Saturday, 25 June 2011

Torn between the love and the abuse

“THEY were on honeymoon the first time he hit her.
“It went on for years after that. In the end, he broke three of her ribs – not in one attack, but three separate occasions.
“You know the old cliché, ‘I walked into a door, mum’ – or, ‘I fell down stairs, mum’.
“It wasn’t until he started turning on the kids that she left. Even then the courts awarded him access and told him where she was living.
“So don’t say it’s easy for a woman to leave, or to speak up, or to get the help she needs. Just ask my Julia.”
Her name’s not Julia, of course. And her mum stays anonymous too after contacting me about my Evening Star column two weeks ago.
But to set the record straight, I didn’t say there was anything easy about domestic violence for a woman victim. I would never say, or mean to suggest, any such thing.
What I did mean was to point out that men can be victims too.
In trying to open up a murky subject, I seem to have touched a few raw nerves.
One male reader commented: “Back in the 90s, when I was on the receiving end of an abusive relationship, I felt like I was the only one. That this didn’t happen to men.
“I was isolated and felt no one would have believed me – to the extent I couldn’t even bring it up in a Relate session. Mind you, having her in the room at the time didn’t help.”
Another reader sees the matter from another angle.
He said: “In 14 years with the Alcohol Advisory Service and then the Samaritans I listened to many, many abused women but only about two abused men.
“My estimate is that abused women outnumber abused men by about four to one, that abused women who suffer in silence outnumber the ones who get listened to, but abused women who get listened to outnumber abused men who get listened to by about 40 to one.
“Every one of them is a real person in real distress.”
That informed view underlines the reason I wrote my original article.
The good Samaritan also adds a chilling note: “Children, of course, are often hostages.”
One of my oldest friends, Carolyn, lives now in Australia, where she has worked for several years as a counsellor in a women’s refuge.
She said: “I think domestic violence is under-reported in both males and females.
“In my experience working with women, many don’t even recognise that they are in an abusive relationship. They minimise what they are experiencing because we only tend to hear about high-end abuse in the media.
“Sometimes they are reluctant to involve the police for the same reasons mentioned in the article, sometimes because they are too afraid.
“As to women being prosecuted, this will be appropriate in some cases, but I have talked to many who are goaded into physical violence so that the man can appear to be the victim and use the legal system as yet another instrument of abuse.
“Many women retaliate after years of abuse, or are acting in self-defence.”
I don’t doubt the truth of that. But that very fact can work against men too.
Such as Dan, whose story I told, who left a long-term abusive relationship after retaliating for the first and only time.
If Irene had accused him then, who would have believed that for years it was she who had been assaulting him?
Carolyn, understandably, is most enraged by male violence. But she concludes: “Abuse is never OK, no matter who perpetrates it.
“I’ve heard one or two horror stories about men walking into a police station and being treated with contempt.
“People are rarely prosecuted unless physical violence is involved, but emotional and psychological abuse is highly damaging, and the effects can last years, if not a lifetime.
“Bruises, cuts, burns, broken limbs etc can be seen whereas emotional abuse is invisible and often not believed because the abuser is typically so charming to everyone else.
“It crushes who you are as a person and makes it very difficult to be a functioning human being.”
A disturbing conclusion with which I know Dan and Steve, my original interviewees, would wholeheartedly agree.
Cheryl, another friend from my school days, replied to my article with a tragedy.
She said: “ I lost a friend in Paris who was regularly beaten up by her partner.
“She refused to give evidence to the police while she was in hospital, where she died of her injuries.
“I also have a close family member who was abused by his wife and has now left her because the level of violence from her reached a point of no return.
“The stats mean nothing if we are unable to discuss the problem clearly and offer support to all those who find themselves in such a terrible situation, torn between the love and the abuse.”

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