DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: THE OTHER SIDE
Isabel Wolff talks to men who have been beaten, battered and bruised by their wives `ONE NIGHT I was sitting up in bed when my wife suddenly wiLeeled round and pulled her fingernails, hard, right down my face. She tore my skin to ribbons. Luckily she just missed my right eye, but my face was an absolute bloody mess. My mother was so horrified when she saw me three days later that I pretended I'd walked into the Christmas tree.'
That was just one of many ferocious assaults on Douglas, a 38-year-old copy- writer, by the wife who tormented and attacked him for most of the three years that they were married. Verbal and mental abuse of the 'God-I-wish-you-were-dead' variety turned into full-scale, full-frontal physical attacks after the birth of their baby son, Tom. 'She went for me once when I was changing Tom's nappy,' he told me in his small office in Kensington. 'She put the most enormous, black bruises on my arm, and she was shouting at me and screaming hysterically. All of her attacks were like that — vehement, violent and sudden. It was terrifying; you never knew when she was going to strike or how, and afterwards there was never ever any remorse.'
`Why do you think your wife attacked you?' I enquired.
`At first I put it down to drink,' he replied; 'then I thought it must be post- natal depression; but now I think — in fact I know — that she's got a personality disor- der. She could be perfectly charming and quite normal a lot of the time; but when she didn't get exactly what she wanted she'd attack me physically. It was like living in a prison.'
Over the past 20 years, volumes have been written about wife-battering, but almost nothing has been published about domestic violence done to men. What little data there is shows that men can be beaten, bitten, scratched, slashed, punched and even stabbed by their wives or female part- ners. They are attacked with carving knives, hit with hammers and scalded with cups of boiling coffee. In one well publicised case last year, a woman, Mrs Doreeth Cur- rithers, ripped off one of her husband's tes- ticles. Surgeons failed to save it and the judge ordered the woman to pay £480 in costs. A judge ordered Mrs Currithers to pay court costs of £480, but did not make a compensation order. On the whole, it is true, men do more damage to women than women do to men a glance at the murder statistics pro- vides proof of that. Of the 700 or so mur- ders committed in England and Wales every year, 18 per cent of the victims are women killed by their husbands, while only 2 per cent are men who have been mur- dered by their wives. And when it comes to non-fatal domestic violence, received wis- dom and political correctness dictate that the man is always, ipso facto, the abuser. The very phrase 'domestic violence' is tacit- ly assumed to refer to the abuse of women by men. This is something that men are now beginning to challenge, and some are showing that domestic violence cuts, so to speak, both ways. In order to do that, men have to stand up and admit that they have been victims of female violence themselves.
`A lot of men just can't admit that they're being battered,' says Douglas, who is six foot tall and weighs 13 stone. 'It's the old rolling-pin syndrome, I suppose — they think it's wet and weedy. My ex-wife is very slim and feminine, and I found it very hard to own up to anyone that she could physi- cally terrorise me in this way. I also didn't think that anyone would believe me.'
`A lot of men who pluck up the courage to take their injuries to the doctor have it thrown back at them that they must have attacked their wife first,' says Dr Malcolm George, a neuro-physiologist at London University. Dr George is conducting a research project in which he is collecting data from the testimony of 38 battered men. `We're told that women only lash out in self-defence,' he says, 'but I have several examples of men in the survey who were hit, who had done nothing to provoke such action. They were attacked when they were watching television; they were attacked when they were in the bath; they were attacked when they were asleep in bed. Quite a few of them would lock themselves in a room at night so that they could sleep; one man's wife smashed down the door to get at him.'
According to Dr George, the majority of men who are abused are not seven-stone weaklings with Amazonian partners. The seaside-postcard image of the little, hen-
Mind your English
I GOT A LETTER from a doctor recently complaining of a grammatical solecism. `I appreciate that you are only journalists,' he wrote, 'but could you not set a better example yourself so as to encourage others?' The words com- plained against were 'there was no one more important, powerful, famous or glamorous than he' (a reference to Mr Heseltine, of course). The objection was to the nominative case of the word he; it should he him, opined the good doctor.
I puzzled over this for some time. The Oxford English Dictionary has no doubts: `Than with a personal pronoun in the objective case instead of the nominative (as if than were a preposition) . . . is now considered incorrect.'
This makes sense in phrases such as `You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.' But which of us would ever say, 'He is older than I'? As Fowler puts it, `The bare subjective pronoun in such a position strikes the reader as pedantic.' You said it. And even the OED has to admit that 'than whom' is always the correct construction.
If we are to get heavily grammatical about this, we shall have to admit that than has changed from a conjunction to a preposition. Stranger things have hap- pened in the English language.
If the enraged doctor were an old- fashioned pedant, he'd have been writ- ing the opposite of what he did. Perhaps he is just confused. Or perhaps Disgust- ed of Tunbridge Wells is turning collo- quial.
pecked man with the gigantic wife doesn't relate to the facts. 'The men taking part in the survey tend to be well-built, but not aggressive,' he says. 'They're the sort who don't want to hit a man, let alone a woman. So when the violence starts they know they are just going to have to stand there and take it, and that tension pro- duces its own kind of terror.'
Dr George doesn't deny that men do unspeakable, violent things to women and that, in general, they do far more damage, in terms of the injuries they inflict. If a man hits a woman's face hard with his open hand, he will probably smash her jaw. But, he says, women tend to compen- sate for their lack of physical strength by using weapons and kitchen implements knives, forks, hammers, ash-trays, wine bottles —anything that comes easily to hand. 'With weapons like these you can get some pretty terrible injuries,' he says. `Many of the men in my survey had had broken noses, cracked ribs and crushed fingers. Some had stab wounds.' On the whole, he says, these men made light to him of their physical injuries, but stressed how traumatised they had been by the mixture of fear and humiliation.
Most of the research data about female violence to men has been compiled in the United States by Professor Murray Strauss of New Hampshire University. His studies, carried out between 1975 and 1991, reveal that, although women are seven times more likely than men to sustain injuries in domestic violence, men and women initi- ate the violence equally. To George Gilliland of the Domestic Rights Coalition in St Pauls, Minnesota, this comes as no surprise. 'There are guys I know here who have been slashed with scissors; there's a police chief whose wife cut his face right open with a hem-ripper, and one woman who killed her husband with a baseball bat because, she said, he "insulted" her!' In Minnesota alone, Gilliland points out, an average of ten men a year are killed by their female partner. 'There are thousands of men out there who are slapped around, kicked and punched by abusive, violent women,' he says. 'But far from protecting them, society just laughs about it. You see guys getting whacked across the face in films, in cartoons — it's acceptable. You see a woman slap a guy in a restaurant you think he must be an s.o.b. who'd got it coming. If a man slaps a woman, everyone's on the phone to the cops getting him arrested and thrown in jail.'
George Gilliland speaks with feeling and with authority, since he has himself been a victim not just of one, but of two violent women. His first wife, he alleges, was vio- lent because of menopausal problems, while the second one was semi-alcoholic. In his time, he's been punched, kicked, belaboured about the head with bits of wood and burnt with boiling coffee. He is about to open the world's first refuge for battered men but, he says, newspaper edi- tors seem reluctant to give it much cover- age, such is the power of the feminist lobby in America.
`Battered women's advocates do not want it known that there are thousands and thousands of men out there who are abused,' he said, his voice rising with emo- tion. 'They're afraid that some of the state tax dollars that pay for battered women's refuges might go to men's shelters instead. They only care about their own self-serving interests and that is battered women only.'
Sandra Horley, director of the world's first shelter for women, the Chiswick Fami- ly Refuge, admits that it would worry her if man-abuse became a pressing social issue. `There are resource implications,' she says candidly. 'Refuges for battered women are struggling to survive, and if we put across this idea that the abuse of men is as great as the abuse of women, then it could seri- ously affect our funding.'
Sandra Horley believes that stories about husband-abuse are just part of a backlash against the advances of feminism, a cynical
`A surprise announcement. Something good must have happened.'
attempt to redress the balance by portray- ing men as victims too. 'For some reason, people seem to think that if they can show that men are also abused then violence against women is not a problem they have to think about, and they should think about it. I'm not saying all women are angels, but it's clear that the home is a much less safe place for the woman.'
`At least women have protection under the law from violent men,' says Douglas ruefully. 'But battered men have nothing, not even the recognition that we exist.' In fact, battered men have less than nothing, because of the institutionalised legal dis- crimination that operates against them. If a man is attacked by his wife and decides to call the police, he is the one who is like- ly to be arrested. The police loathe being called out on `domestics'; they find them difficult and embarrassing, and their over- whelming priority is simply to keep the peace. They are reluctant to arrest the woman in these situations, especially if there are children, so the chances are it is the man who will find himself spending a night in jail.
`It is not widely accepted that men are battered,' says family solicitor Anthony Lawson, who has acted for several abused men. 'So the law takes a completely prag- matic approach and tries to protect the stability of the household, regardless of who is to blame.'
There's a double penalty for men, according to Bruce Liddington, director of Families Need Fathers, an organisation that helps men negotiate access to their children during a family breakdown. 'Even if he is clearly, demonstrably, the victim, a man is treated exactly the same as if he were the aggressor,' he says. 'He is ousted from the family home; he is ruined finan- cially; he is cut off from daily contact with his children, and subsequent contact with the children is dependent upon his wife, who may be unbalanced. No wonder so many men keep quiet, because they're ter- rified of losing everything. Did you know that quite a lot of homeless men are men who have been assaulted by their wives?'
Battered men also point to the fact that divorce cases are not heard in open court and therefore, they say, women can make counter-allegations of physical or psycho- logical abuse which are not properly tested by cross-examination. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, chaired by the Conservative MP Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, is currently conducting an inquiry into domestic vio- lence, and written evidence from several battered men is being taken. But many of the men I spoke to were not optimistic that any recommendations would be made that would assist them.
'I hope that it will at least bring the recognition that domestic violence against men does exist,' says Douglas. 'Men do get hurt, they bruise like women, and they should have the right to be protected too.