We’re all familiar with the terrifying ordeals of battered wives, beaten, abused and humiliated in their own homes. But what happens when the situation is turned on its head?
More than 40% of domestic violence victims are male, yet they often struggle to find support and feel ashamed to look for help. But there is hope, thanks to the UK’s growing number of refuges exclusive to men.
Safe house Kendal Lodge, a terraced house in Powys, Mid Wales, which was the first to open in 2006, has provided a home for more than 50 battered men over the years and children, too.
Men are housed in one of three bedrooms – named Faith, Hope and Charity – and given bedding, clothes and toiletries, while children get toys to help them settle in.
Each resident has his own room while bathrooms, kitchen and living room are shared.
Workers at Montgomery Family Crisis Centre, which has run women’s refuges for decades, realised there was a need for men-only centres 10 years ago when a man with head injuries turned up at their office.
“He’d had his teeth knocked out by his wife that morning and didn’t know where else to go,” recalls operations manager, Jane Stephenson. “There was a child involved but there was nothing that we could do for him at the women’s refuge.
“One of the volunteers offered him her spare room until he got back on his feet. But the incident prompted senior workers to take action.
“If a woman and her children needed a place of safety they would be found one. If a man and his kids were in need of a place they would have to go through the homeless system. If a person needs a place of safety, they should have one, regardless of gender,” says Jane.
Geoff, 22, has been staying at the refuge since last November. His ex-girlfriend became violent after suffering from depression.
“She’d swear and throw plates at me in front of our young son,” he says. “If I argued back, she’d push me and punch me. She was never violent towards our son but it used to terrify him when she attacked me. He’d run into his bedroom to hide.”
Geoff struggled to accept the situation.
“I’d grown up seeing my mum in a violent relationship so I knew that what was happening to me was wrong,” he says.
“But I felt too embarrassed to tell any of my friends or relatives. I didn’t know where to go for advice. ”
The violence continued for three years, until Geoff’s mum noticed a bruise on his cheek. “At first, I pretended I’d been in a fight with another bloke because I didn’t want to admit that my partner had done it. But eventually, I broke down and told my mum everything,” he says. With his mum’s support, Geoff contacted Montgomery Family Crisis Centre after finding information about Kendal Lodge online. It turned out that some of the workers remembered him as a child when his mum had been helped by the organisation years earlier.
Now Geoff is having counselling at the refuge to help him come to terms with his ordeal. He never brought criminal charges against his ex and has no contact with his son. He says more needs to be done to help men in violent situations.
“It can be a struggle to be taken seriously because so many still believe that women can’t abuse men,” he says.
Montgomery Family Crisis Centre’s managing director Shirley Powell agrees that people find it difficult to accept men as victims. “It’s almost as though the men have to prove that they are abuse victims, in a way that we never expect women to have to do,” she says.
Steve, 37, from Essex, is another who suffered in silence for four years at the hands of his controlling girlfriend.
“She encouraged me to cut my friends and family out of my life and would moan if I went out,” he says.
“She’d disappear off to the pub and come back drunk. That’s when she’d cause trouble, calling me names and telling me that I was useless. Then she started hitting me. Once I woke up in bed and she was leaning over me, punching me in the face.”
Steve was ready to leave his girlfriend but when she announced she was pregnant, he gave her another chance.
“During her pregnancy, she didn’t touch a drop of alcohol,” he says. “She was gentle and loving and I believed that we had a future.” But within weeks of giving birth, she was drinking again.
“She’d come home and punch and head butt me,” he says. “She even threatened me with kitchen knives. I was terrified of her but, by now, she’d spent all my savings and I was living in her house, so I had nowhere to go. I felt totally alone.”
Steve never retaliated. “It’s not in my nature. Before meeting her, I hadn’t had a relationship for seven years. I was vulnerable and lonely and she used it.”
Eventually, Steve tried to leave with his baby daughter, but when he went to social services to ask for help he hit a brick wall.
“The social worker looked at me as though I was making it up,” he says. “If a woman had walked in there with a black eye, she would have been helped immediately. But they took one look at me – 6ft 4in and 16st – and thought that I was lying. I walked out of those offices feeling like the world was against me.”
Steve was forced to return home, but his partner was finally arrested for assault and he seized his chance.
This time, social services referred him to Montgomery Family Crisis Centre, which gave him refuge at Kendal Lodge. They stayed for six months.
“We were sharing the house with a man who had two kids,” recalls Steve. “We’d chat in the kitchen once they’d gone to bed. It was reassuring to speak to someone who understood.”
Steve received counselling, help finding accommodation and support when it came to fighting for full custody of his daughter.
“I was so grateful to them for being there to fight my corner,” he says.
Steve’s partner was found guilty of assault and he is now happily settled with his daughter in another area.
But Steve was one of the lucky ones. While there are more than 7,000 refuge places for women in Britain, there are only around 20 for men with children.
Even then, many male victims choose not to take them up as it would mean moving a long way from their families. Mark Brooks of charity Mankind says the situation for many is still dire.
“There is gradual improvement in services for male victims but progress is far too slow,” he says.
“We regularly receive calls from men who are forced to sleep in their cars or suffer in silence at home because they have nowhere to go and they fear no one will believe them.”
Source: The Mirror