A person has been attacked by their partner – they’ve been beaten with a hammer, scalded with boiling water and had bleach sprayed into their eyes. They are physically and emotionally scarred forever.
As you read about this incident of domestic violence you’re probably picturing a female victim, but this describes the abuse a man suffered at the hands of his ex-girlfriend.
While women are the majority gender that suffer at the hands of domestic violence – the ratio is less of a gulf than you might think.
In England and Wales 38% of domestic abuse victims are male – for every five victims, three will be female, two will be male.
In Scotland between 2012 and 2013 there were over 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse reported to the police. Of these, over 10,000 were recorded by the police as having a male victim.
It’s rarely spoken about in the media, and at the worst end of the spectrum, people actually joke about it.
We would never say a woman ‘brought it on herself’ so why do some of us make the assumption that a man who is abused by a woman is weak?
Ian McNicholl, 51, revealed the shocking truth about his abusive relationship with Michelle Williamson to HuffPost UK Lifestyle.
“Michelle undid three decades of career planning – the day before I met Michelle I was running my own successful business, I was able-bodied, I was a homeowner with significant equity and I was close to my friends and family.
“Following my relationship with Michelle, my house was repossessed, I was homeless for 18 months and I’m now registered as disabled. I have multiple scars and I’m still awaiting surgery from the NHS five years after Michelle’s trial,” he says.
The myth that domestic abuse is something that happens to women can make it more difficult for male victims to come forward, or even identify the abuse themselves.
“If you see only see court cases on the news where women are the victims, as a man it’s hard to recognise that what’s going on in your relationship is domestic abuse,” McNicholl says.
“While I always knew the violence was wrong, it was what I call the ‘grooming phase’ that I definitely didn’t recognise. Michelle took possession of my money and she cut me off from my family – it seem obvious now, but it didn’t at the time.”
Chairman of ManKind Mark Brooks says when a man is a victim of domestic abuse, he’ll often display a loss of confidence and seem uncharacteristically nervous. He’ll also likely become far more insular and will gradually become cut off from his social circle.
“A male victim’s behaviour will change in the same way a woman’s does when she is a victim, but society – friends, family, work colleagues, even GPs – is more attuned to thinking that a change in a woman’s behaviour could be a sign of domestic abuse, than if a man changes his behaviour,” he adds.
One of the reasons McNicholl did not report the abuse was because he feared being believed. Three days before the police turned up at the house due to a call from a neighbour, he’d made a plan to commit suicide.
“Gender stereotypes that exist in our society are damaging to both men and women in different ways,” says Aaron Slater, a representative from AMIS (Abused Men In Scotland).
“Being physically bigger or stronger than a female partner means that these men grapple with issues around being believed.
“Men can feel a very real pressure to bottle things up, not talk about emotions and be the ‘strong’ male figure. In fact, real strength is being able to identify where something isn’t quite right and being able to make changes to address that.”
There is relatively little support for men affected by domestic violence in the UK. As Slater notes, help is “largely limited to helplines, which can only provide so much support.”
When police removed McNicholl from his home, he initially believed he’d been taken to a refuge. The “safe house” turned out to be a night shelter, so he found himself on the streets the next day.
With no money due to the financial abuse, McNicholl remained living in a shelter for the homeless for a further 18 months.
“Michelle was giving bail at the property I owned, would that have happened if I was a female victim?” he asks.
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According to Brooks, there are huge areas of the country with no dedicated safe houses for men and not enough awareness campaigns on the topic.
“Services and support for men are at least two decades behind that available for women,” he adds.
Clearly, more needs to be done to support men who suffer domestic abuse. Eliminating the myth that men can not be victims is the first step.
McNicholl helped the Coronation Street team with their domestic abuse storyline involving Tyrone and Kirsty.
“Those fictional scenes of domestic abuse were being projected straight into crime scenes – people’s homes – so it made a lot of people sit up and think about getting themselves out of a difficult situation,” he says.
Men’s helplines received a surge of calls from victims as the storyline unfolded, showing that media representation is key to helping men come forward.
McNicholl would also like to see a change in the way news outlets cover domestic abuse stories.
“If an article states that there were 14 women murdered by their partner in a certain county per year, I’d like to know many men there were. Whether there was one or two is irrelevant – the important thing is to show that it does happen,” he says.
When we talk about victims of domestic violence, men are constantly overlooked.
It’s time for that to change.
If you’ve been affected by any issues discussed, you can visit ManKind.org.uk or abusedmeninscotland.org or call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.