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Domestic Abuse: 'It is not a women's issue and it is not a men's issue. It's a human problem'


Men can also be the victims of domestic abuse

'Domestic abuse. There's no shame in being a male victim. Break your silence." So ran the powerful message on the back of the bus ahead of me in Dublin traffic last week. The campaign is being run by Amen to highlight the problem of men who are victims of domestic abuse and is a first for this country.

Amen is a Navan-based organisation offering support to men who are victims of domestic violence. The present campaign is timely, since up to 2,000 men reported around 8,000 incidents, according to its 2013 report. The domestic abuse of men is crying out for action as it is one of the unspoken problems of our decade in contrast to the abuse of women, which has dominated the national discussion on domestic violence.

A few years ago, there was an influential advertisement with the caption: "It's a crime to beat a woman." It could have added "or a man". Therein was the implication that men did not experience such abuse, that it they did it was unimportant or that they were able to deal with it.

What has become clear from research and from the testimonies of male victims is that men do not disclose the abuse to anybody and that only one-in-20 reports it to the gardai.

A study, now 10 years old, carried out jointly by the National Crime Council and the ESRI reports that one man in 25 has experienced severe physical abuse, one in 90 has experienced sexual abuse in a domestic relationship and one in 37 has experienced severe emotional abuse.

These figures are much lower than current figures from the UK and published recently in the May 2015 issue of BMJ Open. The lead author, Professor Marianne Hester, carried out the study in 16 general practices in the South West of England. From a total sample of over 1,300 men attending the GPs, 162 were victims of domestic violence and a further 117 were both perpetrators and victims.

Considering those who were victims only, the figure is much higher than the reported data from Ireland. This may be because they were a sample attending doctors rather than selected at random from the general population. Examining the type of behaviour, almost 60pc of the UK sample reported feeling frightened of their partner, almost 50pc were physically hurt and 10pc were forced to have sex.

In total, 28pc reported some type of violence/abuse in the previous year and for most, these behaviours had a negative effect on their lives including work, studies and relationship with their children. Symptoms of depression and anxiety were reported by over 65pc. Unlike other studies, particularly from the US, there was no association with alcohol misuse.

It is widely acknowledged that men feel shame that they cannot protect themselves and believe that things will get worse if they try to do anything about the abuse. Many report that false allegations have been made against them and fear losing access to their children. These victims do not conform to the "macho" stereotype and believe they will be seen as weak.

Some may be adverse to reporting violence in the belief that gardai will not treat it seriously or that they will regard him as the aggressors who is simply getting his comeuppance.

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A report by Amen on domestic abuse among a sample of 40 men conducted in Co Monaghan in 2000 found that men chose not to leave home because they feared for the safety of their children if they did.

They also reported that there was nowhere for them to go apart from using the generic services for the homeless. There were no dedicated hostels for male victims of domestic abuse and their children similar to those provided by Women's Aid.

Internationally, it is well recognised that male victims may come from educational groups, and in the Monaghan study, 22.5pc had third-level education, 62.5pc secondary and 15pc primary. Data from the US shows that while most domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women (1.2 million in 2011/12), the equivalent figure for men as victims was 800,000.

According to a criminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz writing in a 1994 paper from the University of Iowa, 40pc of spousal murders are perpetrated by women. Other US studies have suggested that men and women are victims of intimate partner violence in equal numbers.

I have dealt professionally with men who were the victims of domestic violence and while the numbers are less than for female victims, the trauma, physical and emotional, is just as real. Whether or not domestic violence is more common among women than men is surely not relevant.

It is not a women's issue and it is not a men's issue. It's a human problem that must be taken seriously since lives are at stake.

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