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Male survivors of domestic violence

In my private practice as a psychologist, I have worked with as many male survivors of domestic violence as female survivors. I find it baffling, based on this experience, that the fact that men are sometimes battered by women is not in the media at all.

When I talk about males survivors of domestic violence, I often get surprised looks from people. They’ll say things like, “… that must be quite rare.” But it’s not. Some sources suggest that the incident of domestic violence perpetrated by women against men makes up 40% of the domestic violence that occurs in Canada.

In this blog post, I would like to share some of the experiences I have had while working with male survivors of domestic violence.

Details in the stories that follow have been altered to protect privacy.

I have noticed, in my limited experience, that the police have responded to reports of domestic violence differently when the perpetrator is a woman rather than a male. I have heard about the police not pressing criminal charges against women when they are called to the home after a man has been battered. This impression was supported by a social worker that I talked to at Child and Family Services. He told me, in his experiences, that charges are seldom pressed when the perpetrator of domestic violence is a woman.

But why is this? Why are the police more inclined to respond in an effort to protect female survivors more than male survivors?

Another thing I have witnessed is that male survivors known they are not in a position to protect themselves physically when a woman is battering them. They tell me that if they raise a hand to protect themselves, the woman who is battering them will call the police and allege that they are the victim, and that the police will act against the men.

These male survivors tell me that they cannot afford to have criminal charges pressed against them because facing criminal charges will harm them professionally. Think about how the professional bodies that govern physicians or lawyers would respond if one of their members was facing criminal charges as you work to grasp this idea.

Another thing I hear from male survivors of domestic violence is that there is nowhere in society where male survivors can receive support. Questions like “How can a woman, who is so much less powerful than you, batter you?” or “Aren’t you man enough to protect yourself?” are common if a man reaches out. Male survivors are also met with laughter, which acts to silence them and further isolate them.

I remember when I was running groups for a substance abuse treatment center as a student that a man reported he had been sexually molested when he was 13 years old by a woman in his neighbourhood. He said she had held him at gun point along with five of his friends. The other men in the group laughed and said that this experience would have been their “dream” when they were children.

I intervened at this point because the man who had spoken up was being traumatized. I asked the men in the group to think about how vulnerable both a girl – and a boy – are at age 10. I asked them what the difference is when a child is being harmed by an adult?

We discussed this idea for a while and the men appeared to understand that the man who had reported his abuse had been harmed. Does it matter what your gender is when you are held at gun point? Does your gender matter when someone terrifies you, and harms your body and your mind?

This same problem of lack of thought and compassion applies to the topic of domestic violence that is perpetrated against men. Why don’t we, as a society, support men who are being physically abused? Why is a woman not stopped when she is physically harming a man? Why don’t we talk about this topic as a society?

When I have seen men who have been battered by their spouses, they have all been traumatized. In one case, the man ended his marriage immediately. He had been in his relationship for several years, but was able to see that a very clear line had been crossed when his wife bloodied his face.

In a second case, the man denied that he was being battered when I asked him. He and his wife were both in therapy with me, and the woman had stated that she had kicked him. He said, “It was the first time… It’s never happened before…” when I asked him about it.

This same man called me two months later and asked me to help him because he was about to kill himself. He said that the domestic violence was very real, and that he didn’t know how to get out of his marriage. Fortunately, this story ends well. He left his abuser and did the work to heal.

There is a very real problem with domestic violence in our society. It’s taking place in the homes of your neighbours and your co-workers. When you consider these facts, please realize that a significant number of the people who are being harmed are men. And be open and supportive when you learn about their situations.

Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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