My Wife Hugged Me to Say Sorry for Beating Me Up ... Then Knifed Me in the Back; Inside Britain's First Refuge for MALE Victims of Domestic Violence
Byline: by Penny Marshall
ONE RESIDENT will forever carry the scars from nearfatal stab wounds, while another sits silently in the corner with a face etched with fear.
Both have fled to this safe house to escape violent partners. Both have done so in fear of their lives and -- shockingly -- both are men: members of a growing band of British male domestic abuse victims.
Jay is a soft-spoken, gentle, 22-year-old labourer from Cardiff who was repeatedly punched by his 32-year-old girlfriend. He tells me he'd be on the streets if it wasn't for the help he's getting here now.
'People don't think men get hit, but we do. People don't think men suffer, but we do,' he tells me. 'At first I didn't speak about the violence because of the stigma, but in the end I did and it was social services who helped me come here. I had nowhere else to go.'
The 'here' is an unremarkable looking terrace house in a valley in Powys, midWales. Founded in 2006, it houses Britain's first refuge exclusively for men and their children fleeing violent partners.
There are 4,000 refuge places for women in Britain, and only 20 for men, most of them at this centre run by the Montgomery Family Crisis Centre.
On the day of my visit, Jane Stephens, the operations manager, is preparing for the possible arrival of a man from Cornwall with his children aged nine, seven and two.
Jane is a down-to-earth and kindly grandmother, who is planning to place the family in one of three bedrooms named Faith, Hope and Charity. She shows me Faith, packed with pine bunk beds on which are piles of clean towels and bedding. The house's toys are ready in boxes in the hall.
The father contacted the 24-hour emergency helpline over Christmas and the refuge staff are liaising with social services in his area before his possible arrival.
As Jay fries sausages for his lunch in the small back kitchen, Jane tells me how the refuge has been a temporary home to 60 men and 28 children since it opened. Partially funded by a grant from the National Lottery, it takes in men who are desperate for help, and often badly injured.
'We've had a man who was deliberately run over by his partner,' Jane says sadly. 'Other men who had been stabbed, men with severe head injuries, burns and slashes ... to name but a few.'
More than 400 men have asked for refuge here. Often it is police who tell them about the refuge while they're recovering in hospital.
Residents have come from as far afield as London, Devon, Lancashire and Nottingham and have included a judge, several policemen, and Army veterans.
'Domestic abuse knows no class barriers,' says the managing director, Shirley Powell, who also runs a safe house for women close by.
But the refuge faced a great deal of opposition when it opened, and still attracts criticism because it doesn't run police checks on residents to see if they were, actually, the perpetrators of the violence.
THE team who run it say this is because people are ignorant about male domestic abuse and because their approach challenges the gender stereotype that all men are violent, all women victims.
'We are without judgment here,' Shirley says, adding her team is willing to believe the men when many in the criminal justice system, government agencies and police may be suspicious.
'Everything is stacked against men,' Shirley says, pointing out that if men report abuse they can be arrested themselves on suspicion of being the perpetrator.
'If men leave their family homes, they may lose access to their children in the courts,' she says. 'They should have the same rights as women in the same situations: gender equality is all we want.'
The safe house, which featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary, The Last Refuge, this week, clearly offers peace and safety, and, say those who run it, more and more men are approaching them for help. …