The Salt Lake Tribune

Male Victims of Domestic Abuse Slowly Overcoming Skepticism

Tuesday, June 26, 2001 BY ASHLEY ESTES
(c) 2001, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

PHOTO
Jade Rubick, founder of Stop Abuse for Everyone, an organization at helps battered men. Rubick, who says he was abused by his wife, said the response to his group "has just been amazing." (John Gress/The Associated Press)

Jade Rubick remembers dialing a domestic violence shelter for help a few years ago.

He was not calling for his mother, his sister or a girlfriend. He was calling for himself.

"They had no idea what to do with me," he said. "They were really helpful [but] they didn't have any resources to give me. They tried to refer me to private counseling."

But Rubick was a student and could not afford a therapist. He had suffered abuse at the hands of his then-wife for years.

"She hit me, slapped me, pinched me, pulled my hair, threw things," said Rubick, now 28 and living in Oregon.

When he would threaten to leave, he said, she would threaten suicide.

"I didn't really know how to break up with her," he said. "We weren't living in the States at the time. I kind of thought that maybe it was situational, maybe it would be better when we got back."

But it did not get better. He found himself covering the marks, telling lies.

"My boss saw bruises on my leg," he said. "I said I had fallen down the stairs. He just looked at me, and he said, 'Those aren't falling-down-stairs bruises.' "

About 835,000 men annually are assaulted by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, according to a 1998 report released by the U.S. Justice Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most current data available.

In Utah, 31 men sought refuge in domestic violence shelters last year.

"You never know the extent that it's being underreported," said Duane Betournay, program specialist for domestic violence for the Division of Child and Family Services. "Domestic violence has almost been politicized as a feminist issue."

Male victims say authorities refuse to view domestic violence as affecting people of both genders. True, battered men constitute a small percentage of abuse victims -- more than 1,000 women were sheltered in Utah last year.

"When I first started doing this work, it was 95 percent women victims," said Diane Stuart, Utah's domestic violence coordinator. "Now, it's 80 percent women and 20 percent men."

But law enforcement attitudes are changing, said Sandy police Lt. Mark Nosack, who specializes in domestic violence and teaches police recruits on the subject.

"A full third of our arrests we make [in domestic violence situations] are females," Nosack said. In some of those cases, police have arrested both parties after mutual violence.

"I've had a number of cases where she was the perpetrator, and she did significant damage on him," Nosack said.

"We don't [automatically] blame the man," he said. " That's obvious by the numbers of arrests that we're making."

Utah's domestic violence law is gender-neutral, said Stuart, meaning shelters must be a haven for both sexes. If they cannot house a man, they must find him a hotel room or other safe place, just as they would women and children.

But the stigma associated with the issue often means men "really do not ask for help," said Kay Card, director of the Davis County domestic violence shelter. "It is a problem."

Samuel King, a Salt Lake City-based divorce attorney, repeatedly comes across male domestic violence victims. "It's not at all rare," he said.

One of his clients was a construction worker, a "tough guy" who was hospitalized four times as a result of abuse at the hands of his wife. The woman was smaller than her husband, he said, but used weapons such as cast-iron skillets.

Victims come from all walks of life. Stanley Green, who lives in Washington state, is an engineer who married a physician in 1982.

"The initial abuse began shortly after the wedding," he said, and escalated after the couple had their second child.

"She would hit me, and I would put my arms up in front of my face," he said. "I knew not to hit her or grab her or shove her. I knew that I would go to jail and never see my kids again. I could do nothing but protect myself and try to leave."

After one particularly brutal 1990 incident, which occurred in a car, his wife told police that Green was trying to steal the vehicle. Officers threatened to arrest him if he didn't leave.

"There was blood streaming down my face," Green told The Salt Lake Tribune.

He called a domestic violence shelter. "We're here to help women," he said he was told. " 'We don't know what to say to a man.' "

In some situations, men said their wives claimed to be the injured party once law enforcement arrived or later in divorce court. Similarly, some battered women's advocates say male batterers claim abuse in order to cover up their own violence.

King, the divorce attorney, suggests using lie-detector tests or similar screening. "Some women genuinely need protection. Other women are using it to control the man."

Rubick admits he sometimes resorted to violence himself when attacked. "There were times when I was hitting her back," he said. "That was the worst part of it for me. I saw myself taking on a lot of the behavior that she was doing to me."

King said larger men are more likely to take physical abuse without fighting back, partly out of fear of killing or maiming their much smaller wives or girlfriends.

After escaping his own abusive marriage, Rubick began a Web site for male domestic violence victims. That turned into Stop Abuse for Everyone, a nonprofit organization (www. safe4all.org) for battered men that conducts training for authorities and others.

"The response has just been amazing," he said.

Green, also a member of SAFE, says the plight of battered men has improved since a policeman told him a decade ago, "You gotta be kidding, buddy. Women don't beat men. I've never heard of that."

Now, officials are "just saying there aren't very many [male victims]," he said. "That's a big change from saying there's no such animal."

© Copyright 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune