When the Abuser is a Women

Article in the Irish Times

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Date: Tue, 6 Jan 1998 16:16:55 BST
Reply-to: DADS-L Discussion of Political and Social Issues Facing Male
Parents
From: Sean Mac Suibhne
Organization: Dublin Institute of Technology
Subject: FWD: When the abuser is a woman. -Irish Times
To: DADS-L@MAINE.MAINE.EDU

Hi All,

Well a very happy new year to ye all. But the fight isn't over yet!

This appeared in todays Irish Times.

It can be reached from http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/~smacsuib/pe/index.htm
(where there are a lot of other links to Fathers articles in that newspaper.) or from the URL below

When the abuser is a woman

AMEN is the recently formed self-help group for men who've been abused by women.

Patrick Brennan reports...

Dear Mary, Deserted three years ago, I suffered many physical attacks from a very beautiful woman. As a child my mother hit me a lot. I was blamed for everything though innocent. To have hit my mother back would have been a mortal sin, so I grew up programmed into never using physical or mental terror on any woman. My wife of seven years could never understand why I didn't retaliate when she abused me. . .

Yours,

M.

Until recently there was nowhere for men like Michael to go for a "listening ear" - no male equivalent of a women's refuge. But two months ago nurse Mary Cleary set up AMEN (Abused Men), a self-help group and phoneline for male victims of domestic violence. Michael's letter is part of a plethora of correspondence she has received since. "One of my motivations for getting involved in this is to highlight domestic violence as an equality issue not a gender one," says Mary. "By no manner of means do I want to undermine violence against women. I have a women's refuge training myself. However, there's a taboo around the idea that women abuse. Females can be just as manipulative and into control as men.

"As a nurse I came across an 80year-old man who was blind. He had a wound on his arm that needed 17 stitches given to him by his wife. She laughed at the protection order he got against her and the beatings increased after it."

According to Dr Art O'Connor, chief forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, Dublin, there is a level of under-reporting in all abuse cases but especially when they are domestic attacks by females on males.

Attitudes may already be changing, however. In a MORI survey in Britain earlier this year, 11 per cent of women said they had been abused by men while 18 per cent of males reported abuse by their female partners.

"Men are expected to take responsibility for abuse with no excuses accepted," says Mary Cleary. "Yet when a female is violent, society provides a list of extenuating circumstances: postnatal depression, stress, PMT, eating disorders, personality disorders, menopause, provocation and self-defence. Most men will be sensitive to these problems. Whether they are or not, though, they shouldn't have to suffer violence as a consequence." Michael's wife left him for another man in 1995. During their marriage she constantly criticised him and compared him sexually with his usurper, with whom she was having a relationship while they were still together. He was referred to as "the wimp" in front of friends.

At one point after they'd separated, his wife pinned him to the wall of their family home with the help of her father's Rottweiler. He has been terrified of dogs ever since his brother was savaged by a dog when he was 11 - so this was, he says, like having a shotgun held to his head. The best the Garda could do was to warn his wife about a breach of leash and muzzle regulations for dangerous dogs.

Another man tells of how a Garda sergeant laughed at him when he approached the gardao after his wife had torn his shirt open and poured tea down his chest - not for the first time. The final response was for him to go home and stop hassling his wife.

One Irish academic, feminist sociologist Dr Sessn Stitt, researched the area at the John Moore University's Centre For Consumer Research in Liverpool. He found that the dominant views regarding female batterers were that "the problem did not exist, men must have done something to women to have provoked it or, at least, they were getting a `taste of their own medicine' because women were simply being assertive". Dr Stitt's work involved interviews with social work personnel in Britain. "Awareness about this scenario is like it was when women first started talking about being battered," he says.

"The men are generally disbelieved. But if the terms `male' and `female' were switched around, the research showed that these would adequately describe the 'battered husband syndrome'. The reactions and coping mechanisms of the male victims included total withdrawal - mainly from contact with other males - isolation and an acceptance that they were indeed `weak', `inadequate' and not 'real men'."

"I've been battered with bare fists, a poker, the handle of a Hoover, a brush. I was sent to casualty. On a couple of occasions I was attacked with a carving knife. It was a living hell," says a member of the Garda Soochssna whose wife was an abuser. "One night I was so badly beaten I rang the `battered wives' group in my area. They just laughed at me. It took me 2 1/2 years to get the courage to tell my doctor that my wife was hitting me. In the beginning I told him they were football injuries."

Unlike most men in a similar situation, he began to keep a record of the assaults. After each attack he visited his GP that evening or the following day. When his wife went to court to have him barred from the family home he was able, instead, to have a protection order issued against her. Over the 10 years of abuse, he collected bruises from head to toe. "I could do nothing right. She threw my clothes out the window and told our children I was sexually abusing her. To this day I'm the one to blame for everything."

As his daughters testified, throughout it all he never once raised his hand to his wife. Sometimes he was so afraid for his life that he would lock his bedroom door for safety. "Sometimes she'd come in roaring and shouting that I had to pay rent. She'd turn off the heat. This was the house I was paying the mortgage on. If I'd had another few years I'd have been six feet under."

"One of the myths we found was the idea that a woman abusing a man can't do as much harm," says Sessn Stitt. "What females lack in strength they make up for by using surprise, often attacking men in their sleep." And Mary Cleary reports one case where a man said his wife's "favourite trick" (as he called it) was to throw cold water on him in the middle of the night and then attack him with a kitchen utensil.

"Women also tend to use weapons rather than fists," adds Stitt.

Another man interviewed for this article tells how a solicitor told him he was wasting his time trying to get a barring order against his violent wife because it's a woman's law.

"She's a very arrogant woman," he says. "She'd insult you anywhere. In company. When people rang. You couldn't go out with her without her making an absolute show of you. She'd think nothing of hitting you a punch, especially if you were talking to other couples." Unknown to him his wife was beating their three children as well. Nor would she get up to bring them to school - when he arrived home from work in the evening she'd have their uniforms on so he never suspected anything was amiss.

One night out of the blue she announced she was going to have him arrested. But his eldest daughter saw her mother scrape herself before she rang the police. As a result the barring order his wife tried to take out was dropped.

"I can't understand it," he says. "If I had done to her what she's done to me I'd be in Mountjoy." When a judge did issue a barring order against her at one point, he said he was reluctant to do so because he didn't know where the "poor woman was going to sleep for the night".

'It's not at all uncommon for women to come for help," says therapist Frank McArdle. "Anger comes up from the subconscious. But you do it to yourself. No one does it to you. It can come from primary learnings or your value system. Often women who hit saw their mothers abused by their fathers and vow that's not going to happen to me."

Why do men stay in abusive situations? The same age-old question that the public asks of women who stay with violent men. One man who put up with an appalling situation for years gives his reason.

"Why did I stay for so long? Well, when my daughter was 12 my wife said to her: `Your Daddy's going to be leaving us soon.' She broke down crying and ran into my arms. I promised then I'd never leave her."

The AMEN helpline number is 046-23718.

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