Women aren’t the only victims of domestic abuse. Men are too, but no one likes to talk about it.
A while back, I interviewed a battered husband named Stanley G. During one confrontation with his wife, Stanley locked himself in the family car for safety. Breaking into the car, she shoved him down face-first into the passenger seat, planting her knees in his back. She then proceeded to club him repeatedly across the side of the head with a heavy cellular phone.
Stanley told me about attempting to file a complaint with the police in Long Beach, California:
"Blood streamed down my face,” he recalled. “Internal injuries dislocated my ribs. Lacerations and multiple abrasions marked my back and groin. My attacker had no injuries."
"I told the officer that I wanted the crime report to note my injuries and the names of witnesses," he continued. "He responded, 'We ain't takin' a report from you, buddy.'"
The officer refused to take Stanley seriously because he was a man who had been beaten by his wife.
Stanley’s not alone. Though the statistics are obscured by researchers who focus exclusively on abused women and by feminists who ascribe almost all domestic violence to men, there is credible evidence out there that domestic abuse against men warrants more attention than it gets.
In May 2000, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice said men were victims in 15-16 percent of all reported domestic violence, and even that data includes only those men with enough courage to make an official report.
A classic study published in 1980 by Murray A. Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory, Richard Gelles, and Suzanne Steinmetz found that women direct as much violence at men as vice versa, although men usually receive less injury. The National Family Violence Surveys of 1975 and 1985 concluded that men are as likely to become victims of domestic violence as women.
But society's response to male victims is dramatically different than it is to female ones.
In 1974, the first battered women's shelter in the U.S. opened its doors in St. Paul, Minnesota. Today, there are thousands of shelters, hotlines and government programs costing billions of dollars to help women victimized by violence. Nothing remotely comparable exists for men.
At the time Stanley was abused, the closest battered men's shelter was in San Francisco and it was geared toward gays. He approached several battered women's shelters but they did not even return his phone calls.
"How should I handle the police?" he asked one woman who answered the phone. "We don't know what to say to a man," she replied.
Ironically, to receive government funding, shelters are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race or sex.
Last month, a conference on "Male Victims of Domestic Abuse" took place in Portland, Maine. It was said to be the first conference of its kind in New England, and was co-sponsored by the Battered Men's Helpline, a volunteer group that receives no federal funding. The nonprofit organization offers abused men a 24-hour help line, support groups, referrals to sympathetic mental health professionals, and advice on how to handle the legal system.
The ultimate goal of the Battered Men's Helpline is to build a shelter for abused men. But its founder, Jan Brown, says there’s nowhere to go to find money. All the grants are for women’s and children’s programs.
In their book "Intimate Violence," Straus and Gelles comment on the fierce competition among domestic abuse programs for limited resources. Many women's shelters continue to deny that men are victimized by domestic abuse because their funding depends on it. In this, they have been supported by feminist literature that depicts spousal abuse as an ideological hate crime that men commit against women. Thus, even if a woman does hit a man, people assume he had it coming.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe had a custom called charivari in which an abused husband was dressed as a woman and forced to ride through the village, sitting backwards on a donkey. Twenty-first century America displays a similar attitude. We snicker and laugh at abused men — all the while telling them never to hit a woman, even in self-defense. At the same time, we bring up girls to believe it is acceptable to strike a man: "If he gets fresh, just slap his face."
Battered men pay taxes to support hotlines and shelters from which they are excluded because of their sex. They are dismissed by police because of their sex. Crime and punishment in domestic violence seem to hinge on genitalia and — legally speaking — men have the wrong equipment. The only right abused men seem to have retained in full is the right to remain silent.
McElroy is the editor of www.ifeminists.com. She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (CATO 1982, Holmes & Meier 1992) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.