When I look back on my early twenties I have a huge feeling of regret. The damage that was done to me by an abusive partner has stayed with me for many years.
Thirty years on, I still remember vivid details of the abuse. I remember the song that was playing on the radio when she broke a plate over my head for being late home from work, the colour of the wallpaper when she tied me to the bed for a 'fun time' and then sexually assaulted me, and the memory of her dark roots standing out against her blonde hair when she tried to stab me for talking to another girl at a party.
However, many of the little things now blur together; the put downs, the way she isolated me from my family, the way she controlled my time and money, the way she suddenly got pregnant every time it looked like I was going to leave, and the way she used casual violence, safe in the knowledge I wouldn't hit back.
I could go on about the abuse I suffered, but that's not the point of this piece. The point is to discuss how we can stop family violence.
In my experience, what I have shared with you will be dismissed by most. At best, people will say I was a rare example of female-perpetrated domestic violence, or I'll be called a liar or worse. For decades the message has been strong and clear: men hurt women and not the other way round.
This message has contributed to the problem of domestic violence in my opinion. The fact that we can't see men as victims or women as perpetrators has lead to us trying to solve half a problem. We have few support mechanisms for men wishing to leave violent relationships.
We excuse women's violence as justifiable reactions to a man's behaviour or her emotional state, we are intolerant to the idea that they didn't do something to deserve what they got, and we assume the man is the guilty party even when he is the one who called the police.
This repression of the idea men can be genuine victims of a woman's violence isn't just casual sexism, it is systemic.
Many studies, such as the longitudinal Dunedin study, have been non-platformed when trying to present findings that women are as violent as men. We ask women if they have ever been abused by a partner and get shocking figures of one in three or four victims, depending on who you ask and how abuse is defined, but we don't do that for men. We don't even ask women if they've ever been abusive to a man because the answer is shocking.
To solve domestic violence we need to take a look at the entire picture. We need to stop making assumptions about who is the violent one and who is the victim and do some actual investigating. We need to stop the political games played by certain groups who have an interest holding onto public funding or controlling the narrative.
Yes, on average men hit harder and do more damage when they hit, but that doesn't excuse a woman hitting a man in any way. Assault is assault and lessening the responsibility of the one who assaults on muscle mass isn't equitable.
Luckily a few years after she had moved on, leaving me financially, spiritually, and mentally broken, I met a wonderful woman who patiently supported me so that I could heal.
My ex still casts a shadow over my life but it has since grown pale and thin thanks to love and time. When my wife and I first met, I still had the instincts of a victim. I waited for her to scream at me, hit me, demand things, put me down.
The day I dented her car I sat frozen in the driver's seat waiting for the slap or the insult. When it never came, at first I was confused. I thought she was waiting, but it never came.
I often wonder if I was able to access help easily or receive some advice 30 years ago, would I have saved myself years of abuse?
Unfortunately, I believe this is a question some men today are still asking.
Where to get help?
Inspired by an article here.