The
Fatherhood

Coalition

Battered males: A domestic abuse secret

By Ruth-Ellen Cohen, Bangor Daily News NEWS Staff,


October 27, 2000

It took Kevin Juneau almost seven years to end the cat-and-mouse game that was his marriage. In the meantime, he took the insults, punches and slaps his wife routinely heaped upon him.

Later, he’d listen stone-faced to her tearful apologies and heartfelt assurances that it never would happen again.

Terrified that she’d make good on her threat to keep him from their three children, he stayed, never knowing when — or why — she would become enraged. One day, when it all became too much to bear, he packed his bags and drove away.

“Everything had built up, and I had no one to lean on, no one to talk to,”the South Portland man said recently.

“I just came to the point where I had to take the leap — I was either going to leave or kill myself. “

With October set aside as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Juneau was one of a number of men to point out that women aren’t the only ones who fall prey to abusive spouses.

Although these men receive little, if any, attention, they are not a rarity, according to Department of Justice reports, FBI crime statistics and academic studies.

A National Family Violence Survey conducted several times during a 30-year period indicates that half of domestic violence victims are men.And a 1998 Department of Justice survey, which isn’t broken down by state,finds that while 1.5 million women are battered each year, men account for36 percent — or 835,000 — of the 2.3 million domestic violence victims. That number falls far short of the actual figure, according to Ray Saulnier, an activist from Biddeford who decries the lack of programs and services for battered men.

Law enforcement statistics, which are based on arrests, inherently are flawed because men often are too embarrassed to report their abuse, he said. Representatives from law enforcement in Maine said domestic violence cases aren’t categorized by gender.

Also, as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — which funds toll-free hot lines, battered women’s shelters and education programs —police, judges and prosecutors are trained to handle cases based on the stereotypical assumption that the male is the perpetrator and the female is the victim, Saulnier said.

Politically incorrect

The idea that men can be abused is a tough sell, according to men’s advocates.“It’s seemingly unbelievable, it’s politically incorrect,” said Saulnier. “The plight of the battered woman is a very noble, politically correct cause.” Society has been taught from the very beginning to think of domestic violence victims as female, according to David Burroughs, chairman of the Forum for Equity and Fairness in Family Issues, based in Fairhill, Md.“For a long time there was silence on this issue, and then the vacuum was filled by early courageous and righteous feminists,” he said.

“But since they had a particular gender-biased worldview, domestic violence got framed and characterized in that context and it has stuck ever since,”said Burroughs.

The domestic violence issue has men’s groups and women’s groups at loggerheads, each side accusing the other of taking data out of context and manipulating statistics.

Women’s advocates maintain that women make up 95 percent to 98 percent of victims, that they resort to violence in self-defense or as a victim of battered women’s syndrome, and that domestic violence affects women more in terms of “injuries, the exertion of power and control, and the damage to lives.”

Meanwhile, men’s groups say the self-defense theory doesn’t hold since studies indicate women are just as likely as men to initiate violence. They say women’s groups have ignored or suppressed evidence about female aggression. They point out that women perpetrate most of the child abuse and that, according to some studies, lesbian violence is the highest of all.Men’s advocates contend that the Violence Against Women Act, which Congress recently re-authorized for another five years, is discriminatory.

The VAWA allocates $3.3 billion to help abused women but contains no money to help male victims of domestic violence.

While statistics show women are seven to 10 times more likely to be injured during a confrontation, neither side disputes that men typically pack more of a punch.

But women use weapons — including baseball bats, fireplace pokers, boiling water, guns and knives — as equalizers.

Statistics on injuries are a red herring, according to the American Coalition for Fathers and Children based in Washington, D.C. “It is a simple fact that when a serious physical altercation is initiated by an out-of-control or drunk woman who will not back off, somebody is going to lose,” states the fathers’ rights group.

“We cannot stop serious domestic violence by blaming the person left standing after a major spousal altercation. It can only be impacted by holding the person who initiated the physical altercation responsible.”

Men don’t report

Advocates on both sides agree that although women often are reluctant to call for help, men are even less likely to report that they have been assaulted.

“Boys are taught from birth that they’re supposed to take it like a man and not be a wimp, a sissy,” said Burroughs.

For Juneau, the years since his abusive marriage ended have brought him little peace.

Nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks assail him as he relives his ex-wife’s warning that “you’d better watch out or I’ll stab you in your sleep.”

His current wife, Amy, a psychiatric nurse, labels it post-traumatic stress disorder. But knowing there’s a name for what he’s going through doesn’t stop the

recriminations that pound like a drumbeat in his head.“Every day I think about why she acted like that, I keep thinking I must have provoked her in some way,” he said. “I keep trying to understand that I was caught in a cycle.”

Juneau recalled that 10 years ago after his wife pummeled him, she called police and turned the tables, asserting that he assaulted her. But she never showed up at court, and records indicate that charges against him were dismissed.

Locally, officials say women comprise the majority of domestic violence victims.

“We’re not saying men aren’t victims also,“ said Tracy Cooley of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

“But the reality is that women and children are the ones using the hotline, coming into the shelters and looking for assistance,” said Cooley,whose group is based in Bangor.

Bangor police charge 15 to 20 people a month with domestic violence, 8percent to 10 percent of them women, according to Chief Don Winslow, who disagrees that his officers receive biased instruction.

“The training gives us the understanding of the whole issue of power and control. It helps us investigate cases better, but I wouldn’t call the training gender-specific,” he said.

The violent women he sees don’t fit the typical batterer’s profile,according to Winslow.

“It’s safe to say there are assaultive, explosive women out there who have lashed out, but we don’t tend to see [a pattern of] intimidation — it’s a one-time spontaneous thing,” he said.

Walking on eggshells

But the men from Maine who came forward recently said their abuse was anything but sporadic.

Living with controlling, manipulative women who kept them isolated and on edge, the men spent their days walking on eggshells.

“What did I do wrong? How am I going to calm her down? How am I going to make it up to her?” one man would wonder as he cleaned up the dishes his wife smashed during her violent, unprovoked rages.

“Looking back, it was so degrading,” recalled the man, who wants to remain anonymous and is now divorced.

“She controlled everything — where we went, who we spent time with. She didn’t let me handle the checkbook or pay the bills — she gave me $10 a week. I never asked for more -— it would have made her angry.” Trying to keep his wife happy consumed his life. “I’d bring her flowers,cards, stuffed animals — I’d never forget her birthday. But nothing I did was good enough. The more I tried, the worse it was,” he said. One dreary Saturday morning when he was stretched out in front of the television his wife demanded that he accompany her on an errand.“ She hated it when I watched the news,” he recalled. “I told her I wanted to stay home and relax. Suddenly she kicked me in the ribs; then she turned and walked out.

“That’s when I realized that no matter what I wanted — no matter how I felt— nothing was as important as not making her mad.”

He grew accustomed, he said, to “a shove here, a push there, a punch to the back of my head.”

But even the slap across the face that left a mark the next day couldn’t induce him to retaliate.

“I was brought up that way — don’t ever hit a woman,” said the man, who never told anyone about his ordeal.

“I wasn’t going to tell someone that my wife was smacking me around,” he said. That men want to keep silent about their abuse isn’t news to Tammy Denning,victim witness advocate for the Hancock County District Attorney’s Office.Denning, who has helped a handful of men obtain protection orders, said most didn’t report the assaults.

“They figure they can quietly do it on their own so the police aren’t involved and no one will know,” she recalled.

“But I’m very honest. I encourage them [to report the assault], I tell them they don’t deserve this any more than a female.”

Men often don’t realize they have been abused, according to a domestic violence project hot line worker who said she has answered a few calls from men.

“The screaming and hollering, the put-downs — they figure that’s just how women are,” said the worker, who contends that females are responsible for40 percent of emotional and verbal abuse.

“I was a loser, a bum, a wimp, I was no-good — if I had been a real man I would have taken care of her right,” said one man while recounting his ex-wife’s taunts.

“I didn’t think I had done anything wrong — but then again I must have,” he said. “Everything was upside down.

“I didn’t want to die but death didn’t look all that bad,” he continued. “By the time I finally left I had lost all my self-esteem, all confidence that I could ever be a good husband, father or human being.”

Unequal equation

The state has 14 intervention programs for men who batter and 10 shelters for women who are abused.

But when it comes to the other side of the equation — programs for women who batter and shelters for men who are abused — the options are nonexistent. Batterer intervention programs for women aren’t feasible, according to Department of Corrections officials, who oversee the certification of those programs.

“It’s not that we don’t want to have [them], but at this point, because of the small numbers, it isn’t good clinical practice,” said assistant commissioner Nancy Bouchard.

Abusive women are referred to private clinicians “who have experience dealing with issues of anger management, power and control or substance abuse,” she said.

Shelters for men aren’t warranted since so few call for help, said representatives from area domestic violence projects.

At Peaceful Choices, the domestic violence project in Washington County,staff “makes every effort possible” to help male victims obtain appropriate shelter, said administrative director Kim Dana Kupperman. They’re treated “with the same dignity and respect as any woman,” said Kupperman, whose program served 174 women, 38 children and 17 men from Oct.1, 1999, through Sept. 30, 2000.

If men needed shelters, they’d have them, according to Francine Stark,community response coordinator for Bangor’s domestic violence project, Spruce Run.

Men have other alternatives, she said. “There’s a whole network of homeless shelters geared toward single adults and primarily populated by men.” But Bob Costa of Perry was fresh out of options several years ago when his wife became angry with him, picked up a drill and hurled it at him, almost hitting their toddler son.

“I didn’t know what to say, she was raging,” recalled Costa, whose wife had terrorized him on previous occasions.

“I picked up my son and went out to the car,” he said. “I got half a mile down the road when I realized I had no place to go.”

Domestic violence is no less a hot-potato issue in Canada.Steve Easton of Toronto found that out in 1993 when he opened an organization that provided programs for men who were abused.Despite a volunteer staff and a shoestring budget, Easton received 2,000calls a year from throughout North America.

Five years later, unable to access any of the $110 million his province spends annually to fight domestic violence against women and tired of the hostility he received from women’s groups, Easton closed up shop. He figured his activist days were over until a policeman knocked on his door and told him that abused men needed support. If Easton joined the force he might be able to continue his work.

Today Easton is on the way to becoming a policeman, hoping to set up an organization that would help police deal with male victims.

Slow realization

Society slowly is beginning to recognize the other, hidden side of domestic abuse, say experts.

One domestic violence project has enlisted the services of a man to help male callers who may not feel comfortable talking to a woman. The man, himself a domestic violence victim who wishes to remain anonymous,said he heard stories from 15 or 20 men during his four years at the project. One man recounted how his wife would hurl cast-iron pots his way. Another complained that his wife stabbed him.

“But when he got to the hospital he told them he fell on his knife,” said the worker.

While many men know on some level that they’ve been abused, they don’t admit to being a victim, said the man.

“That’s their hardest problem because it implies that they’re weak, that they have no control. That’s not a male thing — we’re supposed to be strong, we’re supposed to be able to handle our problems,” he said. Since VAWA was passed, violence against women has dropped 23 percent while remaining the same for men, according to Burroughs.

“This tells us plain and simple that if we could provide equal protection for men we’d see a drop in victimization,” he said.

Meanwhile, social scientists lament what they see as an anti-male culture in which movies, television and books are rife with images of women slapping, punching and kicking men who are not expected to hit back. The young man whose girlfriend slaps him when he “gets fresh” and the henpecked husband whose wife chases him with a rolling pin typically elicit chuckles.

But those images smack of a double standard that condones violence and sends the wrong message, according to domestic violence experts. “Violence by women doesn’t push the same buttons,” said former family counselor Robert Amidon of Cumberland. “People figure men are tough, they can take it,” he said.

Female violence accepted

In fact, society is more accepting than ever of female-on-male violence,according to a survey by Professor Murray Straus, a University of New Hampshire researcher who has conducted widely quoted studies on the prevalence of female aggression.

While the approval rate for a man slapping his wife has decreased by half,the notion that it’s OK for a woman to slap her husband has remained constant. “Men accept violence by women against them as something that’s the prerogative of females and the obligation of a man,” said Burroughs. Representatives from domestic violence projects said they’re doing their best to allay that idea.

When Nan Bell from the Family Violence Project in Augusta speaks to teen-agers she makes it clear that domestic violence can be a two-way street. “We talk about men who are abused and why it is that we don’t hear from them — that it’s a reflection of cultural stereotypes,” she said. But men must do their part, according to Cooley of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

“What I would like is some assistance to help us figure out how to help men,” she said. “We need men to get involved and help us solve the problem. “The battered women’s movement started with women taking in their neighbors who needed help why can’t men develop that same grass-roots philosophy?” Male victims must come out of the shadows and show themselves, said Burroughs. “They need to demand equal protection no different than the early feminist advocates,” he said.

“They need to speak up and stop allowing society to make them second-class citizens. They have to stand up for other men and say this is wrong.” In Maine, men who have been abused may call the new, toll-free help line at
1-877-643-1120, access code 0757.


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