Sept. 19, 1997

Battered By Their Wives
Men Who Are Abused - More Common Than You Think

text from 20/20 TV Show on ABC


BARBARA WALTERS
We begin with the kind of domestic violence you probably never suspected was going on. We focus a lot of attention on battered women in our society because their plight is so common and so extreme. But strange as it might sound, men are also victims of spousal abuse in surprisingly high numbers..
HUGH DOWNS
If you find this hard to believe that a woman smaller and weaker than a man could beat up on him, you're not alone. As Lynn Sherr discovered, that perception is instilled in us from an early age.. Maybe the stories you're about to hear will change what turns out to be a misperception..
ROGER SAUNDERS (PH), ABUSED HUSBAND
When I was a little kid, I was maybe six years old, a girl came up and hit me. And you know, the first thing you do is go to hit back, and she just looked at me, and she said, "Boys can't hit girls." And you know, and I didn't hit her..
LYNN SHERR, ABC NEWS
(VO) It is the law of the playground. Little boys, because they are bigger and stronger, are taught never to hit little girls, even when the girls hit first. But what if those girls grow up to be violent and abusive toward their husbands, and the men still don't fight back? That's the hidden side of domestic violence..
2ND ABUSED HUSBAND
People can't believe that a beautiful little girl like that could hurt a big guy like me..
TOM MCKINNON
I'm letting this woman terrorize me, beat me up. It's extremely embarrassing. You're making yourself look like a wimp..
3RD ABUSED HUSBAND
We don't believe that women can step up to that level of violence..
(Shouting)
4TH ABUSED HUSBAND
She has bitten me three times, and I still have the teeth impressions on my side..
1ST ABUSED HUSBAND
She grabbed my hair until I was choking..
4TH ABUSED HUSBAND
Kicked me in the testicles and then hit me in the right temple..
5TH ABUSED HUSBAND
She stomped me across the bridge of my right foot, broke my right foot..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) The pictures are from Hollywood, but the words are from real life..
(on camera) Across the country, male victims are just beginning to speak out, and men are becoming victims more frequently than you might realize. We're not suggesting that husbands are beaten as severely or even as often as wives. In fact, in some cases, both partners may resort to violence..
But the most recent report from the Department of Justice documented nearly 150,000 cases against men, ranging from attempts at violence to assault with a deadly weapon. Experts say that, in terms of public awareness, male victims are where women were some two decades ago. And the stories are shockingly familiar..
TOM MCKINNON
I mean, it was just insanity. Just pure insanity in the house..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Tom McKinnon is a county fire investigator. He believes his erratic work hours, in part, triggered his wife's violent outbursts.. When he would come home late, she'd be waiting..
TOM MCKINNON
She'd throw things, dishes at me. Hit me with a baseball bat. A couple of times, she's tried to run me over in her car..
DAVID NEVERS (PH), ABUSED HUSBAND
You feel like a prisoner in your own house. You have to be concerned about where you're walking and what you're doing. You need to just always be on guard. It's very tense kind of situation to live in..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) What makes a woman snap? David Nevers says when he lost his job, his wife just panicked. They began to argue more often, even in front of the children. One day, he says, they were both taken by surprise when she struck him..
DAVID NEVERS
The first time I think I tried to dismiss it as something that had simply gotten out of control..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) His response is typical. Husbands, taught to be powerful and protective, don't see themselves as victims. After all, Nevers is large and muscular. He works out five mornings a week. And his ex - wife was four inches shorter, 100 pounds lighter.. So after one argument when she kicked him in the groin, propelling him backwards through a plate glass door, the humiliation was as searing as the pain, especially when he had to take himself to the emergency room to stop the bleeding..
DAVID NEVERS
I was, I guess, so-I don't know if the word is ashamed or embarrassed by what happened that I told them that it was an accident at home. That I had backed into the glass door, and that's where I got the cuts from..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Covering up for an abusive wife is a common male response.. Today, David Nevers is divorced. But along the way, he also endured second - degree burns and was even pushed down a flight of stairs by his ex - wife. Why would he stay in such a marriage?
DAVID NEVERS
I stayed in the house through all of this because I really felt that I had an opportunity to ask for custody of my children..
SUZANNE STEINMETZ (PH), SOCIOLOGIST
The man is afraid if he leaves he won't get custody..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Sociologist and therapist Suzanne Steinmetz says abused husbands worry about custody with good reason. Most don't get it.. David Nevers has only limited visitation rights with his children.. Steinmetz also found greater numbers of male victims than anyone thought existed. Perhaps because she was using anonymous questionnaires and because couples face no legal consequences, she found that when there is violence in a household, in terms of minor assaults, the man is just as likely to be the victim as the woman.. (on camera) Men are abused by their spouses as often or as much as women are?
SUZANNE STEINMETZ
When you're looking at hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, they're fairly equal..
LYNN SHERR
I just can't visualize a woman smacking a guy around..
SUZANNE STEINMETZ
They have to take advantage of the fact that they are generally smaller. So the difference here is men are going to be attacked with an object-pans, chairs, lamps, ashtrays..
LYNN SHERR
Thrown or struck at the person?
SUZANNE STEINMETZ
Right. They wait and catch the man off guard. Or they wait until he's in the shower, for example, or he's asleep..
TOM MCKINNON
She's taken a night stand and crashed it over my face when I was sleeping. She's threatened to put boiling grease on my face..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) This is not an aberration. Most men in this situation just won't talk about it, even to their friends. Roger Saunders says the first signs of his wife's irrational temper showed up before they were married, when a spat during a car trip escalated into her slugging him. But sometimes, he says, it was jealousy that would send her into a rage..
(on camera) When you say "she came to hit me," my reaction is to say, come on. You're bigger than she is, walk away from it..
ROGER SAUNDERS, ABUSED HUSBAND
You know, I could show you the pictures, just the scratches on me.. They're not big scratches, when she got arrested, but if I would have done that to her, I'd be in jail right now. I wouldn't be here, and that happened a year ago. I'd be in jail now..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Some women do get arrested. After attacking her husband, Rebecca Skelton (ph) spent three days in jail..
REBECCA SKELTON
I grabbed his face. And my keys scratched his neck, and, I mean, I was trying to attack him. He had said, you know, "I'm afraid of you.. You get a look on your face that I don't-I don't know what, why you get that angry."
LYNN SHERR
(on camera) Could you have stopped yourself at any time if you'd wanted to?
REBECCA SKELTON
I don't think so..
LYNN SHERR
So you were really out of control? Do you remember thinking, "I really want to hurt him, I want to kill him," anything like that?
REBECCA SKELTON
I want to hurt him. I think I wanted to hurt him..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Today, Rebecca believes her violent actions were ignited by the gruesome murder of her sister and niece, a homicide committed by her brother - in - law. She is especially horrified that her own savage attacks on her husband were witnessed by her son. All the men we talked to also worry about the effect of their wives' abuse on the children..
ROBERT ELLIS (PH), ABUSED HUSBAND
My son, he was severely traumatized by this behavior. Because he was involved with it, just watching it all the time..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Robert Ellis, a commercial pilot, was so wary of being attacked at night, he would sleep fully clothed-at times escaping with his son to nearby hotels to remove him from the brutal scenes.. (on camera) He saw his mother strike his father?
ROBERT ELLIS
Absolutely. All the time. In fact, when he gets frustrated, like if he can't have a piece of cake, he'll come up and start hitting me..
LYNN SHERR
Do any of you have custody of your children?
GROUP OF MEN
No..
LYNN SHERR
Did you all ask for custody?
GROUP OF MEN
Yes..
ROBERT ELLIS
Even though the person is abusive and even though that person demonstrates this behavior over and over and over again, you still have no entitlement to your children or child. It's very, very frustrating..
BONNIE
My name's Bonnie, and I was arrested for spousal assault..
SYLVIA
My name's Sylvia, and I was arrested for domestic violence against my spouse..
NONNIE (PH)
My name is Nonnie. I'm here because I'm violent..
JANICE
My name's Janice. And I'm here for breaking temporary restraining orders, and I'm hoping to use a different kind of tool rather than anger..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) They look like neighbors or even family. But all have violent pasts. At a unique program in Sacramento, California, these women are hoping to change their future relationships, partly by role playing..
BONNIE
So your partner, you think they're cheating on you?
NONNIE
The car broke down on the freeway ....
BONNIE
How come you didn't call me?
NONNIE
Well, what do you want me to do?
BONNIE
You could have called me..
NONNIE
I know I could have call you, but I didn't! What do you want me to do?
BONNIE
I want to you leave..
NONNIE
All right, well, if that's what you want, then you leave!
BONNIE
I don't know..
NONNIE
You don't pay the rent here, honey!
BONNIE
You're a (bleep) liar..
NONNIE
I'm not a (bleep) liar. I'm trying to tell you the truth. Look, if you don't believe me. I don't know what you expect me to do. I'm telling you the truth..
BONNIE
Where were you last night?
NONNIE
Yeah..
CLAUDIA DIAS (PH), COUNSELOR
Do you see her hand?
LYNN SHERR
(VO) It looks to us as if Bonnie was ready to strike out..
CLAUDIA DIAS
So if this was really your partner, what would you have done?
BONNIE
I already would have been punching on him..
WOMAN
Yeah..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) That's how many of these incidents intensify from words to fists..
CLAUDIA DIAS
Where do you punch? In the face?
WOMEN
Yeah..
BONNIE
In the face..
CLAUDIA DIAS
You punch in the face also?
BONNIE
And I pull hair, and I pick up things and hit him with it. Whatever it takes. My boyfriend, he was down on the ground. He can't walk.. He's crippled. And I just beat him in the face with my shoe..
CLAUDIA DIAS
You know what I keep hearing? "I know the fight's over when one of us is on the ground."
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Claudia Dias is a counselor at one of the few private programs which work with woman offenders. She says the roots of husband abuse are exactly like those of men who beat their wives.. (on camera) What percentage would you say of the women that you treat grew up in a home where there was violence?
CLAUDIA DIAS
We asked them that. And it's probably 80 percent. A lot of the women who come to our groups perceive themselves as battered women..
LYNN SHERR
As victims..
CLAUDIA DIAS
As victims. They absolutely perceive themselves, and it's not until we've worked with them for months where we say, what has gone on in this home? And when they start looking at it, they're, like, "Oh, I've done that. Oh, I did that."
LYNN SHERR
Meaning, I've done what?
CLAUDIA DIAS
I've burned everything that he owned, or I destroyed everything that was important to him..
WOMAN IN THERAPY
And one of these days, it's going to end up in death, obviously, if we keep going this way. But I know people ask just a lot of questions, when does it stop? I mean, when do we start having healthy relationships for once?
CLAUDIA DIAS
It takes us about five months. The light goes on. You know what? I am responsible for this, for my part in this..
You were terrific..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Thanks to this group, some women are now being helped..
DET. MIKE GORDON (PH), SAN DIEGO POLICE
I'm going to refer the case to the district attorney's office for prosecution..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) And thanks to enlightened cops like San Diego detective Mike Gordon, there is a growing awareness that abused husbands are not a joke. But too many men, like Archie Armstrong (ph), may be unwittingly perpetuating their situation. Detective Gordon sees this one as a classic case..
MIKE GORDON
He loves her. And he chooses to risk being injured as opposed to leaving her..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Each time the police have arrested Armstrong's girlfriend, he ends up down at the jail bailing her out. Today, he's begging the police to spare her another prosecution..
ARCHIE ARMSTRONG
She never in the past did anything to me. I mean, straight out, she'd tear up the car, tear up the pickup, or tear up the house. But as far as physically, really physically doing something to me, she- a push or a shove or a scratch. But never, no-no weapons, nothing like that, you know?
MIKE GORDON
Ultimately, of course, the end could be death, and she could kill him and take him totally by surprise..
LYNN SHERR
(VO) Perhaps abused husbands could learn something from the new public awareness of abused women, that you don't have to stick around and take it. But the more painful truth is that even those who have finally broken away face a terrifying future..
Robert Ellis, who put up with five years of abuse, now lives in a secret location, hiding from his ex - wife. David Nevers refuses to leave his home without a weapon of defense..
DAVID NEVERS
I've talked to some women who are abused women themselves, battered - - battered spouses. And we share the same feelings. When you've been hit or hurt by someone-a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife-I don't think the feelings are any different. Until we begin treating it that way, I don't think we're going to solve the problem..
BARBARA WALTERS
Lynn, I believe this because I just saw this report. But it's so hard to believe these big men..
LYNN SHERR
I know, and that's, in fact, what the men are complaining about, Barbara. That they are greeted by authorities, by their family with utter disbelief..
BARBARA WALTERS
Yes..
LYNN SHERR
They say they can't get a fair shake. All they're asking is to be treated equally..
BARBARA WALTERS
I can understand that. But why don't the men leave? Is it just because of the children? Because very often with women they don't leave because they can't afford to. They can't support themselves..
LYNN SHERR
Well, you're right about the women. And in terms of the men that we talked to, it is about the children. They say the way the courts are going, women still-the majority of women-wives, mothers-get the custody of the children. And they don't want to lose that opportunity to be with their kids. So they're hanging in there. And it's a very, very difficult situation..
BARBARA WALTERS
A lot of anger. Isn't it amazing, Hugh?
HUGH DOWNS
It is. It's astonishing..
BARBARA WALTERS
Thank you, Lynn..

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