Editor’s Note: No matter who is the perpetrator, the very sinfulness of bullying behavior is exactly the same whether the abusive behavior is initiated by the husband or the wife. This article by Leslie Vernick, nationally known author – counselor – speaker, is important. It is important because it can be wrongly assumed that domestic violence always is about a female being victimized by a male. While this scenario is regrettably too often true, it is only “part” of the total picture. No one, female nor male, who is victimized via domestic violence must be overlooked.
SOURCE: Leslie Vernick
In this week’s blog, I’m (Leslie Vernick) doing something different. It’s not exactly a question, but rather some comments from a man who responded to my last newsletter titled, Is Your Marriage Healthy? and wants people to know that men are victims of domestic violence too.
I applaud his bravery in speaking out and giving us this reminder that the Church as well as society needs to be much more aware and sensitive to the problem of domestic violence in general, but not to forget about men who suffer abuse at the hands of their wives.
I’ve (Leslie Vernick) condensed his rather lengthy comments and have a few of my own thoughts at the end. My second newsletter this month is on the topic of Five Things You Can do to Help Someone that Has been Abused.
Sign up on my home page at http://www.leslievernick.com/ if you’d like to receive it.
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A Reader’s Response:
In your last newsletter on healthy marriages, one sentence grabbed my attention. You wrote,
“When a woman bullies her husband, the sinfulness and inappropriateness of the interactions are much more obvious to church leaders”
My experience is anything but that. My experience is that women bullying and abusing men is considered funny. Men have no place to turn. They can be hit, abused, bullied and terrorized by their wives, and the only way they can hope to have contact with their children is if they continue to allow themselves to be victimized.
My experience has been that doors of help close for men. Social services make excuse after excuse for a woman’s abusive behavior and scorn the man for taking photos or videos during her perpetration. The man must be ultra perfect, and if he ever does wrong, he goes to jail. If she does wrong, she needs more compassion, more money, more help.
My experience has been that very few church leaders have the courage to look a woman in the eye and confront her about her abusive behavior. Church leaders, therapists, and other professionals often migrate to the “most reasonable” partner and the partner willing to make changes. So that one is the one who changes and changes and changes, only to be hit, raged at, and made out to be a monster, because well “all men are monsters.”
My wife posted as her Facebook profile photo, a picture my mom took of my wife, our daughter and me in front of the Christmas tree (2010) in which, under my shirt, I was physically injured by my wife. The picture literally makes me want to vomit, and I cannot look at it for more than a few seconds. It is still in my wife’s photo album on FB. I avoid looking there.
And as long as therapists, authors and professionals look at this issue with even a hint of “gender” in view, then, frankly, right now, I feel we’ve lost. Abuse is to be confronted and our children are to be protected. Families are to be protected. And women’s help lines and shelters simply MUST be opened up to men. Either that or parallel organizations can fill the need.
Out of about 20 calls to women’s help lines (yes, I’ve been that desperate), there was ONE time where someone actually fielded my call. Someone actually gave me the counsel, information, and advice that they would have given a woman. That was a VERY helpful and healing call in my life, and I am grateful that the woman on the other end of the line neither yelled at me nor hung up on me as others had.
In the meantime, I am raising our daughter. I separated from my wife in mid August and even though we have a 1week on 1 week off caretaking arrangement — oops, she’s sick, oh, she brings our daughter to kindergarten late or not at all, oops, she dresses our daughter in clothes that don’t fit right — oh combing her hair is just too much of a hassle, so forget about it, she can just look like a nappy mop in KG, that’s cool.
And no one would suspect it, considering her doe-faced kind-smile and soft-eyed presentation. Which is of course, the woman I married, but not the woman my wife is and was towards me behind closed doors.
And as the man, I am urged to “be more understanding.” Of what? Of outright abuse? I have never hit my wife. She has hit, bitten, restrained, yelled, raged, etc.
The counselors want to discuss how both of us are perpetrators. Maybe make the discussion “fair” by seeing it as 50/50.
Well some things are not 50/50.
A sniper can kill you from 2 miles away with a single bullet. Was the exchange 50/50? A robber can steal your car. Was that 50/50? Are you just as much to blame as the person who stole your car? Do you need to do “personal work,” because someone stole your car?
I have spent about a decade now absorbing abuse, compensating for constant chaos, and I am now repairing my life.
Thank God, now that I have separated from my wife, the kindergarten teachers and administration see more of what is going on. My daughter is well dressed, well taken care of, and OK when she is with me. When she is with my wife, she is either very very late, ragged, or distressed. My wife hasn’t kept her appointments with the kindergarten staff and, oh, now my wife wants to pull her out of her kindergarten, where she is loved, has friends, and plays on a mountainside.
In one sense, I am fortunate, because my wife’s neglect of her own child is pretty obvious to those who are in contact with her regularly. I have deep sympathy for men who are abused by women who do a “good job” with their children. That’s got to be an even more impossible situation.
And how does it feel as a man to have “escaped” from an abusive relationship with a child? I feel like a complete idiot. Sure, people smile at me and my daughter a lot in public. She sings and is well dressed and both my wife and I are good looking people, so our daughter is simply a beautiful child. But the “background” behind this father with the adorable daughter is simply: horrific.
Please don’t forget, men are victims of domestic violence too.
My Response (Leslie Vernick):
Thank you for your poignant and passionate response. For those of you who did not get my last newsletter, the larger context of my comment he’s referring to is:
When a husband bullies his wife, his behavior does not describe biblical headship, nor is her forced “submission” characteristic of biblical submission. The correct terms are coercion, manipulation, intimidation, or rape and she is the victim. Let’s make sure we use the right words.
When a woman bullies her husband, the sinfulness and inappropriateness of the interactions are much [less] obvious to church leaders, but the very sinfulness of bullying behavior is exactly the same whether the abusive behaviors is initiated by the wife or the husband.
Your points are well taken. Men are victims of abuse and here is more sad news:
1. The Family Violence survey as well as numerous other studies have found that men are just as likely to be the victims of domestic violence as women are.
2. Men indeed have fewer resources to help them. The only national toll-free helpline for men is the Domestic Abuse Helpline (888 743 5754). Go to their website at http://dahmw.org/ to find other helpful websites and resources for men who are abused. There are very few shelters (out of 1,200-1,800 DV shelters) that offers services to men.
3. Men are less likely to be supported or validated. Men who report abuse are often seen as wimpy, frail, passive, or stupid, thus making it much more likely that they won’t report. Suzanne Steinmentz, director of the Family Research Institute at Indiana University/Purdue said, “They [men] wouldn’t dream of reporting the kind of minor abuse – – such as slapping or kicking – – that women routinely report.” Why not? Because men are supposed to “take it like a man.”
4. Society doesn’t deem men as “victims” and we tend to perceive women more vulnerable than men, therefore abuse by a woman toward a man may seem more justified or excusable than abuse by a man toward a woman. A recent study revealed that more than 51% of men and 52% of women felt that sometimes it was appropriate for a wife to slap her husband. On the other hand, only 26% of men and 21% of women felt it was ever appropriate for a husband to slap his wife.
5. A man calling the police to report domestic abuse is three times more likely to be arrested than the woman who is abusing him. This makes him afraid to report, thus making the statistics for abuse of men higher than we know.
6. When a woman is abusive, she is more likely to be seen as “sick” and labeled with a mental health diagnosis. People tend to be more compassionate toward someone labeled sick. When a man is abusive, he is more likely to be labeled with entitlement issues, power and control problems, character defects or sin problems. Compassion is directed toward the female victim, not the male offender.
To the man who wrote his comments and other men who are victims of domestic violence, we hear you. Domestic violence isn’t a woman’s problem or a man’s problem, it is a human problem and a tragedy.
Please know, God gives wisdom for both the victim and abuser to heal and to change so that generational patterns are broken, but it’s only as we speak up and speak out about this can we receive the help we and our loved ones need.