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The other victims

Last update - Thursday, July 30, 2009, 13:06 By Catherine Reilly

Domestic violence against men in Ireland is on the increase - and eastern Europeans and Africans are among those most affected by abuse. CATHERINE REILLY hears the candid story of one Irishman beaten by his wife, and how he turned pain into action.

A STRAPPING garda, Damien never had ‘victim material’ written across his forehead. But victims, like bullies, can be anyone. And in Damien’s case, the bully was his wife.
At his request, Metro Éireann withholds Damien’s real name, but the former garda isn’t ashamed of his story. In fact, he uses his experiences to assist other men who suffer domestic violence at the hands of women. He prefers anonymity for the sake of his children, aged 13, 11 and nine. They are doing “great” and don’t need playground slaggings, suggests their sole legal custodian.
Having married in 1982, the dad-of-three admits that volatility always laced the relationship between him and his wife – but the situation worsened due to her alcoholism.
“She was controlling, violent, all those things,” he recalls. “She was struggling to cope with the children, and I suffered a lot while trying to hold down a job. I’d come in from work and have aggression, anger, all that thrown at me.”
Locking himself into rooms, or escaping from the house altogether, were his only means of avoiding the torment.
“The effects that alcohol can have on a person are frightening,” says Damien, recalling his partner as doing “anything to get her own way”.
This ‘anything’ involved conjuring up false allegations about her husband, depicting him as an “aggressor” and “abuser” – claims he has since been completely cleared of. Protection and barring orders were served against him, but his departure from the family home only exposed his wife’s instability: Damien had been her “crutch” – bringing money and groceries to the home – and without him, things fell completely apart. Neighbours heard the children crying at night, and social workers got involved.
As allegations hung over Damien, his three kids were taken into separate care homes. “I vowed to get them back,” he recalls. “The gardaí and social workers investigated [the claims] and found out that the allegations were completely false.”
Support came through family, friends and Al-Anon – a group for people living with alcoholics – but what really kept Damien afloat were his children. “I fought for custody and got interim custody after three months,” he says.
Six years on, Damien has full custody of his children, with their mother having visitation rights. He’s “never looked back” and life has improved immensely despite the financial burden of his legal battle.
But his frustration with the legal system is still apparent in his voice. A cynicism greets many men claiming domestic abuse, says Damien, who now is a support worker with Amen, which provides a confidential helpline and support service to male victims of domestic abuse.
In their attempts to secure child custody and maintenance payments from mothers, men are treated like second-class citizens, contends Damien, who nevertheless notes that some men are also guilty of abuses.  
His own fight was a tough one, with “many sleepless nights”, and today he gets calls from men all over the country in similar situations. Most are suffering at the hands of a partner with drink-related problems.
“They only reach out for help when they are in dire straits,” explains Damien, who says incidents are increasing, including among the immigrant communities.

Since January, Amen has received around 50 calls per week, with four per cent from foreign nationals, including Poles, Indians, Nigerians, Sri Lankans, Englishmen and Americans. 
According to the organisation, most men would commonly report suffering from psychological and verbal abuse, closely followed by physical abuse.
“Some men do not realise that they are victims of psychological abuse until they speak about it,” said a spokesperson.
“There has been a rise in the number of gardaí who refer men to us, perhaps as a result of the presentations that Amen give to trainee gardaí in Templemore and the extensive work which is being carried out by Amen to raise awareness of the issue,” she added. “Some political parties would have policies on violence against women. We would hope that in the future we would see political parties formulate policies on domestic violence that were gender neutral.”
The organisation wants “more action and research” on the issue. The last official figures were released by the National Crime Council in 2005 which covered both male and female victims of domestic violence.
It found that women were twice as likely to suffer severe domestic abuse, but that 13 per cent of both men and women had endured physical abuse at the hands of a partner. One in three women reported the abuse to gardaí – compared with just one in 20 men.

What men should do

Always keep a record of dates and times of incidents.
Always report the violence to your doctor and to the Gardaí – ensure that they record your injuries and all the details of the assault.
Always seek medical attention for any injuries – do not cover up the true cause.
Always take legal advice.
Do tell your family and friends what is happening to you.
Do not be provoked into retaliating.

Contact the Amen Helpline at 046 9023 718 / 086 7941 880 / 086 1947 270
For more information, write to Amen, St. Anne’s Resource Centre, Railway Street, Navan, Co Meath or e-mail

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