My wife beat me up every week -- and there was nothing I could do about it. . .
Men may be stronger, but many are suffering violent beatings at the hands of the fairer sex, writes John Costello
The silver sheen on Liz McColgan's Olympic medal is under threat after a court decided the highly successful Scottish athletics legend is to stand trial on charges of allegedly battering her estranged husband.
While McColgan, who took second place in the 10k final in Seoul and was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1991, has pleaded not guilty to repeatedly punching her husband in July during a row in the home they share with their five children, the case draws attention to the disturbing trend of female domestic violence.
There was an 80% increase in the number of men reporting domestic abuse last year, according to Amen, which operates a helpline and counselling service for men. A quarter of those who suffered abuse reported being stabbed, burnt by cigarettes and having their hair pulled out.
Over a third of those who suffer domestic abuse are male. These victims are not only tortured at the hands of their violent partners, but also by a society that frequently fails to believe their harrowing stories.
Stephen* turned to Amen for help after he was discovered lying unconscious on the floor by his children in his home in Co Laois. He had been struck on the back of the head while desperately trying to clean the house.
"My ex-wife came home late and the house wasn't tidy," he recalls.
"So she got the two eldest children out of bed. It was about 12 o'clock at night and everyone was asleep. She was making them clean the house but they were tired so I got up to try and help the children.
"She then went into a rage and cut me on the wrist when she lunged at me with a knife. To calm things down I sent the children to bed and began to tidy. Then she came up behind me with what I think was a doorstopper and hit me on the back of the head. She knocked me out cold and then she went to bed."
Since exchanging vows in the early 1990s, Stephen's marriage had been a normal one, but in 2006 his wife began getting increasingly physical with their children.
"When she started hitting the children I'd try to help them and then she would turn on me," he says.
"I covered it up at the start and told no one. When I got black eyes and different things, I always said it was an accident.
"I kept on thinking things would change and that it was a phase. But the one thing I'd say to people going through this is that things don't get better."
After being knocked unconscious, Stephen was fearful of what his wife would do to the children, so he contacted social services.
"They asked her to leave the house but she refused, so it was me and the children that ended up leaving," he says.
"Although she was the perpetrator it was us that ended up leaving for our own safety. For me, this was an injustice. We had to leave the family home, even though we had done nothing wrong."
Men being forced to leave the house even when they are the victims of domestic abuse is all too common. Prosecution of the female perpetrators is relatively rare.
Declan Keaveney of Amen says: "It is our observation that steps against women are rarely taken. Amen is battling for greater recognition of male victims. We want to change the perception that a man is always in the wrong. Culturally there has been a denial of the existence of male victims."
Another victim of domestic abuse, Michael*, called the gardai after he was stabbed multiple times by his wife after an argument over a credit card bill.
"I had my back to her when I asked her for money to help pay off the bill she had mounted up," he says. "Then I felt something hit me. When I turned around she hit me again in the arm. I really didn't feel anything. She hit me again and again and then several times in the stomach.
"When she turned away to run upstairs I heard something fall from her hand and I knew I was in trouble. When I saw the pools of blood I realised she had stabbed me with a knife."
His wife claimed he had self-harmed and despite having what he feels is evidence of consistent abuse, the gardai, social workers and courts sided with his wife.
Michael has been left battling through the courts for the past few years trying to get access to see his children.
"As a man it is much more difficult to get people to understand because a lot of people just don't believe men are victims of domestic abuse," says Pat*. "But they are and I am living proof of it."
While working in the security sector, Pat was punched and kicked on a weekly basis after returning home from work to his wife.
"Even the barristers and solicitors that took me on wouldn't believe my story," he says.
"I wrote it down and read it again and again for myself to believe, because there was a stage when even I didn't believe it. You blame yourself and wonder, 'Why is it happening to me?' You think, 'It must be me. It must be my attitude. It must be the way I am carrying on'. You think, 'I deserve this'."
After suffering for years, Pat was luckily able to prove he was the one suffering abuse, despite his wife's claims that she was the victim.
"The authorities can't just listen to the woman's side of the story," he says.
"That happened to me until I was able to prove to the contrary. The courts and especially the judges don't understand that men can be good parents.
"Just because you didn't carry that child for nine months doesn't mean that you're not a good father.
'My story is a good one because I got custody of my children after fighting through the courts. And the most painful thing of all is to have to fight for access.
"If you are a prisoner up in Mountjoy and you are doing time for murder you have a right to see your children unsupervised, but when you are a father who has children and you are in a broken marriage you have to go down to the courts to get an order to see your children.
"Surely that is wrong. Surely there must be a way the whole family law situation can be sorted out. It needs a major overhaul."
Pat now uses his experience of suffering domestic violence and battling through the court system to get custody of his children to help men in similar situations. He also gives lectures in schools and colleges to spread awareness about male domestic abuse.
"The problem is that men do not talk enough," he says.
"They don't stand up for themselves. What they do is to retaliate, and then they are the ones arrested, or else they turn and walk away for the sake of easiness. They don't stand up and fight their case.
"Men tend not to tell their story and that is the problem. And I think this is part of the massive rise in men taking their own lives. I have known people who have taken their own lives because they don't see their children. That nearly happened to me but I didn't because of my children.
"There are people out there that will listen to you. You have to talk about this. Men going through this cannot bottle it up. They must tell their story. They must seek help."
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims and children. The interviews were arranged through Amen, the support group for male domestic abuse (www.amen.ie).