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FEATURE: When men suffer abuse at the hands of a woman

James Hockaday and Stephen Delahunty

FEATURE: When men suffer abuse at the hands of a woman

When people think of domestic abuse, they tend to think of men being the perpetrators and women being the victims.

While this is often the case, male victims risk being overlooked and are faced with social stigmas when talking about their abuse, as reporters James Hockaday and Stephen Delahunty learned from professionals and victims from the area.

The names of the victims have been changed to protect their identity.

‘Man up’, ‘grow a pair’ – both phrases which are seen by many as innocuous.

But the reinforcement of such gender stereotypes could be stopping men who are being abused from speaking out about their problems.

Some people fixate on size differences and wonder how a man could possibly fall victim to abuse from their female partner, but the picture is not so straightforward.

“It’s more than just physical; a lot of times people think it’s just a punch,” said Judith Banjoko, area manager for support charity Hestia, which became Slough Borough Council’s domestic abuse service provider in April.

“You have financial abuse, you have sexual abuse, you have emotional abuse; there’s different facets of abuse.”

She said, between April and July, Hestia had nine cases of men reporting domestic abuse, compared to hundreds of women.

“I think part of that’s to do with the stigma attached to it,” she said. “Women tend to experience it more because of the dynamics of our society that we live in, the power and control. But it’s equally heinous in my opinion if it happens to men.”

Rani Bilkhu, founder of Slough-based human rights charity Jeena International, says male victims come from a myriad of backgrounds.

“For men we get probably about three referrals a week, it’s quite a lot really. We don’t advertise our services,” she said.

She said many men are often not believed and says police officers have a tendency to take their complaints less seriously compared to women.

These sentiments were echoed by Joe, a former soldier who was repeatedly abused, physically and mentally, by his wife of six years.

He said this was fuelled mainly by alcohol, something which Rani says is common.

Joe said: “Whenever we would go out I was just waiting for something to happen. I just curled up in a ball and just let her do it, not that it was going to hurt me that much because she’s not that big.”

He said he reported the abuse to officers at Maidenhead Police Station and said their response was ‘blasé’.

“He said ‘You’re a bloke, you haven’t got much chance’. I was gobsmacked, I just felt so small.”

The veteran, who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, says he did not fight back because he would be painted as ‘the big villain’ if he did.

Joe ended his 10-year relationship a year ago.

Haj Azim, an independent domestic violence advocate, and Naz Mukhtar, team manager Harrow, Ealing and Slough.

Rob, a police officer, said his wife was arrested in September last year after an attack where he was punched and kicked – but says for the most part, his abuse was mental.

“It would be things like trying to wake me up in the night and calling me names,” he said.

“She liked to drink and, when she did, I knew I would be in for bad time.

“She would try and control what I watched and wouldn’t let me watch the football and stuff, just controlling really.”

He added: “There absolutely needs to be more awareness around male domestic abuse.

“Blokes tend not to report it – in my experience as an officer, females wait about 27 times before reporting it.”

Rani Bilkhu, of Jeena International, with Pav Hayre, Mins Bal, Jyoti Kataia, and Tony Singh Shergill of Cameron Clarke Lawyers

Immigration often plays a central role in domestic abuse victims from overseas, says Tony Singh Shergill, from the Slough office of Cameron Clarke Lawyers.

He says under the Destitution Domestic Violence concession, people overseas who claim they are victims of domestic violence can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the country without having to pay Home Office administration fees and can claim benefits for up to three months while their applications are considered.

The downside of this, says Tony, is that some police officers instinctively become suspicious that people claiming victimhood are looking for a way to secure their immigration status.

He recommended that victims applying for the concession go through charities or immigration lawyers who know how the system works.

Tony says men he has worked with from the Indian subcontinent who come to the country for marriages often face threats against their family if they speak out about their abuse.

He said one of his clients had money taken from him by his wife’s family members, who told him what he could and could not do and forbade him to register with a doctor.

“I think, when he was working, the money he got paid, they would keep, it was definitely modern day slavery,” he said.

Rani says that men from Pakistan often regard police officers as corrupt and untrustworthy and bring that perception to Britain, which is re-enforced by their abusive family members.

Family members often claim to have connections in the Home Office, police or other establishments to stop victims from speaking out, says Tony.

Rani and Tony say this abuse, which spans beyond the home, is carried out by multiple family members and is connected to upholding family reputation, could be classed as honour-based.

They say police have been prone to dismissing the notion that men can fall victim to honour-based abuse in cases they have worked on.

Faisal came to Slough and received help from Jeena International in June after leaving his wife in Halifax.

It started off with verbal and psychological abuse, but his wife went on to physically abuse him, punching and kicking him, throwing plates at him and hitting him with a table.

He said his wife was well connected in Pakistan and threatened to get people to hurt his family if he spoke out. Her stepson followed him whenever he went out alone, he said.

While most men are conscious of societal expectations to been seen as tough or self-reliant, Faisal says admitting abuse as a man is especially ‘embarrassing’ in Asian cultures – something both Tony and Rani agreed with.

Faisal became depressed but has since opened up about his problems following talking therapies.

“I would just say, don’t feel embarrassed. You have to talk about this, otherwise no one will help you,” he said.

A Thames Valley Police spokesman said the press team cannot comment on general police attitudes.

Offering help in times of crisis 

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, here are some organisations you can contact:
Hestia – 01753 477352 email
Jeena International – 01753 553614 or 07958 603541
Slough Borough Council Family Information Service – 01753 476589 email
Karma Nirvana (charity for victims of honour-based violence) – 0800 5999 247 email National Centre for Domestic Violence – 0800 970 2070
Slough Children’s Services Trust – 01753 875362
Men’s Advice Line – 0808 801 0327 email
ManKind –  01823 334 244
Galop (LGBT+ anti-violence charity) – 0800 9995428 email
Anyone in immediate danger should call the police on 999.

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