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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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.....