Tuesday 25 June 2019

Those partners from hell who abuse and hurt their men

A man who is said to be 'under the thumb' may well in fact be a victim of domestic abuse, writes Niamh Horan

Abused: Alex Skeel was too terrified to report abuse from his girlfriend Jordan Worth who was jailed for seven years
Abused: Alex Skeel was too terrified to report abuse from his girlfriend Jordan Worth who was jailed for seven years
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

A man was standing on the golf course when he saw his wife marching towards him and his friends. When she arrived, she threw a plate of food at him with full force. The reason? He hadn't come home in time for dinner.

Although humiliating for the man, the incident was the subject of mirth among people who knew him. But if it had happened in reverse - if a man had thrown a plate at his wife because she hadn't come home in time - most people would tell her to get out. And fast.

The incident is one of hundreds on the books of Amen, Ireland's national network for men in emotionally and physically abusive relationships.

Andrea McDermott, a senior support worker at the organisation, says the problem remains taboo. "Men are teased for being 'under the thumb' or his wife is laughed off as a bit 'crazy' or eccentric and hard on him," she says, but often something more sinister is lurking underneath.

Last year, Amen logged 5,550 such incidents. McDermott is speaking out following a recent case in the UK where a female domestic abuser was convicted for the first time following the introduction of new laws.

Jordan Worth, a 22-year-old university graduate, scalded her boyfriend Alex Skeel with boiling water, stabbed him and kept food from him. She pleaded guilty to controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship and this offence, introduced in 2015, contributed to her sentence of seven-and-a-half years.

Worth, who came from a loving and supportive family, made her boyfriend's life a misery, exercising control over him and deciding what he could wear after they lived together. He was days from death when police rescued him.

McDermott says similar laws do not exist in Ireland. "Domestic abuse is not a crime in Ireland. If your neighbour comes in and attacks you, that goes straight to the criminal court. But with intimate relationships it is different. It is referred to the family courts."

The emotional torment men can suffer is often more subtle than the plight of the golfer. One of the biggest problems occurs when a woman gradually isolates a man from his family and friends.

"His wife will come up with a reason why everyone around them is bad for them or make their life difficult if they talk to them," says McDermott. "'I don't like her' or 'he is not good for you'. A lot of times the isolation happens by the wife saying 'your family don't like me' or 'your sister wasn't nice to me the other day, I don't want us talking to her any more' or even if she doesn't say it outright she will make it very difficult for him to maintain bonds.

"People don't recognise this is a form of abuse. They just think, 'oh, she doesn't like my family' and I would always hope that families don't lose contact with the man. Once that happens, he is completely isolated.

"We get a lot of sisters and brothers of victims in to us and they would say, 'we can't do it any more' but we would say please keep that line of communication open. The big mistake is saying 'you need to leave her'. What you are doing is controlling them from that end so they are getting controlled from both sides and stuck in the middle."

McDermott says it is better to say: "'I love you no matter what, you can tell me anything, I am not going to judge you or force you to do anything you don't want to do. The options are there if you want to take them.' It has to be a very gentle approach because it is not easy for men to leave."

Other forms of emotional abuse include attacking his manhood as a father - "the kids can't stand to be around you"; and as a 'breadwinner' - "you don't earn enough".

McDermott says that abusive women can also exert financial control. Some men who have joint bank accounts with their wives find that she holds the cards and will give him an allowance. "I have one client who is given a fiver a week," she says.

Another has the petrol gauge in his car monitored to ensure he hasn't travelled anywhere out of his usual routine. Many men have their phones tracked, where wives keep a constant eye on calls and texts. Their movements are tracked, where a wife will time how long it takes for a man to come home from work or got to a shop and if it's any later she will question where he was.

At the more extreme end, McDermott says she has one client who is locked in the house all day when his wife goes to work. "He won't report it because he doesn't know where he would go. At that stage they are very compliant."

Another man is a truck driver whose wife won't let him sleep. "He works all day and she will play music at night or constantly shake him awake through the night. Another wife will hide her husband's keys so he can't go to a particular event. All of these mind games. She would say, 'you can't even find your keys' when in reality she was hiding them."

Constant humiliation and subtle digs in front of his friends is another common theme, as is jealousy. "We have one guy who is not allowed to talk to any women. He has to keep his head down so she won't think he is looking at anyone walking by if there is even a woman on the telly she might say, 'oh you're looking at her - you're a pervert'."

Ireland has several women's refuge centres, but nothing for men. "There is not one bed in the whole country for men if they want to leave," says McDermott.

The network dealt with 456 one-to-one clients in 2017, including gardai, prison officers, taxi drivers, businessmen and solicitors. "People assume it's a poverty issue," says McDermott "and it is absolutely not. It can happen to anybody."

Amen's helpline is at 0818 222240 or 046 9023718. You can also email: info@amen.ie

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