There has been a story in the UK news this week that touched my heart. It’s a story of a ruthless abuser who controlled, abused and manipulated their partner. Sounds familiar? Two years of mental, emotional and financial cruelty, the physical injuries alone resulted in the need for corrective surgery. The attacks included bleach sprayed in the eyes. Lit cigarettes up the nose. Fractured skull. Cracked ribs. Repeated scalding with an iron and boiling water and attacks with a claw hammer. And yet even after all that ill-treatment, the victim has not lost faith in finding another partner. These are the touching words that reached out to me and brought tears to my eyes:
“It’s going to be difficult when I meet someone who doesn’t understand what I’ve been through. They will no doubt ask about my scars, and I’m not going to lie. My fear is that they’ll wonder what I did to deserve it…”
Prior to the relationship, this person was a successful professional. After the relationship this same person was left homeless, penniless and living in the grip of crippling fear. Trapped in the silence by constant threats, the victim says “I felt as though I couldn’t walk away, because she told me she had family who were involved in organized crime who would kill me if I left her. I felt I was trading with my life”
Yes, the reason why this particular story made the headlines was because the abuser was a woman. A small woman at that, standing at just 5ft 1. The victim is a man. A well educated, successful man who, in his own words “was brought up well and taught never to hit a woman”. Like so many of us here on this site he had trusted his partner. She took control of his money and ran up debts – another familiar story for so many of us. So the night he finally broke free (after a worried friend tipped off the police) he found himself staying in a shelter for the homeless – where he stayed for the next 18 months. Looking back at that time he says “I didn’t have any money and didn’t know where to go or what to do. I was petrified walking the streets, as I was paranoid her brothers were going to come and kill me. As it turns out, they didn’t exist. But I didn’t know that at the time”
It Can Happen To Anyone
The gentleman in question is called Ian McNicholl. He took the brave decision to speak out but as he says “I can completely understand why some men will feel embarrassed speaking out…. The massive problem is that men are not seen as victims.”
It’s deeply moving stuff and my heart reaches out to this man. I feel for him on many levels. Firstly because I know how hard it is to come to terms with betrayal and emotional abuse. Unlike this man, though, I never (thank goodness) had to also endure physical torture.
Secondly because I know from experience how difficult it is to explain to others what has happened. I know what it feels like to answer questions that are meant to help, but that actually cause more pain “Why didn’t you do something earlier? How did you not notice? Why didn’t you just get away?” Of course, we all know it’s not that easy, and it hurts like hell when those close to us don’t seem able to understand. It was tough enough for me – but I reckon that for this man he must have faced even bigger barriers because, as he says, men are “not supposed to be victims”
On closer inspection, I found that this kind of story is far from unusual. I read another article that said according to recent British Crime Survey statistics, a third of domestic violence victims are male. That’s at least 400,00 men a year in the UK alone. Another anonymous male victim says :
“Did I say anything to anyone? Or leave her? No, I didn’t. For, like thousands of other male victims of domestic violence, I was mortally ashamed of what was happening to me. I made light of what was happening, even though it robbed me of my confidence and self-esteem. After all, I was a man. How could I be a victim of someone nearly half my size?”
I know it was hard enough for me to break free and share my story with sympathetic friends. I felt the burning shame, the twisting guilt and recoiled at my own head-bangingly stupid blindness – all of those feelings that most of us here know only far too well. But I was lucky. Because as soon as the truth came out I was encouraged to talk. The anonymous gentleman goes on to say: “…embarrassed I’d put up with I for so long, I didn’t tell many about the experience.”
Who Can Handle The Truth?
The shame runs deep. But I still believe it’s the silence that is a killer. Simon and Garfunkle put it very succinctly when they sang “silence like a cancer grows”. The silence can come from anywhere. We remain silent because we hold on to the hope that it will all be alright. Friends remain silent because they don’t like to interfere. Society remains silent because, in many cases, it’s just too horrible a truth for people to acknowledge.
The truth that yes, there are “bad people” out there. The truth that those caught in an oppressive relationship are trapped because they are good people – not because they are stupid, blind, or did something to deserve it. The idea that daylight imprisonment can and is going on right in front of our noses – and that others can do little or nothing to help.
Hmmmm….. Or can they….? I’m becoming more and more convinced that we can do a whole heap about this. I believe that the more we educate people about the reality of predators among us, the more we can stand up and do something about it. Because surely, the more that people can learn to trust gut instincts (we all have them) and the more we can act as a result, the more people can learn how to identify a threat and protect themselves accordingly. At the moment, sociopaths can more easily hide in a society that could arguably be said is psychopathic in its’ structure.
What do I mean? I mean the accepted (encouraged?) focus on greed, competition, looking out for number one, and the glib use of the phrase “it’s not personal you know!” All these go against our natural instincts. They encourage us to toughen up and hide our feelings. They encourage us to ignore our own internal sat-nav system that’s there for our own protection – for fear that we’re making a fuss? That we’re wrong? That it’s a storm in a teacup? That really – who are we to judge anyway? Better to put on a brave face and carry on regardless.
Well no, I don’t think it is. Too often (particularly in the corporate environment) I hear what I call the business babble of false words, double-speak and turning a blind eye. People carry on and ignore the fact that they are suffering. Until something happens…
Here’s a great example. I was working with a board of directors. To say they were dysfunctional is an understatement. There was much finger pointing and whispering behind closed doors, but no direct or honest conversations. The blame was placed squarely at the feet of one particular person – their boss. A lady who, it was deemed, was ‘beyond help’ – the archetypal corporate bully who was so emotionally detached from her team, they felt helpless and depressed. It was during a group session that something changed. The boss was away doing ‘important things’ so could not attend the session. All of a sudden, one small, quiet voice spoke out: “We may not be able to change HER, but we CAN change how we respond to her” he said “we all know when she does something mean or wrong, but we’ve kept quiet about it. Now it’s out in the open. Now we’ve all acknowledged what she’s like. So now it’s time for us to stick together and just say no. It’s our duty – to ourselves and to our teams”
A few seconds of shocked silence was followed by smiles, nods and an impromptu round of applause, and a few misty eyes as well. Something had happened. The group had acknowledged that something was wrong. They’d reclaimed their power and decided to stop letting the bad stuff happen.
The silence was broken. They’d spoken out. And now they were working together. That boss could never again hold them in such a stranglehold – her time was over, and theirs had just begun.