Why men suffer domestic violence in silence

By Áilín Quinlan of the Irish Examiner

The issue of female-on-male assault hit the spotlight when The Only Way Is Essex star Sam Faiers admitted to slapping and pushing her ex-boyfriend Joey Essex during an argument, but tried to justify it by saying it was “only a slap” and that “everyone slaps their boyfriend once, when they deserve it”.

Faiers came in for strong criticism from ManKind, a charity that provides support for the male victims of domestic violence.

However, the public reaction was nothing to what it could conceivably have been had Joey Essex assaulted the TOWIE star and followed it up with a similar comment. Is there a societal failure to sufficiently acknowledge that men, too, can be victims of domestic violence?

Yes, says Dr Michael O’Shea, a psychotherapist who has counselled male victims of domestic violence for the past 10 years.

“Very often violence against men is passed off as a joke,” says Dr O’Shea. “There’s a different perception in society of violence against men — if a girl hits a guy, it could be laughed off. However, if a man was to do it to a girl it’s seen in a very different light.

“There’s a difference in peoples’ perception of what domestic violence is against men. However, I’m not sure that her comment would been taken as seriously as it should be,” he says.

O’Shea takes the example of a situation which occurs in a mixed group of friends — a man could say something annoying to a girl and she turns around and thumps him ‘playfully’.

“Boys and men are taught not to hit women but are girls ever taught not to hit boys?” he asks.

Take the case of Andrew, a 30-year-old quantity surveyor. When his former girlfriend lost her temper, she viciously lashed out at him. “She smacked me in the face several times after she lost her temper,” Andrew explains. “The third time she hit me, I asked her if she was enjoying it. She blew a fuse and left the room.

“I never hit back, I wouldn’t have been brought up like that,” he says, adding that he feels there is a double standard.

“I remember in school once a girl kicked me in the privates and when I went to grab her to stop her, a passer-by came over and tried to grab me. I remember feeling that I wasn’t allowed to defend myself against a girl.”

According to O’Shea, ‘decent’ men will never hit a woman — but are often embarrassed about reporting domestic violence. They feel they won’t be believed if they say they’ve been assaulted by a woman.

He deals with men from 30s to 60s who report everything from slapping, hitting and kicking to having cans of beans thrown at them. “I think they feel it’s something society doesn’t believe.”

Typically, says O’Shea, a male victim of domestic violence will tell him that, although he’s being hit or kicked by his partner, he cannot talk about it because he might be laughed at.

“He could be 6’2” and she might be five foot. There is a terrible sense of shame and embarrassment about it. These can be big men. If it was a man they could deal with it but they don’t know how to deal with it when it’s a woman.”

For men he says, the first rule is never to hit back. Instead seek proper counsel possibly from a solicitor, free legal aid or your GP.

Amen, the Navan-based voluntary group which provides support to male victims of domestic violence, has come across some extreme cases involving men who have been hit, kicked, slapped, stabbed with scissors or had boiling water thrown at them.

Another problem is a widespread contemptuous or dismissive attitude to male victims of domestic violence. Niamh Farrell, manager at Amen, says: “We’ve had a regular flow of men coming in to talk about physical abuse. They feel they can’t report it because they don’t think they’ll be believed — women hitting men is not taken that seriously.

“It can take men a while to take it seriously themselves — they’ll often endure sustained abuse before they come forward and only come when things are really bad.

“Women don’t take it seriously — if Nigella Lawson had done that to her husband it probably would not have got the same coverage even though it would be equally as serious.”

It’s all about educating people, says Farrell, about teaching them that it’s never right to hit your boyfriend or male partner. However, she finds that it can be hard to get this message across. When Farrell runs training programmes in schools they’re often met with the response, ‘So what if a woman hits a man?’

“There’s a lot of indifference towards it as a subject. We find that some young girls seem to think it’s quite socially acceptable to slap a boy.

“We’ve noticed this when we do education presentations in schools with 14 to 18-year-old students.”

The girls have no problem saying there’s nothing wrong with it, she says.

And the boys?

“The boys sit there and don’t say anything.”

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