Victims of domestic violence often feel “fear, shame, stigma” about their situation and this, along with other factors, can hold them back from seeking the help and support they deserve and need.

CEO of Men’s Aid Ireland Kathrina Bentley told Agriland that in particular, “men have been told in the past that they must be strong, they should not show their feelings”.

However, Men’s Aid’s important message is: “Getting help is a sign of strength.”

Over the past 18 months, the number of older men – especially those who are farmers – that have come forward for help from Men’s Aid is “quite shocking, scary, concerning”, Bentley explained.

It is estimated that one in four women in Ireland experiences abuse from a partner during their lifetime; that figure is one in seven for men.

So far this year, Men’s Aid – which is the only national dedicated support service for men who are experiencing domestic violence in Ireland – has supported 3,471 contacts to its service. It expects to support around 8,000 men in total in 2021.

Along with an increase in older men contacting the service, Men’s Aid is also particularly concerned about the number of people in ethnic minority groups and the LGBTQ+ community that have reached out.

What is domestic violence / coercive control?

“Domestic violence is if the relationship is unhealthy: if you don’t feel safe; don’t feel respected; you’re not happy,” Bentley explained.

“Obviously it can be physical violence, sexual violence, emotional, psychological, financial, economic.

“We all know what the first thought of domestic violence would be – the black eye, the broken arm.”

According to Bentley, victims sometimes “minimise” the behaviour of their abuser; and that there can be “denial” to an extent.

She spoke of a man who reached out to Men’s Aid that was physically hurt by his partner, an incident resulting in him needing stitches, and “he didn’t call it domestic violence” because he “doesn’t see that as domestic violence”.

“When we asked him how long that had been going on for, he told us 16 years. Six stitches – what we saw – was not the only injury.”

‘Most silent form’ of abuse

Coercive control is the “most invisible, silent form of behaviour that someone is doing on purpose”, and it involves “kind of a cycle – the relationship starts off really hot and heavy, a lot of ‘love-bombing’ as we call it, adoration, honeymoon phase”.

This can then lead to the abuser controlling their victim, and ‘gaslighting’ them.

“What he or she is doing is messing with your mind essentially. You’re walking on eggshells, the person is making your world really, really small, isolation is a huge factor of coercive control.

“All of a sudden, you’re not allowed to go out to football with your mates or go to the pub or go to golf; anywhere you’re going, he or she is jumping in the car and going with you.

“We have many men who have said their petrol is tracked; their finances are tracked; where they go is tracked; there’s monitoring software on their phones, on their cars.”

Further “escalation” of the abuse can then occur, but “because the person is so in love still with their partner, it’s extremely difficult to break that relationship and cut ties”.

“Coercive control makes your world very small – you feel very isolated, you feel you’re going out of your mind a bit because you don’t know what’s real, you don’t know what’s truthful. It’s mind-games.

“You’re really in a fog of abuse, but you don’t have the bruise to show it.”

Farmers ‘suffering behind front doors’

Bentley said that when it comes to the farming community, Men’s Aid is “very conscious” of situations “behind front doors” where there are partners “that are controlling the farm, controlling the finances, controlling the family as well and indeed, part of that is [controlling] the dad, their husbands”.

She described a situation where a man who had land and “has his own house built on it” was experiencing “so much abuse behind the front door of his beautiful home – he’s sleeping in a tent”.

“His words to us were: ‘I sleep in the tent for peace of mind.'”

The “big thing” about coercive control is that “it’s a pattern – a pattern of threatening behaviour over time”.

“In some cases recently with men in their 60s ringing up, the coercive control has been happening for 20, 30, 40 years.”

Bentley said that due to Covid-19, there was increased isolation “because they [farmers] have no one to talk to; they had no pub or mart, there’s been men suffering behind front doors”.

“From the outside, it can look like a lovely farm, a lovely family, and yet…” Bentley said.

“We have a farmer who rings us every couple of weeks just to talk to us. He said to us: ‘I’m 72 and I’m just going to put up with it [the abuse]. I’ve no choice.'”

‘We believe you’

Bentley said that Men’s Aid hears from members of communities that express their concern for the welfare of neighbours or friends.

She said that people should reach out to others if they think they may need help – because “every conversation counts”.

She said that once you reach out to someone and “leave that door open” for them, it has the potential to be a “lifeline” during a “really terrifying time”.

“You will change lives and you will save lives,” Bentley added.

She urges anyone in need of support to contact the service.

“There are options. That’s what we give to the men who ring us – we talk out various options and let them go away and have a think.

“When you link in with a service like ours, we will walk the journey with you. We’re there at the end of the phone and we can meet with you one-to-one and help you.”

Bentley described the increase in contact from men who are farmers as “a heartbreaking reality”, but she provided comforting words:

“If you ring us and tell us they [abuser] are doing x, y and z, we believe you. We hear you.”

If you are in need of support, contact details for Men’s Aid can be found through this link.