Men endure emotional and even physical abuse in the family home to provide sustenance and maintenance for the safety, growth and development of their children according to Rhondall Feeles of the Single Fathers’ Association.
“People think that only women stay in a relationship because of the children. Men do the same thing as well,” he said. Pleased that Government will be opening a safe house for abused men, Feeles told Newsday that his association has lobbied for such a facility for a long time.
He hopes it is not only for abused men but men who are displaced and could find safety in a shelter for themselves and their children. While some men may be abused by their womenfolk, he said, men are also abused by men.
“Men are open to speaking when they are emotionally abused but not when they are physically abused because then they think they would be viewed as a sissy,” he said.
It was “a positive”, he said, that society and Government have recognised that the needs of men in relation to domestic violence, though in the minority, are also being given attention.
Three years ago, he said, a father and his son were put out of their home because the father could not pay the rent. The child would not stay away from his father and they slept in the Brian Lara Promenade. The association got the Social Development Ministry to intervene and the father was given rental assistance for three months.
“Since then the man has bounced back. He still has sole custody of the child. He has been able to keep a steady job. The three months break that he had there has been able to give him a good boost,” Feeles said.
Meanwhile, one man, John Jones (not his real name), father of four, who has now spent almost two decades in a marriage, told Newsday, that initially he and his wife would get into fist fights after she would hit him.
The abuse he now suffers, he said, “is not so much physical but mental and financial and ‘psychosexual’ if there is such a phrase.” “I don’t know what Trinidad men would do. Suppose I walk away and she decides to bring Mr Sweet Man and others into the house and introduces them as Uncle Tony and Uncle Andy and I have a little 13-year-old daughter there. A lot of sexual abuse is taking place and is stepfathers doing it. That is the fear, I have,” Jones said.
When children become pawns when mothers and fathers are at loggerheads, he said, there is the fear of family break up. “I would do anything to avoid a family break up. I can take anything for them.” When she does not get the money she wants, he said, she steals and threatens police intervention. She would say things like, “I am going to do things to your children. I am going to put them in foster homes where they will be sexually abused, and all that kind of thing.”
On sexual abuse, he said, “My opinion is that infidelity is a form sexual abuse. Infidelity puts me on the list of all sorts of things including diseases, HIV, or I meet somebody who might just decide to put a bullet in me. It could happen. It is soul destroying.” He said, “Do you know what it is like to have your wife telling you in your own house, even in your own bed, with your children nearby, ‘Well you know, I just f..... so and so.”
Abuse is an egocentric thing, he said. “At first my ego was shattered, but at the end of the say, I had to really strategise. The greater thing is my children. I put them first.”
When his wife could not get her hands on his money, Jones said, “She would steal my money. Many, many times.”
At one time he was giving her the mortgage money to pay. “For six months, I don’t know how or on who she was using the money. You know how hard it is to pay six months of mortgage money. It is hard enough on a month to month basis to pay the bills.” He no longer makes reports to the police station. “The police laugh at me. I tell the police officers that my wife just thief $1,000 from me. They laugh at me.” Stuck in the situation, he said, “I told myself, the Queen of England suffered infidelity. It is well known. Mr Nelson Mandela suffered infidelity. Well known. Well, who is me? I had to put ego out of it. I had to strategise. My children are number one.”
Though his wife is working for a salary, he said, he does not know what she does with her money as he is the one to pay all the bills and provide food for the house.
“She lives all over the place. One time she is with this one. Another time she is with another. I really don’t care. I am down to practicalities. I am looking after the children,” he said.
Financial abuse, he said, is nothing to be shunned. There was a time in Trinidad and Tobago, he said, when one in ten of the prison population, were men who were not paying maintenance for their children. The State should see, he said, that financial abuse is meted out by some women to men, by some women to their families, and even to their own children.