.ie. where the title of the post was ‘‘Director of SAFE Ireland says 11,000 women and children used their services’ The article discussed how domestic abuse was the most ‘under-reported, undocumented and un-prosecuted crime in the country’ and that the figures were horrific and sad, without mentioning anywhere that male victims of domestic abuse report it even less than women do. The article totally focuses on women and children being abused, and this is a perfect example of how the media has a hold over how people perceive things, as anyone reading the article is going to have the stereotype of women and children as victims and the idea that men are always perpetrators reinforced.
My goal in highlighting this clear, and probably unintentional bias, of the media is not to trivialise or lessen the tragic abuse that women and children suffer through every day. My aim is to raise awareness that domestic violence can happen to anyone, of any gender or age, and that there should be equal coverage for both genders so that men can get the help that is so clearly unavailable to them in our society.
Eager to find out more about the issue, I talked to Niamh Farrell, manager of Amen, an organisation for men suffering from domestic abuse in Ireland. They provide a confidential helpline, offer counselling, information and support services, and also provide court accompaniment for men with nobody else to turn to.
“There’s a big problem where men are not taken seriously when they report the domestic abuse. A man could go to the gardaí, social workers or GPs and they wouldn’t be believed, they are just laughed at. You’d hear a lot less of that now though, it’s getting better and people are believing men who have been abused more and more. Even social workers are contacting us now and they never used to do that.”
A 2005 survey by the National Crime Council found that 29% of women and 26% of men had suffered domestic abuse and 13% of women and 13% of men suffered physical abuse. Interestingly, 1 in 3 women report domestic abuse yet only 1 in 20 men report it.
“Men may not report it due to shame, embarrassment and denial that it happened. They don’t recognise the abuse and don’t look for help or they think that they’re at fault.”
According to Niamh, in 2012, there were 1250 new individuals contacting Amen for help. The organisation has been conducting annual reports since 2009 and in 2012 there was a 45% increase in overall numbers that contacted the service.
“Money brings more awareness because then campaigns can be funded; we do one every year and when you do the campaign you always get more people contacting the service. The main factors in changing things are money and education. If you educate people that it is common for a man to be abused as well as women, then society’s perception will change and see it as okay to seek help.”
Niamh Farrell wishes to set up a one day clinic in other counties and she says, “I have no doubt that they would be full. There isn’t a single male refuge in Ireland, not even in Northern Ireland. Many women’s refuges don’t let men inside the refuge so there’s nowhere for men to go when they need help. Sometimes certain refuges won’t even take boys in if they’re over a certain age, which is hard for a woman who doesn’t want to leave her kids just because they’re teenage boys.”
Many men end up sleeping rough or crashing at friends’ houses which is far from ideal, and only serves to lower their dignity and self esteem further. There is a need for a refuge for male victims in the country, though Niamh doesn’t think it’s going to happen soon. “If we were given access to a small pot of money that we could use to put men into emergency care and get them started off with, that would be great. A brand new facility isn’t going to happen soon but some sort of access to money to start off that process, to tide them over, would help greatly.”
“Sometimes the men we hear from are abused by their sisters or mothers, or other family members, but the majority are being abused by their partner. The average age of men seeking help here is 35, and it’s unusual to get men calling up who are under the age of 25, and generally that is about guardianship issues if they have had a child with someone and have split up.”
According to Niamh, the number of people that have turned up at the door seeking help has increased. “There used to be very little footfall, but from 2011 it went up. We want to get as many people in as possible because we can help better when we’re face to face.”
Clearly there is a need for male support networks; conditions won’t improve overnight but hopefully by spreading awareness about this issue and a change of attitude in society, it’ll be a start in recognising that men are not invincible and can easily be the victim of damaging abuse too.
If you are suffering from domestic abuse, whether you’re male or female, contact one of the organisations below for help and support:
- Amen helpline: 046 902 3718
- Women’s Aid helpline: 1800 341 900