‘There is nowhere for us to go’: Domestic violence happens to men too (news.com.au)

June 10, 2016

The first time Nick’s* wife punched him in the face was because he hadn’t cleaned the bathtub properly.

“At the time I felt that it was my job to fix it,” Nick says, “the male mentality is often that you fix things.”

It was the year after they married and looking back, 45-year-old Nick can see the violence didn’t come out of the blue. His wife — we’ll call her Imogen — was continually picking aggressive verbal arguments with him over minor domestic things, such as how he’d pegged out the clothes on the clothesline.

“One minute she’s lying in a foetal position on the floor and the next, she’s screaming at you that you don’t pay enough attention or you’ve done something wrong,” he says.

Right from the outset, Nick says Imogen worked towards isolating him from his close-knit family.

“She had a very poor relationship with her family. And so she said, ‘Well I’ve cut off my family and you should do the same thing’.”

The violence perpetrated by Imogen isn’t constant. It comes in bursts and is especially bad when she starts drinking.

“I do believe that when she feels out of control, that the way for her to fix that is to try and control you. So there were periods where I’ve been beaten every couple of weeks and then it won’t happen for years,” Nick says.

Often violence against men is reactionary or not physical. But Nick’s case seems pretty clear cut.

Often violence against men is reactionary or not physical. But Nick’s case seems pretty clear cut.Source:istock

The last time Nick was assaulted was two years ago.

“I said I would like to go and have Christmas with my family for the first time in 24 years.

“She charged at me and pushed me into a wall and my head hit the doorframe,” he says.

Nick constantly worries about the level of violence his children have witnessed at home, and with good reason. Nick’s oldest son is currently suicidal. He’s flunking his final school exams.

“That’s the thing that I hate myself for now, is just the level of exposure,” he says.

“I did try and leave once. My wife was six months pregnant with our second child at the time and she tried to commit suicide.

“My son was two years old. And I put him in a car and we drove off. And she called me up and said that ‘I’ve taken a whole heap of sleeping tablets, come back immediately or else.’ And I just went into panic mode and came straight back.

In retrospect Nick says he “should have just called triple-0 and let her sort it out with the police or mental health crisis team, but I didn’t.”

“I just took it on the chin and got on with the job of being a dad,” he says.

After years of violent abuse, Nick says he once hit Imogen back.

“I slapped her in the face and I tried to restrain her from hitting me,” he says, explaining that his fingers left “some bruises on her wrist where my hand had been.”

“She said ‘If you ever do that again I’ll call the police. Look what you’ve done.’ And that was the last time I ever struck back,” Nick recalls.

In the past, Nick says he didn’t leave because his self-worth was completely eroded. These days he worries about other things, such as losing access to his children, finding safety and the financial cost of living elsewhere.

“There is nowhere for us to go. It’s not like I can just pick up the kids in the car and go to somewhere safe,” he says.

The story of male domestic violence victims is not one you often hear. But when news.com.au put a call out for blokes who were willing to share their experiences, we received 15 responses. Within these personal accounts, the impossibility of finding community support was a recurring theme.

Nick describes going to church one Easter after his wife had punched him so badly that he was bruised from the bottom of his eye down to his chin.

“I didn’t really want to go, but it was a large congregation and people just stared at me. And we do go to church regularly. I knew quite a few of the parishioners and nobody said a thing, they just ignored it. They just stared.”

When Nick reached out for support from his GP, she referred him to a counsellor, who promptly told him: “‘Men can’t be victims of domestic violence, not in the same way as women.’ And that was just absolutely devastating.”

Similarly, Nick says the only time he tried to take out an Apprehended Violence Order (commonly known as an AVO or in some states, a VRO) against his wife, police indicated he was the one who would be removed from the family home because “custody of the children should remain with the mother, unless she’s been violent towards the kids.”

Despite everything, Nick says he does still love his wife. Although the fear never goes away, she’s started seeing a psychologist and this makes him cautiously optimistic.

According to in-depth analysis of the ABS’ Personal Safety Survey (PSS) by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, approximately one in 12 men (694,100) reported experiencing at least one incident of violence by a female partner since the age of 15. This includes a cohabiting partner, girlfriend or female date.

In contrast, one in four women (2,194,200) reported experiencing at least one incident of violence by a male partner since the age of 15.

Sociologist Dr Michael Flood from the University of Wollongong has been looking at the issue of intimate partner violence for a decade and believes the PSS data only tells part of the story.

“[It] doesn’t tell us much about the history of that violence, about its impact, about its severity, whether it was reactive or defensive,” he says.

Dr Flood acknowledges that while cases like Nick’s do occur, domestic violence perpetrated by females is complex. He points to US research indicating women are more likely than men to perpetrate violence in self-defence. While conversely, he says men who perpetrate violence against women “are more likely to be doing so in controlling and coercive ways.”

This same research notes “the association between women’s IPV [intimate partner violence] and personal histories of child abuse, violence exposure, and substance abuse.”

Mereana, 55, is someone who openly admits to being a female perpetrator.

Mereana served two years in prison after biting someone’s ear off.

Mereana served two years in prison after biting someone’s ear off.Source:Supplied

She grew up in a violent household. From the age of five, she was regularly punched, kicked and hit until she blacked out.

“My father beat the s**t out of me. I think I got brain damage from that,” she says, “not just my father, by the way. My aunties and uncles as well.”

Her childhood was also marred by sexual abuse. None of this stuck her as unusual, until she came to live in Australia in 1982. She realised her upbringing was not what others considered “normal.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mereana’s first long-term relationship was one characterised by two-way verbal and physical abuse.

It’s 30 years ago and Mereana says she “can’t remember who took the first swing” but when he hit her, she hit him back.

“Retrospectively, we both had incredibly poor communication skills,” she says.

A decade later Mereana met a new partner. He belted her early in the relationship.

“We were kind of play-fighting and he hit me hard on the head. I said: ‘If you ever hit me again, I’ll kill you’.”

Within 12 months, she could see the writing on the wall. She describes an atmosphere of building “humiliation” and “resentment” within the relationship. He threw things at her when she didn’t want to have sex and tried to control her movements.

“All I was doing was putting all this money away so I could make a great escape, which I did. On the night that our son was born, I told him to p*ss off,” she says.

In 1999, Mereana’s son was handed back to her after an access visit by her ex-partner’s new wife.

Accounts differ about what happened next but Mereana claims she was hit from behind in the back of the head. Then, she says, “all hell broke loose and it was just a God-awful punch-up.”

Although she has no recollection of it, Mereana bit the woman’s ear off in the brawl and served two years in prison for grievous bodily harm.

During our conversation, Mareana repeatedly expresses her ongoing desire to work on her issues.

“No matter how f***ked up you are, no matter what has happened, you can still heal,” she says.

After getting out of prison, Mereana chose to see a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with clinical depression and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time, Mereana says she “laughed” and “just dismissed it as some white, middle class label.”

Now she takes it far more seriously. In recent years, Mereana has sought out personal self-development courses.

“I just got it, I thought: ‘I’m a bully’,” she says. In turn, this realisation led her to seek professional help for being violent. It wasn’t easy to come by.

“I had to go looking and digging to find someone to help me confront and dismantle my issues and work out my triggers. There’s no support for female perpetrators,” she says.

In part, she blames white middle class feminists for this, who she says have “protected the conversation” about domestic violence to the exclusion of “all those other voices.”

Finally, Mareana convinced a violent offenders’ counsellor at a local men’s support service to take her on as a client.

“I learned that I had been trained very early … to have to hardcore instincts and to defend myself either verbally or physically. I have never been safe,” she says.

Despite her best intentions, it’s been less than a year since Mereana hit her most recent partner. And for now, she’s determined to stay single.

“I don’t trust myself,” she says, “the way I deal with myself is to isolate myself and keep myself as safe as I possibly can.”

Dr Flood holds the view that men are only “a very small minority” of domestic violence victims. However, this stance is not supported by the One in Three Campaign, an organisation that advocates for male victims of domestic violence in Australia.

One in Three’s Greg Andresen says domestic violence against men is “a big problem and it’s a hidden problem, because men don’t just talk about it.”

“We’ve had Royal Commissions and inquiries at state and federal levels, and lots and lots of attention paid to this issue, but very little of that attention has been on men as victims,” he says.

As the name of his organisation suggests Mr Andresen believes that of family violence victims in Australia, approximately one third are male. He says this is demonstrated by numerous data sets listed on One in Three’s website.

“We also know that men are much less likely to come forward than women. So that one in three may actually be a lot higher,” he says.

In an expert brief provided to the ACTU, Dr Flood states One in Three’s claims are “both simplistic and misleading.”

While Dr Flood acknowledges One in Three’s efforts to get services and support for male victims, he believes the organisation has spent “at least as much effort trying to undermine campaigns to address violence against women.”

“I think that’s spectacularly misguided and does those male victims of violence a disservice,” Dr Flood says.

But Mr Andresen denies One in Three’s claims are misleading or that his organisation seeks to draw attention away from female victims.

“We’re here to advocate for male victims. However, we acknowledge that the majority of victims are women,” he says.

When it comes to numbers Mr Andresen says that in the end “it shouldn’t matter whether males make up a third of victims … or one per cent of victims.

“The facts are there are men who experience domestic and family violence and all victims should be able to access support for this issue.”

This is a view that all parties — including Dr Flood — seem to agree on.

The way Nick see it, society must “cast the net wider” when it comes to domestic violence.

“Unless we can step back from the idea of it being gendered or coloured or whatever else, and just see people in need … we’re not going to be effective in coming up with a solution,” he says.

*Nick’s name has been changed to protect his safety. news.com.au has seen documentation to verify his story.

If you’re a bloke who is impacted by family violence, call Mensline 24/7 on 1300 78 99 78 or visit www.mensline.org.au

You can also call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Ginger Gorman is an award winning print and radio journalist, and a 2006 World Press Institute Fellow. Follow her on twitter: @GingerGorman

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