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One man's story of living with an abuser

  • Published
  • By Commentary by: Janet Bunn, 92nd Medical Group domestic abuse victim advocate
When “Joe” first came to me, he was visibly upset and confused as to the reason his girlfriend would hit him. He sat before me, all 6’4” 260 pounds with a very swollen black eye and scratches around his face and neck.

Joe wanted to file for a temporary restraining order to remove his girlfriend from his home and get information about abuse happening to men. Joe had been enduring violent attacks for over two years through a variety of tactics employed by his partner.

Suffering the abuse left him feeling that he was less of a man, ashamed, and conflicted. Joe wondered why he would not fight back, although glad he had not done so, and why did she treat him this way and yet profess to love him.

Joe thought that he might be a little crazy. He felt these incidents were entirely his fault and if he had done what was demanded of him, then the abuse would not have happened.

Joe was a victim of domestic violence.

Power and control dynamics are gender neutral. The behavior manifests in all genders relatively the same way and often uses the same tactics.

For men or women, acts of domestic violence may include pushing, slapping, hitting, throwing objects, slamming a door on someone, striking them with an object or using a weapon to harm them.

Women abusers will often find ways to make up size and strength differences by waiting for the victim to fall asleep, attacking from a position of height, catching their victim unaware or letting gravity do the damage by dropping a heavy object on them.

Domestic violence can also be mental or emotional. However, what hurts a man mentally and emotionally can be altogether different from what may hurt a woman.

The psychological impact of being called a coward, impotent or a failure can for some men be more damaging and carry a different meaning than it would for a woman.

The majority of cases show that men are more deeply affected by emotional abuse than physical abuse.

Men rarely come forward for help. Gender socialization of males in our society shuns weakness or even the appearance of weakness, yet the strength it took for Joe to hold back the instinct to defend himself was admirable. Had he struck out against his attacker, Joe could have ended up as a “victim defendant” and be waiting on arraignment for assault charges.

Joe responded appropriately by walking away from the situation and seeking help. Because he did not engage his abuser, he limited his involvement and culpability in further escalation of the situation.

Male victims can mistakenly be assumed to be the aggressor when violence erupts based solely on their gender, size and strength. One instance of a male victim calling law enforcement ended with the responding officer asking him, “What do you want me to do about it?”

In other words, shut up and man up.

Some common myths about male victims:
-The abuser is the bigger and stronger person and the victim is the smaller and weaker person.
-Men are naturally violent.
-Women are not capable or strong enough to hurt a man.
-Only men who are wimps allow themselves to be abused by women.
-Women only use violence in self defense.

It is often heard that the rate of violence against women is between 85 to 98 percent perpetrated by a male, but nobody kept statistics on male victims because there were no shelters or programs designed for them and funding was nonexistent.

The percentage of male victims has been estimated to range from 20 to 78 percent. Until our society acknowledges the need for male programs and shelters, then it is unlikely we will ever know the exact numbers.

America’s cultural attitudes are slowly shifting, but until male victims have support from the society they live in and the freedom to seek help without shame will we see a true change in the mindset of the law enforcement, domestic violence programs, and prosecutors.

So when you hear someone tell a man to suck it up, man up, or grow a pair … just think about what are they implying to that man and is it the message we want to send to all the males in our society?

If you are experiencing domestic violence or know someone who may be in this type of relationship please call the DAVA 24/7 Hotline (509) 247-2016.