Hidden Hell. Domestic Abuse Special Investigation
Byline: MARIE KIERANS
IT was a Fair City storyline that shocked the nation.
But behind the violent attacks by character Suzanne Halpin on husband Damien in the RTE drama, is a growing real-life scourge of male domestic abuse in Ireland.
Last year Amen, a support service for male victims of domestic abuse, reported an 80% increase in the number of people contacting their services after suffering abuse.
Its first annual report revealed 3,644 men sought help last year, up from 2,028 in 2008.
Chillingly, a quarter of these - 26% - were physically abused with victims reporting being stabbed, burnt by cigarettes and having their hair pulled out.
The organisation, which operates a helpline and counselling service for men, said where there is physical abuse there is always emotional abuse. Many victims also experience sexual abuse. More than one third of clients last year suffered verbal abuse with 38% suffering psychological torment.
Typical forms of verbal or psychological abuse faced by men by controlling female partners include not being allowed to see family/friends, hiding their car keys, listening to phone calls, accusing them of having affairs and publicly humiliating them.
Many men also report various other allegations made against them and that their children have been alienated from them.
One victim, known only as Richard, said: "I spent a day with my son. We had a great day playing sport and spending time together.
"The following day he would not speak to me. Two weeks later my wife saw me driving by their school. She called the gardai and had me arrested.
"Near the end of the month I had access with my two children, I could not believe the hatred they showed towards me which hurt and baffled me."
For far too long men have been suffering in silence because of the stigma attached to being battered by a woman. Amen manager Niamh Farrell said society has tended to treat a male victim as a joke because he does not conform to the stereotypical male image.
However, the decision by Fair City to feature such an emotive issue in its storyline has struck a chord with viewers all the country - and generated a huge response from male victims.
Ms Farrell said: "We've been flooded with calls since the Fair City storyline started.
"It has definitely had an impact and hopefully it will encourage more male victims to seek help."
She added that the writers worked closely with Amen in developing the plot and the charity is very pleased with how it has been handled.
Declan Keavney, one of Amen's first clients back in the 1980s, met with actor Maclean Burke who plays Damien to give him an insight into what it is like to suffer domestic abuse at the hands of your wife.
Declan said: "Suzanne wants to control Damien, there is jealousy there too. He can't look sideways but he is in trouble and he is not allowed to react.
"But it's like a dog, if you keep poking a dog, it will eventually react and he'll either fight back or run away. I hope this story will wake people up to the extent of the problem in this country. What's being portrayed in Fair City is only the tip of the iceberg as far as I am concerned.
"The law favours the woman. A man faces a huge obstacle of having to prove he is in fact the victim.
"I've come out the other end, I got full custody of my children but my wife took my kids away from me initially even though she was the perpetrator.
"My wife made false allegations against me. Everyone took her side and believed what she said at the beginning because she was the woman. Losing contact with your children is the worse thing of all. I cried for days.
"It was very tough at the time but I stood my ground and got what I wanted - my children and for them to be happy. …