The number of women convicted of domestic violence in England and Wales has more than doubled in the past five years. Figures obtained from the Crown Prosecution Service by the BBC this week showed that almost 4,000 women were successfully prosecuted in the past year, compared with 1,500 in 2005. Here I speak to two male victims of domestic violence about their experiences, and the difficulty of coming forward. Names have been changed.
DAN, a professional man, lived with Irene for 16 years. She began drinking heavily before they were married but it was some years before her often erratic behaviour turned violent.
After that there were a few more bad years before he finally left, moving on his own to a job in Suffolk.
“The drink was always the problem,” he said.
“It started as a social thing, a way of getting out and meeting people while I was out at work. I’d come home and find her passed out on the sofa or the floor.
“She did get a couple of jobs over the years, but she never managed to keep them for long.
“I’d join her in the pub most evenings for a pint or two, but she took to staying when I went home.
“She got in a few fights, and got barred from a few pubs, before she ever got violent with me. But once she did, it became a sort of habit.
“I knew the end had come when I hit her back.
“Actually she was coming for me with a bottle and I just pushed her away. But she fell against the wall and hit her head, and I realised with a shock that people might think it was me who was the violent one.
“That was the only time I tried to defend myself in years of being regularly hit, scratched, kicked or having things thrown at me – mostly glasses.
“The funniest time was when she tipped a plate of spaghetti bolognaise over me in the bath.
“After that there was a period when she regularly used to throw food at me, or tip it on the floor, after I’d cooked it for her. It was always me who did the cooking.
“She’d stay in the pub until well after closing-time. When she got home she’d often wake me up, sometimes by pulling the bedclothes off and hitting me with a hairbrush.
“Once on holiday in Greece she woke me up by pushing an electric fan in my face. When I tipped away the last of the whisky she was drinking she went mad.
“She broke the bottle against the wall and filled my bed with the bits of broken glass.
“Even though it was the middle of the night I got out and went to find another hotel to sleep in.”
At one point Dan started going to meetings of Al-Anon, a group which provides support to anyone whose life is affected by someone else’s drinking.
“In lots of ways Al-Anon was great,” he said. “It’s such a relief to be able to talk to people who understand what you’re going through.
“On the other hand, all the others there were women, which made me feel a bit of a freak.
“You start wondering whether you’re the only man in the world who regularly gets assaulted by a drunken woman. Or whether you’re just the only one prepared to admit it.”
STEVE, now happily married, lived for several years with an abusive partner.
He suspects the rise in prosecutions for female domestic violence is mostly to do with an increase in reporting. But he thinks the official figures still show only the tip of the iceberg.
He said: “When you love someone, you don’t want to think badly of them.
“If their behaviour’s bad, you go on thinking they’ll get better and that you can help them to change.
“In the end it’s you that changes. You start seeing yourself as one of life’s victims. And it affects everything – friends, social life, work.
“You develop a habit of secrecy, of pretending everything’s OK. And that doesn’t just make it harder to seek help – you don’t see ‘help’ as something you can possibly ask for.
“I know it’s bad for a lot of women. But there’s a culture that allows women to admit there’s a problem and to seek help – maybe from the police, or Women’s Aid, or just friends.
“For men it’s a lot harder. That culture of help isn’t there.
“You might see it as weak to admit there’s a problem – even to yourself. You certainly don’t expect understanding or sympathy from colleagues or the police.
“Not that you’d necessarily even think of going to the police. Because apart from anything else, that would mean you were branding your wife or girlfriend as a criminal.
“And if there’s any love still there, that’s something you can’t do – any more than you can brand yourself openly as a victim.”