October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The often quoted statistics would suggest this month is devoted, primarily if not entirely, to drawing attention to domestic violence against women: According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime; 85% of reported domestic violence entails a woman as the victim; and, ever year, at least 1.3 million women are assaulted by their significant other. Certainly, this violence, or any for that matter, against women is unacceptable.
However, just a few years ago, the National Center for Disease Control also reported that 40% of the victims of severe physical domestic violence were actually men, and that statistic is climbing. Moreover, more than one-half of the assaults involving deadline weapons were against men.
Unfortunately, other than these few statistics, very little is known about the prevalence of domestic violence against men, for several reasons. First, men are, traditionally, less likely to report domestic violence, whether out of fear of ridicule or a lack of support or the need to feel like and present oneself as "being a man." Second, as a result, agencies lack the data needed to point in the direction of additional research and spend less of their already limited resources investigating the more widely reported incidents of domestic violence against women. Third, for domestic relations litigators, in the courtroom the claim that the husband is the victim is often received, by court and jury, as an overstatement designed to garner sympathy for the man and/or place blame on the woman. And the lack of statistics and studies only frustrates are argument in the courtroom that neither is true.
What are you to do if you are a victim of domestic violence, then? At the outset, get to a place of safety. Now is not the time for pride. If you have children, consider taking them with you. Talk to friends and family about temporary lodging before going to a shelter, if one will take you. Also consider requesting an order for exclusive use of your home, if you have a case pending, or filing a lawsuit in which you can do so. This may be a divorce, a protection order lawsuit or some combination of the two. Then, talk with the police, as well as your attorney and your counselor, if you have one, about resources available to you and your family. These may include short-term housing, food and other financial assistance, free or low cost counseling and free or low cost legal services. Then, consider the following musts:
Must #1: Police Reports - Report the violence to the police. Do not wait for things to get physical; assaults include threats intended to put you in fear of imminent harm, and domestic violence includes the verbal, emotional and financial as much as the physical. In your report to the police, be specific about dates, occurrences and how they make you and your children, if you have children, feel. Follow the officers' advice for aftercare. Do not tell the officers that you do not want your significant other to go to jail - like many men do - because that will relieve her of facing the consequences for her action, and allow her to continue.
Must #2: Psychological Evaluations - If you have a case pending or are enrolled in a program that requires your significant other to participate, then request that she undergo a psychological evaluation. Often, perpetrators of domestic violence have other mental health issues that perpetuate the tendency to be violence. You may also find that she has grown up in a household in which violence was acceptable, or at least tolerated. Understand the mental health dynamics may help both of you seek out and utilize the best resources to repair your relationship, if it is reparable.
Must #3: Custody Evaluations - Similarly, if child custody is at issue in your case, do not hesitate to ask that your family undergo a custody evaluation. Request an evaluator who is trained in domestic violence treatment - someone who will not conclude that your claims are overstatements - and that the evaluation focus on each parent as well as each child's relationship with each parent and how domestic violence does or does not impact that relationship. Sadly, even when children are not the direct victims of domestic violence, they are the indirect victims, lacking self-confidence and feelings of security in their household.
Must #4: Separate Counseling - Do not engage in "family counseling" or "joint counseling" until both you and your significant other have engaged in separate counseling and some form of treatment to identify her issues and methods for resolving them. Family counseling and joint counseling are not helpful, as they allow the perpetrator of domestic violence to blame the victim and require the victim to participate in and take some responsibility for the problems the perpetrator causes.
Must #5: Courage to Speak Up - Men who suffer domestic violence can only receive help if they break the silence. Not reporting domestic violence because of the stigma attached is the main reason that men currently receive few services, and one of the reasons that studies on the issue are so few. Speak to your family, your friends, your attorney, your counselor, your church leader, whomever will listen to you and not judge. There is also a Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women (1-888-7HELPLINE) operated by a nonprofit in Harmony Maine that may be of some assistance as you seek out these other, local confidants.
Whatever you do, please do not stay silent. Your life, as well as your children's, is on the line.