invisible  | 

Men's Aid chief says male victims of domestic abuse are 'forgotten' due to lack of support

Kathrina Bentley said the growing problem is forcing many men into homelessness

Kathrina Bently, CEO of Men’s Aid Ireland

Alan Sherry

Men who are victims of domestic violence and coercive control are practically invisible in Ireland and have been driven to homelessness due to the lack of support services available in Ireland, according to the head of the Men’s Aid.

Domestic abuse against both men and women dramatically increased during the Covid 19 pandemic and a harrowing RTE Investigates programme which last month highlighted the horrendous situations experienced by people across the country as support services struggle to cope with demand.

Kathrina Bently, CEO of Men’s Aid Ireland, said when domestic violence is brought up, male victims are rarely mentioned and less than one per cent of €30m allocated to support services around the country goes to support male victims.

She said the Men’s Aid domestic abuse frontline service supported almost 8,000 men who contacted them last year - an increase of 45pc on 2020 - and the numbers contacting them are continuing to increase this year.

“In January 2022, we supported 798 contacts so the volume continues to grow,” Kathrina told the Sunday World.

“Following the RTE Investigates documentary we supported 41 men on our Helpline and four men in Dolphin House, family law court.”

Kathrina said domestic abuse against women has rightly been increasingly highlighted in recent years but she said men who are suffering domestic abuse are often forgotten.

“They’re the invisible men. Men can often be forgotten victims of domestic abuse.

“Sadly, at least 1 in 7 men will experience an abusive partner during their lifetime.”

Kathrina said there is massive underreporting of domestic abuse against men in Ireland.

“Only 5pc of men will go near the gardai so 95pc of abuse is not being reported. The men will come to us but they’re not going to the guards.

“There is shame, stigma and fear. Going to a gardai station to the young garda behind the hatch to ask about his wife or male partner is very difficult.

“Society, NGOs, and government have always very much encouraged the women to come forward in terms of confidence and encouragement and I just hope we can give the man some confidence and encouragement to come forward."

She said Men’s Aid are getting more calls recently as people return to work and seeing people again as lockdown restrictions were lifted.

“As people return to work we’re definitely seeing a spike because their colleagues are encouraging them to call us.

“People are having the coffee at lunch time and all that. We’re definitely getting more referrals through family and friends as lockdown has eased.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg. You’re trying to keep the peace by walking on eggshells in a home with an abuser. Men are going to the garden shed or into their car and giving us a call when they’re hiding in their cars but now they’re back in work so there is a safe space in an office to maybe have a chat with someone."

Father-of-three Liam [not his real name], from Connaught, received support from Men’s Aid after being in an abusive relationship with his now ex-wife.

He told the Sunday World how he suffered years of verbal abusive from his wife which led to physical violence and total control over his money and who he would see and where he would go.

He told the Sunday World how he ignored warning signs about her temper at the start of their relationship.

“There were red flags at the start, but I was besotted with her because she was very charming and manipulative and good looking. She was a complete charmer to get me in and I thought I was so lucky dating her.”

However, the abuse began early in the relationship and continued to get worse.

“Within the first couple of years it was just madness. I just went along with it.

“You think to yourself, just man up you’re being too sensitive. Once the kids came along I was trapped. Most men are so reluctant to leave their children so you’ll take anything from physical beating and abuse to god knows what just to stay around your kids.”

He said to the outside world he seemed to be in a good relationship.

“She seemed so charming and nice and was a very attractive girl but when we got behind closed doors her temper was savage. I was thinking where did this come from.

“There was no violence early on but there was a horrible temper.

“They start chipping away at your self-esteem and before you know it they have you.

“I was handing over all the money I made to her. I was constantly trying to please her all the time. At the time I had done nothing wrong but I was questioning my own judgement thinking what did I do to deserve this. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

He said the abuse wore him down to the point he just did what she said.

“I was afraid to go home. This is the fear I had. I was in work and I was exhausted working overtime just to be out of the house and then I’d have to hand over all my money.

“At work I’d constantly get calls asking what time I’ll be home at, why I’m late and all that.

“Then I’d come home from work and have to clean the house and make dinners. At the time she wasn’t working and I was. It was just mental. It just got more and more.

“When the kids came along I felt I’ve made my bed so I’ll lie in it. Like a lot of men do I stayed for the sake of the children. She knew she could ratchet things up then.”

He said she would constantly attack his physical appearance calling him a “fat f***” and tell him he was worthless.

“It was all just so cruel. I know women get upset but men do too and you feel worthless. This is all part of it; she’d grind me down and then it just went on and on.”

It got to the point where his wife was stopping him from seeing family or friends.

“It was very subtle. If I said I was going to meet up with friends she’d say she had something on so I had to mind the kids that night. There was always an excuse to stop me doing something.

“If she said she was going somewhere that was it, I’d have to rescheduled work to accommodate her.

“If I wanted to do something there was always a reason why I couldn’t.

“We’d have a wedding coming up that I’d be looking forward to and then when the day was near there’d be some excuse and we wouldn’t be able to go. You’re letting people down.

“Them word then gets around that there’s no point in asking him to anything because he won’t go anyway. They don’t know what’s going on at home. She would come out as the nicest most pleasant person outside the house but behind closed doors it was terrifying. The temper was unbelievable.

“When she was very drunk she attacked me physically. She woke up the next morning and acted as though nothing ever happened.”

He said he worked overtime to give his wife money and spent tens of thousands on the family home at her demand.

He said he never went out and all the money he earned went on what she said.

However, the relationship ended after Liam stopped was laid off from work due to a decline in the industry so couldn’t meet the demands of his wife’s spending and she kicked him out of the house.

He is now middle-aged and living back with his parents.

“I can't get accommodation. All the women’s refuges have a dedicated key worker to help with such matters whereas Men’s Aid have none. It’s a further example of how hard it is for modern man in Ireland fleeing a abusive domestic violence situation.”

He said it has been heart-breaking since the relationship ended as even though the courts have granted him weekends with his children, his wife has ignored court orders in recent times and he hasn’t had one of his children over in two years.

He added that he was left suffering from depression, anxiety and other issues as a result of the abuse. “Men’s Aid have been fantastic with counselling and all that. They’ve been brilliant. There’s no one else available in Ireland for men. There is a huge support network for women but men have very little.”

Meanwhile Kathrina said that Men’s Aid are planning to write to RTE Investigates to encourage them to cover domestic abuse against men in more detail.

Last month’s show did feature a male victim of domestic abuse but Kathrina said it only accounted for two minutes of the hour long programme.

“The hour was very good and very impactful. It’s heart-breaking to see and it is reality. It is what’s happening in Ireland and is brilliant for awareness but it didn’t really represent the male victim.

“We do need to write into RTE and ask them to consider doing a documentary for male victims because the men, the dads, the lads deserve the same support as the women. That’s all we’re saying, it’s not a gender issue, it’s a not a competition whatsoever.

“It’s purely to have supports there equally regardless of gender.”

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