L. A. Times

April 10 2002

Pitcher's Case Throws a Curve at Common Beliefs About Abuse

Dana Parsons
Los Angeles Times

There's certainly nothing funny about a former B-movie sex kitten kicking her 6-foot-6, 215-pound, baseball-playing husband with her high heels and grabbing his ear while he's trying to drive.

Is there?

Absolutely not. In fact, it sounds dangerous, especially when considering that the woman allegedly pressed down on her husband's foot while it was on the gas pedal. In 2 1/2 weeks, actress Tawny Kitaen will face the music in court after being charged with two misdemeanor counts of inflicting corporal injury and battery on her husband, former longtime Angels standout Chuck Finley, now with the Cleveland Indians.

No, it's not funny, but the twisted side of me can't help but remember slogging through a story some years back about how goo-goo gaga Tawny was over her hunk of a husband.

And having a general idea of how major-league clubhouses operate, I can only imagine the lathering Finley is taking from his teammates over making the news because his wife tore into him.

He can take solace, however, from being a man in 2002 and not in the Middle Ages in some European village. In those days, says a Cal State Long Beach professor who has studied current trends in domestic violence against men, "If a woman attacked her husband, he'd be ridiculed. He'd ride a donkey backward through town."

None of that for Mr. Finley, but the big left-hander now finds himself part of the statistical pool that indicates men in America are abused about as often as women, professor Martin Fiebert says.

Fiebert, who has done his own research and reviewed other studies extensively, says the consensus in the field is that women are as likely as men to strike their partner but that--as expected--women are more likely to be injured than men. However, he noted, men are seriously injured in 38% of the cases in which "extreme aggression" is used.

"My take is that women are more likely to be more injured, but not a lot more," Fiebert says. "The reason is that women are more likely to use weapons in domestic situations than men--such as guns, knives and rolling pins--and men are more likely to use physical strength."

We've all learned to be wary of statistics, and Fiebert says studies abound on the subject. He notes, however, that those suggesting men are also frequent abuse victims should not be used to minimize the threat that women face from abusive boyfriends or spouses.

Besides, no one laughs at abused women. But abused guys?

"That comes from the culture of patriarchy," Fiebert says. "In Western society, [men were] in charge of the family, and the economics and the power of the family. Therefore, when it's demonstrated that the person in position of power doesn't have the power, it's an area for ridicule and humiliation."

That remains today, but Fiebert speculates that men are slowly but surely becoming more willing to come forward and present themselves as victims.

Not that Finley pressed the issue, but he wouldn't have had a choice, said Orange County Assistant Dist. Atty. Jo Escobar. Once police arrived at the Finley home in Newport Beach and saw evidence of suspected physical abuse on Finley, they were required by law to pursue the matter, she says.

"I think men do fear being stereotyped as a weenie or a wuss," Escobar says, estimating that men are the victims in about 25% of cases. Not too long ago, she says, that figure probably would have been closer to zero.

"The way we now prosecute, whether a man or woman is the victim, is to proceed as if the victim were deceased," she says. Evidence is gathered and kept, "because we've learned that, overwhelmingly, victims recant," Escobar says.

"Overwhelmingly, they don't want to proceed once we're involved, for a whole host of reasons."

So, Kitaen will have to answer the charges. And while jokesters poke fun at the Kitaen-Finley squabble, she'll learn there's nothing very funny about showing up in court.

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times