Shel­ter­ing men from a hid­den dan­ger

Agency makes a home for grow­ing num­ber of male vic­tims re­port­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Jenny Jarvie Jarvie is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

DAL­LAS — When Joshua Miller’s girl­friend at­tacked him, smash­ing their son’s toy gui­tar against his fore­head, he was the one that po­lice of­fi­cers put in hand­cuffs.

It was not un­til a neigh­bor backed up his story that po­lice re­moved the cuffs and Miller found him­self seek­ing refuge at one of the na­tion’s first do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ters de­voted to men.

“Men are not looked at as vic­tims,” said the 36-yearold as he cra­dled his 2-year old son, Jor­dan, next to their bunk at the Fam­ily Place shel­ter in Dal­las. “Peo­ple say, ‘A woman can’t hurt you. Pick your head up off your shoul­ders. Oh, man, that’s noth­ing.’ But it’s not noth­ing — es­pe­cially when kids are see­ing this.”

Af­ter decades of fem­i­nist cam­paign­ing about the plight of bat­tered women, a small but grow­ing num­ber of men are seek­ing help and chal­leng­ing the idea that only women are vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Stud­ies have long shown that men and women are on the re­ceiv­ing end at more or less equal rates, though women are much more likely to be in­jured and to re­port it.

Last year, the Na­tional Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Hot­line re­ceived 12,046 calls and mes­sages from men who said they were vic­tims in abu­sive re­la­tion­ships — a frac­tion of the 119,470 in­ter­ac­tions with women but a 73% in­crease from 2014.

“The big­gest chal­lenge th­ese men face is that peo­ple don’t be­lieve them,” said Paige Flink, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Fam­ily Place, which opened its male shel­ter in May. “We’ve gone through a lot of work to get to where women are be­lieved, but now the pen­du­lum has swung to the point that men are as­sumed to be the ag­gres­sor.”

Since 2013, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has re­quired the shel­ters it funds to of­fer ser­vices to male as well as fe­male vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse. Some shel­ters al­low men to live along­side fe­male clients, while many put them up in ho­tels and mo­tels.

Na­tion­wide, only the Dal­las shel­ter and one in Batesville, Ark., have tem­po­rary hous­ing ex­clu­sively for men.

The fem­i­nist move­ment has long re­sisted the idea that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence against men is a sig­nif­i­cant so­cial prob­lem. In 1975, when so­ci­ol­o­gists at the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire pub­lished a study sug­gest­ing that women were just as likely as men to as­sault their part­ners, the re­searchers faced wide­spread crit­i­cism — in­clud­ing death threats and bomb scares.

Crit­ics ar­gue that not only are men big­ger and stronger than women but that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence takes place in the wider frame­work of a male-dom­i­nated so­ci­ety.

“Women’s abuse of men is not a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion,” said Evan Stark, a foren­sic so­cial worker and pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Rut­gers Univer­sity, who in 1977 founded one of Amer­ica’s first do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ters, the New Haven Project for Bat­tered Women. “There is sim­ply no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that in­vest­ing sig­nif­i­cant re­sources in pre­vent­ing women’s vi­o­lence against men would im­prove men’s lives or our com­mu­ni­ties.”

While women do abuse men on an in­di­vid­ual level, Stark said, the fre­quency and na­ture of the abuse is less se­vere than men’s abuse of women, which of­ten in­volves a pat­tern of sex­ual as­sault and co­er­cive con­trol that re­flects a broader sys­tem of so­cial in­equal­ity.

Those set­ting up men’s shel­ters counter that they are com­mit­ted to help­ing all vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse.

“What starts as a slap can go to a punch, can go to a push down the stairs,” Flink said. “At the end of the day, there’s just no place for it, re­gard­less of your gen­der.”

Fifty years ago there were few emer­gency do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ters — for men or women. Vi­o­lence in the home was deemed a pri­vate mat­ter un­til grass-roots fem­i­nists took up the is­sue in the 1970s, set­ting up women’s con­scious­ness-rais­ing groups, hot lines, shel­ters and cri­sis cen­ters.

About 1,000 shel­ters for bat­tered women were es­tab­lished across the coun­try in the 1970s and 1980s. A few also of­fered ser­vices to men.

“Up un­til the last 10 years, we were just looked at with dis­taste,” said Carol Crab­son, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Val­ley Oa­sis shel­ter in the Cal­i­for­nia city of Lan­caster, which has of­fered shel­ter to male and fe­male vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence since 1981. “Serv­ing men, the ‘bad guys,’ was just not seen as an OK thing to do.”

Calls from men were rare in Dal­las when the Fam­ily Place was founded in 1978. Over the last few years, the num­ber of male clients has risen — from 10 be­ing housed in 2014 to 32 last year. The shel­ter is on pace to take in 50 men this year.

As putting men up in ho­tels be­came more ex­pen­sive, the non­profit de­cided it could save money and of­fer more ser­vices by open­ing a shel­ter that catered ex­clu­sively to them: a mod­est two-story home with seven bed­rooms, an open kitchen and liv­ing room, and a basketball hoop out back.

A few weeks af­ter open­ing, it was full, with eight men and six chil­dren.

One man left his wife of 22 years when she hurled house­hold ob­jects at their dis­abled daugh­ter. An­other packed his bags when his boyfriend choked him. A third fled when his brother, whom he sus­pected of mo­lest­ing his 10-year-old daugh­ter, stabbed him.

Male vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence say they face a par­tic­u­lar stigma: They are taught by so­ci­ety not to ex­press their feel­ings and ridiculed if they tell any­one a woman is abus­ing them.

“It’s hard for a guy to say ‘I need help,’” Flink said. “It’s just not a nat­u­ral in­stinct for a lot of men.”

Margie Heil­bron­ner, the Fam­ily Place’s pri­mary care man­ager, has worked with men for 12 years and says they’ve been at­tacked with pots of hot grease, screw­drivers, knives, ham­mers, curl­ing irons, nails, beer bot­tles and wooden spoons.

They cite the same rea­sons that women do, she said, for stay­ing with an abu­sive part­ner: love, mar­riage vows, shame, un­cer­tainty over where to go, fear of not see­ing their chil­dren.

Some ex­perts note that more men are seek­ing help now as women move closer to equal­ity with men and achieve more eco­nomic and so­cial in­de­pen­dence. At the same time, more gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple are also re­port­ing vi­o­lence as fam­i­lies be­come less tra­di­tional and gen­der roles are con­sid­ered more fluid.

“There’s re­ally been an open­ing up in un­der­stand­ing of what fam­i­lies and re­la­tion­ships look like,” said Emily Dou­glas, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of so­cial work at Bridge­wa­ter State Univer­sity in Mas­sachusetts. “If women are per­pe­trat­ing vi­o­lence against other women and men are per­pe­trat­ing vi­o­lence against other men, then that opens up the door for a con­ver­sa­tion about what could be the other po­ten­tial causes of part­ner vi­o­lence.”

In­sti­tu­tions are chang­ing too. The Dal­las Po­lice Depart­ment in­tro­duced new do­mes­tic vi­o­lence guide­lines, train­ing pa­trol of­fi­cers re­spond­ing to calls to ask a se­ries of ques­tions aimed at iden­ti­fy­ing men and women at risk and en­cour­ag­ing them to seek ser­vices.

“We’re hav­ing more con­ver­sa­tions now about how men can feel and show emo­tion,” Flink said. “They don’t have to be the tough pa­tri­arch. I think that’s the be­gin­ning of the ek­ing-away at this hard box that we’ve put men in.”

Amid the changes, ex­perts say there is too lit­tle re­search on male vic­tims of as­sault to know how to best serve them. Even those who wel­come men to their shel­ters are di­vided on whether such hous­ing should be seg­re­gated by sex.

Op­po­nents of hous­ing men and women un­der one roof ar­gue that bring­ing a man into women’s shel­ter could “trig­ger” women and in­ter­rupt re­cov­ery, or en­cour­age vic­tims to jump into new re­la­tion­ships.

Those who run in­te­grated shel­ters, how­ever, say there are ben­e­fits to hav­ing women and men prac­tice in­ter­act­ing with the op­po­site sex in a safe en­vi­ron­ment.

“The real world doesn’t iso­late you,” Crab­son said. “It’s a beau­ti­ful op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence to mem­bers of the op­po­site sex. They talk and they re­spect each other, they learn to de­velop trust. They find out that not all men, or all women, are bat­ter­ers.”

Jenny Jarvie For The Times

“PEO­PLE SAY, ‘A woman can’t hurt you .... Oh, man, that’s noth­ing.’ But it’s not noth­ing — es­pe­cially when kids are see­ing this,” says Joshua Miller, with his son.

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