NOBODY would dispute the fact that domestic violence usually means men battering women. An average of two women a week in this country are killed by their husbands or boyfriends, while other studies have shown that one in four women has been hit by her partner.

But men are not always the abusers. The number of reported cases of men being battered by female partners has doubled in the last five years. Men are now the victims in 12 per cent of domestic assaults. Nearly 900 men in London and 506 in the West Midlands reported being attacked by their wives or girlfriends in 1993. West Yorkshire police statistics on domestic assaults between 1991 and 1993 show an increase in female perpetrators from 7 to 11 per cent.

Over 300 men have called Male (Male Advice Line Enquiries), the first national helpline for battered men, since it was launched in April this year. They include builders, firemen, MPs, diplomats, university lecturers, soldiers, bus drivers and engineers. The youngest caller was 21, the oldest 82.

Two such men talk to Beverly Kemp about their experience of living with violent women.

Steve is 48. He is a former amateur boxer. His marriage ended two years ago.

WHEN I first saw Barbara I thought to myself, 'She'll never go out with a bloke like me.' She was a dream come true: physically stunning, talented and fun.

Barbara was 15 years younger than me and had a history of dating much older men. As we got to know each other a couple of alarm bells started ringing in my head, but I ignored them because I was so besotted with her.

Her past life was a mystery. She would never talk about it. All I knew was that she had been married before.

She also had a drink problem. The night she produced a bottle of gin from her handbag I thought it was quite amusing. But I was totally naive about alcoholism then.

The first time she hit me, we were in a pub having a drink. I was showing off a bit, and all of a sudden she punched me in the face. I didn't know how to react. My nose was pouring with blood and people were staring at us. I tried to laugh it off because I felt so embarrassed. Barbara kept apologising and saying she hadn't meant to hit me. We didn't talk about it again because I didn't want to upset her. I just put it down to a one-off aberration and forgot about it.

Shortly after we were married, it happened again. I made a joking comment about a hat Barbara had bought and got whacked in the face with her fist.

Her violence became a pattern. She would become enraged if I didn't do exactly as she wanted and strike me with whatever came to hand - bottles, saucepans, pieces of wood and glasses. Once I was in bed asleep and woke to find Barbara pushing a lighted cigarette into my back. I have no idea why she did that. There hadn't been a row or even a disagreement. Another time she thrust a kitchen knife into her arm, then rang the police and reported that I had stabbed her. I was locked in a cell overnight until she dropped the charges the next day.

Barbara was very jealous and insecure. As a result we became increasingly isolated. She hated my friends phoning or coming round. We never entertained or socialised with other couples. If I talked to anyone else, she would get so angry. It got to the stage where I would walk alongside her and not dare to look anywhere else. I'm not the type of man who looks around at other women anyway. Barbara was everything I had ever wanted. When you have the best, you have no desire to look anywhere else.

It was impossible to try and talk about what was happening, or to understand it. Her reactions were so extreme. Some days she would be like a wild animal and other days she was as placid as can be. The unpredictability was so hard to cope with. I would drive home from work never knowing what kind of mood Barbara would be in or what would happen that night.

I would tell myself to remain calm and think of strategies to deal with what lay ahead. When you live with a violent partner that you still love very much, you work overtime trying to make it all better. My life began to revolve around pacifying Barbara.

Everything got so tangled up I felt there was no escape. I used to run out into the street just to get away. I would get in my car and sit there for hours. I was frightened to come home and frightened to go to sleep.

My family could or would not believe what I was putting up with because I am very assertive in other areas of my life. I tried talking to a couple of men friends, but as soon as I saw the smirks, I would stop. Other men seemed to find it embarrassing to listen to. The general feeling was that they didn't want to know or hear about it. My GP was very sympathetic, but there was obviously little that he could do.

I didn't retaliate until the very end because I was terrified of the consequences. A lot of the attacks were unexpected and came from behind, anyway. I just wanted the psychological and physical pain to stop, and if I had struck back the scenes would have escalated into something horrific.

I left my marriage two years ago because I knew that if we stayed together I would probably have strangled Barbara. At one point in the last few weeks I had my fingers around her throat. I was in such a state I didn't even know what I was doing.

We have completely lost contact now, but I am still in love with her. I put all the photos of us away because I can't bear to have them around. But every so often I get them out and have a look. Not a day goes by when I don't think of her and wonder how she is.

Tony is an accountant in the south of England. He has been married for seven years to Monique. They have a young daughter.

MAYBE other men are tougher than I am. Most of my friends have told me they would have walked out on Monique ages ago or given her a right-hander. By nature I am placid and a peacemaker. When she is violent I bite my tongue and put my arm around her afterwards to try and calm her down.

My dream has turned into a nightmare. I have a gash on my cheek where Monique threw a saucer at my face a few days ago. There was blood everywhere. I have been hit with any number of objects. I have been punched, scratched and kicked repeatedly in the groin and on the shins. The verbal abuse is almost as painful as the physical abuse. Monique tells me I am evil, useless and no good as a husband.

We were so happy at first. Monique was the most wonderful person I had ever met. I was so impressed by all the lovely qualities she showed. She used to be so affectionate. She would greet me at the door at night with open arms and a kiss.

The violence started about six months after we got married. I don't know why. Perhaps she lost respect for me. At first I tried to keep a note of when it happened, to see if there was a pattern, but it is impossible to tell now what provokes it. It comes out of the blue.

It takes a lot of strength not to retaliate. I am not a wimp or a coward. I cry but it doesn't mean I am a baby. I consider myself a strong- willed and brave man. I don't want to hit Monique or any other woman. It goes against every value I was brought up with.

We both dote on our daughter, Julie, and Monique would never lift a finger to her. Julie tries to ignore the scenes. She starts singing or switches the television on. Once she started crying 'Mummy, don't hit Daddy.' The other day Julie whispered to me, 'Don't worry Daddy. God will look after you.' It breaks my heart to hear her little voice saying, 'Please Mummy, don't go potty' when she knows that her mother is about to hit me. I adore my little girl and couldn't bear to be separated from her.

I have started to take small steps to get help for myself. The last time I went to hospital I told the doctor exactly how my face got cut and they documented it. I have also booked an appointment with a police domestic violence unit.

Part of me still believes there is hope for us. I hate giving up and I am a great believer in trying. I feel sorry for both of us. If I had a dog and the police told me it had to be put down because it was biting people, I would be devastated because I would still love it for what it had been before. I love my wife for what she was before.

I feel such a failure because I can't rectify the situation. There are men out there who beat their wives, make other women pregnant and come home drunk every night. I have never done any of those things. The saddest thing for me is that my marriage will probably end yet I have done nothing wrong. I can hold my head up high and say that I am the ideal family man. If only I could wave a magic wand and take us back six years.

All names have been changed.

Male helpline: PO Box 402, Sutton, Surrey SM1 3TG (081-543 1102)

(Photograph omitted)