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Men who abuse women 'use the same tactics as pedophiles and I've never met one who wanted to change', says author of How He Gets in her Head


 (Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

Don Hennessy, a relationship counsellor who has researched domestic violence for his book, How He Gets into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser.

Through his research he has built up a chilling profile of the types of men who abuse their partners. His work focuses on men who abuse their female partners.

"The essential thing that we learned that there was a hidden process that was not available either to us or to the women. The men confirmed for us a number of things and what we learned was quite startling really," he told Independent.ie

"The male intimate abuser actually follows exactly the same tactics as the pedophile.

"The initial thing is that they would select the same type of target... the people who were being abused were always kind people, the type of people who would put others before themselves.

"The kind people were the people who were targeted and subsequent to that there was a process of setting-up.

This setting up was “quite detailed” and protracted - it doesn't happen overnight.

"It sets out the terms and conditions by which the relationship will develop. The woman knows exactly what she can do, what she cannot do, the sanctions that will be applied if she doesn’t do what he wants," he said.

"It’s done in a way which gets her to take responsibility and take the blame when things go wrong between them

"Right from the very beginning if he is upset it is her fault, she hasn’t done something right… she will begin to examine her own behaviour rather than the behaviour of her abuser," he said.

"Once she is doing that she is into the mire of an abusive relationship and it develops from there. From then on she begins to take responsibility. She believes that if she does better, he will be happier and her life will improve. There is absolutely no truth in that.

"She is also groomed.

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"The grooming is quite hidden from her except that she has a sense that even when he is being nice to her she is still afraid of him and that fear is expanded but she can’t explain it, she doesn’t know how she got that way.

"If she tries to explain it everyone says ‘oh you’re too sensitive, or you’re too naïve’.

"She ends up being targeted, set up and groomed and once he has established that he will intensify the control until he is completely in charge," he said. 

Mr Hennessy believes that for men who abuse it is a "lifestyle choice".

"It’s founded on a sense of entitlement and a lack of what I call conscience. He thinks he is entitled to do certain things. He will not have a sense of the impact that those things will have on anybody else. He will just go through life taking what he can get from people and primarily that’s in his family life," he said.

"He might be very different socially or in his workplace so that you might not be able to spot him but when he closes the front door he will be a very different person.

"The thing that these people lack is a conscience and  haven’t discovered any psychiatric or psychological process that can give someone one of those.. A conscience is the term I use to describe the difference between what is what and wrong and to choose what is right thing," he added.

"These people don’t seem to have that and if they have it they seem to ignore it."

He plans to release a new book in the near future that will "try to help women deal with the impact of his behaviour".

"The main pillar is not to take the blame any more.  If you can decide this is his agenda, this is what he is doing, it’s not my fault that he is upset, frustrated or giving out to the children," he said.

"To begin to turn that around and understand that this is his agenda, he is orchestrating all of these tensions.

"It’s a purely thinking process. A woman can begin to do that without anybody really being aware of it. That’s the first step in beginning to change her position," he added.

"Sadly everyone blames the victim and says if she only did this or didn’t do that her life would be better and there’s no truth she is completely powerless as to the level of abuse she is receiving. He dictates, he measures… she has no control over that at all.

"Even if she went along with all of his wishes he could still be abusive the next day."

Mr Hennessy champions a rethink in the entire approach to domestic violence, including at an NGO level.

“It’s like talking about bowel cancer and talking about the bleeding and the pain and all of the after effects of bowel cancer, nobody takes out the tumour and analysis and then we can’t solve the problem.

"We are continually dealing with the impact of the problem and not the problem itself. A huge change needs to happen before we can make any inroads into the level of abuse and violence in this country.

"Otherwise what will happen is we will deal with each individual woman as best we can but a week later there will be another woman knocking on the door saying ‘I’m in trouble here’.

We don’t know them [the abuser], that’s the problem. All the research that has been done in the last 50 years is by talking to the women and the women don’t know that they have been targeted,s et-up and groomed, they don’t know that so the problem is misdiagnosed because of that.

“It’s a matter of people sitting down and saying what we are doing isn’t working if you go to the refuges and ask are the numbers of women coming for help any less? They’re not.

"Even though there is a lot of money being spent the problem isn’t improving for women as a class."

Awareness is key but he is not a fan of the Government sponsored 'What would you do' campaign.

"The first thing that we need to do is to find a way of actually revealing to all young women that this is how these men operate so they are informed before they get into an intimate relationship," he said.

"The second thing is that when we hear its happening we diagnose the problem accurately and sanction the man for his behaviour.

"There is no point in building refuges and support services and not sanctioning the man."

"It’s very difficult because these men are often extremely accomplished actors and when you bring them before the services they actually groom the people in the services as well and they come out getting their own way.

"There are a lot of people talking and while there is all lot happening, nothing has changed for the woman  in 25 years. The experience for the abused woman is exactly the same as it was 25 years ago."

Despite meeting and studying several men who abuse their partners, Mr Hennessy said that he has never encountered a man who wished to change his ways.

"It’s a very sad thing but I've never met a man who came in and said I’ve behaved very badly and I want to stop," he said.

Anyone affected by the issues raised in this article can contact:

The National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 (Open 24 hours, 7 days a week including Christmas Day).

You can also receive information about domestic violence at helpline@womensaid.ie and more information can be found on the Women's Aid website or the Safe Ireland website.

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