April 1, 2002, p. 26

The violent wife

An Ottawa couple goes public to focus attention on spousal violence against men

The Report Newsmagazine

According to a July 2000 Statistics Canada report, spousal abuse in this country is on the decline. Furthermore, what abuse is taking place is divided almost equally between men and women. In fact, StatCan found that just 8% of women and 7% of men had experienced a "violent" incident over the preceding five years. And that is when violence is defined as anything from shoving to stabbing.

Nevertheless, most Canadians continue to labour under the impression that one type of spousal abuse--of women by their male partners--is a runaway problem in this country. That myth was supported last month in a coroners report into the murder two years ago of a Pickering, Ont., woman by her estranged husband, who then killed himself. Recommended actions included spending more public money on women fleeing abusive men, and directing police and the justice system to be more aggressive towards violent men. Not surprisingly, the

Ontario Women's Justice Network called for the immediate implementation of the recommendations.

But Ottawa's Linda and Kevin Kinsella are among the growing numbers of Canadians who think the time has come for government and the media to look at the parallel, yet largely unacknowledged issue of women's abuse of men. And they should know because, in the Kinsella home, it was Linda, 30, who did the battering. Besides punching, kicking and scratching her husband, she would also tip Kevin, a 56-year-old cerebral palsy victim, out of his wheelchair.

Mrs. Kinsella admits the abuse was severe. "It was the same as if I took a hammer to an able-bodied person's knees," she says of her penchant for dumping her husband out of his wheelchair. "I would trap Kevin completely. Thankfully, he does not bruise easily."

More often than not, they fought about how to spend what little money they received from their disability pensions. (Mrs. Kinsella suffers from fibromyalgia.) Linda recalls the time about seven years ago when she called the police to allege abuse against him during one of their weekly fights. Today, such a call by a woman in Ontario would automatically result in the husband's arrest. At that time, the police still had discretion, but Linda knew she could have had Kevin charged with assault if she wanted to.

By the time police arrived, she had come to her senses. "You should be arresting me, not him," she told them. Kevin agreed, and the police backed down. "I am very thankful they did not put Kevin through the court system," Linda says. "I do not know if our relationship could have survived the stress."

Although her violence against her husband did not stop with the incident, "it was the start of my realization that I had a problem and I needed help. I did not stop abusing Kevin immediately, but I began to think about what I was doing." She finally reformed four years ago, mainly through self-restraint, counselling and by becoming active as a political volunteer in the NDP.

But in her efforts to seek help, she found it nearly impossible to find anyone to take her seriously--even her counsellor. "Instead of getting validation that I, indeed, had a problem, I was asked what Kevin did to provoke me," she recalls. "This confused and frustrated me. Here I am being told because I am a woman my problem didn't exist. I was not even offered anger-management courses or any other type of assistance." Kevin had nowhere to go for help either. Told by a friend that he should leave Linda, he discovered there were no shelters or resources available for men fleeing domestic violence.

The Kinsellas went public with their problem last December in the 'Ottawa Citizen'. They say it was one of the hardest decisions they had made since getting married at centre-ice before the start of an Ottawa Senators game in 1992. "Yes, we took a risk," says Linda of last year's article. "Kevin is on the provincial executive for the Ontario NDP, and I am an activist for disability issues. So far, [our going public] has not had any repercussions for us politically."

But neither has it opened the public's eyes to the country's husband-battering problem or to the overstating of male-against-female violence. That much was evident at the inquest into the Pickering murder-suicide. During the proceedings, London, Ont., psychologist Peter Jaffe presented jurors with a four-hour lecture and slide show that he usually saves for training judges, police, doctors, teachers and clergy on family violence against women. Mr. Jaffe has written eight books on the subject, and is widely considered an expert. However, contrary to the StatCan findings, he claims 29% of Canadian women are abused. A subsequent Citizen investigation revealed that his statistics are not even remotely supported by Ontario hospital emergency-room records.

On the other hand, there is a growing body of evidence that men are highly vulnerable to attacks by their wives and girlfriends. According to several U.S. sources, the reason this contradictory information is rarely discussed is that women's groups have the ear of government and are not afraid to use that power to suppress the truth.

For example, author Susan Steinmetz said that following the publication in 1978 of her book 'The Battered Husband Syndrome,' she received verbal threats and anonymous phone calls from radical women's groups. They even threatened to harm her children. She said she found it "ironic that the same people who claim that women-initiated violence is purely self-defence are so quick to threaten violence against people who do nothing more than publish a scientific study."

Murray A. Straus, a sociologist and co-director for the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, has blamed "women in the battered [women's] shelter movement for denying that women physically abuse their spouses, or for playing down such abuse. Mr. Straus also said at least 50 studies of domestic violence--including some he himself conducted--show both men and women are equally culpable.

The Kinsellas have no trouble believing such numbers. They simply wonder how long it will take for governments to acknowledge that domestic violence is an equal-opportunity activity.

Copyright, 2002 The Report,