Jason (not his real name) never considered himself a victim of domestic abuse, but after years of being systematically berated and belittled, he knew it was time to get help.
However, he said he discovered that as he tried to seek help and support to leave his abusive relationship, there were few or no resources available to him or others like him.
“I have had to make calls before to the Crisis Centre. I was told they’re open for women. I’m now just imagining that there may have been males that would like to get help, but the barriers that are in the male spheres are different, the challenges we face are different. It is even demeaning to a man,” he told the Cayman Compass.
He said he eventually did find some assistance and has since left his marital home, but he said more needs to be done.
“There also needs to be some kind of a provision for the men that are also experiencing domestic violence and abuse,” he said.
Carol-Anne Fordyce, Cayman Islands Crisis Centre coordinator, agrees. She said the present options to assist male victims are limited in terms of shelters, but those who need support can and have been using Estella’s Place, a walk-in facility associated with the Crisis Centre, to seek help.
Fordyce, who also manages the walk-in centre, said the issue of male domestic abuse is very real in Cayman and is widely underreported.
“At one point, I had more male clients than I did female [at Estella’s Place]. That’s not the case today, but it has been in the past. We do support men, we are very aware that they are also victims of domestic abuse,” she told the Compass.
Fordyce said the Crisis Centre is working on a five-year plan to build a bigger shelter and there will be a unit included in that facility to offer shelter to men fleeing their abusers.
“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that there are men on this island who are experiencing domestic violence. I think that has always been the case, and that hasn’t changed,” she said, adding, “I think that men do struggle to come forward. I think they feel embarrassed, they feel stigmatised sometimes, they don’t actually know that it is domestic abuse that they’re experiencing; it’s not always physical. Sometimes, it’s sexual; sometimes, it’s emotional, it’s financial; there are lots and lots of types of abuse.”
She said around a third of her clients have been male at the walk-in centre. However, she said, none of those clients have actually asked for shelter.
“Men tend to ask for advice – ‘What should I do? Is this domestic violence? How do I make it stop?’ They don’t tend to want to leave the house,” she said.
Jason said for years he endured abuse without recognising that he was a victim.
“This is very serious when you’re constantly exposed to psychological violence, it can grow on you to become commonplace. That is unless something really extraordinary happens, you don’t really know. You say it’s just another day and the society can become so desensitised to what’s going on that you’re actually suffering in front of everyone and nobody knows when that’s happened to me,” he said.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, he added, was when he was degraded publicly by his spouse in a formal professional setting where he was selected as a candidate for a new post.
“Personally, I knew that this had to stop and decided to take action for myself,” he said.
Jason is seeking to free himself of his relationship, but is worried that as an African-Caribbean male, he will be stereotyped for walking away from his family unit. He said he will maintain his relationship with his children, but he believes if provisions are made within the Family Court system, Cayman’s divorce statistics could be reduced.
“I am imploring the powers-that-be to also examine possible ways of providing more mediation for people, because sometimes situations do not have to escalate… or do not have to erode to the point that they do, if you just had some credible mediation,” he said.
Jason said at this time he is a good position with his immigration status, but previously he, like many others, both male and female, had to remain with his spouse to be able to stay with his family. His status, he said, became a weapon against him.
“There is a fear right now that many people have as foreign nationals, a fear of immigration. If that fear is not dealt with responsibly, more families are going to be faced with divorce,” he said.
“We have protection for kids and for women, we have all these platforms that people can access. All I’m saying is, where’s the one for the dads? For the husbands?” he asked.
Fordyce said the Crisis Centre staff works with other agencies if there are questions that they cannot answer.
“Immigration is a huge issue for people, and it’s a huge fear, but that is something that we can assist with and we can give them any help that we possibly can…,” she said.
COVID lockdown issues
Fordyce said the COVID-19 lockdown created a very strange situation for everyone “but when there are tensions or abuse already in a relationship, and then you are literally locked at home together, then this creates more tension”.
She said the pandemic has presented challenges when it comes to dealing with domestic violence.
“[It] is about control, male and female, and everyone has lost control of their lives to some extent during COVID. Add to that [the] loss of wages and security, and this can put added pressure [on] a relationship. Men often feel that they should be the ‘provider’ and see this as their role in the household.
“Once that has been taken away and there are financial pressures, then his self-esteem will be affected. He is therefore more vulnerable to an abusive situation. Also, most men only believe that they are a victim of [domestic violence] when they no longer have control of their life, therefore COVID and unemployment will definitely have exacerbated that,” she added.
Local male abuse statistics unavailable
Mehr Lamba, programme facilitator at the Family Resource Centre, said that global statistics for male domestic abuse show that one in four men experience violence in the home, compared to one in three women.
Here in Cayman, data on the subject is limited, she said, probably because it is widely underreported. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service was unable to provide statistics related to male domestic abuse.
“I know a lot of the time when we have men come to access services, they themselves aren’t necessarily aware that they’re experiencing domestic violence. They’re talking about some of the things that they’re experiencing at home and as they continue to talk, we learn… that they are experiencing domestic violence,” she said.
A lot of the time, Lamba explained, it is emotional or verbal abuse or different types of treatment that people don’t consider domestic violence because there isn’t a physical aspect, “but it definitely is still domestic violence”.
She said the Family Resource Centre does not differentiate between a man or a woman coming to access services, particularly for domestic abuse.
The centre, she said, would provide crisis management, safety planning, risk assessments, case management, referrals and advocacy “to absolutely anyone who comes in our doors and is seeking services for domestic violence”.
She said the centre operates a Legal Befrienders clinic that is free to the public, and men have been making use of the services, especially on immigration issues.
Lamba urged victims to recognise the signs of abuse and seek help.
“If someone is constantly putting you down, is making fun of you, using negative language around you – that could be a form of emotional and verbal abuse. If someone is isolating you from friends, family, you’re not being able to communicate with people, maybe they’re managing your finances – you could be experiencing financial abuse, depending on what that dynamic is like in the household,” she said.
Lamba said the Alliance to End Domestic Violence is working on initiatives to educate the community to increase awareness about abuse.
“All of our services are absolutely confidential,” she said. “All of our services work primarily to maintain your safety and the safety of your children if there are children involved,” she added.