Being a victim of domestic violence, and having suffered thirteen years of fear, violence and anguish, you can image I was skeptical the first time a man told me he had been a victim of domestic violence also. I thought it was a sick joke, a way of making fun of my pain. The more the fellow insisted that he understood how I felt, the more I suspected he was giving me a pickup line. It wasn’t until he showed me the scars on his bald head that I believed him.
He informed me that his ex-wife had thrown pots and pans at him, dug her fingernails in his scalp until he bled and screamed at him continuously. He didn’t know what to do. He was a big strong guy who did not believe in hitting a woman. He felt trapped by her episodes.
In Concord, New Hampshire, 35 percent of domestic assault arrests are of women (1). Some stats suggest that gay, bi, and trans men experience domestic violence close to the same rate as heterosexual women, one in four. The man I met had fallen prey to the black-widow syndrome. This is where a woman who has been abused by men decides she’s had enough of being treated poorly and all men must pay. Often these women will search for their target in the “nice” man who would never strike a woman back. At the start of the relationship she is very kind and sweet, thus luring the man in, but once there is security the nightmare begins.
Nightmare in Nag Street
Nightmares in marriage can be at different levels. One has to be careful to tell the difference between a nagging nightmare that can be annoying and an abusive nightmare that is destructive. With nagging, such as “You aren’t spending enough time with me,” or “I don’t feel appreciated,” can come real concerns that your partner has that might be something you will want to take a closer look at.
With abuse the behavior looks more like this: putdowns, name calling, doing things that publicly embarrass, doing things that hinder or hurt careers, withholding of sex, leaving without saying where they are going or when they are coming back, threatening to divorce to gain control, and taking the children and disappearing. Of course physical violence or destruction of property are also abusive.
Complexity of Male Victims
The underlying motivation of an abuser, whether male or female, is control. They try to gain their control in many different ways (for more information get Surviving Workbook at www.redemptivecommunity.com). The chief way to gain control is to get the victim to not trust their instincts. Talking a person out of their instincts can be accomplished by constant insults and crafted methods of having the victim doubt their own worth.
Society’s views on abuse add to the complexity male victims face. In years gone by most domestic violence was tolerated behavior no matter who was the victim or perpetrator. Victims had a hard time finding help. Now it is much more acceptable for women to receive assistance from shelters, police, domestic violence advocates, etc. Domestic violence is seen as chiefly a women’s issue. Although the social norm on this is changing and more domestic violence advocates are helping men, this is not the mainstream yet. There is a social stigma placed on men if they are being abused. People don’t understand how they can allow that to happen to them from a woman. This type of judgment placed on a victim can be very painful.
The Fall Out
Male victims often experience anger, shame and depression. They have a heavy sense of isolation, believing they will not get any compassion and understanding about their circumstances. In more extreme cases of abuse, male victims can find themselves homeless, mentally ill, without a job, having none or rare contact with their children, and, in the most heightened cases, live in constant fear of losing their lives in murder.
Numbing the Sting
If you are a male victim or know someone who is, the first steps will be to talk about the experience. This might take a couple of tries since it is an uncomfortable situation to speak about. Reaching out and building trust with someone is an important beginning, be it a friend, family member, member of the clergy, or professional counselor. It is then important for a victim to build a community of support such as support groups, legal counsel, etc. Doing an internet search for information and avenues of help can be a big start; try using the keywords “male victims of domestic abuse.” Additionally, learning how to build your own redemptive community is a must. Having the community of support will not only help to alleviate the isolation, but will also give him access to information and resources and help him gain reality checks.
Although I was a longtime victim of domestic violence, I was hesitant to believe that men also can be victims. The most important thing is to believe a victim if they report being a victim, no matter male or female. Violence and abuse is a painful social disease, regardless of gender or age. Male victims are not deserving of shame, but they do deserve help and understanding. Black widows do exist. Watch out for their sting, and if you’ve been bitten, please seek treatment.
Lisa J. Peck, author of Silent Cries: A Woman’s Journey to Freedom, experienced more than a decade of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband. She has participated in Utah state programs to educate both men and women about the realities of abuse. Today, Peck is remarried. She lives Utah, with her husband and seven children. More information about Peck or Silent Cries can be found at www.redemptivecommunity.com.
Citation: 1. Goldberg, Carey. “Spouse Abuse Crackdown, Surprisingly, Nets Many Women” New York Times 23 November 1999: A16