Rushing to get ready for work in the mornings, it’s not unusual for a husband or wife to have to wait their turn for the bathroom.
But when Tracy Hannington saw husband Tony was about to go in before her, she punched him so hard he was left with a bleeding lip and a loose tooth.
Then without a word, the 57-year-old, a carer in an old people’s home, walked in and slammed the door behind her.
Horrifyingly, this was normal for much of their five-year marriage. Tony, 56, the director of a transport business, was subjected to weekly violence at their Kent home that included being doused with hot tea and having a kitchen knife held to his throat. He suffered in silence, believing domestic violence was only taken seriously if the perpetrator was a man.
As domestic attacks carried out by women increase, men such as Tony Hannington, 56, from Kent, whose wife Tracy (pictured) was jailed for two years, share their experience
There is no question that violence against women is a big problem. About 8 per cent experience domestic abuse every year, according to official figures — or about 1.6 million women.
But while domestic abuse charities, such as Women’s Aid, treat this as a gendered crime — because females are far more likely to be sexually assaulted, abused over longer periods and murdered by partners or former partners — that isn’t the whole story.
Last week, data obtained under the Freedom of Information act revealed that the number of domestic attacks carried out by women more than tripled in a decade.
Between 2009 and 2018, the number of cases reported to police grew from 27,762 to 92,408, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
Police data also showed women were the aggressors in 28 per cent of all reported cases in 2018, up from 19 per cent in 2009. However, experts fear most cases of domestic abuse are never reported.
In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 786,000 men suffered domestic abuse, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show. Growing research suggests males may be abused in the same numbers as females — but are three times less likely to tell anyone.
The reasons are bound up in society’s views of men’s and women’s roles.
Fear of not being believed, of being accused of being the perpetrator and of being seen as ‘less of a man’ were key reasons why men did not seek help, Bristol University researchers found last year.
Alex Skeel, 24, from Bedfordshire, was forced by his partner Jordan Worth (pictured) to sleep on the floor in addition to being assaulted with hammers, knives and scalding water
A glance at social media comments made about Love Island presenter Caroline Flack, who has pleaded not guilty to hitting boyfriend Lewis Burton, highlights age-old prejudices.
They include: ‘How much damage can a woman really inflict on a larger, stronger man?’ and ‘Surely if a woman strikes her partner, it must be in self-defence?’
Mr Burton is standing by his famous girlfriend and does not support her prosecution.
Tony Hannington says he might have agreed with some of these preconceptions before he found himself in a physically abusive marriage.
I only fought back once – when i thought she really would kill me – Tony, 57
He recalls: ‘I’d been single for a couple of years and met Tracy on a dating site. She was a real livewire, attractive, with a wicked sense of humour. We hit it off and three weeks later she moved into my flat.’
After six months they married at Canterbury Register Office. But within months, things began to change.
Tony says: ‘Tracy would have huge mood swings. She’d ring me up at work, wanting to know where I was, why I was seeing my friends and calling me names.
‘She was extremely house-proud. At home, whenever I sat down, she’d shout at me for not helping with the housework. If I did so much as put a spoon in the sink, instead of straight into the dishwasher, she’d have a go at me.
‘At first, it was every weekend. Then her tempers became virtually every night, so I dreaded going home.
Research reveals that 73 per cent of domestic killings are of women, Tony (pictured) recalls Tracy putting a knife to his throat for not doing enough to help around the house
‘She was a Jekyll and Hyde. She’d hit me, then act like nothing had happened, or say I’d made her do it.’
Tony tried not to respond, but this seemed to enrage his wife even more, especially when he moved into the spare room to avoid her.
‘She’d kick me or square up to me when she was having one of her meltdowns. Once, as we were unloading the shopping, she hit me on the head with a can of baked beans. On another occasion, she hit me in the face with the head of the vacuum cleaner.
‘If I didn’t get up when she wanted, she’d punch me or pour a jug of water over the bed.’ She also dug her nails into his windpipe, he says.
Tony insists he never defended himself — except when Tracy put a knife to his throat for not doing enough to help around the house.
Believing she was prepared to kill him, he tried to move the knife away and was left with a badly gashed hand.
Tony says: ‘People may find it hard to believe a man of 6ft 1in didn’t defend himself against a 5ft 5in woman. But I was always taught that you never hit a woman.
The 56-year-old (pictured with Tracy) said his wife would spit in his face and call him a ‘pathetic excuse for a man’
‘Tracy made it plain she could do what she liked and get away with it. If I said I’d go to the police, she said she’d just tell them I started it.
‘So I felt I had no option but to protect my face or get away from her.’
There was another reason Tony didn’t fight back — Tracy’s controlling psychological abuse, typical of women who attack male partners.
Research has found attacks on a man’s self-worth may be especially debilitating as they view being a victim as ‘weak’.
Tony said: ‘If I told Tracy she’d hurt me, she’d say: “What kind of man are you?” She’d spit in my face, and say repeatedly that I was a spineless, pathetic excuse for a man.’
One reason domestic abuse of women is seen as more serious is that more females are murdered by their partners — 73 per cent of domestic killings are of women.
Yet abused men’s lives are lost in another way.
The ONS Crime Survey found that 11 per cent of men abused by female partners try to kill themselves, compared with 7.2 per cent of women who are abused by male partners.
Tony says that suicide often crossed his mind: ‘Tracy isolated me from my family and friends, questioning my need to see them and telling me who to be friends with on Facebook.
Tony (pictured) who was urged by his sister to report Tracy’s abuse, was told by a centre for domestic violence victims to capture her tirades on his phone and take it to the police
‘She told me no one would miss me if I killed myself and suggested I “find myself a quiet corner and hang myself”.
‘As she wouldn’t leave the flat, I had nowhere to go and couldn’t see a way out. I started to think seriously about suicide.’
However, just as Tony reached his lowest point, his niece asked for his help moving house. It prompted him to get back in touch with her mother (Tony’s sister) and tell her of the abuse.
She suggested he visit a centre for domestic violence victims, and they suggested he record the abuse on his phone and take it to the police.
Over three weeks, Tony captured three of Tracy’s harrowing tirades in which she talked of hitting him for ‘months’, complained he would never hit her back and told him she wanted to put him in ‘a six-sided box’ — or coffin.
Last October Tracy admitted a charge of actual bodily harm and controlling and coercive behaviour, and was jailed for two years. Tony found the courage to speak out, but many male victims stay silent for the simple reason that they are desperate not to be separated from their children.
Huw Jones, 47, from Pembrokeshire, secured a conviction against his former partner for assault but has since struggled to get access to his two children (file image)
Huw Jones, 47, a teacher from Pembrokeshire, is one of them. His ex-partner, a university educated language tutor, became violent after their first child was born. Despite police being called to a string of disturbances over three years in which his partner punched him, whipped him with a belt and kicked him, he says officers automatically assumed he was at fault. He believes his partner carried on as she felt she was above the law.
Huw says: ‘At first I tried to make excuses, thinking it was post-natal depression. In one incident, I was holding the baby while she was punching me and saying, “Ow, Ow, Ow” to the police over the phone, so they’d think I was hitting her.
‘When I’d ring and tell them she was threatening to burn the house down with me and the children in it, they’d say: “She probably doesn’t mean it.” ’
As there are just 36 hostel beds for male victims only in the UK, Huw ended up sleeping in his car.
He said: ‘If I did talk to friends about it, they’d make comments like, “No woman would ever hit me like that” or “Can’t you defend yourself?”
‘But I couldn’t leave because I was worried I’d never see my children again, and about what might happen if I wasn’t there.’
Huw did secure a conviction against his former partner for assault and battery after recording an attack, but has since struggled in a Family Court to get access to his two children, aged six and eight. Until recently he had not seen them for six months.
Alex Skeel (pictured) had his possessions taken away and was forced to change his number by his partner, Jordan Worth
Despite his ex-partner’s conviction for violence, Huw is devastated that the Family Court still awarded her majority custody of their two children.
‘It’s been horrific and the hardest thing I have ever been through,’ says Huw. ‘She was convicted of assault, yet the courts listen to her. I often find I get a better hearing from a female judge as they know what other women are capable of.’
Such experiences of domestic abuse against men are not unusual, says Elizabeth Bates, senior lecturer in applied psychology at the University of Cumbria.
She has heard from male victims who were laughed at or dismissed by police.
One man’s female partner got a ‘boxer’s break’ on her finger from punching him too hard. Yet, when they went to the doctor’s surgery for treatment, the GP asked if she wanted to press charges.
Dr Bates says: ‘The dominant stereotype in domestic violence portrays men as perpetrators. But the research increasingly shows that the prevalence is the same for both men and women.
‘The reality is that men don’t seek help as much. That’s partly because society strongly condemns violence against women but has few sanctions for women’s aggression towards men.’
Research is finding that women may use more emotionally controlling or bullying behaviour — coercive control — than men. It is this that can lay the groundwork for physical abuse.
Jordan (pictured with Alex) who became the first female in the UK to be convicted of coercive behaviour, was jailed for seven years in 2018
A 2014 University of Cumbria study found women were more likely than men to be aggressive and controlling towards partners.
Dr Bates says: ‘For years, coercive behaviour has been talked of as a tool men use to control women. But in my research, men reported experiencing significant coercive control.
‘They often described themselves as “walking on eggshells”. This has a significant impact on their physical and mental health.’
Furthermore, while studies suggest men use more physical strength in domestic attacks, Dr Bates found men reported their female partners using weapons.
They also spoke of being attacked when vulnerable, such as when asleep or in the shower.
Research published in the journal Justice Quarterly found that 82 per of women abusers use weapons in their assaults, versus 25 per cent of men. This is probably because of the typical disparity in physical strength between the sexes.
Such behaviour was highlighted by the case of 24-year-old Alex Skeel, from Bedfordshire, whose partner, Jordan Worth, a fine art graduate, became the first female in the UK to be convicted of coercive behaviour. She was jailed for seven years in 2018.
As well as forcing him to sleep on the floor and taking away his belongings, Jordan forced Alex to change his phone number. She also set up a Facebook account in his name from which she sent abusive messages to his friends and family to isolate him further.
Jordan also set up a Facebook account in Alex’s (pictured) name from which she sent abusive messages to his friends and family to isolate him
In addition, she assaulted him with hammers, knives, laptop chargers and scalding water. Police arrested her only after neighbours heard his screams.
Mark Brooks, chairman of Mankind Initiative, which runs a helpline for male victims of domestic violence, says stigma means men find it hard to admit the truth. Instead it’s often concerned sisters, mothers, friends and colleagues who make contact on their behalf.
Every year Mankind deals with more than 2,000 calls.
Mark says: ‘The average age is 42, and the men who need our help cut across every profession, from bankers to GPs and policemen. They ring us because they want to talk to someone who will listen without judgment.’
As a result, Mark believes there needs to be a shift in how we view domestic abuse.
‘We need to look for the same potential signs of domestic abuse as we do in women: physical injuries and changes in behaviour such as becoming introverted.
‘As well as more services for men, we also need more awareness campaigns aimed at male victims to encourage them to get help, as well as better training for police, council workers and NHS staff.
‘Above all, we need to challenge this traditional idea that women can’t be violent — and men can’t be victims.’
Yet while domestic abuse against men is being talked about more now, it’s also important that the issue is kept in perspective, says law lecturer Adrienne Barnett of Brunel University.
Tony (pictured) who is still attempting to rebuild his life since Tracy’s jailing, revealed he felt guilt that his marriage hadn’t worked out
She says: ‘Both women and men can perpetrate domestic abuse, and both can be victims.
‘But substantial research and statistical evidence shows the violence is more common, persistent and severe when it’s inflicted by men against female partners.’
Six months on from Tracy’s jailing, Tony is still attempting to rebuild his life.
He has set up his own company (which Tracy told him he would never be capable of) and redecorated his home to try to erase the bad memories.
When he was stripping wallpaper recently, he found the words ‘I love you’ scribbled underneath.
He had written them for Tracy soon after she moved in.
Tony says: ‘I started weeping. It was a mix of: why did the woman I loved do this to me?; guilt that my marriage hadn’t worked out; and the relief of finally being able to feel safe in my own home.
‘It was as if I had been in a dark room and I didn’t realise how bad it had been until I stepped outside and into the light.
‘Nowadays, we rightly want equality, and that should apply to domestic violence, too. I’d like my story to illustrate that what happened to me shouldn’t happen to anyone — woman or man.’
Huw Jones’s name has been changed. Male victims of domestic abuse can call the Mankind Initiative for confidential help on 01823 334244.