Bucks County Courier Times

July 30, 2002

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: A WAY OUT

More serious than people think

Men don't talk about it, but they also are victims of domestic abuse. The challenge is getting over the shame and getting help.

By WINSLOW MASON JR.
Bucks County Courier Times

(Illustration: Tom Raski/Courier Times)
On that normally quiet and hot summer afternoon, when his wife threatened to kill him, James knew it was time to leave his marriage of eight years.

Until that point, the abuse was less severe - frequent shouting, sometimes she'd throw things. One minute, they'd be having a simple argument, the next minute she began swinging, her fists often connecting to his face and chest.

James - not his real name - never thought about hitting back. Like many men, the 6-foot, 210-pound man doesn't believe in hitting women. But James also never believed that this could happen to a man - that he'd live in fear of an angry woman as many women live in fear of abusive husbands.

The experts know better.

The National Institute of Justice and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 835,000 men are the victims of domestic violence each. A woman is battered every 21 seconds, while a man is battered every 38 seconds, according to data. And the abuse is more serious than people think.

According to a joint study by the institute and the CDC, 10.8 percent of women used a knife on their male partners, compared with 4.1 percent of men who used a knife on their female partners.

On average, about 21.6 percent of male domestic violence victims are threatened with a knife, compared with 12.7 percent of women victims. About 43.2 percent of male domestic violence victims are hit with a hard object capable of causing serious injury, compared with 22.6 percent of female victims.

The study revealed that when all serious forms of domestic assault were added together, men were assaulted nearly as often as women.

Bucks has had its own share of high-profile cases involving women who've assaulted their male partners.

Heather Miller and her husband, Kevin, leave the courtroom for a recess during her trial at the Bucks County Courthouse.
(Photo: Ophelia Lenz/Courier Times)
In November 2000, Heather Miller, 26, of Richlandtown in Upper Bucks County, made national headlines when she was sentenced to four-and-a-half to 10 years after a plot to kill her husband by poisoning his mashed potatoes. She claimed she was unhappy in her marriage, though her husband stood by her during the trial.

In January of last year, Karen McDonald, 35, of Bristol Township, was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for fatally stabbing her boyfriend in the chest with an 8-inch knife. She told police the man just "wouldn't shut up." During the trial, she pleaded self-defense from what she called years of abuse. The jury found her guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Early this month, Sharon Richardson-Taylor, 34, of Middletown, pleaded guilty to shooting her husband. She told police her husband wouldn't give her the key to their apartment. Police said that, before Richardson shot her husband, she showed him a tranquilizer and a bullet and asked him which way he preferred to die.

James said the abuse he suffered from his wife just became a part of their relationship. His wife grew steadily angry when he didn't do what she wanted him to. Like abusive men, she used anger to get her way and resorted to violence as a means of control.

James eventually separated from and divorced his wife, but one reason he didn't seek help was because, in his mind, he didn't believe that what he was experiencing was a problem.

"If I was watching a woman go through what I was going through, I would definitely think it was abuse," he said, adding that looking back on the past has given him a new perspective.

"The pressures that people live under dictate a lot of their behavior," he said. James has two young sons who were elementary school age during the time of his rocky marriage.

"Going through it, you rationalize it, you convince yourself that it's really not a problem," he said.

That rationalization, experts say, often results in men not talking about the abuse. Many hide it, denying that it's happening, or simply allow it because of concerns about children. In society, men are rarely viewed as victims, especially as it relates to women, the experts said. As such, men also are reluctant to call the police to report abuse.

"The police tend to share traditional gender role expectations of the woman as victim," said Murray A. Strauss, a noted family violence speaker and writer at the University of New Hampshire. As a result, the police are reluctant to arrest women for domestic assault."

Unless the violence is severe, as in the recent Bucks County cases, many men are quiet about their abuse, he said.

Probably the most common problem in dealing with the issue of men as domestic abuse victims is that many in the domestic violence arena believe it's a myth, Strauss said.

"Most feminist sociologists and psychologists will take that view [the myth of the male victim] as will most women involved in the battered women's movement," Strauss said, pointing to crime statistics that most often site men as perpetrators.

Many believe that women who resort to violence against their male partners are simply acting in self-defense after years of abuse, as in McDonald's case.

Carol Clymer, public information specialist for A Woman's Place, an organization that counsels those who have been battered, acknowledged that the problem of the male as a victim does exist, but that society still views women and men in different ways.

"Men are often viewed as strong and aggressive, while women are still seen as feminine and passive," she said. "A man most often won't admit to abuse from a woman because of shame. There's also denial. People think that it's not domestic violence unless I have a bloody nose or black eye. But for men, definitely the shame of being a victim compounds the problem."

In addition, men usually have the financial wherewithal to get out of their situation. As a result, men are less likely to rely on domestic violence hotlines and other programs for help, Clymer said.

While Clymer could cite no specific Bucks programs for male domestic violence victims, A Woman's Place can assist men in getting protection from abuse orders against their partners. The group also can refer abused men to other area programs geared to their needs.

James said it took a lot of therapy for him to realize the situation he was in, but he still considers his situation minor.

"Because of my childhood, I saw what abuse did to my family," he said, recalling physical fights between his mother and father. "A lot of times, certain behaviors tend to seem normal depending on what kind of environment you come from. But for a lot of men who may be victims, they just don't see it until it's too late."

WHERE MEN CAN TURN FOR HELP