Sunday, January 09, 2005

DV and men

Over the years, I have heard a number of arguments (usually by men's rights and father's rights activists) that those of us who work in the domestic violence field are "sexist" because we are not offering equal shelter for men escaping domestic violence situations. While I have not seen this explicit argument stated in the recent comments on this blog, I have seen what could be the very beginnings of, I thought I'd go ahead and comment on it now.

I will state upfront that while the vast majority of DV victims are women, I do recognize and acknowledge that male victims exist. The majority of those male victims are in same sex relationships, but there is a small minority who are in heterosexual relationships as well. I do believe that these men deserve help and support. But I also recognize the very real difficulties in providing this help through the already existing support system.

As many of you know, I currently work at a DV shelter in my area. At this one shelter, we get approximately 5,000 calls a year from women seeking shelter because they are escaping DV. We have to turn away 85% of these women due to a lack of space. There are 6 other shelters in my city, and they all have about the same rates.

In my time at the shelter, I have never received a call from a man seeking help. My coworkers have received calls from men seeking help -- but sadly, all but a very few turned out to be "sex calls" (quite frankly, probably one of the most disturbing "fetishes" or "perversions" I have ever witnessed). But I cannot say that our shelter, or the other shelters in the area do not receive legitimate calls for help from men. We cannot provide help for them, but we try to put them in contact with a number of agencies in the area that work with men.

A shelter designed to house women simply cannot also house men. These shelters are supposed to be safe places -- and sheltering a man in there would be problematic for 2 reasons:
  • the mere presence of a man living in such close quarters to women in crisis makes it feel much less safe. That may be hurtful for men in crisis to hear, but it's a fact.

  • These shelters are confidential. Abusers often try everything they can to find out the location of the shelter. In the few cases where a shelter has taken in men, there have been instances where it turned out that the man was actually an abuser, simply trying to track down his victim. It's simply not a safe thing to do.
Now, some shelters have enough funding where they can provide temporary hotel vouchers for men fleeing domestic violence, thereby helping the man without risking the safety of the women in shelter. Many shelters have begun to do this. At this point, the shelter I work for cannot do this -- keep in mind, though, we cannot offer hotel vouchers for women, either. We simply do not have the funding.

Along with the argument that we are "sexist" for not taking men into our shelters, it has also often been argued that NOW and/or other feminist organizations have tried to block funding for research or for shelters for men. This is an out and out lie. Many have blocked (or attempted to block) forcing women's shelters that are already in existence to start accepting men, or to turn one or more of them into a shelter exclusively for men. And hell yeah, they're going to this. When 85% of women seeking shelter are being turned away, the last thing in the world we need to be doing is diminishing the limited resources we already have.

Neither NOW nor any other feminist group has tried blocking men from starting their own shelters. They have fought losing their funding for this cause, but have not -- EVER -- fought men from getting their own funding.

And here's the important part -- one of the reasons that men's shelters have not been successful (in addition to the fact that so many men's rights activists would rather bitch and moan than actually do anything, and would rather take away from women than actually do anything for themselves) is that men simply don't seek out the help. Part of this is because fewer men actually need this sort of help. Even if one was to accept the 30% rate of abused men (that I have seen argued by men's rights activists; although, I've yet to see the proof for this number), not all of those men need shelter; therefore it is not correct that 30% of the shelters should be for men. The vast majority of abused men are abused by men (that is, they are gay men who are being abused by their male partners). The majority of these men do not have children. That, in itself, lessens the barriers to leaving (although does not eliminate them), and therefore lessens the need for shelter. Also, these men tend to have more financial security, and are therefore in less need of shelter.

The other part is that abused men are simply not as likely to seek shelter -- perhaps out of shame. I'm not saying, in any way, that this is OK. Certainly, something should be done about it. But the fact remains, it's harder to get funding for something that is simply not used as often.

Men's rights groups -- if they were really interested in helping abused men -- would do better to actually get off their complaining asses and start doing something. Do some outreach to abused men. Start more programs addressing abuse of men (without taking the hard-earned resources from women). Start their own shelters (want some hints on doing so? -- look at the damned hard work of the feminists who started women's shelters in the 70s and 80s, feminists who didn't have public support or public funding, but did it anyway). And most important of all -- work with men who are doing the abusing. Because regardless of the gender of the abused, the vast, vast majority of abusers are men.


Billy Joe said...

Some laws are outdated and definitly need to be changed! You have my small family's vote! Have you thought about running for a seat in Congress?

bean said...

Heh, thanks but no thanks -- I wouldn't be willing to compromise and sell myself (or my constituents) out enough to be successful in politics. :p

Anonymous said...

ChurchofBruce here.

I'm one of your small minority--a male who was in a physically abusive relationship with a woman where I was the victim. We do exist, yes.

And I agree with everything you say. Especially the shame part. I would've *never* asked for help, I was too ashamed. (I can talk about it *now* but it's 17 years down the road). But I can see why women's shelters wouldn't want men around, and I can't see how there's a great demand for men's shelters. As I agreed, the shame is pretty overpowering.

Plus, there's another dynamic. Unless she pulled out a gun--which she never did--I never once for a second thought I was in serious danger. Because one thing I *could* have done, but chose not to, that most women can't do--is fight back. She was *not* physically stronger than I was. If I had fought back, it would've been over, and I wouldn't have even had to strain myself to do it. Now, the reasons I didn't fight back are varied and in many cases not very pretty--but it's still a completely different dynamic. Yeah, she gave me a black eye--but in a lot of ways I *let* her because I could've ripped her arm off. That's completely different than most women who couldn't rip their abuser's arm off--and, frankly, it makes the idea of 'protection' from the abuser a lot less important for a man being abused by a woman. And any man who can't see that is blind to the realities of abuse. Physical power counts for a lot. She had a lot over me, but not that, and that's really the trump card.

Trish said...

I've posted several posts about men's rights activists attacking women's shelters. An appeal by men's rights activists who attack women's shelters in California was just lost by the guys. One men's rights group that goes after women's shelters is The National Coalition of Free Men. I agree with you - if men are really interested in helping abused men, they should do the footwork and seek the funding themselves the way women have done for abused women. That would be more constructive than whining and moaning that women's shelters "discriminate" against men.

Anonymous said...

I stand by my earlier opinion, made elsewhere, that men's rights groups do not push for men's DV shelters precisely because of their own hopelessly messed-up view of gender. That is, a het man beaten by a woman or a gay man beaten by another man is --in their eyes-- no longer a man. Thus the beaten man is symbolically "feminized--" he is the responsibility of women, not men. How this sort of shaming and finger-pointing is supposed to help anything --execept the hidebound ego of the average sexist partiarch-- is beyond me. --alsis38.5

Anonymous said...

ChurchofBruce here.

Alsis38.5 is right on, I think. It makes a lot of sense. Part of the problem, though, is *why* this happens. And a lot of it goes back to that shame thing.

When I became at all comfortable in talking about what happened to me--which took *years*--I was only comfortable in talking about it to women. The first person I told was a female psychologist. It was no accident that I chose a psychologist who was female. Since then I'd told a few other people, all women. (For example, my sister knows--my brother does not.) It's just *not* something you tell another guy.

One of the things I'm working on in my writing is an ongoing serial dealing with time travel--a 42 year old guy suddenly goes back in time to where he's 12 and has to live his life over again. Obviously, this is fiction :-) but the 'what happened in the first life' is pretty autobiographical and I've made no secret of that. And I wrote a section where I alluded to the abusive relationship. Remember, people would know that this is part of the autobiographical part.

The response stunned me. Including no less than three men who emailed me to say, "Yeah, me too. And I thought I was the only one."

I *know* it's still stigmatized to some degree amoung beaten women. But it's better*. It's still so stigmatized among men, and that needs to change--but I don't know how to change it. Maybe when I get up the gumption to talk about it to my brother or father *sigh*.

*Another one of my writings, my big long novel, starts with my heroine, who's 14 at the time, in an abusive relationship. The mail I got for *that* is absolutely stunning. Especially considering that the female audience for erotica is smaller than the male audience. I could've written a book with the 'oh my God, you *get* it' mail I got from women. Well, of course I get it--been there, done that, just switched the gender around. Plus my wife was in an abusive relationship when we met. But I think we've gotten to a point where women feel it easier to talk about--some women on my Yahoo group have talked about it, and that's in semi-public. No men yet. I won't even talk about it there. You read my story, you know what happened, I'm over it. Except I'm not *sigh*......

Anonymous said...

While I agree that no feminists groups have overtly attempted to block men’s shelters, many have fought against men’s shelters getting funding. It is unfair to diminish the abuse facing men by claiming that it is firstly extremely rare when numerous studies, and current police report statistics, show this not to be the case. It is further more insulting to males who have been abused, where it have been as an adult, or like in my case, as a child, to claim that the vast majority of abuse is by men. That too is easily disproven by the same studies and statistics many feminists groups use to illustrate the necessity for more funding.

The fact is that many men’s groups have set up men’s shelters, and a surprising number of them have been open to both men and women. So while there are many men who just whine about there not being any shelters (in much the same way women whine about the lack of shelters), there are more men, like myself, doing something about it.

I also wanted to address was this comment: “And most important of all -- work with men who are doing the abusing. Because regardless of the gender of the abused, the vast, vast majority of abusers are men.” The vast majority of child abusers are women, yet from my experiences over that last three years working with local DV and child abuse groups, the subject is rarely if ever broached in women’s shelters.

Lastly, the shame that men feel is partially because of the stigmas attached to being a man, and the expectancy to tough it out and take it. Another part is due to the normal shame and fear that anyone experiences when they’ve been through a harsh situation like abuse. But for males, both men and boys, a large part of the reason for that shame is precisely because of the above comments. When it is clear that what happened to you simply does not matter, it is not very likely that you would be inclined to talk about it, let alone report it.

Luckily, there are organizations and groups created for men by both men and women who honestly believe that males are not only victims of abuse, but that they are worthy enough for support. -jaketk

Anonymous said...


Bruce, and some of the other guys on here, we are in no way trying to advocate that what you went through is not worthy of support or that socialization is detrimental to BOTH sexes. What we are saying is that funding should not stop going to women's groups. Abused males should have somewhere where they can go, but women disproportiantely need it more. And that's the truth of it.

Teri said...

You should be ashamed. One minute you say you acknowledge that battered men exist and that they need services, then the next minute you say there is no way you're turning away one woman to allow any men to get help. It is bias like yours that keep these men silent. It seems to me that we could find a couple of bucks that we can use for men in the more than 200 million dollars that women want with VAWA.

perfectly said...

Touching post! How can I donate to this organization?

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