Life

Anne Hailes: Men can sometimes be victims of abuse too, at the hands of women

'I’ve been asked, how can you let your wife beat you up? It’s not that simple'

LAST week I was talking about domestic violence, how little things mount up, irritation becomes an ever-growing anger and the results are a fearful catalogue of abuse.

In these days of limited freedom, Women’s Aid have restructured one particular service which is now known as the Outreach Service.

Many of the services which existed before lockdown such as group sessions and where women could drop in to the main office and get free and confidential legal, benefits and housing advice, are on hold due to Covid.

However, the Outreach team are still providing support via Zoom, FaceTime, over the phone and,when permitted, in coffee shops, parks, even side by side in car parks.

You can find more about the community support at https://belfastwomensaid.org.uk/get-help/support-in-the-community/

And what about men?

Of course men too can be victims of abuse at the hands of women. Take Tom for instance – not his real name because there’s a stigma attached to this subject. Unlike women who usually have a best friend to confide in or a mother who watches for anything suspicious within their family, men are more often loath to speak about a woman abusing them.

“We’re expected to be in control," Tom says. "I’ve been asked, how can you let your wife beat you up? It’s not that simple. When I married my wife she was the most loving and funny girl. We were very happy and after two children we were a close-knit family and everything was great.

"Then she got pregnant again and everything changed. She changed, she started drinking and was a different person. I’m talking over 20 years ago and to this day I don’t know why.

"She became violent, had to have a drink before going out, everything revolved round alcohol, she’d just lie on the sofa in a drunken state and I had to get the children up and out in the morning, try to keep working, altering my shift to suit home life. The kids were old enough to help but it was harrowing for them to see their mother in this state.

"Frightening too when she took the poker to me. She’d fling heavy ashtrays at me – everything became a weapon, especially her nails. My own family were supportive and took the children as often as possible. However, when she was sectioned for two weeks those two weeks were so happy, there was peace and we were able enjoy ourselves, go out or just stay in the house and relax.”

Over the years Tom’s wife was sectioned a number of times – even jailed – but no amount of help or counselling made any difference. As he says, she became a totally different person who cared nothing for family, only for alcohol which she always managed to get her hands on.

“She would stimulate a massive row and the police were constantly at our house. At one time they arrested me – they wouldn’t believe my wife was the perpetrator. But it wasn’t long before they realised what was going on – even when they were in the house she flew at me and threatened to burn the house down.”

Eventually Tom lost his job and his mental health was seriously affected. By then two of the children were grown up; the other one lived with his granny. He missed the woman he’d married and lived in hope that one day he could bring his family together.

One night he gave up

“On that particular night I was so distressed and, reeling from a major row, I found myself standing at the end of a pier ready to jump into the freezing cold sea, I didn’t care about my children, I just wanted out of it. I was at rock bottom, there was no-one to talk to, no comfort anywhere. I don’t know why or what took over as I stood there, I think I didn’t even have enough confidence to die.

“Someone had given me details of Al-Anon, a support group for people who are concerned about someone whose life relies on alcohol. For some reason I kept the piece of paper in my wallet. Thank God I did.

"On an impulse I rang the number and soon left the bitter cold pier and was heading to a meeting.”

It’s obviously still a very emotional memory for Tom.

“It was difficult walking in. I was the only man but one of the ladies immediately came over to me and brought me into the circle of warmth – calm voices, people talking about their experiences and they were the same as mine. I just cried. I was broken, I was drained yet I’d suddenly found hope.”

Tom is now living on his own with his adult children coming and going and it’s a happy household.

“Without the ongoing help of Al-Anon I don’t think I would have survived. I don’t know anything about my wife. It may seem harsh but I believe she is content in her pain and her alcohol addiction.”

Al-Anon Information Centre NI at Helpline 028 9068 2368 or look up Al-Anon Northern Ireland web page for more details.

James Nesbitt stars in the new BBC thriller Bloodlands. Photograph by BBC/Steffan Hill

I AM REALLY FUMING

“BLOODLANDS does for the Ulster tourism industry what disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure did for cruise ships.”

So says Christopher Stevens in his Daily Mail TV review following the first episode of this four-part thriller.

“The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, though it rattles along so briskly that we don’t have to worry too much. Bloodlands won’t be the most memorable serial of the year... but the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will be quite glad about that.”

He also says that producer Jed Mercurio is “really going out of his way to make sure no one who sees Bloodlands will ever want to visit the Six Counties.”

Cheap shots there, Christopher – you must have been having a bad day when you reviewed this show. For what it’s worth, I thought it was great.

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