Why domestic abuse against men is more common than people believe, and why cycles of abuse against men and women need to end.
Editor’s Note: All the names have been changed in the article the protect the identities of the interviewees
“It’s kind of excused for girls. They birth our children, let’s let them act a little crazy,” says Gabriel, a 32 year old engineer from Estonia, with a far-off look in his eyes as he recalls his own abusive relationship.
Domestic abuse against men is more common than one might think. Although statistics can vary, studies indicate that a substantial number of men experience physical, emotional, or psychological abuse within intimate relationships.
However, many male victims remain silent due to societal stigmas and traditional gender roles that discourage men from acknowledging their vulnerability.
When we think of abusive relationships perhaps a beer-bellied balding man wearing a wife beater comes to our mind as the first thing. We never think of the five-foot-two-inch girl with claws drawing back her hand to scratch the big boyfriend by her side.
“One week I had fallen down a flight of stairs, another I had hit myself somehow with my car door, excuses after excuses,” recalls Gabriel who had come to learn what abuse is from the mother of his own child.
The abuse started as soon as Maria and Gabriel welcomed the arrival of their first child, Maria started suffering from intense mood swings which resulted in her hitting, scratching, and slapping Gabriel.
“One of the worst things she has done is hitting me in the face with a mug. I had to go to the hospital and get stitches. She would have jealous bouts when I would work long hours to support the family and think I was off cheating on her.
“She was not going out as much and staying at home all the time which gave her a lot of time to think and get agitated. I tried to tell her that a healthy person needs time with her friends but she wouldn’t listen. I became her world.”
Noticing her behaviour Gabriel offered to get therapy. The couple went to a family counsellor, who had diagnosed Maria with manic postpartum depression and had recommended she go to a psychiatrist which she refused to do.
Over time Maria’s moods escalated. A more serious incident entailed Gabriel being covered in food oil.
Maria had waited for him to come home while having a friend over. The friend, being bipolar and not a stranger to manic violent bouts, had urged Maria on with her jealous bouts, blowing life into her conspiracies and ideas that had all been the result of a sick mind stuck at home for days.
He had just walked in, tired from work, when Maria started prying. “Where have you been? Do not lie to me, I know you weren’t with your friends.”
It didn’t help that Maria’s friend was by her side egging her on, telling her that the way he worded his answer was suspicious.
“I was holding our child when she lunged at me, I let go of the child, her friend took him to another room and that is when she whipped out a bottle of food oil from the groceries bag I had just brought home and covered me with the contents of it. That is when I became terrified, she would hit me before but never endanger our child.”
That was also the first time Gabriel was forced to call the police, who had come late, and had not helped.
“There I am standing, covered in food oil and the police officer reassures me that women just get this way from time to time and to call him if this happens again.”
Gabriel started eating less and drinking more due to stress at home which resulted in him situated at the hospital for liver damage for three weeks. After this he finally decided to break it off with Maria.
No way out
In many cases, male victims of domestic abuse are met with disbelief when they do come forward. This can come from friends, family, or even law enforcement, making it difficult for men to receive the support and protection they need.
Moreover, there is a lack of awareness and resources specifically tailored to men experiencing domestic abuse.
It may come as no surprise that 49% of the men suffering from an abusive relationship did not tell anyone about it compared to the 19% of women doing exactly the same.
Around 70% of the men calling Mankind’s helpline said that they would not be calling for support if it wasn’t anonymous.
Legal support for male victims of domestic abuse is also lacking. Many countries have laws and policies in place to protect women, but similar protections for men are often less comprehensive. This disparity in legal protections can discourage men from seeking help and justice through the legal system.
Police not taking action is a common denominator for almost all of the cases, as many survivors of abuse told Mankind.
It’s never that black and white
Gabriel has been no stranger to multiple types of abuse.
He tells me of another time when he had a run in with the law because of the girl. “She was acting insane when I went to pick up my son, screaming, scratching me. I called the police and they said, once again, that it really is not their place to do anything.”
After moving out Gabriel got a new girlfriend. On a weekend with his son, who he now shared custody of, he had also had his girlfriend over. Maria upon finding this information out would call the police and tell them that he was endangering his child.
Another way Maria keeps Gabriel on the hook is financial abuse. He bought them an apartment when they were still together; she lives there to this day. Demanding money from Gabriel is completely normal for Maria.
They have shared custody, which does not entail child support in most European countries, including the U.K. This, however, does not stop Maria from demanding the normal child support money from Gabriel and threatening to not let him near the child if he doesn’t.
Domestic abuse against men takes various forms, mirroring the ways women can be victimised. These forms include:
- Physical Abuse: Men can experience physical violence, such as hitting, slapping, or even more severe forms of assault.
- Emotional and Psychological Abuse: Male victims often suffer from emotional and psychological abuse, which can include manipulation, intimidation, and control tactics.
- Verbal Abuse: Harsh language, belittling, and threats are common verbal abuses inflicted upon men in abusive relationships.
- Financial Abuse: Abusive partners may exert control by limiting a man’s access to financial resources or forcing him into economic dependence.
The National Centre for Domestic Violence reports that 95% of its male callers suffer from emotional abuse 68% physical, 23% financial, 13% from coercive control and 3% from sexual abuse.
Harry, aged 23, recalls an emotionally abusive relationship that he was in when he was 19. His previous girlfriend used to cut herself whenever I would do anything that was not to her liking. She would also threaten Harry with suicide which made him compelled to stay.
She ended up getting pregnant when Harry had told her that he had finally had enough. Luckily she did not go through with it.
“If anyone would do that to me now, I’d tell them to fuck off, I was younger, however, and didn’t know any better. After that I spent a few years travelling. I have not been in a relationship since, I really do feel like this has left me traumatised.”
“In its 50 Key Facts about Male Victims of Domestic Abuse, Mankind refers to academic research into why men stay in abusive relationships. The main reason is concern about the children (89%), followed by considering marriage is for life (81%), love (71%), fear of never seeing their children again (68%), a belief she will change (56%), lack of money (53%), nowhere to go (52%), embarrassment (52%), not wanting to take their children away from their mother (46%), threats she will kill herself (28%) and a fear she will kill him (24%).”
The traditional portrayal of domestic abuse in the media often focuses on male perpetrators and female victims, perpetuating the notion that men cannot be victims. This one-sided narrative further alienates male victims and makes them hesitant to share their experiences.
Male victims of abuse often find their pleas for help met with skepticism or disbelief. They are told that “real men” don’t cry, that they should “man up” and endure their suffering in silence. This toxic masculinity poisons not only the minds of those who suffer but also those who dismiss their pain.
Mankind Initiative, an organisation which supports the male victims of abusive relationships compiled their own statistics, finding that between 2018/19 a quarter of those reporting abusive relationships to the police forces in England and Wales, were men. This number was up from 19% in 2012.
Mankind points out: “For every three victims of domestic abuse, two will be female, one will be male.”
Time for a change
Talking about staggering statistics, it is of course plain to see that there is no way one can justify comparing abuse against men to abuse against women.
We however cannot disregard the men suffering from stereotypes who will not step up while suffering from immense abuse.
Let us help stop this cycle of abuse.
All images by Eliise Klaar.