If we asked you to picture a domestic abuser, what do they look like? And, more importantly, what gender are they? Society still follows an outdated narrative of domestic abuse, based on pejorative terms like ‘wife beater’ and ‘battered wife’. There are two main things wrong with these phrases – they assume that all abuse is violent, and that all victims are women.
Because of these regressive ideas about what abuse looks like, male victims of domestic abuse find it harder to access help. Many fear they will be ridiculed or won’t be believed – particularly if they are being abused by a female partner. But abusers can be any gender and any sexuality.
Some men feel they have the right to manipulate, control and put down their partners. Some women do too. According the ManKind Initiative, male victims are more than twice as likely as women to keep the abuse secret and not seek help. But not all abuse is the same. Victims in abusive LGBT relationships experience unique problems, as do heterosexual male victims.
Although it’s difficult to condense such a complex experience into a few points, here are some of the things you may experience as a heterosexual male abuse victim.
What does abuse look like?
Do you find yourself changing your behaviour to avoid conflict with your partner? Does it feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them? If so, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing abuse. And abuse doesn’t just mean physical violence – it starts long before that stage. By the time she hits you, she’s likely already controlling your life.
She’s jealous: At first you thought it was kind of sweet how she got jealous of other women, but it became progressively worse. Now, it’s not just other women she gets jealous of. She hates you spending time with or talking to your friends, she gets jealous of you speaking to your family. She might get jealous of your children if you have them, especially if they are from a previous relationship. This is how abusers cut you off from your support network.
She puts you down: She started off so loving – but when you think about that woman, you barely recognise the person you’re with now. She’s hypercritical, seemingly putting you down for everything you do. Every small thing that goes wrong is your fault – regardless of whether or not you had anything to do with it. You feel like you need to tread carefully and be on your ‘best behaviour’ at all times to avoid her flying off the handle. Even then, she belittles you constantly and makes you feel worthless.
You feel isolated: Since she hates you spending time with your friends and family, you’ve lost contact with most of your support network. You don’t feel like you have anywhere to turn, or like people will understand. You feel alone.
She controls the money: Your partner may control all of your finances, and make you account for every penny you spend. Any major financial decisions are taken by her.
You have no privacy: You might suspect she’s reading your emails, texts, post or Facebook messages. She might have demanded you give her all of your passwords, or even hacked you. If you try to change your passwords, she gets upset and accuses you of hiding something. You don’t feel like you have any personal space.
She emotionally blackmails you: She might threaten to kill herself if you leave, as a way of blackmailing you into staying.
She sexually abuses you: This may be more subtle than you realise. For example, you may feel pressured into having sex – if you say you don’t want to, she sulks or becomes aggressive. She may also coerce you into performing sex acts you don’t feel comfortable with.
Sadly, our society still tells boys and men that they need to ‘man up’, ‘grow a pair’, ‘get some balls’. That so-called ‘real men’ should be stoical and cope in any situation.
Because of this, you may fear being ridiculed by their friends, or just not believed. You might worry that people will see you as a stereotypical ‘hen-pecked’ partner.
But the abuse you have been subjected to will not weaken you in the eyes of those who care about you – or the law. It does not make you a weak person.
In fact, the reality is that it takes great strength to stay in a controlling, unhappy relationship because you hope your partner might still change, or for the sake of your children.
However, it also takes strength to admit that you are in an abusive relationship, and that you may need help.
Our outdated ideas about masculinity and what it means to be a man are trapping male victims in domestic prisons – and even killing them.
The law is there to protect you too
Domestic abuse and violence services aren’t just there for female victims – they are there for you too.
However, whatever you do, do not retaliate – it’s not safe. If you retaliate against your partner, the police may see you as the abuser and you could be arrested and charged.
Who can I call for help? You can call the Men’s Advice Line for confidential help, information, advice and support on 0808 801 0327. You can also call the ManKind helpline for support on 01823 334244 between 10am and 4pm on Wednesdays.
If your partner is physically abusive, you can also call the police. If you’re in immediate danger call 999.
Remember that all public authorities, including the police, local councils, GPs and hospitals, have to support you in the same way they would a female victim.
Don’t suffer in silence.