Domestic abuse and the abuse of men – and the plague of toxic masculinity

 Across the UK reports of domestic abuse have increased significantly. The police saw a 7% increase in violent domestic abuse reports, Victim Support report a 12% increase in referrals for domestic abuse cases, and the National Domestic Abuse Helpline saw a very concerning 65% increase in calls in just the first months of lockdown. These figures have continued to grow throughout the ongoing pandemic, and domestic abuse is a cause of enormous concern as resources continue to be overwhelmed and people remain in abusive relationships and situations that are reaching boiling point under the ongoing pressures of the pandemic.

The media has been drawing a lot of attention to these statistics, and attempting to find support for resources which offer help to victims. The main focus of this help has been for women and children, who have been victimised by their abusive partners and fathers.

Much of the media coverage, however, doesn’t make much referral to resources for men who are suffering abuse, and who are being victimised in domestic abuse situations.

Men often find it much harder than women to escape abuse. They also find it harder to admit, or even to accept, that they are in an abusive relationship. Public response to men being abused is far less sympathetic, and can often make light or even ridicule those who are trying to ask for help, but it is just as dangerous for a man who is being abused as it is for a female victim.

Men in abusive relationships are at high risk of physical harm and even death, and especially so because the public response, and that of many services, doesn’t take their abuse as seriously, which means that men are ashamed or embarrassed to seek help, therefore find themselves trapped for longer without access to support and resources which could protect them from their abuser.

The legal repercussions for women who abuse men are also far less significant, which means that they are less protected from their abuser finding them again, or returning to the abusive relationship because their abuser gets off lightly and is still free to continue contacting, and therefore abusing, their victim.

One very public case shown regularly in the media in recent years was 22 year old Alex Skeel from Bedfordshire, who was found ‘days from death’ by police after neighbours reported a disturbance.  His then partner, Jordan Worth, admitted grievous bodily harm and coercive, controlling behaviour, after isolating Alex from his family and friends, and assaulting him with knives, boiling water and a hot iron, among other incidents. Jordan was jailed for seven and a half years for the abuse, and Alex is now very active as a public speaker, regularly appearing in the media, campaigning to raise awareness and support for men who are abused.

Sickeningly, a significant amount of the public response to the news stories, including comments on news stories and posts on Twitter, have seen people ridiculing Alex, making jokes about the abuse he suffered, and taunting him for publicly speaking about his experiences.

Which is precisely why he continues to do it. To raise awareness of how terrifying living with abuse is, and how incredibly dangerous it is for authorities and services to see it as ‘less significant’ and thus less serious or damaging than a man abusing a woman.

I wrote recently about the life-altering impact of shame, and how it can cause deep psychological issues – you can read that article here – and one thing many men who have been abused name as a lasting impact is shame; shame that they were abused, shame that they ‘were weak’ or that they are somehow less of a man.

This is not true. It simply isn’t. The mentality that ‘a real man’ couldn’t be abused, or that it’s somehow funny, is wholly inaccurate and damaging.

Toxic masculinity – the way that men are taught from a very young age that they should be tough, that they should not be soft or gentle, that they should be hard and unemotional, is poisonous.

Toxic masculinity, and the ingrained belief that men should never struggle with their emotional needs or mental health, that men should never cry, not talk about their feelings, should be physically and mentally tougher than women, and that their needs are insignificant or a sign of weakness and being somehow ‘lesser’, is precisely why more men are finding themselves in abusive relationships.

It is also why it is harder for them to seek, and receive, help. It is why the statistics for suicide are significantly higher in men. Because they have no way of processing, recovering from or surviving pain, trauma and mental ill health.

In fact; suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and figures are increasing.

Suicide is directly linked to shame – and shame is a direct result of toxic masculinity. That toxicity is seeing more men die from abuse, or from suicide, and both could be avoided if people simply felt more able to speak honestly about their experiences, and receive support.

If you are struggling with shame, or have been the victim of abuse – either in the past or in your current life – please don’t continue to carry that pain alone. I can help, and am very experienced in working with men who have lived with abuse; you can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person.

You can also visit Mankind for more information and support for male victims of abuse https://www.mankind.org.uk/