Domestic abuse against men: 'He'd been kicked in the balls: he was black and blue to his knees'

There’s some confusion around where LGBT people in domestic abuse situations can turn to for help – here’s some clarification.

THIS WEEK, 70-YEAR-OLD Desmond Duffy was acquitted of murdering his partner of 36 years, Desmond ‘Little Dessie’ Sullivan.

Duffy, nicknamed ‘Big Des’ as he was the larger of the two, said that he had suffered severe domestic abuse for years.

Over the weeks where evidence was given from family and friends of the men, the court heard that Sullivan abused Duffy during their years together.

One witness, Anne Quinlan, told the court that she got a lift home from a wedding in the mid-1980s with the two men and as Duffy drove, Sullivan started punching him in the face, head and upper body and screaming at him.

On the morning of the funeral of Duffy’s brother, another witness said that Sullivan was dancing at the crematorium. Later that day Sullivan dumped sausages and chips on Duffy’s head, the court was told.

Andrea McDermott, social care team leader at Amen, said that although the details in the trial were shocking, they hear them regularly in domestic violence cases.

Amen is a support service for male victims of domestic abuse – in heterosexual and same-sex couples. They offer counselling services, outreach programmes, and plan to roll out a piloted group support programme that began in Navan across the country next year.

She says that statistics indicate that just 5% of men who suffer domestic abuse report it.

The reasons the majority of victims do not report vary from case to case: some of that is to do with societal expectations of what being a man means, as well as incorrect ideas of what constitutes a relationship; other times it’s out of concern for their children, often including the fear of losing access to them.

“Barring orders are common [in those that do report] because it offers them some sort of protection in their home – there’s no men shelters so they’ve nowhere to go,” McDermott explained. 

She reiterated that domestic abuse isn’t always physical: it can manifest as psychological, financial, or coercive control.

Some people have said that the psychological is worse than physical attacks because it beats down your self worth: they’re constantly told how useless they are, that they’re a bad father and can’t do anything right.

“With emotional abuse, the partner would be completely putting down their family, they wouldn’t care if someone is sick, and if they did visit their family, they’d get locked out.

One man told us that when his father passed away, he had 30 calls from his wife saying he’d better get home to mind the children because she was going out for her birthday.

Another reason why gay men don’t call the service, McDermott adds, is that the organisation’s name causes confusion for gay men in domestic abuse relationships.

“A gay man would tend to ring LGBT services before us – they assume because we’re called ‘Amen’ that we’re associated with the Church, which we are absolutely not.”

Same-sex couples

Bernadene Quinn, who is the manager of the LGBT support group Dundalk Outcomers, tells that the reason same-sex couples are less likely to report domestic abuse is twofold:

Firstly, organisations are very gendered. They have same-sex couples ‘on their books’, but not one of their websites say ‘we support people in same-sex relationships’.
Secondly, the LGBT community don’t see themselves as users of services like Women’s Aid, Cosc, or Safe Ireland – but the information on those websites applies to everyone.

Quinn has been working on domestic abuse among same-sex couples for 20 years.

She says that mostly domestic abuse in heterosexual and homosexual relationships is the same, but there are “quirks that are different”.

“The partner of a man who was working in a prominent organisation used to stand outside his work when he was angry, broke, or drunk and threaten to tell people his sexuality as they walked out.”

There are experiences of those that are HIV positive also, she says. Some people say “it’s your fault that I am this way”, others who are diagnosed themselves lash out physically. Sometimes people threaten to out their partner’s HIV status.

A person has to know they are in a domestic violence relationship to report it. A lot of people say when they hear what domestic abuse is ‘I just thought that was what being in a relationship was.’

Quinn mentions a case where two women in a relationship acted on a night out: “If that was a man slapping a woman across the face, you’d be saying to her ‘Get out of that’”.

She said that around 20 years ago when Outcomers was first set up, a young man came into them and said his partner had “kicked him in the balls – he was black and blue to his knees”.

“He had tried to hold his hand outside the disco when they were drunk.”

Increase in reports to Amen

McDermott said that although they’re still compiling figures about contacts to Amen in 2017, it’s already apparent that there was an increase in people contacting the service compared to previous years.

In 2016, 5,550 people called, texted, emailed and spoke to members of Amen: last year it’s looking like there was a 30% increase in reports.

McDermott says that in particular there’s been more family members contacting the service – perhaps due to the Cosc adverts highlighting domestic violence – and recently, three different workplaces contacted Amen about their employees.

“A man would be late for work, and then be constantly on his phone. When HR approached him, it transpired that he was in an abusive relationship.

He would be be late because she would hide his keys, and he would have to answer every time she called or send her a photo – or video so she could check the background – to prove where he was.

“People still find it hard to believe that men can be abused – in court it’s put to them: ‘But look at the size of you and the size of her.’

Size doesn’t matter. It’s not like that at all, we have Gardaí calling the services taking down criminals on the streets and are still being domestically abused at home.

“You should never hit someone back, so what do you do? You walk away – people are being tortured in their homes.”

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