An east Belfast boxing club is offering fitness classes dedicated to male victims of domestic abuse, to encourage men to speak out more about their experiences.
A survey of 60 respondents by domestic abuse charity Men’s Alliance NI found that over 80% had admitted to depression as a direct consequence of domestic abuse. Over 70% said they also suffered with anxiety and 46% revealed they had suicidal thoughts.
“This is a situation we really need to help with as there is so little for men in abusive relationships, with many of them believing it is not something that happens to other men,” said Carey Baxter, chair of the charity.
“The opportunity offered by the City of Belfast Boxing Academy (CBBA) is a valuable way to help these men on their road to recovery as they move from being a victim to a survivor.”
The coaches at CBBA hope that by allowing Men’s Alliance to facilitate a devoted weekly exercise class through the club, victims and survivors will be able to improve their mental health, socialise and share similar encounters with one another.
Of the 30,000 police reports of domestic incidents between 2019 and 2020, over one third of reports were from men.
Mr Baxter said that Men’s Alliance “believe conversations about domestic violence should not be segmented along gender lines”. He said: “Our position is that it should be about providing any victim of domestic abuse, male or female, with help and support at the point when it is most needed.”
One man who has been helped by Men’s Alliance NI previously tried to take his own life as a result of his deteriorating mental health, due to past experiences of coercive control and emotional abuse by his ex-wife.
Ian, which is not his real name, spoke to the Belfast Telegraph about “the difficulty and lack of help available for men” in situations similar to his.
“I was very proactive in trying to get help and I suppose I was lucky enough to be able to afford to pay to get the help, but I was on waiting lists — it was virtually impossible to be seen — and for someone who is suicidal, to be put on a waiting list for at least six months, I don’t need to explain that.”
He added that only now, years after leaving the relationship, does he realise how severe the abuse he faced was.
“I’m still taken aback by how she treated me. I understood it more when I left. I actually don’t know how I survived the whole thing.”
After reading a book called ‘The Emotionally Abusive Relationship’ by Beverly Engel, Ian said he was “shocked to the core” because he felt it described his life.
“It explained everything about gaslighting, projection, coercive behaviour, narcissism — them [the abuser] making you doubt yourself. That really was a massive turning point for me because it explained what everything was,” he said.
Earlier this month, Hollywood actor Johnny Depp won a multimillion-dollar US lawsuit against his former wife Amber Heard, after a jury ruled a 2018 article by her in the Washington Post suggesting she was a victim of domestic violence was defamatory.
The case shone a light on both male and female victims of domestic abuse.
During the trial, Depp testified that he himself was a survivor of domestic abuse.
Since the case ended, many male victims have spoken out about their own circumstances with abusive partners and they believe it to be a pivotal point in aiding to end the stigma around men who speak out.
While Ian said he only heard “bits and pieces” about the trial, he too believes the public attention around the case will shine a light on male victims of domestic abuse and violence — for the better. Trying to advise others who might relate to his story, he added: “You can’t advise people to leave their marriage, but they have to realise, if this is the kind of behaviour they’re living in, they’re dealing with a narcissist. It will not change, ever.”
Ian has also encouraged any men who have experienced domestic abuse to contact Men’s Alliance NI at their website http://www.MensAllianceNI.co.uk/ and Facebook page @MANiSupportGroupNI, which has over 1,100 members from across NI.
Those that are interested can attend the new weekly classes at CBBA, from 7.30pm every Thursday evening.