I know, I know, I’m liable to get lynched even for suggesting that women might have an advantage over men in certain areas (the gall!), but before you sharpen your pitchforks, hear me out.
When you’re a guy on the receiving end of domestic abuse, it’s easy to feel a bit like Michael J Fox’s character in Casualties of War. He’s an American soldier in Vietnam who witnesses the other four members of his patrol rape and murder a Vietnamese girl. When they get back to base, he’s desperate. He tells his friends, he tells his officers, he does all the things he’s meant to do and none of them give a shit. The four rapists try to murder him, so he hits one of them with a shovel and in despair cries, ‘You don’t need to try to kill me, man. I told them. I told everybody. I told them, and they DON’T CARE!’
That’s what it’s like as a male victim.
Of course, it’s not entirely true, because there are people who care deeply about me and what I’m suffering. But I can’t help feeling that I’d be taken a little more seriously if I was a woman.
I mean, as I wrote yesterday, when I told Children’s Services about all the abuse I’ve been suffering at the hands of my wife, they offered me parenting lessons to help me learn how to better cooperate with her. I can’t imagine they’d have said the same to a wife reporting her abusive husband.
When, in consequence, my care manager forwarded my blog post to them this morning and said, ‘Read this and bloody do something,’ it threw them into a bit of a quandary. They called together all their staff to see what they could do, and admitted that if the roles were reversed – if I was a woman and the abuser was a man – they’d have me and the children out already. Because there are no shelters for men, they’re not sure what to do, but leave it with them and they’ll think about it some more. And this is 2020!
The one thing they did manage to clear up was that, since I found out last night that my wife has been taking the kids to a local dairy, where they’ve been mixing with the Polish workers and their children in addition to my in-laws, they can’t go back to school or nursery until after 14 days of quarantine – just what I wanted to hear!
So my care manager made an appointment for me with a GP to discuss my mental health, which my wife was happy about because she thinks it’s about time I get my head sorted and simply accept what she’s doing to me without complaining so much. He was a nice young chap with a West Country accent who kept calling me ‘mate’, and the episode would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic.
I told him, at length, what was going on. I told him about my wife breaking the lockdown every day to visit [redacted], about the lies, about getting my children to lie, about poisoning them against me, about telling them I’m being mean to [redacted], about how my kids have turned against me, about the betrayal of our marriage, about the gaslighting, about disrupting bedtimes, about the shouting and the swearing and the screaming, about denying me access to their schooling, about my wife secretly filming me and keeping a diary of my supposed misdeeds, about being locked out of the house, about threats of violence, about having to walk on eggshells to avoid Dr Jekyll transforming into Mrs Hyde, about the likelihood of my becoming homeless, about my fear of having another breakdown, about the threat of the kids going into care, about the unbearable weight pressing down on me, about feeling abandoned by Social Services, about how I’d reached the point where I didn’t know how I could go on anymore and I had nothing left and I was going to end up in the nut house.
Well. The doctor seemed very concerned about my wife’s mental wellbeing, and how hard it must be for her to be separated from the support structure of [redacted]. How she must be struggling at this difficult time! He said that while my commitment to the lockdown is commendable, it’s time to let it go. He said I should allow her to visit [redacted] if she needs to and maybe even have supper with them and sleepovers, and you know what? Why not let [redacted] come round to my house, because she clearly needs that. It’s not ideal, mate, and it goes against the government guidelines, but if I look the other way and just let her do whatever she wants, he’s sure she’ll treat me better. The lockdown could go on for a while, so I really ought to do whatever I can to keep her calm and stable and make life bearable.
I just looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. On telling him I’m being abused and I want out, his first instinct was to empathise with my abuser. Must be great to have people who have never even met you make excuses for your behaviour, eh?
He told me to focus on the positives – my care manager had said some very nice things about me, and I was clearly doing a wonderful job, so I should keep doing what I’m doing. In fact, he had no idea where I found the strength to keep going, so what a great guy I must be – which was kind of missing the reason I was sitting in his office.
‘But I’m at breaking point,’ I growled. ‘I don’t even know how I’m going to get to the end of today. I’ve been carrying too much for too long and I’m all used up. I’ve built a wall around my emotions so I can keep functioning, but it’s starting to crumble and the trickle is going to become a tsunami that’s going to wash everything away.’
He asked if I was suicidal or thinking of killing the kids, so I reassured him I wasn’t.
As time was getting on, he said, ‘Well, mate, what would you like me to do for you? I mean, what do you want to get out of this appointment?’
I hate that question. You’re the doctor, you’re the specialist, I’ve come to you for help so you tell me.
‘I could give you some pills that might make it easier, but you’re already on two lots of pills and I think it’s helped to talk it through. I think you’re doing the right thing, mate. Your support workers can be the eyes on the ground and can feed back what’s happening, so stay strong for your children, mate, because they’re the most important thing in all this, and keep doing what you’re doing.’
And then he sent me home to the abuser, with the salutary lesson that I should use the strength I no longer have to appease my abuser so she abuses me less.
I guess I was expecting something more. Like, isn’t the message we give people that if they’re being abused, whether physically, emotionally or psychologically, they need to tell someone? It takes a lot to admit that the partner you love is also subjecting you to controlling, threatening, bullying and coercive behaviour, especially when you’re a man who outweighs his wife by several stones. You have to overcome guilt, shame, denial; you feel disloyal; you blame yourself; you make excuses; you’re afraid of the repercussions of speaking out; you doubt yourself; you pretend it isn’t that bad; you never stop hoping that things will get better; and just when they’ve got you at breaking point, and you’re ready to walk out, they start being nice and mess with your head. And worst of all, you still fucking love them.
To go through all of that, to finally have the courage to speak out, and have people shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Best not to piss her off then,’ and ‘We could do something for you…if you were a woman’…surely men deserve better than that, don’t we?
Don’t let the words that have been spinning around my head serve as a testament for male victims of domestic abuse: ‘I told them. I told everybody. I told them, and they DON’T CARE!’