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This article appeared in the April 20, 1997 edition of The Detroit News , and is reprinted with The Detroit News' kind permission.


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Sunday, April 20, 1997

No place to run for male victims of domestic abuse: Shelters, support groups rare for men

By Becky Beaupre / The Detroit News

    The attacker's temper flared and keys flew, pitched forward in a fit of rage.
    They slammed against Richard Daniska's chest, smack against a stapled incision left by his heart surgeon two weeks earlier.
    His attacker tried to keep him from leaving, but Daniska -- who had been recuperating from open heart surgery on the couch -- made it to a nearby medical center for X-rays.
    Then, just as he had in the past, he called the St. Clair Shores police and filed an assault report.
    Against his wife.
    "It got to the point where -- and this might sound silly -- I went to bed at night with a little children's baseball bat on the nightstand," Daniska said in soft, even tones. "I was really afraid to go to sleep."
    In 1995, there were about 7,000 reports of Michigan men like Daniska who were physically abused by their wives, girlfriends or unmarried partners. But there are virtually no programs, shelters or support groups aimed at helping them.
    Some women's groups say that's because battered men make up only 5 percent to 10 percent of domestic violence victims. But an analysis of crime data collected by the Michigan State Police shows that men were victims in nearly 20 percent of all domestic abuse cases reported in 1995 in Michigan. Domestic abuse includes homicides, sexual offenses, assaults and robberies between spouses, ex-spouses and unmarried partners.
    Some contend there's a reason women's groups downplay the issue of battered men: the fear that a widespread movement to help battered men will dilute funding earmarked for battered women.
    The state police numbers are not perfect. They are only as accurate as the officers taking the reports and in some cases include estimates necessary to remove child victims from the sample.
    But they suggest that domestic violence against men is more prevalent than is sometimes reported.
    "There is a general unwillingness to accept that this is a problem," said Mel Feit, executive director of the National Center for Men in New York, which receives about 150 calls a year from men who say they are abused. "Usually, a man who is a victim will try to report it only once. He calls the shelter and they say, 'What did you do to provoke her?' They reach out for help and are abused again by the system."

The Detroit News

    Few safe havens
    When Daniska finally decided to leave home, nearly every shelter he called turned him away. He spent one night at the Salvation Army, but they wouldn't let him stay longer.
    "There was absolutely nothing out there for me," said Daniska, 46, a longtime Macomb County resident. "The shelters said they only serve women."
    Finally, Daniska took a job caring for an elderly man in exchange for room and board. He also divorced his wife of 18 years.
    He never told his story to the man or the man's family. He didn't tell them about the time his wife slammed a telephone down on his right hand and leg. He didn't tell them about the objects -- a baseball, a can of soup -- that had been thrown at him in fits of rage.
    "Guys need to talk just like women do," Daniska said. "But men don't have those skills. We're raised to be tough, to take care of problems. We're not allowed to have problems."
    Data suggests that certain types of abuse against men is more common that others.
    According to the state police numbers, men were victims in 45 percent of the 64 domestic homicides in 1995 and in 32 percent of the 3,457 aggravated assaults. An assault qualifies as "aggravated" if the victim is seriously injured or if a weapon is used.
    The high number of male victims in those cases reflects the habits of female abusers, who tend to use weapons or throw objects, rather than use their fists or commit sexual assault.
    Is it self-defense?
    Battered women's shelters say the domestic assault reports filed by men often don't reflect that many women charged with abusing their mates were acting in self-defense.
    Most Metro Detroit shelters are officially open to both genders, but they acknowledge they have difficulty believing men as readily as they believe women. In some cases, the literature distributed by domestic violence shelters seems to ignore battered men completely.
    The "power and control wheel" used by many shelters to describe characteristics of abusers, for example, uses "she" in all references to victims and includes a category of abuse called "using male privilege."
    A fact sheet distributed by one local shelter reads: "Myth: The problem is actually spouse abuse. Women are just as violent as men. Fact: In 95% of domestic assaults, the man is the perpetrator of violence."
    But counselors and prosecutors say their views have been shaped by years of dealing with batterers and abusers. For one thing, most shelters have encountered few male victims and have counseled a small number of female batterers.
    Counselors at HAVEN, an Oakland County domestic violence program, have encountered scores of male batterers who claimed to be abused when, in fact, they were injured by a woman defending herself from a more serious attack.
    The relative size and strength of men also make it hard for many to believe that more than a tiny fraction of men are true victims, counselors say.
    "A woman who is abused is scared to death," said Beverly Groth, program director for the domestic violence counseling program at HAVEN. "We don't hear that from men. They are not living in fear."
    Added Hedy Nuriel, the program's director: "While she's in fear for her life, he's afraid of getting slapped."
    'They don't hit back'
    Those who have worked with battered men call that attitude naive.
    "These men have had picture frames hit on their heads while they slept; they have been stabbed; they have had guns pointed at them; they have been kicked in the groin," said David Fontes, an Employee Assistance Program coordinator for the California Department of Social Services and a doctoral student writing his dissertation on battered men.
    And, he added: Men don't always hit back.
    Karen Gillhespy, 34, a 5-foot-3-inch recovered drug user from Marquette, is proof of that.
    She severely beat her now-former husband -- who she says is about 6 feet tall -- for nearly 13 years.
    "I used to hit him with a baseball bat. I hit him all the time," Gillhespy said. "I ripped patches of his hair out, gave him black eyes and bloody lips. This poor guy was physically and emotionally drained."
    But like many other male victims, Gillhespy's husband never hit back.
    "If he would have hit me, he would have knocked me down," Gillhespy said. "No matter what we throw at them, they don't hit back."
    A complex issue
    But even those who acknowledge that couples such as the Gillhespys fear that if the issue of battered men becomes more widespread, it will open a confusing can of worms.
    "You're going to have these batterers and they are going to use this information (being a battered man) to avoid responsibility and accountability," said Randy Flood, a psychologist who runs a program for male batterers in Grand Rapids. "It's going to be complicated."
    Balancing competing claims, acknowledging the rights of both sexes and overcoming misperceptions can be tough business.
    Michigan does not have a "mandatory arrest" policy, but police departments and prosecutors encourage arrests in many cases -- and strongly discourage police from arresting both people.
    To help police decide who the aggressor is, the Wayne County prosecutor's office trains officers to rely on a variety of information -- including the couple's history and the relative size and strength of the parties -- and to recognize a victim's right to self-defense when making an arrest. They also are trained to look for "defensive wounds" -- such as a bite on the arm that could have been inflicted by a victim who was being choked.
    "We all bring certain biases in," said Nancy Diehl, chief of the domestic violence unit at the Wayne County prosecutor's office. "But you have to be cautious. ... When I train officers, I say 'Leave your biases at the door.' Truly there still are men who were trained to never hit a woman, no matter how big they are. Size and strength is not the end-all, be-all."
    Changing such beliefs isn't easy -- but recognition that there is a need to do so is growing.
    "If it is happening this much to women, it's happening to men," said Kathy Bergdolt, who works with the Michigan Coalition on Domestic Violence. "We need to make sure men feel open and comfortable coming into our crisis centers. As men get more comfortable, I think we'll see more of it" getting reported.


Check out MenWeb's Special Section on Battered Men


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Spotlight on Female Abuser: For 13 years, he never hit her back A woman speak out. She was told she's the victim! A Detroit News report by Becky Beaupre.

Special Report: Battered men take problems to Internet, A Detroit News report by Becky Beaupre.

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