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Battered Men - The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence
In the Media

The Hidden Face of Domestic Abuse

from the High Plains Reader

© 1999 by Dakota Huseby
Article was originally printed in the
High Plains Reader, April 8th, 1999
All rights are owned by the author.

 
     
 

It is human nature to see the prevalent majority as everybody. Domestic abuse is widely perceived as a woman’s issue, instigated by male batterers. There is no doubt abuse toward women is a very grave issue. But the web of abuse has no limits.
Our society is faced with men abusing women, mothers and fathers who abuse sons and daughters, and abuse of the elderly. There is abuse in dating, abuse in marriage and abuse in gay and lesbian relationships. Sometimes abuse can be the responsibility of both parties and sometimes women abuse men. The cycle of abuse has many angles.

The example of James shows us that broad reach of abuse. James is not his real name. He wishes to remain anonymous, but he feels it crucial to tell his story.
On the outside, James is a handsome, heavily muscled young man in his mid-20s, living and working in the Fargo area. We may have seen James before, passing us on the streets or standing in line with us at the checkout.
On the inside, James lives in a world much different than we would suspect. His world is full of abuse, weaving its way through various aspects of his life. As James tells his story, the pain is evident in his face and the words shaky.
James begins his story at a young age, recalling abuse by his father and subsequent step father.
"No matter how hard I try, the memories come back." He rubs his hands together, eyes to the floor as he tells of being whipped violently and the welts that would follow. Painful to James as a child and now as an adult -- not only the bruises he received but the beatings he would watch his mother receive.
James has battled depression his entire life. He has seen counselors throughout his past, trying to come to terms with his pain. James says that in the past counseling hadn’t been effective for him, explaining that counselors didn’t believe it could happen to him. James adds, "they look at my size right away." James explains he has felt anger throughout his life and building muscle at the gym has been his release and in many ways, his protector.
After a childhood filled with abuse and horror, James says he began a relationship with a woman who used physical and verbal abusive tactics. As an adult, the physical abuse became second nature to James who says he can block the physical.
"Verbal hurts worse."
After five months the relationship ended mutually and James says he built a wall around himself, thinking that any woman could do this to him. More than a year later, James found himself again in a relationship. Once again, like so many others who have experienced the cycle of abuse, James says he found another abuser.
When James tells his story, it sounds like so many others told before by female victims. He describes the manipulation, the jealousy, the verbal accusations and the physical attacks. With each description, James speaks of how he could have done better, how it was his fault for letting it happen.
"I just didn’t know what to do," he says. James goes on to explain how his girlfriend would apologize, tell him she loved him and say it wouldn’t happen again.
James says that others in this situation need to get out before things get out of control. Yet James continued to stay in the relationship, explaining how the feelings built inside of him. At the time he hoped the pain would go away.
"I thought no one could relate to how it felt." James regrets bottling those feelings and reflects on the past. "Maybe if I found some help earlier it wouldn’t be such a fight now."
James is in a fight now. A fight to change himself. On a night months ago, James says he struck back. According to James, his partner was verbally bashing him and the verbal abuse turned physical. James says the woman continually scratched and slapped him. After months in this relationship and a lifetime of abuse James doesn’t know what the final straw was. He says he never had or wanted to hit a woman, recalling the pain of watching the abuse of his mother. However, that night James did lash out and according to James, he shoved his girlfriend forcefully to the floor.
The police were called and James arrested. James was referred by the court to get treatment for being an abuser. He says it was hard in the beginning, that he was angry his partner didn’t receive the same treatment by the system. James says he has placed blame but realizes he needs to take responsibility for his actions. James now believes therapy has been great for him, explaining so many things were buried inside but now he knows, "every day you dwell on the past is a day you waste. You’ve got to live for the future."
What does the future hold for James? His eyes go to the floor once again. James is still with his girlfriend trying to work things out. And there is a baby on the way, a baby James wants to be there for. He speaks wistfully of seeing, "the first step, the first words, the first teeth."
His brow crinkles and the anguish is obvious in his voice as he explains he doesn’t want his child raised with one or more part time dads like he was. When asked how he would feel if the abuse in his relationship continued and his child was a witness, James shakes his head slowly and exhales, "afraid."

And the cycle continues. The story of James is just one. Statistically, it is difficult to pinpoint how many like James are out there or how deep the cycle of abuse runs.
There is a study to suit any purpose.
Crime statistics show the ratio of abused men as being low. National studies have a wide range. Some show the numbers of male victims to be rare, while others bring the rates of aggression to near equal proportions between the sexes. While it would appear women are in more physical danger, the majority of studies concentrate solely on man to woman violence. This makes it nearly impossible to determine the wide reach of domestic abuse. The main concentration of government studies is man to woman abuse. There is no comprehensive government study exploring the variables of abuse as a human issue.
Diane Brown, domestic violence investigator with the Fargo Police Department, says on a local level 95 percent of domestic violence calls are male to female. However, Brown is firm in her statement that female to male domestic violence does occur both on the local and national level but believes police do not have the full scope of the situation’s prevalence.
A difficulty in realizing the extent of the cycle of abuse may lie with male victims. Men do not report crimes at the same level of female victims.
Bill Lopez, M.S.W., residential case manager of Share House Outpatient and Residential Addiction Service says in his experience, the instances of males reporting domestic violence is rare. The doors at Share House are open but many of the male victims of domestic violence that Lopez has worked with come for other issues such as alcoholism or perpetrator counseling. In working with these individuals Lopez has uncovered domestic abuse as a secondary issue.
"Men are more guarded," says Lopez, "for a man to admit he has been abused by his female partner is like pulling teeth, because of the macho thing." According to Lopez, once abuse is uncovered, the internal effects are equally painful.
"Whether male or female, they believe it was their fault." Lopez advises the need to bring attention to this issue is largely inhibited by media portrayal, which has shown the issue of domestic violence to be a women’s only issue.
"Domestic violence is a human issue but the inference is that it only happens to women."
Beth Haseltine, director of Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo, agrees.
“Men need to know that they are not forgotten.” According to Haseltine, 98 percent of the case load at Rape and Abuse is females. Haseltine says the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center is widely perceived as a women’s center but "violence is an everybody issue."
Haseltine concurs that males are less likely to report crimes. Noting the stigma men are faced with, Haseltine says, "for a man to report being battered is much more difficult." Adding to the stigma, Haseltine says some of the men she has worked with said they were laughed at by police when reporting such crimes.
Brown is firm that such behavior is strictly against policy. While conceding she is not able to go on every domestic violence call, Investigator Brown denounces such behavior and expressed concern.
"Officers are trained to investigate domestic violence calls thoroughly and the perpetrator will be arrested regardless of gender."
Brown brings an additional problem to the table, saying women’s advocates both locally and nationally are against the arrest of female perpetrators. In attendance of several domestic violence seminars, Brown says women’s advocates have been adamant on that point. Brown says advocates charge that women need to be considered as using defensive tactics against a male batterer. Brown is equally adamant that is not the way to go.
According to Brown, police are trained to look for defensive injuries and that is taken into consideration during the investigation. However, Brown is clear to say, "there is no question that women can be perpetrators." She adds if evidence does show women to be perpetrators, "they will be arrested."
Not only arrested but prosecuted, according to Cass County Prosecutor Wade Webb. Webb is part of the crime team, which among other duties handles prosecution of female perpetrators. Male perpetrators of domestic violence are prosecuted separately.
In a federally funded position created by the Violence Against Women Act, attorney Lori Mickelson handles prosecution of male batterers. Webb says the difference in prosecution has no bearing and whether male or female, perpetrators will be prosecuted equally. Once prosecuted, the perpetrator can be sentenced to probation, jail time and like James, can be sent to domestic violence management counseling.

Jane Austinson, Masters of Ed., L.P.C., and mediator of Quality Resolutions, works with perpetrators.
"Domestic violence is a power and control issue, used to manipulate and isolate the victim," she says. Austinson believes that male victims are not as common as females but says, "there are definitely men being battered in our area, without question."
Austinson also says some cases of domestic abuse have mutual responsibility and both sexes need to learn aggressive behavior is never acceptable. When faced with an aggressive partner, reaction can be to strike back. Austinson says everybody needs to learn to control and remove themselves when faced with aggression, no matter their gender.
Women and men are referred to Quality Resolutions for domestic violence management counseling but according to Austinson, women are not as likely as male perpetrators to follow through with treatment. Austinson believes society’s values teach abuse toward men is not a real problem. Austinson says, "men have been taught to suck it up." Austinson is frustrated with the lack of attention and hopes society reaches a point of understanding the complexity of domestic violence as a human issue, an issue with many variables. Additional frustration for Austinson is the lack of resources and advocacy for men.
Many organizations nationally and in the Fargo-Moorhead area that work with domestic abuse are for women only. Finding resources for men is a difficult venture. A volunteer answering phones at local hotline 235-SEEK wasn’t sure where men would be referred under such circumstances. However, the volunteer did provide a list of contacts. With the lone exception of Share House, all other contacts were exclusive to women.
In an initial call to the Rape and Abuse crisis center, the representative was asked where male victims could turn for help. The representative said the center does not assist men and gave a small list of contacts. None on the list assisted male victims. In a follow up, Haseltine said barring a conflict of interest Rape and Abuse has and will assist men and she will clarify policy with the representative.
When asked why attention is devoted to women victims, Haseltine explains that women are the overwhelming majority of the case load. Additionally, men do not need as many resources as women. Haseltine says women seeking assistance have more to deal with such as financial, shelter and child care concerns.
As far as advocation of male victims, Haseltine looks to history. Haseltine explains women in this position were once just as silent. Haseltine says the key to bringing attention to the issue is the responsibility of the survivor. Following on the steps of the women’s movement, women survivors, "banded together to resolve this and get the word out." Haseltine says men need to do the same, until then resources will go to those seeking assistance.
Men’s groups have sprung up nationally to work toward bringing attention to this issue. Slowly, recognition of abuse as a human issue is becoming more prevalent, but the road is long and filled with barriers.
Domestic abuse is a serious issue in our world today. When the term domestic abuse arises, images of men abusing women comes to mind. There is no question women are abused, indeed it is a great and brutal problem that must always be remembered.
But in the distance are deeper stories, broad reaching and intertwined, hidden faces rarely seen. To finally break the multi-faceted cycle, all faces must not be forgotten.
Forgetting James will be difficult. His story is filled with twists, turns, entanglements and pain. But with all the intricate layers and many faces to this problem, James’ solution is simple:
"The only person who can change, is me."


Women and Men Seeking Assistance can contact these organizations:
Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, 218-236-1494, Moorhead.
The Village Family Service Center, 701-235-6433, Fargo.
The Village Family Service Center, Grand Forks, 701-746-4584.
Community Violence Intervention Center, Grand Forks, 701-746-8900.
Abused Adult Resource Center, Bismarck, 1-800-472-2911.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Share House Outpatient and Residential Addiction Service, 701-282-6561.
Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, 701-293-7273, Fargo.

Note: Dakota is a student of Mass Communication at a local university, and a part time announcer at a Fargo radio station.
Dakota is also a she.....

     

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