Monday, March 1, 1999
Wives Who Abuse Their Husbands
Different Roles, Same Story
When you hear the term "domestic violence" you're likely to picture a woman, battered and abused at the hands of an angry and unreasonable husband or boyfriend. But that's only one side of this ugly picture. According to the latest studies, 835,000 men are attacked each year by their girlfriends or wives, and the true figure may actually be higher. On Monday, Oprah talked to the men and women who occupy these different roles in the drama of domestic violence.
Take it Like a Man
The stories we heard from abused men are no less horrifying than those told by women. They were kicked, hit, stabbed, pushed down stairs and through plate glass doors. Like their female counterparts, the men often covered up for their wives, lying to doctors and authorities about the true cause of their injuries. As one man said, "I'm supposed to take it like a man." That often means not fighting back, not only because all the men on this show said they were raised not to hit women, but also because many police departments automatically consider the man the aggressor in cases of domestic abuse. Even when the woman is at fault.
The Cycle of Abuse
Likewise, abusive women sound very much like husbands who beat their wives. Lisa said the first time she battered her husband, "I beat the hell out of him… he walked away with bruises. I was so ashamed of myself. It's not that I didn't love him, it's that I didn't know how to react any other way… I know he's not going to do anything." Afterward, they apologize, they make up, and eventually, the cycle begins again.
Shut Up… And Listen
Claudia Dias has counseled abusive men and women for over twenty years. She criticizes the different ways domestic violence against men and women is viewed. "When a man hits a woman, it's abuse and felony. When she does it, it's because she has a bad temper." Claudia describes the cycles of domestic abuse as "a dance… it doesn't matter which gender does which part." The major difference, she says, is that men hit women to "make them shut up" whereas women hit men in order to "make them listen."
Walking on Eggshells
Rick kept his wife's abuse secret for 21 years before finally leaving her. At one point he was forced to defend himself with Mace. When the police were finally called, Rick was the one arrested. "I felt betrayed by the system… by the courts… and by my wife." Today, Rick has temporary custody of his children after his wife, angry because he returned them a few minutes late from a visitation, rammed his car with her vehicle while the children were still in it. Stephanie, their 14-year-old daughter, says her mother would often rage at the children as well, and that life at home was like "walking on eggshells"
Changing Your Children
By witnessing their parents' battles, children grow up believing that a normal family life is one defined by a cycle of fear, violence and tearful apologies. In turn, that begins another cycle, one that passes the legacy violence down from parent to child. As Oprah told Lisa, who believed her children were "very well adjusted" despite the violence they'd witnessed from her, "There's no question that when you argue in front of children, you change their self-esteem… in way that you will never know and they can't tell you." Obviously, both parents can be part of the problem in cases of domestic violence. And both can also be part of the solution.
Claudia Dias, Changing Courses anger workshop in Sacramento, California.
The World Wide Web Virtual Library maintains an excellent Men and Domestic Violence Page with a special area for battered husbands. http://www.vix.com/ men/domestic-index.html