Published: 06:00, 26 October 2020
| Updated: 09:06, 26 October 2020
Hundreds of men have broken their silence about being a victim of domestic abuse and a survivor says one service which offers support in Kent, helped him out of a 'war zone'.
According to figures released by Kent Police, a total of 4,520 domestic abuse reports from men were made to the force during the peak of lockdown between March and August - 544 more than the same time period last year.
And according to one advisor, injuries like cigarette burns, stabbings and puncture wounds inflicted by knitting needles are not uncommon.
One Kent man, Steve, which is not his real name, has spoken out after being helped out by Look Ahead, which runs domestic abuse services in the west of the county.
Steve faced the constant threat of physical and psychological abuse from his wife for years hidden away in their home.
He said: “I was in a war zone during my marriage and I was constantly on edge.
"My own home was where I was imprisoned, isolated and alone. I never knew what I would be faced with when I entered it.
"I had cuts, scratches and bruises but I didn’t feel the physical attacks as I was numb.”
Being taught to never hit a woman, he never retaliated but was stuck in the cycle.
When he finally told the police, they put him in touch with Look Ahead. Steve, who works in London, is now enjoying life with his two children, who he has custody of.
He added: “The first thing the support worker said was that she believed me and it was then I really felt I had someone in my corner.”
To Rebecca Swaine, Look Ahead’s independent domestic violence advisor, victims suffer stabbings and puncture wounds inflicted by knitting needles and even cigarette burns.
Most weeks men make up about a third of her referrals, but there are some weeks where the number of men seeking help exceeds the number of women.
The advisor said: "The men I work with express a sense of isolation, loneliness, not knowing where to turn and that many services which are accessible are not geared up to take men's referrals, which actually is not the case. At Look Ahead we are championing this male awareness.
"We understand everybody's case is individual. But we do appreciate there is an unconscious bias in society when we think about domestic abuse. We think about a male to female relationship, but actually domestic abuse affects everyone - regardless of their gender, their race and sexuality."
The common perception that men's strength means they cannot be physically, psychologically and sexually abused has led many men to feel embarrassed about coming forward and has impacted the services they try to access.
Mrs Swaine added: "I see a lot of control around the children.
"I see a lot of men fearing they can't leave the home because with the services for men - particularly say for specialist accommodation like refuge - taking your children with you is almost impossible.
"It puts them in a dilemma. Do they stay in abusive relationships so they can be with the children?
"Or do they risk not having contact with their children? This is one of the key areas Look Ahead is exploring in making men services equal to those for women."
To men who may be experiencing abuse, she adds: "Is someone making you feel unsafe?
'Everyone has a right to live abuse free and the agencies are there to support you...'
"If that answer is yes, then you need to seek support and at least pick up the phone, make that first call.
"Everyone has a right to live abuse free and the agencies are there to support you."
Det Supt Kaye Braybrook from Kent Police says protecting vulnerable people and tackling domestic abuse is one of the force's priorities.
She added: "Not all reported incidents have taken place during that same lockdown time period. While the current Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in many families being at home, isolated for long periods of time, for some it has been a time of reflection.
"What is reassuring is that more victims have come forward to seek help, something Kent Police has always actively encouraged. "There is a wealth of support on offer and we work closely with a number of partner agencies and charities to ensure victims can be safeguarded and have access to the information and help they need."
Look Ahead supports men in West Kent as part of a consortium of organisations commissioned by Kent County Council called Kent Integrated Domestic Abuse Service (KIDAS). To get in contact with Victim Support, call 0808 1689276.