Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ladies Night - Women Aren't the Only Ones #domestic violence

Domestic violence is often portrayed as if men are the only perpetrators and women the only victims. This happens NOT to be the case.

Women also abuse men: verbally, emotionally, and physically. Women abuse other women, and men abuse other men, in homosexual relationships. Both men and women may abuse children.

The dynamic with a male victim is the same as with a female victim. It's all about Power & Control. Abused men endure most or all of the below cycle from their female (or male) partner.

While talking about being a victim of abuse is hard for many women, who face both social stigma and centuries of belief that an abused wife/girlfriend was "asking for it" or "not trying hard enough," the stigma is even greater for male victims. We know there ARE male victims.

How many men are physically and emotionally abused?

Sadly, we really don't know. In American society, we tend to ridicule men who are "henpecked" or "pussywhipped," making it harder for men in an abusive relationship to speak up. In other cultures, it is even more taboo. (As of the date of this post, although I have made specific outreaches to male victims of domestic abuse, inviting them to share their stories, I have not yet received any guest posts.)

Some men speak out anyway.

One case that recently received a lot of press was that of Mary Richardson Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, Jr.

From a Newsweek article on June 10, 2012: 
Bobby’s affidavit, sworn Sept. 16, 2011, and filed in New York Supreme Court in Westchester County as part of their divorce, discussed a Kennedy family’s private life with sad candor. In the document, Bobby made the startling claim that Mary was physically abusing him and threatening suicide in front of the children. He said he cried often during his marriage, but not from sadness or grief. “Mary’s violence and physical abuse toward me began before we were married,” Bobby said in the affidavit. “Soon after Mary became pregnant with our first son, Mary, in a sudden rage about my continued friendship with [my ex-wife] Emily, hit me in the face with her fist. She was a trained boxer and I got a shiner. Her engagement ring crushed my tear duct causing permanent damage ... Mary asked me to lie to her family about the cause of my shiner.”

<snip> “On May 26, 2011, Mary ran over and killed the dog, Porcia, in the driveway,” Bobby wrote of an experience after he and Mary had separated. “She had [our youngest son] Aidan call me to tell me. He was disconsolate and crying. I asked to speak to Mom and Mary came on the phone. She said I should come over and spend the night in my old room with the kids who were distraught. She said she intended to kill herself unless I called off the divorce and unless I promised to recommit to the marriage. She promised that if I came over she would stay in her room and wouldn’t see me or harass me.
“I drove over in a tow truck with my boat on the trailer in preparation for a planned trip to Cape Cod the following day. When I got there, Aidan was in Mary’s room. Mary was intoxicated. I opened the door and she leapt out of her bed and hit me with a roundhouse punch that, had I not blocked it, would have undoubtedly broken my face. Pointing to Aidan, she screamed, ‘You told this child you didn’t love me?’ and hit me again, raining blows down on me as I backed down the hall. She struck me maybe 30 more times or more. I moved slowly backward because she was drunk and unsteady and I didn’t want her to tumble over the banister. She screamed at Aidan as she hit me. ‘He is a demon. He is a demon. He is the most evil kind of man in the world. Everything he does is evil and a fraud. He is a philanderer, an adulterer, a sex addict.’ Aidan was crying. I backed down the back stairs blocking her blows—and dodged out the kitchen door. She pursued me, pummeling and pushing me with her fists all the way.”

<snip> In 2006 Bobby talked to Mary’s psychotherapist, then Sheenah Hankin, an author with a clientele heavy with celebrities and semi-celebrities. “You are married to a woman who has borderline personality disorder,” Hankin told him, according to Bobby’s account in the affidavit. “It’s important that you read these books.”

Cover of "I Hate You, Don't Leave Me: Und...
Cover via Amazon
Bobby had never even heard of borderline personality disorder (BPD), but when he opened I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus, he felt he had an understanding of what was happening with his wife. Bobby read that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association lists nine criteria for BPD, five of which must be present for a diagnosis. Mary seemed to have every one of the nine, including a perceived sense of abandonment, a lack of identity, recklessness, suicidal threats, intense feelings of emptiness, and inappropriate displays of anger.

In fairness, Mary Richardson Kennedy's family is disputing the accuracy of Bobby Kennedy's affidavit, and, since, sadly, she committed suicide, Mary is not here to speak for herself. But, if true, Bobby Kennedy endured the same kinds of erratic behavior, threats, and physical abuse that I have heard described by many other men partnered with women diagnosed with or exhibiting symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. Kennedy's wealth, fame, and family connections could not protect him from it. Abuse occurs in the poorest homes; it also occurs in penthouses, and everything in between.

One good resource for men  (and women) involved with a mentally ill partner is Out of the Fog.

Mental illness may be a big factor in all domestic violence environments. 

Included in the domestic violence history of my own family are physical attacks by a bipolar woman (during a manic phase) upon her male partner: fingernails, teeth, fists, and once, a knife. Luckily, he was able to disarm her without serious injury to either party.  But, if he had hurt her - say, while pushing her away from him, she had fallen and hit her head or broken a bone - he would've gone to jail.

I'm not saying that the excuse of abusive men "I was just defending myself" should be accepted at face value.  However, in some cases, a "domestic violence situation" is started by the person who appears, on the surface, to be the victim.

We have few shelters specifically for male victims of domestic violence, but do we need more? Or, perhaps we need to think of other models of "safe houses," akin to foster homes, rather than trying to create an identical shelter system for male victims, matching those of female victims bed for bed. The needs of a an employed man with access to financial resources will be different from those of a SAHD (Stay-At-Home Dad) fleeing an abusive partner with young children in tow, which will be different from those of an elderly disabled man who needs to get away from his abusive wife (or daughter), and different from a 16-year-old who wants to escape the sexual advances of his stepmother.  Just as the needs of a woman with young children or one who cares for a disabled adult "child," may be very different from those of a teen looking to escape from a violent dating partner.

I don't agree with those who argue that because VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, which has been authorized in Congress every year since 1994, up until this one - (start on page 190 of the .pdf if you want to read it for yourself) does not specifically name men as victims in its title, it should be totally thrown out and we should start over.
Section (13) Civil Rights, states:
‘‘(A) NONDISCRIMINATION.—No person in the United States shall, on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity (as defined in paragraph 249(c)(4) of title 18, United States Code), sexual orientation, or disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 <snip>
(B) EXCEPTION.—If sex segregation or sex specific programming is necessary to the essential operation of a program, nothing in this paragraph shall prevent any such program or activity from consideration of an individual’s sex. In such circumstances, grantees may meet the requirements of this paragraph by providing comparable services to individuals who cannot be provided with the sex-segregated or sex-specific programming.

In other words, VAWA is designed to help all victims of domestic violence, be they female, male, or transgender.  They may not be able to place men in the same group facility as women, but men are not supposed to be turned away when they call for help.  VAWA 1925 was passed by the Senate on April 26, 2012, by 68-31. It has since been held up in the House which is seeking to strip certain provisions, such as providing temporary visas to battered undocumented women. It is unclear whether any final bill reached via reconciliation will reach the President's desk before the end of the year.

You may want to look up your own Congressional representative's record on VAWA and consider it as part of your decision-making process when voting this November.

In order to gauge the magnitude of the problem, men must speak up and share their experiences. 

Society as a whole must acknowledge and support male victims, and we must all work together to devise solutions for abused men, as well as women.

Nobody "deserves" to be abused. Not women, not men, not transgender beings, not children.

Not nobody, not nohow, as the Cowardly Lion would say.


Domestic Violence Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 1.800.656.HOPE
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French

Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247

Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory

For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships

Do you have a story about a man harmed by physical, sexual, or emotional violence?
If you'd like to share yours, there's still time.
Guest post ideas & info here.
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