Thursday, September 27, 2007

Men in Intimate Relationships With Abusive Women: The Myths and Realities

Information for Men in Intimate Relationships With Abusive Women: The Myths and Realities Authored and Edited by Jan Brown and Eleanor Branch Domestic abuse, often referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), spousal abuse, or battering is now known to be a serious and preventable public health problem. However, questions still remain as to the exact meaning of “domestic abuse.” Violence between intimate partners can occur anywhere, not just in the home. Similarly, abuse can be subtle or life threatening; even a seemingly casual comment that is meant to humiliate, or a physical altercation spurred on by rage can be abuse. How the abuse manifests itself is often a function of the people involved, the nature of their interactions, and the specific circumstances in which the couple find themselves. Specifically, intimate partner violence is a pattern of behaviors – either physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and financial or some combination thereof – between people who are or have been in an intimate relationship with each other. This is conduct meant to frighten, isolate, coerce, blame, or wound as one person in the relationship attempts to exercise power and control over the other. Intimate Partner Violence, also known as IPV, can be cyclical as well, moving from a tension-building phase where the abuser's anger is met by her partner’s attempts at compliance to an outbreak of violence then winding down into the “honeymoon phase” in which the abuse will stop for a length of time and the abuser may appear to be remorseful. We owe our understanding of domestic violence to the noble efforts of the early feminists who began to champion the cause of battered women and children in the 1970s and 80's. These feminists, also known as battered women's advocates, laid the groundwork for the intervention and prevention programs for victims that we have today in the U.S. as well as the batterer's intervention programs that hold male batterer's accountable for their abuse. However, further investigation has found that domestic violence is not a social problem that is exclusive to a particular gender or sexual orientation and IPV is also not a matter of class, race, religion, or culture. In other words, anyone can be a victim. Yet even today this larger truth about domestic violence is cloaked in stereotypes and myths that we must challenge if we as a society believe that all domestic violence is unacceptable and therefore worthy of our attention, support, and services. Myth: Only women are victims of domestic violence. REALITY: Men in heterosexual relationships can also be victims of domestic abuse. According to a 2006 report published by the U. S. Department of Justice, there were over 627,000 nonfatal intimate partner victimizations reported in 2004; twenty-four percent or 151,000 of those incidents were perpetrated against males. Moreover, of those 151,000, 84% were men experiencing violence at the hands of a female intimate partner. Additionally, the Department of Justice study reports that children were present in 25 percent of households in which the victim of abuse was male.[1] As one caller to a helpline related: “She has been arrested two times before and I asked that she not be arrested this time [after she broke both of my eardrums], but she gave the cops a hard time so they took her anyway. My daughter told the police, ‘Daddy never hits; Mommy hits on Daddy.’”[2] MYTH: Male victims of domestic abuse are rare, in 95% of the cases, women are the victims of domestic violence and men are the perpetrators. REALITY: This statistic has been circulated for more than a decade and reportedly comes from a study done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics back in the late 80's or early 90's. It has been widely circulated and used by battered women's advocates in their trainings and literature. However, more up to date statistics show that male victimization is not rare. According to the Center for Disease Controls Fact Sheet on IPV nearly 3.2 million incidents of IPV occur each year among U.S. men ages 18 and older. More than 800,000 men are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner, which translates into about 32 assaults per 1,000 men annually. Additionally, another national study found that 29% of women and 22% of men had experienced physical, sexual, or psychological IPV during their lifetime.[3] MYTH: Women only use domestic violence in self-defense. REALITY: People often see things in extremes: black or white, good or bad, up or down. When it comes to domestic violence, this all-or-nothing thinking helps to perpetuate the myth that men are always the batterers and women always the victims. Moreover, research on the subject of domestic abuse as well as calls to the helpline reveal that men and women can be both aggressors and victims in IPV situations, the violence being either unilateral or mutual, i.e., when no one person has more power and control in the relationship than the other. Of the many debates in the field of domestic violence still raging, however, none is more acrimonious than the issue of female-initiated violence. Abusive women are often portrayed as engaging in self-defense, retaliating, committing acts less violent than men, or being the victims of gender-biased reporting differences, i.e., that women are more credible in their reports of violence than men. Attempts to explain away or diminish female-initiated violence in intimate relationships have often meant that men’s experience of the violence is minimized or found not credible. However, for the men seeking help, this violence is far from inconsequential. Each one of our helpline callers has his own experience. For example: “She drove her car through her dad’s car and the garage into the main living room…. She has also physically attacked me and made me black and blue.” “She was high on cocaine when she knifed me in the stomach. I was in the hospital for two weeks recuperating from my injuries. The cops asked if I wanted to press charges and I said no; I couldn’t put the mother of my child in jail. The court ordered us to take classes. My educational classes were supposed to be for victims of domestic violence and she was supposed to go to a class for abusers. After the first class, I realized I was sent to a batterers' intervention program. I never even defended myself, let alone abused anyone.”[4] MYTH: Because men are bigger and stronger than women, they cannot be victims of women's domestic violence. REALITY: Statistics do show that females are usually the more seriously injured parties in heterosexual domestic violence situations; however, this finding focuses solely on the physical aspects of IPV. A person who is 5’4”, prone to violence, and very angry can do a lot of damage to someone who is 6’2”, weighs more, and is non-violent. Men calling our helpline report that their partners have stabbed, shot at them, or tried to run them over. Others report being threatened and injured by women wielding weapons such as baseball bats, and other objects meant to cause serious harm. Many of these men sustained injuries that required a visit to the emergency room. A number of them have even reported life-threatening injuries received at the hands their intimate partners. As one caller to our helpline recounted: “I tried to call the cops but she wouldn’t let me…She beat me up, punched me…I tried to fight her off, but she was too strong… I was bleeding and she wouldn’t let me go to the doctor’s.”[5] Ultimately, an abuser does not need to be bigger or stronger to poison someone, use a gun, run their partner down with a vehicle, or stab them with a knife. Violence is a matter of personal choice, not body size. MYTH: A man must be weak or unmanly if he allows a woman to hit him. REALITY: Societal norms require that men be tough. Boys are taught not to be "sissies" or "cry like girls." Men are not supposed to talk about their feelings or their fears. Because being afraid is considered unmanly, sometimes men take the emotional abuse as well as the punches, bites, kicks to the groin, etc., rather than defend themselves or tell someone what's happening to them. Men who have reported their intimate partner’s abuse are often thought to be liars and not believed. As one helpline caller put it: “My wife has ripped the phone off the wall and she hits on me all the time…She is a prominent person in the community…. Who would believe me if I told?”[6] Even if a man blocks the blows or defends himself, when the police are called he may be arrested as the abuser. And when he tries to get additional help, he may be asked: "What did you do to make her hit you?" Interestingly, back in the 1970's and 80's before battered women's advocates brought public awareness to these issues, many women were asked that very same thing when they reported being abused by their husbands and boyfriends. As a result of today's public awareness of domestic violence as a crime against women and mandatory arrest laws from over a decade ago, abused men are placed in a tough situation when their intimate partners are physically abusing them. It takes a lot of "strength" for a man not to retaliate or defend himself against an abusive female. In fact, there are three main reasons that men have reported as to why they take the abuse rather than strike back. First, as young boys, many of them were told never to hit a girl and that advice has stayed with them into adulthood. Second, many men do realize they are stronger than women and could cause serious injury to their partners should they strike back. Third, they may know other men who were actually arrested for defending themselves against a female attacker and don't want the same thing to happen to them. MYTH: Men do not "fear" women's violence; therefore, they cannot be victims of domestic violence. REALITY: Most states have mandatory arrests laws for domestic violence. That means when police are called to the scene of a domestic dispute officers are required to assess the situation and decide which one of the parties involved is the “predominant aggressor” (in some states the domestic violence laws use different terminology in their mandatory arrest laws such as "primary" aggressor instead of predominant) and which one is the victim. One of the criteria in determining whom to arrest is the presence and level of fear in the parties involved. Yet male callers to our helpline, who often disclose acts of horrendous physical abuse perpetrated against them by their female partners, are less likely to admit being afraid of a woman. Many callers state stoically, after reporting serious injuries perpetrated against them, "I am not afraid of her," ostensibly because they do not want to be considered weak or unmanly. Others have told us confidentially that their partners scare them but they do not always admit that fear to the authorities. In reality there are many types of domestic violence and many types of fear. The legal definition of domestic violence in many American jurisdictions involves placing someone in fear of imminent and serious bodily harm by threatening the use of force. This can mean a pattern of coercive behaviors designed to intimidate and control as well as assault, battery, stalking, kidnapping, or false imprisonment. While advocates have long argued that a woman's perception of danger, harm, or force is different from a man's, this should not mean that men should suffer IPV in silence or shame and humiliation because societal influences have encouraged them to hide their fear. MYTH: If the abuse was that bad, he would leave. REALITY: Leaving is often the most difficult undertaking for the abused no matter if the person is male or female; it is often more difficult than staying. Indeed, quitting an abusive situation requires resources such as money, housing, transportation, and support structures, all of which may have been eroded by life with an abuser. In addition an abuser, when faced with the prospect of his/her partner's departure, may even threaten the latter with more violence including murder or suicide threats. The abuser may also try to intimidate the abused by saying they will call the police and presenting herself as the actual victim. Nevertheless, men will often remain in IPV situations because they do not define the relationship as abusive. Most intimate relationships start out loving and slowly over time, once the relationship gets serious, things begin to change. Victims make excuses for their partner's behavior, "she's just having a bad day, she's not always like this," or "I really love her and I know that things will get better once we have a child, buy that new house, I get a better job etc." or they feel responsible for the abuse. They also stay for many of the same reasons women do like the desire to: · Protect their children from an abusive parent · Preserve the marriage and the family · Maintain financial stability especially if the abuser controls the couple's monetary resources or if the abused is unemployed or disabled. · Give the abuser a chance to honor her promises to get help. · Affirm their love for the partner and the hope that the abuse will one day end. MYTH: Men don't need for shelter services or domestic violence hotlines; female on male domestic violence is not a social problem that requires intervention. REALITY: As stated above the more we research the topic of domestic violence the more we come to understand that anyone can be a victim and male victims are more prevalent than previously believed. In response to the original understanding of domestic violence as a social problem of men battering women, more than 2000 domestic violence shelter programs have been established throughout the United States, most of which offer a myriad of services including safe housing and/or transitional housing for battered women and their children escaping domestic violence. The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women has surveyed many of the battered women's shelter programs throughout the country in search of services for our helpline callers. Our preliminary research indicates that less than 5% of these established shelter programs offer abused men and/or adolescent boys over age 12 the same services they offer single women and women with young children and adolescent girls. Often shelter programs give responses like: “We have few resources for men and have received very few calls. We refer callers… to the local homeless shelter." "You can't house men and women together, women are afraid of men." "We can't help men, we will lose our funding." Although abused men are not welcome in these "women only" shelters were abused women stay anywhere from a few days to three months, some agencies do have the resources to emergency house both women and men in hotels for a short time, generally 1-2 days. Two other reasons given for not offering shelter and other services to male victims are more related to outdated beliefs about why domestic violence occurs rather than a lack of need for such services; Men who call battered women's hotlines are abusers looking for their victims. Early on in the battered women's movement, and in many parts of the country still today, that myth persists. Man call that call some battered women's hotlines seeking victim services are given the number to the local batterer's intervention program or told by the hotline advocate that the program does not help men. Some batterers do pretend to be victims, but this tactic not limited to men only.[7] "If men want shelters they should build them." Battered women's advocates report that funding for services is scarce and what funding they do have they had to fight every step of the way to get. Senator Sheila Kuehl of California has publicly voiced her opinion about male victims by saying that, "the battered women's shelter movement began as a grass roots movement which later came to receive substantial government funding, services for men should come only when men create similar organizations…. If men want services for abused men, they need to put it together themselves."[8] One of the challenges to this argument is that most battered women's shelter programs receive federal and/or state funding so accordingly they may not discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and/or religious beliefs. The Violence Against Women's Act (VAWA) was first created in 1994 and has been reauthorized every five years since its inception. VAWA has often been criticized by those who felt the bill only addressed the needs of women experiencing IPV and reviewing the above one can see where that belief came from. However, on January 5, 2006 President Bush signed into law the 2005 VAWA. For the first time in its history, the law included non-exclusionary language. According to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women's summary of the reauthorized 2005 VAWA , "[the] language makes clear that male victims can receive services under VAWA. It does not require the funding of male victim only shelters."[9] As a result, more shelters are recognizing the necessity of expanding their services to men. A few programs have already structures in place that may make it easier for men to seek assistance. According to one agency official, “[we] offer assistance to all victims of domestic violence regardless of gender. Having had a new facility built approximately 5 years ago, the designers kept that in mind. Our rooms are made to accommodate males individually or with their children."[10] Others, while not yet offering services, act on the belief that domestic violence agencies cannot treat half of the problem. Recognizing Domestic Abuse Domestic abuse takes on many forms often beginning with emotional and psychological abuse that may escalate over time to physical violence. Recognizing such behavior early on is difficult; however, here are a few telltale signs: Emotional Abuse: any attempt to hurt another person’s feelings through the expression of cruel and unnecessary comments including but not limited to: § Name-calling, ridicule, insults, accusations, harassment, interrogation, and constant criticism either alone or in front of others about one’s self or the people one cares about § Making fun of an aspect of one’s identity (race, gender, class, ability, religion, etc) § Blaming and shaming § Assaulting one’s self-esteem by belittling one’s contributions to the home, family or relationship, treating one as an inferior, or accusing one of being sick and in need of therapy Psychological Abuse: any intentional behavior, either verbal or nonverbal, meant to cause mental and/or emotional anguish as a result of humiliation and/or intimidation including but not limited to: § Threats of physical violence to one’s person and/or the people and things one cares about including a pet or a personal item. § Threats or attempts of the abuser to harm him/her self if one leaves or tries to end the relationship. § Threats to take away custody of the children § Isolating one from friends, family, and one’s normal activities § Stalking (includes “cyber stalking”) § Damaging or destroying one’s personal objects Physical Abuse: any forceful or violent physical behavior used to injure or put another at risk of being injured including but not limited to: § Grabbing § Choking § Biting § Burning § Shoving § Hitting § Kicking § Restraining Sexual Abuse: any non-consensual sexual act or behavior including but not limited to: § Rape or other sexual assault § Sexual harassment § Making someone do sexual things against their will § Physically attacking the sexual parts of a person's body Financial: any misuse of the money or assets of the partner or of the partnership including but not limited to: § Withholding access to or stealing one’s financial resources such as money or credit cards § Preventing one from seeking/selecting/working a job or causing the loss of a job § Denying access to physical resources like food, clothes, medication, health care, or shelter Spiritual: any attempt to demean one’s spiritual beliefs or expression including but not limited to: § Preventing one from the exercise of his/her religion § Ridiculing one for his/her religious or spiritual beliefs § Forcing children to be brought up in a faith to which one has not agreed. Taking Steps to Leave Do you suspect that you may be in an abusive relationship? Ask yourself the following questions: · Do I walk around "on eggshells" worried about how my partner will react to something I say or do? · Has my partner ever thrown objects at me when angry or kicked, bit, scratched, punch or hit me? · Does my partner attempt to control my life by not allowing me to spend time with my friends or family? · Have I stopped seeing family or friends to avoid my partner’s jealousy and/or anger? · Does my partner call me names or put me down? · Does my partner tell me that I am “imagining” or “overreacting” to any wrongdoing on her part? Does she say you’re to blame for her use of verbal and/or physical abuse? · Have I ever been forced to do something I didn't want to do just to keep the peace? · Has my partner threatened to hurt the children, herself or me if I leave? · Does my partner make excuses for her violence by saying is was because she was drunk or high? · Does she promise it won't happen again and she will get help yet in your heart you know these are empty promises? A positive answer to any of these questions is cause for concern. Moreover, any man who feels himself to be in imminent danger from his partner should seek some form of assistance immediately whether it is from the police, a domestic abuse helpline, talking to a trusted friend or colleague or seeking information on the Internet. Assistance might also come in the form creating a safety plan, a specific set of measures designed to facilitate one's escape. Preparations should include how to leave both the home and the workplace, what to do if there are children involved, and how to maintain one’s safety after the separation has taken place including filing for a restraining order or order of protection. One of our helpline advocates can assist you with making a safety plan and discussing your options. In addition, it is important for victims of IPV to document abusive behaviors with domestic violence shelter programs, the police, a doctor and/or emergency room personnel if seeking medical attention. These records should be kept in a safe place with easy access so that they can be retrieved on a moment's notice. Evidence of abuse is key to obtaining assistance should one choose to leave the abusive situation at a later date. For more information on male victims and female abusers see: v Battered Men: A Silent Epidemic Daisheimer, J. Topics in Emergency Medicine. 1998: 20 (4) 52-59. v Differences in Frequency of Violence and Reported Injury Between Relationships With Reciprocal and Nonreciprocal Intimate Partner Violence. (2007) Whitaker, D.J., Haileyesus,T., Swahn, M., & Saltzman, L.S. American Journal of Public Health. 97: 941-947 v Women Who Perpetrate Intimate Partner Violence. (2007) Carney, Buttell, and Dutton. Aggression and Violent Behavior. 12:108-115. Copyright © 2007 the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women All Righ [1] [2] Hines, Brown & Dunning. (2007) Characteristics of Callers to the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men. Journal of Family Violence. 22:63-72 [3] [4] Hines, Brown & Dunning. (2007) Characteristics of Callers to the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men. Journal of Family Violence. 22:63-72 [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid. [7] Personal communication between the director of the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women and battered women's advocates. [8] [9] [10] A response to our survey from a domestic violence shelter program

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