by C. Brian Smith
“It’s hard for a guy to say ‘I need help,’” says Paige Flink, the chief executive of the Family Place, a domestic violence shelter for men in Dallas that opened in May. “It’s just not a natural instinct for a lot of men.”
The Family Place is on track to serve 65 to 70 men this year, Fink tells me, and she says there’s no common denominator among them. To wit: Of the seven men who currently live at the shelter, one’s girlfriend began beating his daughter; one was strangled by his male partner; and one was stabbed by his brother, after the resident had accused him of sexually abusing his daughter.
Then there’s Joshua Miller, whose girlfriend smashed their 2-year-old son’s guitar into his forehead. When the police arrived, however, Miller was the one cuffed. “Men are not looked at as victims,” he told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. “People say, ‘A woman can’t hurt you.’”
Miller’s experience is typical, says Emily M. Douglas, a professor and department head of Social Science & Policy Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, whose research over the last 15 years has largely focused on partner violence against men.
She says the need to be “macho” has resulted in men not even considering themselves victims or realizing the violence they’re experiencing is a crime. “We don’t think of men as being capable of being victims or targets of abuse. We associate them with moral and physical strength and being protectors, which doesn’t align nicely with an image of someone being physically abused, psychologically manipulated or degraded.”
Plus, when men do seek help, she adds, they often feel they’ve lost their “man cred” — i.e., strength, self-reliance, etc. “That’s largely an internal barrier that women haven’t had to overcome.”
According to the most recent study from the CDC, there are more men than women who are victims of intimate partner physical violence. I ask Douglas if that could possibly be true — after all, aren’t men thought to be more aggressive?
“Research since the early 1970s has shown that men and women perpetrate violence against each other at roughly the same rates,” she says. “It’s an issue that’s largely been overlooked. And men have trouble finding help.”
For example, she says when men call domestic violence agencies or law enforcement they’re often ridiculed. “Men report that the police often laugh at them and say things like ‘What’s wrong with you? Can’t you control your woman?’”
“When I called the police to file a complaint against my former wife,” Ian Alterman wrote in a 1994 letter to The New York Times, “the initial response was amused disbelief. When I finally convinced them my complaint was real, the response — without missing a beat — was, ‘So hit her back.’”
Nine years before Alterman’s letter, the U.S. National Family Violence Surveyfound that when domestic violence calls to the police were made…
- The man was ordered out of the house in 41.4 percent of cases when a woman called, but the woman was never ordered out of the house when the man called.
- The man was threatened with immediate arrest in 28.2 percent of cases when a woman called, but the woman was never threatened with arrest when the man called.
- The man was threatened with arrest at a later date in 10.7 percent of cases when a woman called, but the woman was never threatened with arrest at a later date when the man called.
- The man was actually arrested in 15.2 percent of cases when a woman called, but the woman was never arrested when the man called. In fact, in 12 percent of cases when the man called, the man himself was arrested.
Men receive a similarly unsympathetic reaction from friends, Flink says. “The minute they start talking about what their girlfriend is doing to them they say, ‘C’mon man, buck up.’ Then the guy feels like he’s not as strong of a man. It’s emasculating.”
Accounts from both the history books and tabloids seem to support the notion that none of this is all that new:
- Records indicate that Mary Todd Lincoln hurled potatoes at Abe, threw a cup of hot coffee at him, assaulted him with a piece of firewood and chased him around the yard with a knife — twice causing bloody injuries to his head.
- Humphrey Bogart’s third wife, Mayo Methot, stabbed him in the backduring an alcohol-induced fight.
- Lionel Richie’s ex-wife, Brenda Harvey, was arrested for spousal abuse in 1988 for beating Richie after catching him in bed with another woman.
- Christian Slater required 20 stitches to his neck after his wife hurled a glass at him at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in 2003.
- Whitney Houston admitted to beating husband Bobby Brown. “Contrary to belief,” she proudly told the AP in 1999, “I do the hitting, he doesn’t.”
- Al Green’s girlfriend, Mary Woodson, dumped a pan of boiling grits on himwhile he was taking a shower because he refused to marry her, resulting in third-degree burns on his back, stomach and arms.
- And of course there’s Lorena Bobbitt who, in 1993, sliced off her husband’s penis at the base with a kitchen knife as he slept.
Although DIY castration is rare, when men are the victims of domestic violence, there’s a much better chance they’ve been physically injured. That’s because, as journalist Philip W. Cook points out in Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, the stereotype of a husband getting a plate thrown at him or being hit over the head with a rolling pin is accurate. “Women were significantly more likely to throw an object, slap, kick/bite/hit with fist and hit with an object,” he writes…