Calgary Sun

July 26, 1999

It's a matter of respect

Until male domestic abuse victims come forward, society's unlikely to change its skeptical attitudes

By Bill Kaufmann
Calgary Sun

There are days when Earl Silverman must feel a whole lot like Rodney Dangerfield.

Tirelessly highlighting the plight of men in what's still largely a man's world is hardly guaranteed to elicit respect.

But long-ignored data from an Alberta-based 1989 study -- that purports to show women are at least as prone as men to instigate domestic violence -- has added wind to his sails.

"Now that the truth is out, can we set aside the blame and really discuss what we're looking at?" implores Silverman, who insists politically correct powers-that-be in the victimization industry have left his gender out in the cold.

Virtually the only men who receive help in domestic crisis are those who are perpetrators of abuse, he says.

He believes it's a situation that encourages men bullying women. I'm not at all sure -- it's highly doubtful many men use their abusive behaviour as a cry for help.

He's quite right, however, in stating there are only two beds slotted for abused men in the Calgary area -- located in Strathmore -- if you discount space for battered elderly males at the downtown Kerby Centre.

Women, by contrast, have dozens of beds at three different city shelters -- and it's still not nearly enough.

Police, claims Silverman, look on him as a dangerous heretic while domestic abuse agencies see him as a nettlesome troublemaker.

Attempts by the self-described victim of spousal abuse to gain a seat on the mayoral task force-inspired Action Committee Against Violence have been rebuffed.

"The way to invalidate the message is to invalidate the messenger," he says.

Officers with the overworked city police Domestic Conflict Unit say the ratio of 90% female victims remains consistent.

And looking deeper into many of the male-based complaints reveals the men to be serial batterers whose spouses have finally struck back, says Acting Det. Jim MacDougall.

"This is what the studies can't tell you," he says.

Other than that, police can only respond to male victims who lodge complaints, something he agrees might be hindered by a long-standing macho stigma.

Then again, all categories of domestic abuse go underreported, whether it's the elderly, homosexuals, men or women.

And there's no reason to believe city police look the other way in instances of female domestic violence; women have been charged.

ACAV co-ordinator Karen Walroth says the 1989 study could be skewed by many factors, including traditional female guilt in situations where they're the victims of spousal battering.

In any case, instances of violent abuse continue to fall heavily in the camp of female victimization, she says.

Reinforcing that notion, says Walroth, is this figure: Of the men who call agencies for help, 85% of them are perpetrators.

And contrary to Silverman's contention of near-total neglect, help is available for battered males and their abusive wives at the Calgary Counseling Centre.

A reason for Silverman's rejection by ACAV: He doesn't represent an agency -- a fact the men's advocate could use as ammunition by pointing out the dearth of such bodies.

But Walroth insists Silverman is represented on ACAV by a member of the Men's Domestic Conflict Helpline -- who currently happens to be a woman.

The bottom line remains this: Until male victims of domestic abuse -- and they probably exist in troubling enough numbers -- come forward, they'll get little help.

That would require a sweeping change in societal thinking neither police nor ACAV can significantly budge.

Copyright© 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.