They fear not being believed and are embarrassed about how society will judge them. Ailin Quinlan on the men suffering in silence at the hands of their partners
Behind the walls of quiet suburban semi-ds, cosy terraced homes or sprawling Celtic Tiger-era mansions, they live in fear – and their numbers are rising as the recession grinds on.
Some simply can't sleep because they've previously woken to find their partner standing over them with kettles of boiling water; others, who have been attacked with baseball bats, stabbed with scissors or burned with hair straighteners, can only find rest in securely locked bedrooms or garden sheds.
They are the victims of a barrage of emotional and physical abuse, but often they do not seek help because they fear they will not be believed.
Because they're men.
It's the dirty secret of Irish society: every day, thousands of men are being beaten and psychologically abused by wives or partners.
They come from across the spectrum – doctors, solicitors, gardai, successful businessmen and the unemployed – but they all have one thing in common. Their lives are hell.
"Domestic violence against men in Ireland is common, and the economic downturn has made it worse," says Dr Michael O'Shea, a psychotherapist who has counselled male victims of domestic violence for several years. "Some of the stories I've heard are horrific. You get different levels of abuse: emotional, mental and physical abuse is very common. As a therapist and as a man, I've been shocked by the level of trauma which men can incur in relationships."
Physical abuse can include anything from a bite or a kick to stabbings or attacks with baking implements, irons, drills, high-heeled shoes and hair straighteners.
Niamh Farrell, manager of Amen, the Navan-based voluntary group that provides support to male victims of domestic violence, has come across some extreme cases – one man had boiling water thrown on him while he slept.
Another, a long-distance juggernaut driver, reported that his wife refused to let him sleep whenever he came home from a long trip because, she said, she wanted him to be so exhausted when he went back to work that he'd crash his lorry.
Farrell also recalls an old man in his 80s who confided that his abusive wife routinely hid his diabetes medication.
"They come in very upset. They feel humiliated. You'd be shocked at what you'd hear in this office – you think you've heard it all and then someone walks in the door and tells you something that floors you."
Sandra Kelly, a support worker with Amen, recalls some of the abuse stories that have crossed her desk in the past few years.
"Stabbing is another thing – scissors and knives. A very small blade can do a lot of damage."
Fellow support worker Aoife McGrath has dealt with men who routinely lock their bedrooms at night in case their wife or partner attacks them in their sleep.
"We've had men who have woken up in the middle of the night to find their wife or partner standing over them with a knife," she says.