Men and domestic violence: interview N

Recorded telephone conversation, Fitzroy, 7 Feb 95

This is a transcript of a telephone interview with a man who had recently suffered a direct example of a domestic assault. Sections in [..] brackets are estimated text where the tape was unclear, or occasional comments; sections in <..> brackets indicate items removed in order to maintain confidentiality; otherwise this is, as far as practicable, a verbatim transcription.

The man initially contacted me via a newspaper article on domestic violence, which I had been instrumental in having published, although my name had not appeared in the article itself.

N: Hello. It's <N: name >, phone number <number>. I'd like to talk to <T: researcher> regarding the article by <journalist> on "Men victims at home, study finds", on February the fifth. I can identify with that, you may be able to help me. Thank you.

I called back on the number, and left a message on the answering machine. The man called me back later, from a call-box, explaining that he didn't want to talk about the issues with his children present. Although it was difficult to be certain, the context and tone of voice suggested a man in his early thirties, probably a school-teacher. Throughout the interview, his voice was calm and clear, slow-paced, reflective, expressive, and also clearly well-read in the area of violence. I asked for permission to tape the conversation, which was granted. The recording starts in the middle of a sentence, just after he had explained that he'd gone to hospital the previous day with a knife injury, and I had asked him whether he'd told the staff what had happened:

N: ... I told them that, when I walked in there, that my wife had attacked me with a kitchen knife, and, I'd been stabbed in the head. And there was a lot of blood over my face and that, I didn't know how bad it was, fortunately it wasn't too deep, but there was a fair amount of blood. They asked me, a doctor came and they had a look and I didn't want to take my hand away because it was bleeding. And he had a sort of quick look and, you know, said it wasn't too serious. I waited a long time in the cubicle. They cleaned it up and asked me if I wanted to call the police and I said I didn't want to, ah, take action against my wife, and...

The man ran out of coins at this point; I set up a reverse-charge call to the call-box, and the interview continued:

N: Yes, and I, perhaps, I, I just wanted to talk to the policeman, I didn't want to, you know, take out an intervention order or anything like that.

T: Yes, because you've got children at home.

N: Yes, I've got two now she's taken off to Melbourne with me eldest daughter.

T: When was this?

N: Yesterday. Last night. She'd been down Melbourne four weeks or something, and she, um, was, um, molested by her father as a child, and as a consequence of that I suppose has a lot of classic behaviour of an incest victim. She was, um, suffers from, um...

T: The difficulty here, and this is quite important, is that you are not responsible for her violence. She has difficulty, but you are not responsible for fixing it. Okay?

N: Yeah. She tends to scapegoat me for a lot of things. Especially, if I was to... About two years ago she tried to take action through the policing squad...

T: In what sense?

N: She... Well, she went to the local health centre, and they recommended she go to the sexual assault unit. The sexual assault unit started counselling with her, and they said, look, you've got this frustration, get it out of your system, prosecute your father, and that will fix things. Unfortunately it was back in the 1960s, and they couldn't get him to admit it and, lack of evidence and all that sort of thing, it fell through. She continued counselling with the sexual assault unit locally, but she became [progressively] worse. Actually I've read an article from Sandra Perthod [or a similar-sounding name] from Newcastle, a psychologist, and she said the sexual assault units aren't really working, because they're not giving positive, concentrating on the positive aspects, they're going back to the negative.

T: They're concentrating on blame, which is actually the least useful of all responses to violence. But sorry, I cut across you, go on.

N: Yes, and she'd come home from these sessions angry at men, especially my son, she's been, there've been angry confrontations between her and my son. I've stepped in between them, and then I'm the meat in the sandwich! Other situations she'd, um, [interrupted by truck noise], some of the violent things'd be, destroying personal property, I've seen a list of sort of nine different things and she'd fall into something like seven or eight of those, things like alienating relatives...

T: What I'm concerned about right here is you. What you're doing is focusing on her and her situation. What are you doing to protect yourself and your family? Keep to yourself.

N: Well, at one stage when my personal property was being damaged I tried to restrain her physically, it just didn't work, we'd just end up rolling on the ground. I realised this, and then I started to move along to... the attacks got worse and I'd get going out of the house and I'd go for a walk for two hours, sometimes three hours. And I'd come back and unfortunately I'd be accused of having a relationship with some other woman, or actually speaking to my brother, who was renting a house in the neighbourhood. Other things that'd happened to me, I've been subject to often verbal abuse...

T: Yes, but that's what's happening to you. How are you coping with it?

N: Coping with it?

T: It sounds, from what you're saying to me, what I'm hearing from you, is that you're concerned about her.

N: Yeah. Other times I'd go down to places like Lifeline and I'd talk to counsellors, and I mean, I know it's sort of, I'm trying to, um, but I feel I've got a sort of burden, you know, I've spoken to the psych centre and trying to come up with a solution, so we could have a continuing good friendship, 'cause that's what I've wanted. I've felt that basically deep down we're very good friends and I want to, um, save that relationship.

T: Can I recommend - I'm sorry, do you have a pencil there, to write a number down.

N: Yes, just a sec., I've got one here somewhere...

T: I'm only a researcher, not a counsellor in this field.

N: Yes.

T: Um, my psychology background is primarily education, research psychology.

N: Right.

T: So I'm not the person to go much further with this. What would be most useful is to get, would be to listen to what you have to say, and frankly to acknowledge that what you're going through is real, and incidentally is very similar to what happens to women as well. So one thing we've been saying is [that] these are human problems, not gendered ones. But if you'd write a number down...

N: Please. A Catch-22 out of this is if I ring a psych, or the various psych services, they tend to say, unless you're being very seriously attacked by this person, we can't do anything, and you've got to call the police if you're being seriously attacked. So I've virtually got to have a knife between my ribs before they'll listen to me.

T: Yes, it's an awkward set-up. The number I'm going to give you is <psychologist>, and his number is <number>. He's a psychologist who specialises in domestic violence problems, both victims and abusers, both male and female. Okay. Now where are you, <town-name>?

N: Sorry?

T: Where are you: <town-name>?

N: Near, it's a little bit further north, it's about 20kms to the north.

T: Well, I just guessed from the <area-code> number, that's all. He's unfortunately in Melbourne, and I don't know anyone specifically in your area.

N: There is one counsellor, but he's specifically for, er, women, but I went there one Monday morning and she'd just, she'd attacked me, I'd been beaten with a broomstick for about five minutes, and I was really shook up, you know, because... from the mood swings and... and I went to <another town> and I spoke to <name> or something like that, ah...

T: I don't know. I'm part of a research group called <name>, and we've been researching this area fairly carefully. So that in some ways we're not particularly helpful to you, but <psychologist> would certainly be able to tell you who to contact, would be able to provide you with support. If your wife is willing, he will be able to work with her, and take her seriously, not simply teach her how to be angry with people as a way of making things worse, because that's really all the counsellors have done, by the sound of it. They haven't been respectful of her... I'm sorry, you were saying something?

N: I was saying, um, the female counsellors... um, she was becoming depressed, and I went there and I said, look, I can tell all the warning signs, she's going to commit suicide, you know? Anyway, she was sort of flirting with someone and the relationship broke and blew up and um, she ended up taking an overdose of, I think it was sleeping tablets, and she spent the whole day in casualty. But actually, the <named> newspaper wanted to interview me, they were going to send a reporter up here on Thursday, so actually when I got your call I thought that was it.

T: They probably will. <The journalist> at <the newspaper> has been following this up fairly closely, they've only just realised how serious the problem is.

N: Actually, I know at least two other males, both of them are a lot older than me, not quite as severe but a very similar experience, one of them is a retired architect and the other a retired geologist...

T: It would help everyone if we stopped hiding from this problem and started writing it down.

N: Pardon.

T: Because you may not know, but there's new legislation coming out in South Australia which will probably be coming here soon, that any man suspected of domestic violence - just suspected - is to be jailed.

N: God!

T: And all that would be necessary would be for your partner to say that you attacked her, and you are paying the price for her violence. So it is extremely important that we get this out now.

N: Well, in the house she'd be screaming out and the neighbours would be hearing this female screaming voice, you know? Yeah, and finally she'd be, I was scared she'd take out an intervention order against me. She threatened to, and I saw a solicitor, that I went to school, he taught [with?] me in school, and he put a notice at the courthouse that I must be notified if there is an intervention order, so at least I know, and he can appear on my behalf, or with me, to question her.

T: But you have got to, you have reported this? It's important to...

N: In the last few days, yes, actually, the police have been in my house ... how many times have they been there...?

T: How have they responded?

N: Very good, actually, they've improved a hundred percent in the last, er... They did, they came out, er, about eighteen months ago, where another incident, with an incident in school with my wife, and they sort of took the thing that, you know, this male, he's definitely, you know, got problems, you know. I sort of couldn't explain it because I'd already been, um...

T: So their attitude and position has changed a lot, as far as you're concerned?

N: It could have been because on one occasion I spoke to them outside the house, my wife, oh, she had slammed the door in my face and throwing things at me and I was out the back and I came round and I spoke to two young officers and gave them the story and one of them said, oh, you ought to take an intervention order, you know, and...

T: The trouble is, with an intervention order, how do you deal with your children?

N: Well, I don't [know]! ... and, well, even with the children it's become a real problem. That's part of the reason why she said she's, um, gone to Melbourne, she says she can't stand the children, she's created, virtually, you know, a rod for her own back, where she's taken away a lot of my authority and the respect that a child would probably normally have for their father. She's, um, told them blatant lies about me, such as, um, my sexual preferences, and that I gave away large sums of money, which are utterly, totally untrue.

T: We know these are real problems, we know this happened. The major thing is, concern yourself with how you keep stable. The more you can look at yourself - not at what she's doing - but especially not at blaming yourself for what she's doing, which is a very easy thing to do, but just simply how can I keep okay, how can I keep stable. I can support her best by keeping myself stable. And it is is very, very hard.

N: I know. I do it by going for a walk around the block. The counsellor at [inaudible town name] suggested I move out of the house...

T: That doesn't help you, and it puts your children at risk, and you know this.

N: Um, but... yeah... it's hard to... I've got an appointment actually to see a counsellor, <name> at <city>, he's a blind chap but he's got counselling experience as well as psychology and a law degree...

T: Good. I've got to stop in a moment because I'm about to run out of money. But do talk to <psychologist>, I believe he's in tonight...

N: If you ring me, just give your name and phone number, and don't mention anything else because of [the children].

[end of tape]