Many of the men who find their way to talk to me about domestic violence are dealing with the aftermath of a bizarre situation which defies belief to a rational mind. Occasionally someone reaches me before the unfolding catastrophe has reached the point of no return. However, there is an enormous conflict about what can and can’t be done – because he is a man.
I received a phone call yesterday from a man who has spoken to me several times and whom I’ve met in person on one occasion. He is a very proud and gentle man, quietly spoken and well educated. Each time he has had cause to contact me he has explained the violent and threatening behaviour of the mother of his children.
Edward* is from the South Coast of NSW and while I have very real concerns for his safety there is little I can do.
Edward has three children with his former partner who has repeatedly committed domestic violence offences against him. She has spat on him, hit him, forced him to work extra shifts when he was exhausted, and she threatened repeatedly to stab him in his sleep. As a result of this he began to sleep in another room with the door bolted, however it did little to ease his concerns for his children. Despite her aggression and abuse Edward has never retaliated with any form of violence. Instead, he has steadfastly tried to keep the peace – walking on egg shells to try and ensure she had no cause to ‘lose it’.
At one point he moved away from the family home and made every effort to stay as closely connected to the children as possible. As she would not allow them to sleep over at his house, he would stay at the family home regularly so he could be with the children while she had time out. At almost every instance she would cause some form of trouble – not returning from her trips in time for him to get to work, or come home in a rage critical of something that he did or didn’t do.
On 1 occasion when she became aggressive and threatening violence because he could not meet her unrealistic demands of him, she also threatened to call the police. Assuming that his innocence in this altercation would be evident to the police he had no fear of her threat and welcomed their arrival.
When the police came he initially felt vindicated as they understood that it was her being unreasonable and aggressive. However, because she claimed he started it the police agreed to her request to take the AVO on him. They explained to him that it’s better to appease her, and because it had ‘no consequences’ on their advice he later accepted the AVO in court without admissions. This (understandably) naive decision would later cause him to miss his brothers wedding overseas, as he was unable to obtain a visa to the USA.
After the AVO period passed, they attempted to reunite. He was determined to do his best to be involved with his children and to support her as much as possible to ease her frequent anger. She promised to change but predictably, she did not and the reunification failed.
As of yesterday, she was threatening more severe physical violence of which he has evidence in text. Right now, as I write this at 3am I am deeply troubled as to how to help him.
If as I have recommended, he reports her to the police for an AVO he is at great risk of being charged himself should she claim ‘fear’. He knows this from past history and she has repeatedly threatened that she will lie to the police again to make him sound violent. He can’t bear the thought of going through that experience again.
However should he proceed and if the AVO is granted, these are the problems he and many men face.
- If they remove the children from her care, who will care for them when he works?
- If they stay with the mother, will he then be prevented from seeing them due to the AVO restrictions?
- Will she ever agree to mediation to allow him access and fair time with them? Or will she say that she ‘fears’ him and start the court process for full parental responsibility on this basis?
- Will the court enforce they stay with their mother because they are young, and ignore or refute all evidence of her violence and abuse towards him and the children?
- Will he be forced to endure a lengthy court process of potentially years in order to regain access to them?
If he doesn’t report, will he become the 4th man to die from a domestic violence incident in Australia this year? Or will he be victim to one of the 11 brutal stabbing incidents that women have inflicted on others so far in 2016?
I desperately hope not, but I hold very grave fears.
If the AVO is granted the laws would do their best to protect Edward in the same way they protect women. However, because he is a man he is at great risk of losing access to his children. She is a stay at home mother who refuses to work and so for his children’s welfare he must provide for his family. How can he manage the children who are his heart and soul, and still work? And regardless, he doesn’t want her removed from their lives – he just wants her to be reasonable.
There are many ways we are failing men and their children who are victims of domestic violence. Men’s experience of domestic violence is the same as women’s in that they experience fear, pain and require support just like any other victim of a crime. However their outcomes are very different, particularly when they have children with their abusive partner.
A father who is a victim most often risks losing his children, his home, his wealth, often his job, his sense of integrity and he also risks being charged or arrested for the crime of which he is a victim. All the while we dedicate $21 billion dollars to the violence against women campaign, we provide not one service to give emergency funds, housing, or assistance to victims of women.
I don’t have all the answers yet. How could I possibly? Australia has no adequate research for men’s experiences. I have written to the Minister for Social Services, Mr Christian Porter. He didn’t deem it necessary to even reply. I have rung the only support men have via mensline – as the very kind phone counsellor conceded, I seem to be more aware of the full complexities of the issues than they are. In Edwards case, he doesn’t need counselling – he needs his ex partner to change her behaviour.
This year the national Personal Safety Survey conducted every 5 years will be done again and it will be heavily biased to women’s experiences as it always is. It will have around 20% of all surveyed as men and then the lobby groups will champion that data on men is therefore ‘unreliable’. Their most used tactic from the PSS is to cite so called evidence in comparative numbers that ‘x’ amount of women experience domestic violence but only ‘y’ amount of men do. This intentional act to further marginalise men is nothing less than despicable. If you conduct a biased survey you will get a biased result.
As I am focusing on change which can only from government, I ask for your support. I need to pay for fuel and travel expenses in order to meet with various officials to change this wretched system. When I can and if the need arises, I give back to men in need.
*Name and some details changed to protect the victims identity.
Photo credit :Flickr