October 29, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This is a good article on an important topic – domestic violence (Yahoo, 10/26/15). It’s not without its flaws, but overall, it’s a good effort by author Jenna Birch to communicate some of the basics to a large audience. Domestic violence is important to family court issues because it’s often raised there as a tactic to gain an advantage in a child custody case. In the past, countless family lawyers have admitted the use of domestic violence allegations in family courts for precisely that reason.
Birch’s main point is that men and women equally are victims of domestic violence.
Yet in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data from its National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey — and one of the most shocking statistics wasn’t just the sheer total of victims of physical violence but also how those numbers broke down by gender.
According to the CDC’s statistics — estimates based on more than 18,000 telephone-survey responses in the United States — roughly 5,365,000 men had been victims of intimate partner physical violence in the previous 12 months, compared with 4,741,000 women. By the study’s definition, physical violence includes slapping, pushing, and shoving.
More severe threats like being beaten, burned, choked, kicked, slammed with a heavy object, or hit with a fist were also tracked. Roughly 40 percent of the victims of severe physical violence were men. The CDC repeated the survey in 2011, the results of which were published in 2014, and found almost identical numbers — with the percentage of male severe physical violence victims slightly rising.
“Reports are also showing a decline of the number of women and an increase in the number of men reporting” abuse, says counselor and psychologist Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield.
Of course we’ve known this since the late 1970s. Indeed, the very first broad-based, scientifically reliable survey done for the National Institute of Mental Health in 1976 revealed parity in victimization and perpetration by men and women. Since then, literally hundreds of studies have produced similar data.
Despite the science on DV, public policy took root in the false claims of extremists who insisted that virtually all perpetrators were men and virtually all victims were women. Amazingly, some 40 years later, that public policy is still stuck in that false past. Therefore, in the United States, there are still only two DV shelters for men, (one opened in Florida recently) compared with hundreds for women.
Police are still trained to view men as perpetrators, often in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. Just six years ago, I was astonished to read the training materials for New Hampshire police in domestic violence cases. Those materials featured eight hypothetical cases in which an officer was presented with evidence of domestic violence and required to decide how to handle the situation. In each case the “correct” action was to arrest the man. In no case was the woman to be arrested. In no case did the couple consist of same-sex partners. Most remarkably, the final example consisted of a man with visible injuries who said his wife had struck him with a heavy glass ashtray. He had not been violent toward her and his wife admitted that she had hit her husband. Still, the “correct” response on the part of the officer was to arrest the man. Why? Because the woman seemed frightened that he might retaliate against her.
Lawyers will notice the entire lack of probable cause to arrest the man, but despite everything, Granite State police were trained to do so.
If domestic violence is such a serious issue, then why do we persist in approaching it from a gendered perspective that’s well known to be wrong in essentially every particular? Birch has the answer.
Ivankovich says there isn’t much buzz about these numbers or their implications, because we don’t know how to handle intimate partner violence against men…
[Retired family law professor Anne P.] Mitchell, who has legally represented numerous male victims of domestic violence, says abuse is typically difficult for men to process, let alone seek help for. “Men are brought up to believe it’s not OK to hit a woman or even hit back in self-defense,” she explains. “It is their job to protect her…
Mitchell says that based on old stereotypes and typical gender roles, it is often very difficult for men to get fair treatment. They are often stuck in situations in which they cannot win. “Many women who are aggressive toward their partners know that if the police are called out, they will arrest the man,” she explains…
“Gender roles are at the crux of this issue,” Ivankovich says. “We still view women as the nurturers and caregivers, and the men as the providers and protectors. To consider that a woman may take on the role as an abuser threatens what we as a society know about gender-role assignment. As a result, many men are told to ‘suck it up,’ or face further shaming for identifying the severity of the problem.”
As a society, we say we believe in gender equality, that women should be free to take on traditionally masculine roles and that men should take up activities usually thought of as being in women’s bailiwick. And we’ve certainly encouraged women in that regard, but when it comes to men setting aside their masculinity, we balk. Any society seriously dedicated to equality of the sexes would long ago have acknowledged women’s violence against men in domestic settings, but we don’t. We’ve had all the opportunities we need, but have done virtually nothing toward addressing a problem that impacts over five million men every year.
Birch and her interviewees are right. We’re very resistant to the idea of letting men depart from their traditional gender roles. So it’s no surprise that men receive harsher treatment by the criminal justice system than do women, or that fathers still can’t seem to get meaningful time with their kids post-divorce. That 75% of suicides are men raises scarcely an eyebrow in public discourse as does the fact that about the same percentage of the homeless are men. About 70% of the victims of violent crime are men, but when was the last time we saw an article on that topic? The news media rightly let us know that disproportionate numbers of unarmed civilians killed by the police are black, but never mention that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 98% of those killed are men.
The lesson? We cautiously accept expanding roles for women, which I view as a good thing. But when men ask “what about us?” the response is some combination of outrage, ridicule and shaming. Again, Birch gets it.
Yet, woman-on-man violence is often turned into onscreen amusement, like on a slew of reality shows — or the punch line of a larger, depressing narrative, says Anne P. Mitchell, a retired professor of family law at Lincoln Law School of San Jose (Calif.) and one of the first fathers’-rights lawyers in the country.
She points to the case of John and Lorena Bobbitt, which made national news more than 20 years ago when Lorena cut off her husband’s penis. The aftermath turned into a circus, and details would go on to reveal a volatile marriage, but Mitchell says the initial response of many radio and talk shows was just to laugh at the incident. “If something remotely similar had happened to a woman, there would have been a very different response,” Mitchell tells Yahoo Health.
Of course, the legal system gets in on the act. Fathers well know that judges, like most other people, are loath to believe a man who complains about his partner’s violence. They also know they have a vanishingly small chance of getting custody of their kids. So, in order to protect their children from a violent wife or girlfriend, they stay in an abusive relationship. Naturally, that increases their risk of further victimization.
The simple truth is that fathers will never get an even break in family courts until we understand the realities of our behavior. Men and women aren’t the same. Our evolved sex roles differ significantly. But that doesn’t mean women can’t be violently aggressive, particularly in intimate relationships. It also doesn’t mean that men can’t be on the receiving end of that violence. We need laws and policies based on scientific reality, not on what we’d like to believe about the sexes generally. Judges and the police need to learn the truth about domestic violence.
Until that happens, our children will continue to lose vital relationships with their fathers when Mom and Dad split up.
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