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When men become victims of abuse


Illustration: Jamie Smetkowski

December 30, 2013

Domestic violence is more common over the Christmas break, fuelled by alcohol consumption, family tension and financial issues. A small but significant number of the victims are men, writes Mark White.

Jamie*, a minister of religion in his 60s, spent his 36-year marriage "walking on egg shells". He'd had a very controlling childhood where he'd been told to do the opposite of what he felt was right.

"That's partly why I fell in love with my wife," he says. "She reminded me of my mother." Within weeks of their 1971 wedding, she was throwing things at him, screaming she hated him, walking out and saying she would never come back. "I was far away from where my parents lived, and I thought I would be kicked out of the seminary if the marriage broke down," he says. "So I felt trapped. I just tried to work inside the system, keep things calm. Once the children started arriving, it was too late."

The blow-ups happened once a month at the start, but were almost daily by the end. "I was trying to hang in there," he says.

But 36 years seems a long time to hang in. "Guys can run away to work. I did a lot of running away to work. At home … I did a lot of numbing out."

About 10 years ago, she got on top of him in bed and started hitting him - windmilling at him, screaming that she hated him and that she hoped he would go to hell. He had never told anyone what had been happening - he's marked off dozens of items on a domestic violence checklist, including financial control, using sex for favours, limiting his freedom, pinning him on the floor, kicking the pets, humiliating him, putting him down in front of the children, bagging him to friends and colleagues - but the next day, on his regular morning walk with a pastor friend, that changed.

He started crying and spoke up. ''I love you,'' his friend said, ''I support you, but this is on some weird planet.'' Jamie felt ashamed; men are supposed to be able to take care of themselves, and he was letting a woman beat up on him.

Uncovering the staggering depth of brutality women used to be subject to at home without question - and denouncing it - is one of the signature civilising social movements of the past 40 years. To this day, women are more likely to be severely injured, assaulted or killed at home. But are a smaller but significant number of men victims of domestic violence, too? And are they falling through the cracks?

''Reactionary, traditionalist, conservative, chauvinist, wanting to put women back in the kitchen, like I'm some sort of right-wing homophobic misogynist woman-hater who wants to take away everything feminism has achieved," says Greg Andresen - head of the One in Three campaign aimed at raising awareness of family violence against men - running through names he's been called. He starts chortling. "It hurts to be called that stuff, especially when you look at all of our actions, all of our campaign material, everything we've done - there's not a skerrick of that in any of it." The campaign takes its name from a 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey that found 29.8 per cent of the victims of current partner violence since the age of 15 were male. Andresen believes the current thinking that domestic violence is 90-95 per cent men against women is wrong.

We think men are bigger and stronger, and can inflict more damage in a fight. Indeed, he agrees women are more likely to suffer systemic, continuing abuse, but argues other forms of abuse such as social isolation and emotional abuse can be "equally as controlling and as debilitating for the victim because they feel equally as trapped. There's somebody curtailing their freedom in these ways and you don't need to hit someone to do that. Women can do that just as much as men."

So, does One in Three's "29.8 per cent" mean one in three men is a victim of the headline bashings we associate with domestic violence and women? No, it doesn't. It reports incidents of partner violence - violence that's domestic, rather than ''domestic violence'' - which can be a one-off slap or months of unrelenting, one-sided abuse.

Still, a man slapping a woman isn't culturally acceptable, so should the opposite be?

Relationships counsellor Toni McLean worries abusive relationships can teach children the wrong way to resolve conflict. Research shows abuse can be transmitted down the generations. "We need to shift our focus from women victims of partner violence to victims of partner violence, and provide resources for dealing with all victims and all perpetrators. Children suffer regardless of which parent is violent," McLean says.

After reading a few studies you feel like you're watching a heavily annotated bunfight between researchers trying to show women are the overwhelming victims and others trying to show men are copping it just as badly.

"The problems are that the different definitions and research methodology researchers use, plus the reluctance of men to report, lead to different findings," says Professor Alfred Allan, from Western Australia's Edith Cowan University, who co-wrote a 2010 report, Intimate Partner Abuse of Men.

Says sociologist Dr Michael Flood, from the University of Wollongong: "There are heated debates among various advocates addressing domestic violence.'' Flood criticises One in Three for not focusing on the wider issue of men's violence against men. Neither does he believe "there are tens of thousands of men out there living in fear of their female partners and not being able to access services".

Yet even if women make up 90 per cent of all prolonged coercive domestic violence cases, then so do several thousand Australian men.

"The question of men experiencing violence is one that hasn't really been discussed," says Randal Newton-John, at MensLine, the national telephone counselling service. "It's generally seen as only happening to women.''

There is no doubt from MensLine's experience that ''we receive calls from men who are experiencing violence. Really, the important thing is to those men, how do they receive the help that they need to deal with that situation?" Police don't always believe complaints of domestic violence against men.

ACT teacher Ross Burdon, 54, has a DVO out against his ex-wife, who he met in the Philippines. When they fought, police would arrest him - charges would be dropped or defeated in court. He went to police with a complaint. ''They said, 'She's a woman and how big are you?'.'' He showed them a video he had taken of her holding a frying pan. She had bashed holes in the door. She used to throw things, smash doors, once tried to hit him on the head with a pot plant. ''We could be in the same room, her anger escalating and I knew- she knew it, too - that if she called the police there would be problems for me.''

Then there is social isolation. Nothing NSW teacher Matthew* did was right, from mixing cordial to putting sunscreen on his two children. His wife would say he was strange and embarrassing. She didn't want to be seen in public with him. He started to believe there was something wrong with him. He would escape verbal abuse by sleeping in his car and sneaking home at 5am to get clothes to take to a local pool for a shower and a shave before work. "I was scared to stay in the house and too scared to return until I thought it was safe."

Bill* had been told for 18 months he was lazy - he couldn't work following a viral infection - and no one wanted to be near him. Police advised him to think about leaving the house after a row in which his wife of 12 years bit his wrist to the bone.

He thought he had nowhere to go, so he slept in his van for six weeks. There was a sports field in Camden, a river in Campbelltown, at a park, sometimes out at Bargo. Occasionally he'd stay at a servo because they had free showers. When the weather was really bad, an underground car park. One day Bill felt suicidal, and called the DoCS domestic violence hotline. The woman who answered told him only men abuse women. Mates rolled their eyes and said ''man up''.

Jamie was the only man in a discussion group at an Anglicare-run domestic abuse seminar in the 1980s. He was told if he treated his wife with respect then she wouldn't act like that.

Will*'s first relationship was coloured by growing up in a home where both parents were violent - he didn't know about healthy relationships, so when he moved in with a 40-year-old man as a 22-year-old the control was there from the start. He had to have sex whether he wanted to or not. He woke up several times a week to a kick in the face. He'd leave and always come back. One time the ex tried to brain him with a VCR. He didn't want to go to a hospital. He was ashamed of what had happened. He had mixed feelings about his mother staying in her abusive marriage, and here he was doing the same thing.

Melbourne psychologist Elizabeth Celi says there are three misconceptions about male victims: that men must be aggressors, they can take it because they're bigger, and that they must have done something to deserve it. "This is a gross injustice to a man on the receiving end of abusive and violent behaviour, as it simultaneously invalidates his experience while blaming him for the damaging words and behaviour coming his way," she says.

"We would never do this to female victims, yet it seems OK for male victims to be subjected to it."

Emma, a Sydney hospitality worker in her 30s, once broke an ex-boyfriend's nose. She left home at 14 and grew up on the streets, where she had to fight to survive. And so when she started a relationship - and she was only ever attracted to men she knew would never hit her - they would become her family, her everything.

Her violence would be triggered by coming down off strong drugs, as well as a cyclical hereditary depression - once a week, once a month. She would break things, throw things, lash out, punch, knowing they'd never touch her.

A 2012 NSW government report on domestic violence trends found "while men are less likely to be victims, the experience of those that are is equally as bad as that of other victims" - and that services for them are lacking. Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack wants more money aimed at addressing the causes of anger - and early intervention to empower men and women with tools to stop abuse. "I would love to see that non-judgmental, ideology-free support available to all victims, male and female," she says.

In NSW and Victoria, the main domestic violence lines are for women.

Men are referred elsewhere, including MensLine, and in Victoria, to the Men's Referral Service, which is designed to stop aggressive behaviour by men. "The vast majority of men contacting us as victims are most likely the perpetrator," says executive officer Danny Blay.

Newton-John says: "It's not easy for men to approach health services at the best of times. Men need to wait for a crisis. If they're on the receiving end of violence it might throw up questions about their masculinity and whether they deserve help. They do, but they question it."

Other countries have set up men's refuges. The Netherlands began a trial program in 2008 in its four biggest cities, with 10 places in each. They are used by victims, men beaten by their children or stalked, and young gay men from immigrant cultures. Adrie Vermeulen, co-ordinator of the Utrecht shelter, says that when it opened, most victims were Turkish or Moroccan, although there are now more Dutch. "We take them in our care and try to make a new future for them." Physical injuries are easier to spot and prosecute. But relentless verbal abuse can also damage. Studies have shown emotional pain lasts longer than physical pain.

The definition of domestic abuse in Britain now includes psychological intimidation - nothing but good news for anyone, female or male, at the receiving end.

"We get a lot of calls talking about emotional, psychological and verbal abuse," Newton-John says. "It's sometimes very insidious and difficult to understand personally the impact it's having, because you're not seeing broken bones or black eyes."

Recognising male victims doesn't mean dishonouring any female victims or redirecting resources. It can help reduce family violence further.

Matthew emailed to say he'd called the police to try to resolve an access issue and was directed to a domestic violence liaison officer. "She offered me a referral to counselling for victims of crime. I broke down crying. It made me feel like my perspective that I had been a victim had been validated by someone within the system."

A 2008 study of Australian students who were dating found 14 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women perpetrated physical violence, with 64.9 per cent engaging in mutual violence.

Men made up about 40 per cent of British domestic violence victims each year from 2004-05 to 2008-09.

In gender and domestic and family violence incidents recorded by NSW Police in 2010, 34 per cent of victims were male and 30 per cent of perpetrators were female.

In the US 2010 National Intimate Person and Sexual Violence Survey, one in seven men reported they had experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

The number of women prosecuted for domestic violence in Britain rose from 1575 in 2004-05 to 4266 in 2008-09. 

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Reader Comments (6)

Males are easy targets for predatory women. Especially those brought up to be protective of females and that is to say most of the male population. As soon as we can get rid of the Danny Blays of the world, the better the world will be. It seems upholding stereotypes pays the bills and Mr Blay's comments support the growing use of systemic and legal avenues for women who abuse males knowing they will never be accountable.

December 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkarlos

This story is almost identical to my marriage, except my wife was violent to the kids as well. I have PTSD and brain trauma injury as a result of her violence and at no stage did I ever retaliate, because I would than be arrested. She is a drunk and to this day still drives while drunk, but if it's reported to police nothing is done.

Still fifty years after I divorced her she still torments my daughters through her children. Yet, people say that the male has driven her to it. I've tried to get this problem addressed through The Men's Shed on Line, Jeff Kennett, various other self help agencies and support groups, yet all they do is 'counsel' me for my alleged problems. It's always the fault of the man. What can we do to revers this?

December 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBlanik

This is what women call equality, when they think they can use violence against men but think its only wrong when violence is against them. They are hypocrites.

December 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid


A woman facing the end of her relationship who has a young 13 month daughter makes a critical decision, to ignite a fight with her boyfriend. She calls the police station as the father was sleeping, prior staging a crime scene with clothing items and cleaning up the evidence of her attack, lying, claiming to have been abused by the father.

Anyone who makes up falsified claims of abuse should be held accountable and criminally charged. Because Christina Olsen was not charged that day for misleading police ... this story, and the circle of abuse continues, as the relationship between the father and child is strained and she allows No parenting to the father. She alienates him, defames his name, and teaches the child to defy and hate her daddy. Claiming to be the victim of abuse till this day, even preaching to the child's school staff about being the victim of horrific domestic violence.

Please if you see this kind of abuse please help to stop it.

The allegations Christina Olsen initially made to Police and Detectives of her boyfriend assaulting her, sexually assaulted her, trying to remove her dead body, were all lies. They never happened, turns out they she had too much to drink, an argument erupted where she in-fact hit him with a wine glass, cutting his head and the friends pants, then blacked out...However prior to the Police arrival she cleaned all the glass splinters up and washed the wine off of the wall.


ALSO TO BE KNOWN: The brother of this woman is a local paramedic in Sault Ste Marie Ontario, head of the union, as well her mother was former head nurse of the emergency department for over 30+ years. The Police know this woman and her family. Feelings are that she was not criminally charged because of the family members who work with the police.



January 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterparents love

I am a female who has watched as a male friends life is torn apart by the most insidious domestic assaults all at the hands of his long term defacto female partner.

For years and years she has degraded, defamed, abused, verbally assaulted, berated, sworn, blamed, humiliated, used guilt, controlled, manipulated, threatened both him and the children with all sorts of stuff from assault to self harm. He is not allowed to have an opinion, not allowed to see his family - all of whom she continues to put down. She constantly screams at both him and the kids in the most foulest of language. The pent up anger that this female holds inside is unfathomable unpredictable and extreme. She is constantly antagonistic and verbally aggressive and always on the look out for a fight.

In the past she has used sex as a manipulative tool to control him to get her own way. She is coercive, threatening, demanding, aggressive and behaves as if she has some form of mental illness. No amount of aid or assistance can help her to see that her behaviours are problematic - it is always someone else's fault - her partners!,

He is not allowed to go anywhere without her knowing his every move. Endless texts full of abuse - everyday ! Calls to work demanding he come home and deal with the most ridiculous issues. If he doesn't answer her calls straight away she says she will kill herself. When he does call it is just a verbal torrent of nasty spiteful vicious and hateful abuse.

This man is made to feel that he cant do anything right, from driving, mowing, cleaning, cooking or sitting. Can you imagine his horror as he knows his kids will be home before him after work and he is not there to protect them.

If he or the children don't do as she demands then she becomes aggressive, erratic and unpredictable in her behaviours. He walks on egg shells everyday in fear of upsetting her which will cause another episode as she is always looking to abuse him and his every move. AND she gets away with it.

She invades his privacy by going through his personal items, wallets, phones, draws, car, PC. She makes all sorts of disgusting accusation towards him about his fidelity in front of their kids.

In public - she is nice as to all. And I do believe she is nice to other people. But as soon as she closes the front door it is all on again. She doesn't seem to have the capacity to see how wrong her behaviour is and that it is against the law to be abusive. If someone she knows has something that she doesn't have, then the dramas and tantrums escalate out of proportion with another tirade that her partner has not provide correctly for her as she feels she is missing out on something.

Leave you all say - if he goes then he has to leave the kids behind, still has to pay the mortgage, make claim for custody of the kids, prove it is her to a society that doesn't recognise women as the perpetrator of domestic violence. He then has to pay rent as well as the mortgage, pay all the household bills and provide her with payments. She refuses to assist or get a job as she knows this is in her favour if he does leave. She states that it is not her responsibility to provide for the family. She knows she can take him to the cleaners financially and she holds this over him too.

Every unhappiness in her life is laid at this mans feet. He is trapped in a loveless relationship and suffers the most horrible and relentless treatment that is insidious, hidden and not believe. Worse is that if he goes who will protect his children. This is not the usual family stresses and strains that we all go through in our normal pressured lives - it is systematic ongoing abuse and violence.

You cant tell me that there are not women out there getting away with such criminal unlawful acts. We shame men who act in this manner towards women. Greater shame on us for not helping when women act in this manner towards men. The greatest shame goes to us all as a community who offer little or no hope and even less support or recognition.

No equality here. No winners. Makes me feel ashamed of our beloved sisterhood.

February 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHP

I have had my brother subjected to a similar form of systemic abuse described by HP.

Over time his confidence was eroded, he could not do anything right, walked on egg shells as he did not know when the next torrent would come. My brother was subjected to emotional, mental, emotional and physical violence. He was accused of being unfaithful - leading to the threat of being dispossessed of his home and children. She would threaten that she will "get him fired from his job". He could not leave his home without her calling continually to check his movements and at her whim return home.

Yet in public his partner could be charming and be overly affectionate with my brother.

My brother could not take it any longer and suicided over 2 years ago. We did not know whilst he was alive the true nature of the personal hell he was enduring save for the journal he kept over the previous two years documenting a portion his abuse that we were able to read after his passing. The attending police's commentary on the day he passed was that he had the option to choose to leave.

His children are now in the care of his defacto. She has moved on with her life.

My brother's passing has left a huge scar within our family - guilt to have known more, done more....

How many more men have to die to escape their torment?

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBM

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