Hidden male victims of domestic abuse

As many as four percent of men have been victims of domestic abuse according to crime statistics for England and Wales, and charities say an increasing number of victims are beginning to come forward.

Man in despair Four percent of men aged 16-59 are said to have suffered domestic abuse

Peter (not his real name) had suffered domestic abuse for a couple of years, then one night his girlfriend threatened to kill him and their daughter.

"She phoned social services and said that if you don't remove us from the house within half an hour, she would kill us both, so we packed two black bags and left."

Refuges and safe-houses provide support to victims of domestic violence fleeing their perpetrators, including helping them to register with healthcare professionals and assisting with finding more long-term accomodation.

But while there are almost 4,000 places for women in refuges in England and Wales, there are just 16 dedicated for men.

The Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre (MFCC) in Newtown, Powys, Wales is one of the few refuge centres for men. Peter and his daughter spent five and a half hours on a train to get there.

"To have a cup of tea, a bite to eat - it was just so nice to get away from what happened, and be able to relax for the first time in what seemed years," he says.

There are a number of help and support lines for victims of domestic abuse which can be found at BBC Health

"Our room was quite comfortable and quite small, but at the same time it was our little sanctuary after what we'd been through for 10 months. It was our little bit of paradise."

Stigma attached

Many men find the decision to move to a refuge very difficult according to Matthew Bailey, an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor at the Dyn Project, part of the community safety charity Safer Wales which aims to support men who experience domestic violence.

Inside a male safe-house in Wales The MFCC refuge centre in Wales is one of the few centres that caters for men

"They may be very fearful about the scale of the upheaval involved, especially if they have to move out of the area,"

"Might they lose access to their children? Might they have to change their job? There's a problem that men don't see it as an option."

As well as financial concerns, many social workers say there is still a stigma attached to being a man and a victim of domestic abuse.

"There's a big cultural imperative on men to stand up for themselves, be the head of the household, the alpha male, the strong, responsible person.

"To admit being abused can seem like an admission of failure," says Mr Bailey.

Screening

Some agencies "screen" male victims to authenticate their claims, unlike women who are automatically believed.

Start Quote

We're where domestic abuse services for women were in the 1970s”

End Quote Matthew Bailey Dyn Project

Mr Bailey explains that it is essential to correctly identify the primary aggressor in an abusive relationship.

"Historically, we know that some men who have been identified as perpetrators of domestic abuse have made counter-allegation claims against their partner for cynical reasons; and we also know that in the past some men have been wrongly identified as perpetrators. That's why we screen all the men that we work with.

"We ask them questions, and from their responses and their attitude we judge whether or not we think they are being truthful with us," says Mr Bailey.

"It's very important that we do not misidentity victims and perpetrators. I think in the long-term we will be looking to screen all people presenting as victims of domestic abuse to services, male or female," he says.

'Increasing' numbers

In recent years, help lines report an increase in the number of calls they receive.

"In 2009, we spoke to 2,300 callers and we replied to 850 emails," says Ippo Panteloudakis from the Men's Advice Line.

"In 2010, we spoke to almost 3,000 callers and replied to 1,200 emails, that's an increase of about 35%."

More men are being referred by hospitals and by the police to support centres, and many men are beginning to acknowldge they are being abused and refer themselves.

But with more men reporting abuse, Matthew Bailey says current estimates are "the tip of the tip of the iceberg."

"As a society, our acceptance and understanding of male domestic abuse seems to me to be 30 years behind the times.

"Some people try to tell me that male domestic abuse doesn't happen. At present, we're where domestic abuse services for women were in the 1970s," Mr Bailey says.

"There are many barriers deterring men from reporting abuse. Men keep silent for fear they may be disbelieved or ridiculed, or simply out of a crippling sense of shame."

The Last Refuge will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, at 2000 GMT, on Monday, 20th January, 2011, or listen again on BBC iPlayer.

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