Social Justice

Male domestic abuse survivor who almost 'gave up' wants others to know help is out there

It took years and enormous courage for Max to leave his abuser – and when he did get out, he found there were limited services to help his family and he feared homelessness and financial crisis

man and baby's hand

Charity For Baby's Sake is calling for the next government to prioritise the needs of babies and children in domestic abuse services. Image: Unsplash

Max stayed in an abusive relationship for years because he thought he was protecting his babies. He endured the control and harassment because he didn’t know where to turn for help or who would believe him. He was ashamed as a male victim of domestic abuse.

“It went further and further to the point that I found that I lost my voice,” Max, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, says. “I didn’t want to speak. I kept everything inside.”

The abuse was emotional. There were constant phone calls while he was working, control of what he wore and where he went, verbal attacks and lies to local authorities.

“I felt alone. I felt ashamed, even though it is nothing to be ashamed of. It eats you away. I felt isolated. You don’t eat, you’re not sleeping. You can’t shake it. 

“It’s only in the last two years I’ve properly asked for help. I always thought it was a stigma of being a man being abused by a female. I thought it was just wrong so I kept it all inside.”

Stigma means that it is rare to hear the stories of male survivors of domestic abuse, but official statistics suggest that one in three victims of domestic abuse are men. In the year ending March 2023, 751,000 men had experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales.

Nearly a quarter (21%) of male victims fail to tell anyone about their experience of abuse.

“It took me a long time,” Max says. “I knew it was an abuse, but for some reason, I thought that it would change and it would get better. But it wasn’t getting better. It was getting worse – to the point it affected my work. It affected my social life. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. 

“I didn’t want to speak to my parents. When they saw me, they saw a complete difference. They said something’s not right. They knew straight away. But I was still in denial. I stayed in that relationship mainly because of my children. I thought it was best to keep us as a family, but that doesn’t work.”

Max’s babies were one and three at the time. Experiencing domestic abuse during the first 1,001 days of a baby’s life profoundly affects their emotional and physical development, according to charity For Baby’s Sake, which has supported Max and his family for years.

One in five babies in the UK grow up in a household where there is domestic abuse, and it puts them at higher risk of perpetuating or experiencing abuse in their adult lives.

For Baby’s Sake works with families from pregnancy until the baby is two, dedicated to breaking cycles of domestic abuse and giving babies the best start in life. 

It is calling for the next government to prioritise the needs of babies and children in response to domestic abuse, including ring-fenced funding and support for parents who want help starting from pregnancy. 

Lauren Seager-Smith, the chief executive of For Baby’s Sake, says: “The early years of a baby’s life are crucial for their development, and exposure to domestic abuse can have profound and long-lasting effects. This general election presents a unique opportunity to bring about real change for families. We urge all political parties to prioritise the needs of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

“By committing to whole-family approaches, trauma-informed interventions, and evidence-based practices, we can break the cycle of domestic abuse and give the next generation the best possible start in life.”

Max’s family was in contact with For Baby’s Sake through their pregnancy services and one of their maternity safeguarding nurses identified the abuse – but it took a long time before Max was able to recognise it for himself. 

“You feel embarrassed as a male. I’m only talking from a male perspective because that’s all I know, but I felt so embarrassed that people were looking at me thinking I’m weak. How can you be talking about mental abuse? What’s mental abuse? I never knew about mental abuse until I was in it.”

Max’s therapeutic practitioner pushed him to go to the GP and when he finally agreed, the doctor immediately recognised that he was battling depression. Through the therapeutic programme offered by For Baby’s Sake, he gradually recognised his shame and anxiety and started to rebuild his self-esteem. 

“It was about looking within myself and realising that I’m valued,” Max says. “I’m a person.”

Max was granted full custody of his children. But there were financial challenges in leaving his abuser – he had to give up his job to care for his kids and he had no home. 

The Big Issue has reported on the difficulties of finding housing for survivors of domestic abuse, and it can be even more challenging for male survivors.

Only 4.8% of victims of domestic abuse being supported by local domestic services are men, according to SafeLives data. This highlights how few men are being supported for local domestic abuse services.

Max’s family were put up in a hotel for a few weeks and he worried constantly about the impact it was having on his children.

“I’ve blocked out a lot,” Max says. “I felt lost. Have I made the right decision? What have I done? I didn’t know where to turn. I had no money. Then you’ve got to go to the Jobcentre and try to explain your situation to them, trying to get your kids into school, doctors and dentists… It was mind-numbing.”

Max starts crying as he adds: “It was that close to me giving up.” 

He thought about running away from it all and leaving his children behind, which is so painful for him to think about now. He wants other survivors to know that there is a way out of the darkness. 

“Seek help,” he says. “Don’t feel ashamed. It can be done. It’s so easy to turn to drink or drugs but because of my children, I didn’t go down that road. Help is out there.”

Max uses the analogy of a rucksack he learnt at For Baby’s Sake. His rucksack was filled with stones when they first met and during the journey, they would take out a stone, and he now has an empty rucksack which he is filling with good things in life.

The best and most important part of his life is his children, who are four and six. “They are thriving now,” he says. “Seeing them laughing and smiling, that’s amazing.”

“Before there was a dark tunnel. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see anywhere, but now I can look forward and I can see forward. There’s bumps in life. Everyone has bumps in life, but I can see the end goal.”

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