Open post

The double whammy of being a survivor of domestic abuse who is blind and male

by ‘Ken’ (real name withheld).

 

In the Beginning

 

When I first got together with Alison, (not her real name), she presented her best side to me and friends. We rarely quarrelled until our wedding day.  Then on our wedding night, she complained continuously, saying  the wedding was a disaster, blaming me for everything that didn’t go 100% .

 

Early warnings

 

At first, I didn’t spot the red flags. Confusingly, she would say: “I am your carer”, and “I never said I was your carer”. When reading printed letters to me, she would deliberately omit crucial information like contact details. I’d ask for them, and she’d tell me I was hard work, as if I’d asked her for the moon. She’d tell friends and strangers alike that I was a burden:  ”… if that’s not bad enough I’ve got a blind husband to see to”. Such comments left me feeling virtually worthless.

 

Financial

 

She’d decide what my money was to be spent on, but treat me as ‘The Bank of Husband’. I thought she had no money of her own. However, after she left, she bought a £115,000 home in a single down payment, with money I didn’t know she had. I felt scammed.

 

Escalation

 

She would not let me hold her elbow, the prescribed way to guide long cane users, saying I was damaging her arm. Once, returning with friends from a holiday in Devon, we stopped at a motorway service station. After my repeated attempts to get her to guide me correctly, she broke away, leaving me in the middle of a slip road with traffic hurtling around me. Our friend rescued me from the melee. I’d frozen, fearing I’d be run over if I moved.

During that holiday, walking back to our B&B, she kept insisting our friends they were going the wrong way. When I told her to calm down, she pushed me in front of a moving car. The driver had swift reactions, but I came within inches of collision. Later when I mentioned the incident, she told me that because she could see and I couldn’t, everybody would believe her over me. Besides, she alleged, I’d imagined it. I said it had happened in front of sighted witnesses. She replied that she’d pushed me with with good reason. That comment traumatised me more than by the original incident.

 

I have married again, and my present wife is thoughtful, kind and loving, so my fears, stoked by Alison’s attitude during our marriage, that hers was my best and last chance of love proved groundless. Alison and I are on friendlier termsnow.

 

Reporting

 

Once when she threw stiletto heeled shoes at me, I reported to the police. The duty officer was brilliant. But the officers in the squad car he sent round told me to go home and kiss and make up.  He said I was wasting their time, they’d been chasing guys threatening each other with knives and I was reporting thrown objects? Alison followed me to the squad car and claimed in soft tones that she was the victim. Instantly, she got >>There There My Dear, I got <<Now Look, Sir!

 

Effects

 

After an episode, I’d struggle to sleep for a couple of nights, then things would settle. About a week later, I’d have a nightmare themed around the traumatic event. Friends said I had become wary and on edge, afraid to displease her. One said: “When she’s not with you, you seem ten years younger”.

 

Lessons Learned

 

  1. Remarks like “I’m telling you how ugly you are for your own good”, put me off ending the relationship. I began to fear that loneliness was the only alternative to the abusive relationship. I got a feeling of “I’m not ok, everyone else is ok’. Finally, counting how many friends and family members she’d driven away, I ended the marriage. By then I felt life with her was a more daunting prospect than life alone.
  2. Withholding information from important printed material, such as utility bills unavailable in other formats was particularly hard to challenge, as I’d often not know the information was there to be had.
  3. I could not easily have moved out, as I’d need to move to an unfamiliar area. As a blind person, before I can visit the nearest pub, for instance, I have to be shown where it is.
  4. To be a disabled survivor and a male survivor is to be a disabled male survivor. That is, the cumulative impacts on gender and impairment are greater than the sum of their parts. You are a minority within a minority. A male survivor can often feel they are ‘a man in a woman’s world’ because of gamma bias. It is still not known how or whether the few support services available to male victims are accessible to disabled people. Efforts to find out must not put disabled men behind disabled women in the queue. Rather, experts must study the subject of disability and domestic abuse in an open, gender-inclusive way.
  5. One social identity cannot trump another. I felt in my dealings with some police officers, as though I were treated firstly as a man (assumed to be a perpetrator), but they’d overlooked risks associated with my impairment. Example: How can you dodge a missile you don’t see coming?
  6. Where the abuser exploits a victim’s disability to gain control, we should treat the behaviour as both disability hostility and domestic abuse, because the disadvantage of the impairment is the ‘weapon’. Example: A partner deliberately locking essential medication out of reach of a wheelchair user.

 

Conclusion

 

Experts could gather the stories of other male victims with a wide range of different impairments. Only then will we begin to find out:

  • How the experience of disabled victims differs from that of non-disabled victims; and
  • How domestic abuse may affect disabled men and boys differently from women and girls

 

In the meantime, I would encourage any disabled male survivors and victims to come forward with their stories, and go to Mankind Initiative or Abused Men In Scotland for support.

If you have a disability that impacts you in a way relevant to male psychology, and would like to blog on it for the Male Psychology Network website, please contact me john@malepsychology.org.uk

 

 

 

Open post

The other ‘hidden homeless’: autistic men

by Dr John Barry

Around 85% of rough sleepers are men (St. Mungos, 2016). The reasons for homelessness are many and complex, but the most frequently cited reasons for male homelessness are relationship breakdown, substance misuse, or leaving an institution (e.g. prison, care or hospital) (Brown et al, 2019).

At any one time in the UK there are around 5000 rough sleepers (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, 2017). This isn’t counting the group often called the ‘hidden homeless’, a much larger number of people – at least 250,000 – with no stable accommodation (Shelter 2016). We know that almost half of rough sleepers have mental health needs (Combined Homelessness and Information Network, 2017), but these figures don’t identify the other type of ‘hidden homeless’ – people with autism.

Autism effects 1% of the population (Brugha et al, 2016). Autism exists on a spectrum of severity (Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or ASD). There are some interesting gender differences that might lead to underestimates of ASD in females (van Wijngaarden-Cremers, 2019), but most estimates suggest that more severe cases are four times more common in males, and the less severe form (Asperger Syndrome) is nine times more common in males (Barry & Owens, 2019).

Given the fact that most homeless people are male, we would expect a larger proportion of homeless people to have autism. In the first study on this topic published in a peer-reviewed journal, Churchard et al (2019) found that autism is at least 12 times more common in homeless people than the general population (or probably more, if it was possible to identify the ‘hardest to reach’ homeless people). This figure far exceeds the rate you would expect if autism in homeless people was simply due to both autism and homelessness being more common in men. So if gender doesn’t fully explain the over-representation of autism in the homeless population, then why are so many autistic people homeless?

Well, substance abuse does not explain it, because people with autism are less likely to have problems with substance abuse than other people (Butwicka et al, 2017). However Churchard et al (2019) suggest that the greater levels of social isolation experienced by people with autism might be the key; autistic people often have fewer people to turn to if things go wrong in their lives, such as their housing being threatened. People with autism are also less likely to be employed, so might slip into the poverty trap more easily (Calsyn & Winter, 2002). Churchard et al also suggest that because people with autism are more likely to experience sensory difficulties (e.g. finding noise distressing), this makes living in shared accommodation or a hostel virtually impossible. Also for those with cognitive impairments to abilities such as planning, everyday independent living might become virtually impossible.

Although the current level of knowledge regarding homelessness and autism is very basic, there has been some progress by a group called Homeless Link (2015), who have created practical guidelines on how to identify autism in homeless people, and how to communicate in a way that best facilitates support for the homeless person.

This article only scratches the surface of mental health issues in homelessness. Other issues that impact the general population of homeless people include a history of childhood abuse and neglect, seen in 80% of homeless people (Torchalla et al. 2012). This type of history creates special problems for housing homeless people, because they may have learned to associate home with abuse and neglect (Duffy & Hutchison, 2019). Trauma prior to homelessness is also common (e.g. military-related PTSD), as is trauma as a result of life on the street (Buhrich et al. 2000).

More research is needed to identify the scale of the problem of autism in homelessness, and to develop evidence-based methods of helping these vulnerable people. There can be little doubt that homeless autistic people should be one of the key issues for anyone interested in Male Psychology.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his forthcoming book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

 

References

Barry JA and Owens B (2019). From fetuses to boys to men: the impact of testosterone on male lifespan development, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (pp. 3-24). London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

Brown, J. S., Sagar-Ouriaghli, I., & Sullivan, L. (2019). Help-Seeking Among Men for Mental Health Problems. In The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (pp. 397-415). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

Buhrich, N., Hodder, T., & Teesson, M. (2000). Lifetime prevalence of trauma among homeless people in Sydney. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34(6), 963–966.

Butwicka, A., Langstrom, N., Larsson, H., Lundstrom, S., Serlachius, E., Almqvist, C., … Lichtenstein, P. (2017). Increased risk for substance use-related problems in autism spectrum disorders: a population-based cohort study. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 47(1), 80-89.

Churchard, A., Ryder, M., Greenhill, A., & Mandy, W. (2019). The prevalence of autistic traits in a homeless population. Autism, 23(3), 665-676.

Combined Homelessness and Information Network. (2017). CHAIN annual report: June 2015. The Greater London Authority.

Duffy, J., & Hutchison, A. (2019). Working with Homeless Men in London: A Mental Health Service Perspective. In The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (pp. 533-556). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

Homeless Link (2015). Autism and Homelessness: Briefing for frontline staff. https://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-attachments/Autism%20&%20HomelessnesOct%202015.pdf

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. (2017). Rough Sleeping Statistics, Autumn 2017, England. London: Author.

Shelter. (2016). Green book 50 years on: The reality of homelessness for families today. http://www.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1307361/GreenBook_-_A_report_on_homelessness.pdf.

St. Mungos. (2016). Stop the scandal: An investigation into mental health and rough sleeping. http://www.mungos.org/documents/7021/7021.pdf.

Torchalla, I., Strehlau, V., Li, K., Schuetz, C., & Krausz, M. (2012). The association between childhood maltreatment subtypes and current suicide risk among homeless men and women. Child Maltreatment, 17, 132–143.

van Wijngaarden-Cremers, P. (2019). Autism in Boys and Girls, Women and Men Throughout the Lifespan. In The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (pp. 309-330). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

 

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