Perhaps the most confusing, perplexing, and controversial area in which men’s health needs are overlooked is the issue of male victims of domestic violence.
One immediately noticeable trend is the strong tendency to focus solely on female victims and ignore male victims. This tendency is seen repeatedly.
Most media, whether print or electronic, focuses on female victims of domestic violence and all too often fails to mention male victims. Almost every article in the newspaper and every program on TV about domestic violence focuses on female victims.
We see the same focus in academia: courses in sociology and women’s studies repeat the message that women are the primary victims of domestic violence and rarely mention male victims.
If you look on the internet at web sites of domestic violence agencies you will likely see a similar bias.
An oft-quoted statistic is that according to a Department of Justice report, there are 1.5 million women each year in the United States who are victims of domestic violence. What you don’t see is that the same report also found that there are 834,000 male victims of domestic violence each year in the United States.(1)
Rather than adding the two and saying 2.3 million Americans suffer from domestic violence each year, all too often the only statistic highlighted is the one about women. One side of the story is told and the other side is ignored, as 834,000 men are omitted.(2)
Nationally, we have the “Violence Against Women Act” which boldly excludes men from its name.
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (a national group that teaches judges on the issue of domestic violence) offers a typical description which includes women but seems to minimize men: “Domestic violence puts millions of women and their families at risk each year and is one of the single greatest social ills impacting the nation.” (3)
There is no mention of men who might be at risk. Most organizations promote the idea that females are the overwhelming majority of victims of domestic violence. The general public has heard that message for decades and believes it to be the sole truth. But is it?
The National Council Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) offers a similar message that women are the vast majority of the victims of domestic violence. According to their definition of domestic violence: “There is not a typical woman who will be battered – the risk factor is being born female.” (4)
If “the” risk factor is being born female, that seems to exclude men from sharing the risk. But a look at their own statistics compiled from state governments tells a very different story.
In the state of Maryland, according to NCADV statistics, men comprise 23% of the victims of domestic violence, and women are 23% of the perpetrators. (5)
Maryland State Police statistics reveal similar estimates, listing men as 25% of all victims of domestic violence. (6)
These numbers are confirmed and even exceeded when compared with peer-reviewed research. What you find is that men are a sizable portion of the victims of domestic violence, a much larger portion than is usually mentioned through a variety of sources.
In fact, peer-reviewed research reveals that most domestic violence is characterized not by one person abusing the other, but by what is termed as “reciprocal” violence: a brawl between two partners. (7)
The bulk of the research also suggests that women are more often the initiators of the violence. (8)
This sharp contrast between the commonly-held public view of women as the vast majority of domestic violence victims with men as the sole perpetrators, versus the research and statistics compiled by authoritative sources, paint pictures that are hard to reconcile.
The domestic violence agencies in Maryland are obviously comprised of a compassionate group of people dedicated to fighting a horrible problem.
The Maryland Commission for Men’s Health wholeheartedly agrees with them that domestic violence needs our attention and our resources. The issue that the commission finds worrisome is that it appears that only a part of the problem of domestic violence is being addressed in earnest: the female victims. The other parts are taking a back seat: male victims and female perpetrators. Due to this imbalance, some Marylanders go unserved and left in great pain.
There is a saying among NASA engineers that “an ounce of thrust at takeoff can mean thousands of miles down course.” The ounce of thrust that has thrown the domestic violence industry off course is the idea of holding men and masculinity solely responsible for the incidence of domestic violence.
In its early years as a cause, many of those working in domestic violence assumed that men were the sole cause of domestic violence and, of course, women were seen as the only victims. It was this contention that has limited their vision to see the complexity of domestic violence and its many victims both male and female, heterosexual and homosexual.
Over the years, various organizations and individuals have tried to offer feedback that males are in need of treatment as victims and females are in need of attention as perpetrators, but all too often their voices go noticeably unheard.
Are there men who fall through the cracks?
We have seen how the domestic violence industry has had a history of blaming men and masculinity for domestic violence.
This sort of theoretical assumption has a negative impact on the willingness of men to seek help. The men, not unlike the early female victims of domestic violence in the 1970’s who were very reluctant to seek treatment, are certain that no one cares about their situation and are highly unlikely to seek out services when not invited. What compounds this problem for men is that their gender is blamed for the original problem.
We have learned from Maryland State Police statistics that men comprise about 25% of the victims of domestic violence in Maryland.(23)
What we don’t know is the percentage of males seeking treatment as victims of domestic violence.
In checking with a number of Maryland Domestic Violence agencies, they often say that the number of male victims is very small.
Some of the treatment centers claim that men are only 4% of their clients. If the State Police count men as 25% of the 20,000 victims of domestic violence recorded annually in Maryland and the agencies that offer treatment for domestic violence say that men are only 4% of the victims that request treatment, that seems to leave a huge number of men who are untreated victims.
It seems likely that a large percentage of the 5000+ men who are reported by State Police as victims of domestic violence in Maryland are falling through the cracks and not getting the help they need and are entitled to as citizens and residents.
What once started as a righteous cause to help battered women has evolved over the years to be something that seems to help battered women but also seems to neglect the needs of violent women and battered men and ignores the imperatives that the fundamental demands our tradition of justice holds dear.
Both the media and academia seem to focus solely on female victims of domestic violence, with a much smaller focus or none at all on male victims.
Researchers doing peer-reviewed research have consistently found evidence that men and women are both victims of domestic violence, but this finding has not been translated to changing the treatment that men receive in domestic violence agencies.
Clinical groups such as the American Psychiatric Association are beginning to alert the public and clinicians that men are indeed a sizeable percentage of domestic violence victims.
The courts have also started pointing out the discrimination that is present in many domestic violence agencies that treat men and women differently.
This report is not claiming that men are never served through domestic violence agencies in the state of Maryland. It is however claiming that Maryland’s domestic violence services have traditionally been created for women only and this has a chilling effect on men’s usage of these facilities.
A Proposal For Practical Change
There is a domestic violence group named “Safe For All” that offers trainings nationwide and is particularly aware of the many issues around domestic violence, including those of male victims and of people in homosexual relationships, also an under-recognized and under-served group.
Their web address is http://safe4all.org/24 The National Family Law Legislative Resource Center, http://www.nfvlrc.org25 represents the nation’s leading authorities, clinicians, and researchers on domestic violence and could also offer trainings and consultations.26
Although calls to Maryland shelters and crisis lines to test for discriminatory handling of reports have at the present time not been conducted, there is no question such testing can be conducted and most likely will be conducted in order to support lawsuits similar to the successful ones used in the legal cases in California and West Virginia cited above.
The results of such testing in Maryland would likely mirror these results: In a national poll by Clark University, female researchers studied 302 abused men who sought help.
Their key findings were that 63.9% of men who called hotlines were told they only helped women, and 68.7% said the hotlines were not at all helpful. Of those that contacted a local domestic violence (shelter) program, 95.3% said the program gave the impression that they were biased against men, 78.3% said they don’t help male victims, and 63.9% suggested the male caller was the batterer.
Therefore, in order to avoid costly and time-consuming lawsuits, it behooves the State of Maryland to require all domestic violence service organizations that receive pass-through federal funding or state funding of any type to receive training in non-discriminatory but practical approaches and techniques for handling domestic violence cases and suspected or reported cases. Such training is available via the two organizations referenced above, and also from others.
Whether or not gay and heterosexual men represent a small minority, a large minority, or an equal number of such victims as compared to women in the population is immaterial.
The State of Maryland by its policies and procedures is obligated to encourage and support only those organizations that practice inclusion, diversity and non-discrimination. However, not even very large urban areas can financially support “separate but equal” domestic violence facilities and services for men and women. Not only is it not practical, but such a policy does little to combat discrimination and only encourages conflict over funding resources.
1. The purpose of this training is to provide guidance and directives in how to implement a non-discrimination policy in all service areas.
2. As part of this training program, a compliance coordination methodology shall be developed to assure that the non-discrimination policy is being carried out by agencies who participated in the training.
3. The training will provide cost-effective, implementable, and practical steps that each agency or organization can take to eliminate discrimination and incorporate gender and sexual orientation inclusive policies.
We respectfully request the Office of The Governor to immediately begin the implementation of such a training program.
The above is an abridged version of the original report which included:
Tom Golden, LCSW is an author and psychotherapist who has been writing on issues concerning men, boys, and gynocentrism for many years. Tom has written three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Understanding the Unique World of Boys. He has a blog at Menaregood.com and also has a youtube channel menaregood.
1 One example is the Allstate page <http://www.clicktoempower.org/> linked from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV) web page that rightly claims that 3 women each day (actually it is closer to 4) die of domestic violence in the United States. They fail to mention that nearly 2 men die each day due to being murdered by their female partner. This is a glaring omission. In 2007 1640 women were murdered by their male intimates and 700 men were murdered by their female partners. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=971 Why are the male victims omitted?
2 “Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey | National Institute of Justice.” Office of Justice Programs. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2009. <http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/172837.htm>.
3 “Family Violence.” National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges . N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2009. <www.ncjfcj.org/content/view/20/94/>.
4 “National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2009. <http://www.ncadv.org/learn/TheProblem.php>.
5 “Domestic Violence Facts: Maryland.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2009. <www.ncadv.org/files/Maryland.pdf>.
6 “Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV).” Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV). N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2009. <http://mnadv.org/DV_Stats/ucr_stats.html>.
7 Whitaker, Daniel. “Differences in Frequency of Violence and Reported Injury Between Relationships With Reciprocal and Nonreciprocal Intimate Partner Violence.” Journal of Public Health 97.May (2007): 941-947. Print.
10 Pence E. Some thoughts on philosophy. In Shepard M and Pence E (eds.): Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from Duluth and Beyond. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers, 1999, p. 30.
11 McNeely, R. L., Cook, P. W. & Torres, J. B. (2001). Is domestic violence a gender issue or a human issue? Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 4 (4), 227-251.
12 “Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Intimate partner violence.” Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) . N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2010. <http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=971>.
13 Paymar, Michael, and Ellen Pence. Education Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model. 1 ed. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1993. Print.
14 Graves, Tom. Power and Response-ability: the human side of systems. London: Tetradian, 2008. Print.
15 Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, Home of the Duluth Model.” Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, Home of the Duluth Model. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2009. <http://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheelgallery.php>.
16 Gelles, Richard J., and Murray Straus. Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family. New Ed ed. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2006. Print.
17 “Processes Explaining the Concealment and Distortion of Evidence on Gender Symetry in Partner Violence.” University of New Hampshire. N.p., n.d. Web.18 Dec. 2009. <pubpages.unh.edu/~mas2/V74-gender-symmetry-with-gramham-Kevan-Method%208-.pdf>.
19 “REFERENCES EXAMINING ASSAULTS BY WOMEN ON THEIR SPOUSES OR MALE PARTNERS: AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY.” California State University, Long Beach. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2009. <http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm>.
20 Arehart-Treichel, Joan. “Men Shouldn’t Be Overlooked as Victims of Partner Violence.” APA Psychiatric News 42.15 (2007): 31-33. Print.
21 “Appeals court decision supports battered men.” San Francisco Bay Area — News, Sports, Business, Entertainment, Classifieds: SFGate. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2009. <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/15/BA3S13HOLS.DTL>.
22 Press, The Associated. “W.Va. domestic-violence program regulations voided – News – The Charleston Gazette – West Virginia News and Sports.” – – The Charleston Gazette – West Virginia News and Sports. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2009. <http://www.wvgazette.com/News/200910080509>.
23 “Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV).” Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV). N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2009. <http://www.mnadv.org/DV_Stats/ucr_stats.html>.
24 “Welcome!.” Stop Abuse for Everyone. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2009. <safe4all.org>.
25 Robinson, Michael. “National Family Violence Legislative Resource Center.” National Family Violence Legislative Resource Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2010. <http://www.nfvlrc.org/>.
26 Please consult with the Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health for more information on these organizations.
27 “Results from Study on Men’s Experiences of Partner Aggression.” Clark University | One of 40 “Colleges that Change Lives”. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2010. <http://clarku.edu/faculty/dhines/results.htm>.