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Battered Men - The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence
Help for Battered Men

Violent Femmes

Women aren't the only victims of domestic violence

© 1999 by Peter Olszewski
from March 1999 issue of Australian Men's Health
Vol 2 No 5, pp. 114-119

 

Australia

Even now, long after the relationship ended, I still have trouble uttering that simple, painful acknowledgment: "I was a battered man." Saying it makes me cringe makes me feel like a coward or a wimp. At first I would switch off whenever I saw a newspaper article or TV report about domestic violence because I knew I was about to be subjected to yet another pungent vilification of men and their propensity to beat women, before muttering to myself. "Hey, what about guys like me?"

Let's get one thing straight - in no way am I denying the problem of battered women or trying to downplay their grief. Violence in a relationship is reprehensible, but the mistake that's made is that the violence is seen as exclusively male in origin. In fact, there's significant evidence to suggest that women are just as capable of committing domestic violence.

As a 'victim' I even began to identify with females portrayed on TV, with their downcast, shamed eyes and their cuts, bruises and puffy swellings and smiled wryly to myself when the reporter would inevitable ask: "If you were being beaten so regularly, why didn't you simply leave?"

I know the answer to that one. First of all you live in the hope that your truly beloved will come to her senses and do something about her violence. And then, of course, there's the problem of what happens when you do try to leave. In my case, it caused a final flurry of totally-out-of-control violence, a string of court appearances, the loss of most of my possessions, the constant redirecting of money to solicitors and the cold, harsh reality of virtually having to restart my life from scratch. But I came through, I made it - I'm a survivor.

Possibly, the event that helped me on the road to recovery most was speaking personally about battered men on a nationwide radio program. For almost two weeks after appearing on that program I received phone calls from all over Australia, from battered guys who'd been through the wringer, felt the shame and had nobody they could talk to until they heard this bloke on the radio - me.

While time consuming, this was also very beneficial for me because I went from being a victim to a survivor, dispensing guidance, wisdom and advice to my fellow sufferers. By speaking out, I also became part of a trend. Suddenly violence by women against men was being taken seriously and figures started to emerge that backed this up. For example, three US surveys taken by. family-violence counsellors in 1980, 1985, and 1995 showed that violence of the same degree was committed by an almost equal number of men and women.

The reports were condemned by feminists - who argued that this sort of data was simply used to devalue female victims - but the research stood up to scrutiny. A Canberra academic who suggested that domestic assaults against men were almost as prevalent as assaults against women, was ridiculed and a Brisbane men's organisation that expressed similar sentiments was promptly labelled as right wing.

In the US, Steve Easton, homeless and unemployed after enduring years of domestic violence, started an organisation in 1993 called The Easton Alliance, which counsels up to 400 men a year. Like most battered men, Easton's domestic situation was a casebook study of classic female violence - the violence simply escalated and he was overwhelmed by it to the point that it almost ruined his life. Easton observed that many women, angered over failed relationships with men, start assaulting their current male partners and the violence slowly escalates from there. And, like violent male behaviour, alcohol was usually a contributing factor with female violence.

Easton's case interested me particularly because he admitted making the same mistake that I did. Many of his problems stemmed from one simple, natural response - he chose to retaliate.

Perhaps at this stage, it would be appropriate for me to tell my story, for no particular reason other than it's a text-book example of female domestic violence in all its pure, unpredictable fury.

I discovered my lover was violent the first night we moved into a house together. I figured it was a one-off thing, stress induced by the move and for a while it seemed so. Then, on two separate occasions, after returning home from eating out, I was king-hit on the side of the head. The reason for the first blow turned out to be because we'd been to a restaurant she used to visit with her ex. The second was that we'd consumed, at her insistence, red wine and oysters, apparently a favourite dish of her ex.

Casebook studies claim that violence escalates rapidly from this point and it certainly did. I would be punched if I mentioned her business rivals and she'd strike out if I had the TV on too loudly or ate too loudly, like her father. And suggesting she do something about her violent behaviour only triggered more of the same.

Finally, she cracked and attacked me with a tennis racquet and her stilettos and systematically destroyed my possessions. I snapped and hurled an ashtray through a window. This turned out to be a major mistake. She calmed down and coolly phoned the police. When they arrived I confessed to smashing the window and - ignoring my cuts and abrasions and version of events - they ordered me to collect some clothes and get out immediately. I wound up in a domestic-violence court and before I knew what happened, had a domestic-violence order slapped on me. And my partner immediately qualified as yet another female victim of violence in the home.

After a year and many entreaties and promises from her, we got back together. The violence restarted almost immediately, but with a new element - control - which I was to discover is also classic behaviour. In addition to being hit for doing something she didn't like, I was now also being attacked if I didn't do what she wanted. When I resisted, she adopted a new tactic, using other men to get at me if I didn't obey her.

I was now planning my escape because violence had become the order of the day. I moved some things out discreetly and observed that a man she was having an affair with had his house and car trashed when he apparently didn't do her bidding. He reported the violence, creating a track record that would later back me up in court. Meanwhile I was ducking projectiles - like lumps of concrete - and began to realise that this could end up killing me. After a long discussion we agreed to separate. But that night, before I could leave, she went berserk again, attacking me and demolishing the house. I fled.

I returned at dawn. Usually she would wake up contrite - and sober. But not that day. She poured a bottle of wine and a cup of hot coffee over me, threw books and then started laying into me. In pure desperation, I eventually gave her a sharp jab in the stomach.

This snapped her out of it. She became very cool again and rang the police, stating that I had a rifle and was threatening to shoot her and then calmly left for work. I waited for a SWAT team or the equivalent to arrive, but nothing happened, so I finally went to the police station myself.

For the first time, I received some help. The policeman took one look at my bruised and bloodied state and immediately initiated domestic-violence proceedings against her. Over a year of messy court hearings followed before I was finally free to go my own way, albeit broke and bewildered.

I've had relationships since then but the instant I detect the potential for violence or hear confessions of violent acts against previous lovers, I'm out of there. And that's about the only way to deal with violent women. Of course, if you're deeply in love and enmeshed in family and financial commitments, you naturally hope you'll be able to sort it out. Then one day someone will look at you in disbelief and say: "If it was that violent, why didn't you simply leave?"

Early Warning Signs

Female domestic violence begins just like its male equivalent - with the first slap, punch or hurled object. But if the victim's a woman, she will view this first violent act as a very serious sign that there's trouble brewing. A man will tend to play down the incident or tough it out, often making a joke of it. Take action with the first slap. Don't be melodramatic or wait until things have started to cool down. It's important to act decisively. Explain that you don't like being hit - just like you imagine she wouldn't enjoy it.

Look for reasons for her behaviour. Was it a stressful time? Did it occur because you made a cutting or insulting remark? Did it happen because something you did annoyed her? Was it alcohol-related? Was it due to anger over a past relationship or does it stem from a history of violence in her family?

Research shows that domestic violence is often the product of a violent upbringing. Explore all these avenues, decisively and precisely, and then let it rest. But let her know that the first slap was taken very seriously indeed.

If it happens again, there is a risk of a pattern being established and even more decisive action must be taken. If you spot a trend appearing, make sure you discuss it.

To ensure that she knows how seriously you view the second incident, it may be time to consult her family. It may be embarrassing for her, but if you have a good relationship with her side of the family, it may help pinpoint a problem.

Three strikes and you're out. Domestic violence escalates quickly and if matters become really heated, you too will be drawn into the violence, to the point that you'll be tempted to strike back. Under no circumstances retaliate.

After a third incident it's time to consult a counsellor. Get the violence out into the open with someone outside the family circle, irrespective of how embarrassing it is for your partner. This also creates an important legal precedent.

No matter how remorseful your partner appears after the event, don't let her off the hook. Keep working at the problem and repeatedly stress that it shouldn't have happened in the first place. If the violence escalates to the point where you become concerned for your safety or that of your children, it's time to take the most drastic step of all - a domestic-violence order. This puts the matter in the hands of the police and courts and brings home the reality that she is on the verge of being criminally charged. If matters have degenerated to this stage, counselling is a must and you may have to consider temporarily leaving the relationship.

What is domestic violence?

The legal definition of domestic violence is very broad, ranging from physical violence against a person and damage to their property, right through to psychological or implied violence such as verbal abuse, phone calls, threats, and threatening behaviour.

Certain orders have been incorporated into the legal system to protect victims of domestic violence. These are known as apprehended-violence orders (A\/Os), protection orders or domestic-violence orders (DVOs). These can be initiated within two days. Finally, police can be called in and, if they deem it necessary, they'll apply for an order.

Alternatively, a person can visit a courthouse, request the necessary form, fill it out and - if the clerk of the court decides there are grounds for an order - a summons will be issued. The summons compels the defendant to attend a court hearing or face arrest.

If the defendant doesn't contest the order or agrees with it, it will be issued, usually for two years, compelling the defendant to display good behaviour towards the spouse and to hand in to police anything that can be considered a weapon.

In serious cases, the terms of the "standard order" can be strengthened, with additional provisions determined by a magistrate. For example, defendants can be ordered to stay at least 100 metres from the marital home. If the provisions of the order are breached, criminal charges can be laid.

The domestic-violence laws were brought into being, to their credit, by feminist organisations who made domestic violence a political issue. But the issue is based on the theory that domestic violence is "an expression of patriarchy as a social force and marriage as a patriarchal institution". However, recent research proves that almost as many women commit domestic violence as men, although male violence is often more dangerous and more likely to inflict serious damage.

Because the initial stage of a domestic-violence order is a civil matter, the onus of proof does not apply as it does with assault charges. To bring a person before a domestic-violence hearing is a relatively straightforward procedure. All that is really needed is the ability to fill out a form accurately and give adequate reasons. Consequently, domestic-violence orders are increasingly abused or often used by women as instruments of revenge or humiliation. A particularly unpleasant example is set by some extreme feminist organisations, which openly advocate the use of orders to deal with annoying men. In fact, some lawyers now argue that nuisance or revenge manipulation of domestic-violence orders is a form of domestic violence in itself.

Where to get help?

There are very few organisations that cater for men who have problems with a violent partner. The federal domestic-violence organisations and help-lines are best avoided because they're set up to deal with women and their problems. Theoretically, men with violent partners should be able to receive help and advice from these agencies, but, in practice, it doesn't work this way.

The only agency dealing exclusively with the male side of this sensitive issue is the Brisbane-based Men's Rights Agency. They've been savaged in the Queensland media but attacks against them are unwarranted. Ironically, they seem to attract criticism simply because they focus exclusively on men's needs.

Run by husband-and-wife team Reg and Sue Price, The Men's Rights Agency has now established a national network and their contact details are:

The Men's Rights Agency
Freecall: 1800 818 004.
E-mail: mra@ecn.net.au
Web: http://www.ecn.net.au/~mra
Brisbane headquarters (07) 3805 5611 or fax (07) 3200 8769.

Other organisations, which can be helpful, include:

WA:
Men's Confraternity Inc, (08) 9470 1734.
Lone Fathers Association, (08) 9470 1153.

ACT:
Lone Fathers Association of Australia, (02) 6258 4216, mobile 0417 668 802.
Non-Custodial Parents Association, (02) 6292 1121.

NSW:
DADS, (02) 9721 3177.
Family Law Reform Association, (02) 9542 2459.
Newcastle Lone Fathers Association, (02) 4943 9634, mobile 015 550 964.

QLD:
Gladstone Family Law Reform & Assistance Inc, (07) 4972 5899.
Rockhampton Lone Fathers Association, (07) 4927 6448.

NT:
DADS Alice Springs, (08) 8952 4485.
DADS Darwin, 015 615 669.
Lone Fathers Association, (08) 8932 3339.

SA:
Lone Fathers Association, (08) 8370 3169.

TAS:

DADS Tasmania, (03) 6247 7790.
Lone Fathers Association, (03) 6247 7790.

VIC:
Contact The Men's Rights Agency, freecall 1800 818 004.
Melbourne Lone Fathers Association, (03) 9878 6588.

Note: Many of these organisations are for fathers because manipulations of domestic-violence orders have become a significant feature of child-custody battles. However, the groups are still well placed to cater for the needs of single men.

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