It’s estimated there could be 3,000 men in the Armed Forces who are victims of domestic abuse every year and now a charity is stepping in to help people recognise the signs of abuse.
Most domestic abuse services focus on female victims. However, in 2001 The Mankind Initiative was set up as the first charity to help male victims escape abuse.
Thanks to funding from the LIBOR grant scheme, the charity has been offering training for welfare support staff and associate agencies in all three Armed Forces about how to better support male victims.
Spotting The Signs Of Domestic Abuse
According to the Office For National Statistics latest domestic abuse statistics*, an estimated two million adults were the victims of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018. 695,000 of those were male.
Domestic abuse can present itself in a variety of ways: Psychological, Physical, Sexual, Financial and Emotional.
How can you tell if you or someone you know is being abused? At what point does a relationship become dangerous? A good place to start is to look out for changes in behaviour, appearance or how often your loved one contacts you.
Below an armed forces veteran who endured years in an abusive relationship shares his emotional story in the hope that others can spot the signs of domestic abuse in their loved ones.
A Personal Account Of Male Domestic Abuse
Robert Wells served nearly 13 years with the Royal Military Police. In 2007 his partner began physically, emotionally and financially abusing him.
It was this traumatic experience that fueled his desire to set up Domestic Abuse Business Support which helps businesses protect and support employees from domestic abuse.
“Domestic abuse is spilling out of the home and into the workplace and we must move quickly, to offer support to sufferers, survivors and offenders.”
At the beginning of his relationship, Robert very quickly found himself isolated which often happens at the start of domestic abuse cases. He said:
“I eventually found myself moving from Church Crookham in Fleet with my own home and a career to living in a small village in Scotland in the middle of nowhere with basically nothing.”
“All the signs were there when we first met... I found out very early on in the relationship that she’d been subjected to some pretty horrific treatment as a child and I thought, well if I can stand by her and prove to her that I’m not like other men, those that used and abused her, that one day she’ll wake up and realise that and everything will be rosy but of course, it didn’t work out like that.”
“I knew that the treatment that I was receiving was wrong. It was incredibly upsetting and distressing on a daily level, but I’d never sat there, looked at myself in the mirror and thought I am in a domestic abuse situation.”
What Form Did Robert's Abuse Take?
It was a throw-away moment that began his financial abuse. He was working but his partner wasn’t but as she did the food shop asked to take his bank card. He said:
“Next thing you find is that you’re having to justify to that person why you need that card back and you’re normally met with a very aggressive tone, maybe even violence and you reach the point where it’s not worth asking.
“I ended up in a situation where I was having to ask for my own money.
“I was never given the card she would go down to the cashpoint and draw the money out for me.”
A Taboo Subject
Because of toxic stereotypes, it’s hard to see someone in the armed forces, who may have served in places like the Falklands or Afghanistan, as being a victim of his partner. He said:
“I was once asked ‘why didn’t you just lay her out’? I’m not the kind of guy who wants to or thinks of hitting a woman.
“I think most guys are brought up to believe that that is wrong and shouldn’t do it and most guys don’t want to do that.
“When Police Officers turned up to situations because they’d been called by either myself or a neighbour they automatically dealt with me as the perpetrator.
“One of the things I talk about to frontline services like … military police officers is trying to get them to take into consideration that the man could actually be the victim.”
Men are perceived by society as being physically stronger and the stereotype of a domestic abuse victim is that of a woman cowering under a man. Robert says perpetuating that stereotype is dangerous for male domestic abuse victims.
“Unfortunately, we are bombarded with gender stereotyping these days … nine times out of ten you’ll see a picture of a man standing over a cowered woman with his fists clenched.
“We need to move away from that because whilst women do remain the majority victims of domestic abuse it isn’t solely women.
“We have to stop gender stereotyping the situation of women always being the victim and men as always being the perpetrator because it’s just not the case and unfortunately having that in place stops a lot of men from coming forward and making that complaint to the police.”
Mark Brooks, Chairman of The Mankind Initiative, is strongly campaigning for people to realise that men can be victims too and that being abused by their partner doesn't make them any less masculine. He said:
“There’s a huge stigma when it comes to domestic abuse against men. Not only just from society not taking it seriously not believing that men can be victims of domestic abuse but also from men themselves.
“They fear that they won’t be believed, they fear that it undermines their whole sense of what it means to be a man and undermines their masculinity.
“And I suspect it’s even tougher for me in the armed forces where the whole thing in many respects is about being tough and strong and therefore being a victim of domestic abuse can actually act as an even bigger barrier in terms of recognizing what is happening to you because the expectation is placed on you."
What Made Robert Leave His Abusive Relationship?
“Leaving the relationship … is the most dangerous time and it really has to be thought through and planned properly.
“Eventually I did leave the relationship. A few weeks after I left, I was attacked again, in my own home this time. That was actually the most serious attack that I suffered over the years that we were together.
“The crucial thing that really got me to leave was we’d had a honeymoon period whilst my partner was pregnant … all of the violence, all of the control, everything, all of the emotional abuse stopped overnight.
“But once my daughter was born I was then subjected to a vicious assault whilst holding my daughter and that really tipped me over the edge causing me to have a break down at work and social services became involved and I talked to somebody about what was happening for the very first time.”
What Advice Does Robert Have For Other Victims?
“Police are more responsive now to male domestic abuse so guys shouldn’t be afraid to come forward and report their abuse to the police.
“But I have to say, I have a full-time job as well and most of the guys take the mickey to be honest.
“I had a comment today actually from one of the guys, said words to the effect of ‘how’s it going talking about not being able to stand up to women?’
“There are a lot of barriers to break down, a lot of work to be done when it comes to getting people to think openly about domestic abuse against men but … slowly but surely some of those barriers will be broken down.”
How Can The Mankind Initiative Help You?
The Mankind Initiative run a confidential helpline where men who are the victims of domestic violence can call for help, emotional support and advice. The helpline is also available to relatives or friends of men who they fear are being abused.
Domestic abuse can present itself in a variety of ways:
The Mankind Initiative states very clearly on their website that:
“[Domestic abuse] can happen to anyone, no matter what their gender, religion, class, rank, age, race or sexuality.
“... you are not to blame, you are not weak and you are not alone. There is help available and you (and your children) can escape.”
Is There A Shift In Thinking?
Mark says that over the last ten years he's seen a real improvement in the number of men coming forward and an increased willingness from professional services and welfare services in recognising that men are victims of domestic abuse too. He said:
“We still have a way to go but the stigma is reducing and we are in a far better place now than we’ve ever been.”
For the last 18 months the Mankind Initiative has been providing free support in two main ways:
One day CPD accredited training to the Armed Forces Community aimed at raising awareness of the signs of Domestic Abuse against men and the support available to help them. The training is delivered by Marilyn Selwood, a qualified Independent Domestic Violence Advisor and Domestic Abuse Service Manager. She has already delivered this training to bases across the UK and abroad including Paderborn, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and Gibraltar.
An online training module called 'Domestic Abuse Awareness Training for Armed Forces Welfare Services' which is on the Defence Learning Environment. This covers six main areas:
• The numbers of men who are victims
• The types of domestic abuse they suffer
• Real-life experiences of male victims and the barriers they face
• The signs of male domestic abuse
• How to support male victims
• How to create services, policies and communication campaigns
The Online Domestic Abuse Awareness Training for Armed Forces Welfare Services is now available for all military staff who have access to the DLE.
If you would like to speak to someone call the Mankind Initiative helpline on 01823 334 244 (open weekdays 10am to 4pm UK Time)