It was a real privilege to be asked to speak at the recent Male Victim Event Day organised by the University of Central Lancashire (Preston, UK) and I was thrilled to be included alongside people who are making a real global difference in changing public perception about Domestic Violence.”
The keynote speaker was Dr Denise Hines of Clark University, Massachusetts. Dr Hines is the Principal Investigator on a series of studies investigating the physical and mental health of men who sustain partner violence from their female partners and seek help. The most recent of these studies also investigates the mental and physical health of child witnesses and is being supported by a grant from the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (USA). About two years ago, I discovered the work of Dr. Hines, emailed her and she kindly put me in touch with some UK academics who were involved with her in an international research project. It was though the follow-up contact with Dr Louise Dixon and Dr. Niki Graham-Kevan that I was invited to speak.
Another speaker was Ian McNicholl whose ex-girlfriend was imprisoned for seven years for grievous bodily harm for the injuries she inflicted on Mr McNicholl. Ian McNicholl was involved in the development of the Coronation Street storyline featuring Tyrone Dobbs and gave the soap a great insight into male victims of domestic violence. Again, the Coronation Street storyline has brought great help to many people and I was honoured to stand alongside both Dr Hines and Ian McNicholl.
Also on the schedule of speakers were: Margaret Gardner (Director of False Allegations Support Organisation), Valerie Wise (Chief Executive Preston Domestic Violence Services) and Nick Smithers ( National Development Officer Abused Men in Scotland)
Attached Photograph. L-R Ian Young, Margaret Gardner (Director of False Allegations Support Organisation), Valerie Wise (Chief Executive Preston Domestic Violence Services), Dr Niki Graham-Kevan ( Reader, University of Central Lancashire), Ian McNicholl (ManKind Initiative Patron), Nick Smithers ( National Development Officer Abused Men in Scotland) and Dr Denise Hines.
This is a transcription of my speech
I’m a survivor of female perpetrated Domestic Abuse which has severely impacted me and my children. It took place during the course of my marriage which lasted 17 years. Today would have been my 21st wedding anniversary. While it was happening, I felt that I had nowhere to turn nor could I speak to anyone about it. I felt so alone. It affected every area of my well-being. When I finally was able to come out of the marriage, it was at great personal cost. As part of my own healing, I began writing and blogging about my experience and was overwhelmed by others contacting me to say that they were in similar situations and felt so isolated. This motivated me to campaign to raise greater awareness about Domestic Violence and how it affects men in particular.
How the abuse started
1992 was a momentous year for me. I got ordained as a church minister and six months after ordination, I got married. Just before our wedding, my ex-wifes mother died, Her Father had died when she was 7. She never spoke about her childhood. There were a few things she told me that were lies, and had I known that then, it might have changed the course of our relationship. However, I was in an environment where you believed or wanted to believe everything was true.
I saw no worrying behavioural traits when we were courting, but once we married things changed. The first strange thing I remember was an over-reaction to me pouring a glass of cola. I hadn’t rinsed the glass properly, and soap suds were still in the glass causing the cola to fizz up uncontrollable. She started shouting uncontrollably at me, calling me names and all sorts. I remember thinking , what’s your problem its only a drink. On its own, that probably sounds silly but other patterns started to emerge. Prior to going into the ministry, I worked in the city of London in the banking sector and the one luxury I allowed myself was having an expensive aftershave collection. One day, without any provocation, she poured all my aftershaves down the sink. She also began smashing ornaments of sentiment value and something that she would repeat for years, she would pour cups of hot drinks I made over me and would smash a dinner plate (with the dinner still on it ) over my head.
The excuses I made
My ex-wife wouldn’t seek any sort of help. She wouldn’t even take a headache pill. I’m not sure whether she even recognised she had a problem. In my mind, I made excuses for her. I told myself that she was grieving and this was her way of coping. I didn’t recognise what was happening to me as Domestic Abuse. I equated it with the ‘worst’ part of the ‘for better for worst, in sickness and in health’ wedding vows I made. And then the children arrived, our first daughter was born in 1995, our second daughter in 1997 and our son in 1999. Her violent behaviour continued towards me. As well as making excuses about the bereavement, I added Post natal depression to my rationale . In 2000, my ex-wife only sister died quite suddenly and this left her with no immediate family. Around this period of time, I recall overhearing my bishop ( who was the person I should to with any problems) joking with a colleague about another couple where the wife was quite a dominant character and the husband appeared hen-packed. Again, I remember thinking ‘There’s no way I can come to you and speak about the abuse I was experiencing because you clearly have no understanding and would treat it as a joke.’ Around this time, was the only time my ex-wife inflicted me injuries that were visible. I can’t remember the how, but I ended up with 2 long scratch marks on my face where the skin had been broken. People probably knew that that’s what they were but no-one said anything. I was asked what had happened, and I told people that I’d walked into a rose bush. I also learnt that while my ex-wife was in an aggressive mood, there was nothing I could do that would placate it. I never once retaliated. In the early days, I would try and argue back but this just further ignited her anger. And so, I just absorbed it and waited until her anger had burnt out. Once it did and she was calm, I would try and challenge her behaviour saying that it was completely unreasonable. I always got one of two responses: either denial to what had just happen or she’d say, “you’re a man, you can cope with it.” The children witnessed much of this, and afterwards I would also say to the children, “Your mum’s not well, but she doesn’t realise how ill she is, we all just have to try harder to help her.”
Why did I stay
So why did I stay? First of all, I took my marriage vows seriously. I was in a culture where divorce was frowned upon and it would also become hard for me to remain a minister as a divorcee. At that point in time, the church was my life’s vocation. And then the children arrived. The thought of being separated from my children was my biggest fear . My ex-wife never showed any physical aggression towards the children, although she was very verbally aggressive toward our eldest daughter in particular. While I was there, I felt that I was also protecting the children. I felt I could leave. No one would help me even if I said that I was a victim of DV. I was unaware of any refuges for men – I was even unaware that men could be victims of DV, how could I explain that to anyone. I also had nowhere to go nor any means of starting again. My salary as a church minister wasn’t great and the house I lived in belonged to the church. She also wanted a lifestyle that we couldn’t really afford. But appeasing her and trying to avoid anything that might lead to an explosion was all I was bothered about. And so, to that end, I over claimed on my expenses from the church to pay for the treats she wanted.
In 2009, I was reaching breaking point and I started keeping a journal of the abuse I was experiencing. As well as the current stuff, I wrote down the abuse that I could remember. It shocked me as I read it back as I realised that there was a lot of stuff that had occurred that I’d forgotten. It also hit me that my account sounded so horrific it was hard to believe, and yet it was my reality. I’d run out of making excuses and was in a poor state, mentally , physically and emotionally. There was also an incident with my son who was then 9 years old that helped me realise I was kidding myself. There been another violent episode during the week where two dinner plates (containing fish and chips) had been smashed over my head . This happened in front of the children. On the Sunday, after our meal, I was in the Kitchen washing the dishes and my son brought his plate through and then proceeded to throw his left-overs at me. While I never reacted to my ex-wife doing this, I did to my son shouting at him and telling him off. There was a look of total confusion on his face and it dawned on me that he was copying his mother’s behaviour thinking that it was acceptable behaviour. Was I really protecting my children? My ex-wife started another type of episode around this time. One day , we were sitting watching TV, and she just announced , I don’t want you here anymore. ‘ She turned violent towards me and my safest option was to retreat and sit in my car. She won’t let me back in the house. So eventually, I drove to my parents’ house who now only lived 4 miles away. It was the first time I acknowledged that things were bad although I didn’t tell them everything. They tried to persuade me to stay the night at theirs. I felt I couldn’t so I went back home but my ex wouldn’t let me back in the house. I returned to my parents. The next day , I returned home.. “you’re back then” she said and then behaved as if nothing had happened. Three months later, she acted in a similar manner, but this time she also threw my clothes and personal belongings out of the front door. I think she believed that I would return the following day and we would all pretend that it had never happened. I didn’t. This time, I knew I just couldn’t go back.
I went to my parents. This time I showed them my journal. They were horrified, I ended up sleeping on their sofa for 6-7 weeks. I tried to stay working as a minister. Despite being presented with evidence of DV, they wanted to sweep it all under the carpet. I still have a letter where senior leadership ‘strongly urged me to return to the family home and resolve the difficult issues in our marriage.’ Eventually, my own financial malpractice came to light – I held my hands up, resigned as a minister and paid the church back the money they claimed was missing. They still took legal action and I ended up receiving a police caution which tends to deter prospective employers from taking me on. The children’s well-being was my only concern now. I found a house to rent nearby their school. My 3 children had had enough to cope with so I didn’t want to put any additional pressure on them. My two daughters needed to escape and came and live with me. My son stayed with his mum. I think he feels guilty about everyone else leaving . I do worry about the ongoing impact on him, all I can do is to try and be there.
Being a victim of DV resulted in me losing my life’s vocation, my home, many of former friends. The one thing I fought not to lose was my children. They are all I was left with. Now, my life’s vocation is speaking out and trying to raise better awareness about DV and the impact it has on us men and our children.
Ian's DV awareness campaign @SiVictim
The Men's Room - A support group for men affected by DV