Tulsa World

May 25, 2000

Battered males will tell no tales

By MICHAEL OVERALL, World Staff Writer
Tulsa World

In order to receive help from organizations like DVIS, more male abuse victims need to speak up. The first punch landed just a couple of months after the wedding. They were driving along a Tulsa highway, heading to a birthday party for the husband's sister, with the wife complaining about how she didn't really want to go.

Words were exchanged.

Tensions built up.

Then bam!

Right in the face.

The car swerved a little.

The woman yelled.

And Jay Casey stared out the windshield in disbelief.

"How could it come to that? Physical violence with the woman I love? This couldn't be happening."

Yet there he was, driving down the road at 65 mph, holding a trembling hand over a bruised brow.

Casey had just become a battered husband. And it was going to be a long, long trip.

`Must be a mistake': Even by conservative estimates, men are the victims -- not the abusers -- in at least 15 percent of domestic assaults, according to a study released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice.

A more definitive report on the issue -- the 1998 National Violence Against Women Survey conducted by the National Institute of Justice -- found a dramatically higher proportion of male victims: 35.7 percent.

That amounts to more than 834,700 American men per year being battered by their wives or girlfriends.

"But there's virtually no help available for any of us," Casey said.

After four years in an abusive marriage, he turned to a United Way-funded agency called Domestic Violence Intervention Services.

With secretive shelters to help victims hide from abusers, along with legal aid, group therapy and individualized counseling, DVIS helps hundreds of battered women every year.

"But when I showed up for my appointment," Casey remembers, "they said, `There must be a mistake. You're a man.' They had nothing for me."

When Casey demanded some kind of help, "because it's only fair to treat male victims the same as female victims," DVIS finally offered to put him in the only therapy program available to men -- the one for abusive husbands who want to learn to control their anger.

"They're still working under the old stereotype that all batterers are men and all victims are women. Well, DVIS should know better."

In fact, the agency does know better. But very few battered men ever seek help from DVIS, or any other agency, officials said.

"And that means we don't have enough men to open a therapy group for them, much less a shelter," said DVIS spokeswoman Ashley Fuller.

"Men certainly can be, and are, victims of domestic violence. And men certainly need and deserve the same help that women get."

But men won't find the same level of support for themselves until they start coming forward in larger numbers, Fuller said. Last year, battered men placed only 5 percent of the crisis calls asking for help from DVIS.

`Swallow some pride': His wife used to hand Casey the phone and tell him to go ahead and dial 911 -- all the while punching away at him.

"She was going to tell them that I was the abuser, that she was just defending herself," Casey remembers. "And I was afraid she was right, the police would believe her, and I'd be the one going to jail."

So, ironically, a lot of male victims stay silent to stay out of jail, said Mark George, a Tulsa therapist who treats both the victims and the perpetrators of domestic abuse.

But that's not the biggest reason for men hiding their bruises.

"Shame or embarrassment keep men out of the counselor's office, not wanting others to know that they are being abused by a female," George said. "Men need to swallow some pride to seek treatment."

Even when men do ask for help, people often don't take them seriously. Law enforcement and judges -- even some family therapists -- just can't believe a woman would, or could, hurt "a real man," George said.

"Therapists should be open-minded about the fact of female-perpetrated violence, because it exists, though it's very much a hidden phenomenon."

`How could she?'

Casey used to laugh about it, too.

"I can't be too harsh on people who don't believe me," he said, "because I wouldn't have believed it either."

In fact, when he was still dating his future wife, she told him about an ex-boyfriend seeking a protective order against her. And Casey made fun of the guy.

It started out as an office romance, with Casey falling in love with her athletic looks and "joie de vivre," as he puts it. Dates were full of laughter and "long, easy conversations like best friends have," Casey said.

After a couple of years with her, Casey was taking photographs of his scars and bruises, stashing them away in hope that investigators would find them if he ever turned up murdered.

The violence had become almost daily, first slapping and hitting him with her fists, then with bottles, and eventually threatening him with butcher knives. Finally, in April 1999, when she flew into her wildest rage yet -- trashing the house and threatening to get a gun -- Casey fled for his life.

His wife tried to follow in a separate car, but racing down that same Tulsa expressway in a rainstorm, Casey made it safely to his sister's house.

From there, he was headed to divorce court. But that was hardly the end of his trip.

`One way or another'

First he needed a new name. As a public official, his real name shows up in news reports and some people would recognize it.

"There's a very real stigma to being a battered man," he said. "So I came up with this kind of alter ego."

Jay Casey is the name he used last year to launch Battered Men of Oklahoma, a Website with resources for other men in his predicament.

For now, BMOO mainly provides research on domestic violence and a message board for men to exchange stories about their own abuse.

But if DVIS or some other existing group doesn't expand services for men, Casey hopes to bring it out of cyberspace and make BMOO a full-scale agency -- complete with shelters and therapy programs, serving men at the same level that DVIS serves women.

"Of course, that shouldn't be necessary," Casey said. "It would make more sense for DVIS to do it, or some other agency that's already off the ground.

"But one way or another, there needs to be something available. A lot of men aren't going for help because there's nowhere to go for it."

Michael Overall, World staff writer, can be reached at 581-8383 or via e-mail at michael.overall@tulsaworld.com.