Low Numbers Of Domestic Abuse Reports Thought To Be Down To Stigma Of ‘Shame And Embarrassment’
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is every October, but I’d never heard of it until now, despite having been assaulted by an ex-partner when I was just 17 years old.
As women, it has often been ingrained into us by aspects of society that we are less than. That our actions are less valued, our words less heard, and that we are to blame for the failures of men. Saying that, men too can become victims of domestic violence and should not be forgotten about within the discussion, which they often have and can be.
When I was hit over the head with a glass bottle, my lasting thought has always been that I was a difficult girlfriend and had family issues going on at the time that made me needy, desperate and ‘pathetic’, as he used to call me.
I always thought it was my fault, because I had pushed him to his brink.
The bottle didn’t break, I had family issues, I was going through mental health problems, I was a burden – these were all excuses I told myself and believed for years after.
The excuses ran through my mind when my head hit the pillow, but my anxiety refused to let me sleep. This spurred on a montage of moments in my life spanning so far back and featuring so many people, who probably hadn’t given me a second thought since.
I got back with him after he did it. I knew what he had done was wrong – enough to be convinced by a supportive male friend to go to the police the day after it happened – but I wasn’t strong enough to press charges, because I still loved him.
It is only five years later that I have realised and accepted that I am not to blame.
No matter if I was unstable, had my own family issues or was needy, none of my mistakes could ever constitute being a ‘reason’ to assault someone.
I excused my ex to my therapist and spoke of how I had wanted to leave the relationship due to seeing his violent and manipulative tendencies, but had kissed another guy instead, something that I’ve punished myself for ever since.
But does that mean I deserved to be hit? I have only just realised in the past few months that the answer to that question is no.
In the moment it happened, I just got up and ran. Sticky, stinking of beer and stunned, I had seen his violent side before, but had never anticipated it going quite this far.
I sprinted down the hallway to where my friends were staying, shivering outside their door as I stuttered out what had just occurred.
The panic and pace of the few minutes that followed were soon followed by hours of haze. One friend washed my hair in the sink and the lump on my head was checked, as I sat stock-still in silence, shaking on a chair.
By the time my friend had rushed up to my room, my ex was long gone. When asked, he didn’t even remember what he’d done the following day.
A male friend – who I will forever be grateful for – convinced me to go to the police the following morning. My ex had been violent before, bruises had been left on my arm, but this was the tipping point. I still loved him, but the thought of him doing something to another girl – I couldn’t let someone else be the next me.
So, I went to the police station. But on the way, I was texted by my ex’s friends and his parents’ friends warning me of the ‘consequences’ of going to the police. They tried to make me turn back, questioning what it would mean for him and his future – but what about mine?
Why should a man not be held accountable for his actions? Why should a 16-year-old girl have to shut her mouth and not speak out for the sake of a boy’s future over theirs? It is a story too often heard, women so often not believed or instead warned, threatened or silenced. I told the police what happened, but I didn’t press charges. I can only hope that it hasn’t happened again.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there were a total of 1,288,018 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes in England and Wales in the year ending March 2020 – and that number is only the amount of cases that were actually reported to police (excluding Greater Manchester Police).
I remember the first time I saw my ex acting aggressively. It was a few months into our relationship, and he threw a chair when his mum asked him to turn down the music in the early hours of the morning.
You choose not to see it when you’re in love. You let your mind deceive what your eyes see, and tell yourself ‘it could never happen to me’.
Throughout the relationship I was far from an angel. I checked his phone after I’d seen him flirting with other girls in front of me, I kissed another guy rather than ending it… I screamed, cried, I was desperate and a mess – I felt like I would die without him. And I went back to him, so many times, despite the things he did.
He told me how I was a ‘fun sponge’ and that everyone said it too, how ‘f*cked up’ I was and that I was ‘always going to lose’. According to him, I ‘deserved to be mocked and hurt’.
I always think that the bottle was the tipping point, something physical normally makes people may more attention… doesn’t it?
But his friends spread around that I had lied, teachers from his school on the trip didn’t even acknowledge what had happened or support me, and no parent raised the issue either.
So when he did finally apologise, I was quick to pretend that is hadn’t happened too. We got back together for more than a year.
The irony is that while I have finally come to terms with my role in the relationship and stopped punishing and blaming myself for the abuse I received, he is yet to ever take responsibility.
His school recently came under fire for the culture it has become a breeding ground for – boys who disrespect women. I added my account to the list of nearly 250 anonymous testimonials, detailing its students being involved in incidents where they had supplied alcohol or drugs for predatory purposes, incidents of revenge pornography, failure of the school to address such issues and physical intimidation and normalisation of such behaviour, all addressed to the headmaster.
According to a mutual friend, my ex read all the accounts and branded the boys involved ‘disgusting’, not realising – or in denial – that one of those boys who was so ‘disgusting’ was actually him.
So when will abusers truly be held accountable for their actions? I am at fault too; I got back with him and the relationship was not healthy on either side, but by ignoring the abuse, the society around me perpetuated the idea in my head that the violence had been acceptable.
Would I have got back together with him if I had received more support?
Aged 17, I was left with a warped view of love; the idea that women are never truly heard and that James Brown was right by singing that this is a ‘man’s world’.
However, he was also right in saying how it would be ‘nothing without a woman or girl’, because some men truly thrive off of having power over them. As my ex said, he stayed with me partly due to ‘enjoying making me feel like sh*t’.
I always thought I was a boy’s girl – yes, I know, that comes with a stigma in itself. But I grew up preferring the company and friendship of men over women. Aged five I was much more likely to go over to a boy’s house and wallop him with a huge, green, Hulk boxing hand, then play Barbies with any of the girls. So please believe me when I say that I’m not saying that it is ‘all men’ who treat those around them unfairly – women can be abusers too.
However, all it takes is one abuser to do something, another to look away, another to not speak out, another to accuse the victim of lying, and the chain continues into building a society that fosters extremely damaging and problematic attitudes towards women.
It may not be ‘all men’, but many men play their role. If not committing the verbal, emotional or physical abuse, in ignoring it, covering it up or silencing those who have suffered at a man’s hands, they are complicit.
Despite this, a cancel culture is not what I am trying to encourage. It would also be hypocritical of me, as I have had to learn a lot and change my behaviour in relationships over the years too. Dependent on the scale of their wrongdoings, I believe that a man should be able to acknowledge his mistakes, learn from them, repent and change his ways. If we were to cancel them all, then why would any man try and learn and better his behaviour?
I am also aware that not all victims of domestic violence and abuse are women.
Domestic violence occurs about every 15 seconds, taking place in the nation every minute of every day, Domestic Violence.org reports, and most cases, even if reported to police, are ‘left behind closed doors’.
Whatever gender you identify as, Domestic Violence Awareness Month was launched in 1981 to reunite victims and raise awareness to others. It hopes to break the violent chain that is often perpetuated by society within our nation.
Around 10 million people become a victim of domestic violence every single year, which according to Domestic Violence.org equates to ’20 people every minute’.
And while some victims have felt able to speak out, domestic violence is a complicated issue to tackle due to the power-play, manipulation and fear involved. Whether you are believed, how society responds, whether you end up ignored or silence, all play their part.
For men, being a victim of domestic violence can be extremely complex to navigate. Men are often not taken seriously as victims due to those who project views of toxic masculinity, as well as some seeing men as being physically stronger and thus more able to ‘fight back’ and so are not really ‘victims’.
However, this prejudice can then make it even more difficult for men to speak up when they have faced such abuse.
When asked about some of the stigmas that have proven to be common when considering the idea of men being victims of domestic violence, Hannah Costley, solicitor in the Crime and Regulatory team at Slater Heelis, told UNILAD, ‘One of the biggest stigmas faced by both cis and non cis men is the belief that domestic violence is only experienced by women.’
She clarified that physical violence against men in a domestic setting is ‘uncommon’, but that it is ‘not non-existent’. Costley said how ‘psychological control and manipulation’ tend to be the more ‘usual’ forms of abuse that men face if they are victims of domestic violence.
Costley condemned society’s perpetuation of stigmas such as the ‘idea that men have to be strong, powerful and macho’, which is ingrained into men from a young age. She believes that this not only contributes but is a ‘driving force’ behind such low numbers of men reporting incidents of domestic violence. ‘It is entrenched in shame and embarrassment for failing to be society’s definition of a ‘man’,’ she said.
Costley also believes that society often only thinks of women as being perpetrators of violence if having to act in self-defence against a man. While she recognises that this can be true, she says it can also ‘diminish the claims of men’ who are victims of such violence.
Culture and the pressure to maintain a certain family dynamic can also act as a barrier to men reporting domestic violence, Costley noted.
If a man is in a same-sex relationship and hasn’t yet felt able to be open about their sexuality, should an incident occur, a man may not feel able to report such an incident due to not wanting to ‘jeopardise their secret’.
In terms of prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence, Costley states that cases don’t become ‘more complex’ when a man is the victim, but that such cases can be more difficult to successfully prosecute or defend.
While she cannot speak for all cases, Costley explains that in her experience, this is because men are ‘less likely to confide in other people, professionals, or keep a record of abuse’.
The pandemic has also seen a rise in reporting of domestic violence and abuse.
In lockdown, Costley recalls being at a police station ‘almost daily’, with the ‘majority’ of offences relating to some sort of domestic abuse. She calls some of the amount of incidents she was involved in dealing with ‘haunting’ and with ‘incredibly sinister outcomes’. Costley also commented that unfortunately there were even times where partners would make false claims.
She noted the prevalence of abuse during events such as the Euros 2020, as a ‘direct result of the football’.
However, Costley reminds that people need to remember that domestic abuse does not just mean abuse between partners, but that ‘domestic’ covers ‘any home/ familial setting’.
On the topic of police responses to reports of domestic abuse and violence, Costley said how she thinks they have ‘become more vigilant’, however she noted that there is ‘no uniform approach’.
However, she said:
Saying this, it seems to be a general consensus that whoever makes the allegation first is the ‘victim’. I had a case where a man was arrested for pushing his partner, however, he had done this in self-defence after she had bitten his finger and body.
When I attended on him in custody, his finger had fresh stitches and he had clear bite marks on his chest. Despite putting forward his account, he was charged and remanded for Court.
She concluded that while her example was ‘extreme’, ‘it is not uncommon’.
Costley believes that education is a ‘powerful force’ for changing the state of domestic abuse and violence. ‘If children are taught to be unafraid to discuss their feelings, understand their relationship dynamics and recognise unacceptable behaviour, then they will be powerful in the knowledge that they will be listened to if they speak out,’ she said.
She reminds any victims of domestic violence that such abuse is ‘unacceptable’. While she admits that the criminal justice system in relation to it can be ‘disheartening’, she encourages victims to ask for the case to be ‘reassigned’ or to make a complaint and to not give up.
‘If going to the police is not an option for you, there are charities and helplines available that can provide support and advice. For men in the UK there are organisations like Mankind, Refuge and Respect,’ she concluded.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please know that you are not alone. You can talk in confidence 24 hours a day to the national domestic violence helpline Refuge on 0808 2000 247.
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