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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Brisbane headquarters (07) 3805 5611 or fax (07) 3200 8769.
Other organisations, which can be helpful, include:
Men's Confraternity Inc, (08) 9470 1734.
Lone Fathers Association, (08) 9470 1153.
Lone Fathers Association of Australia, (02) 6258 4216, mobile 0417 668 802.
Non-Custodial Parents Association, (02) 6292 1121.
DADS, (02) 9721 3177.
Family Law Reform Association, (02) 9542 2459.
Newcastle Lone Fathers Association, (02) 4943 9634, mobile 015 550 964.
Gladstone Family Law Reform & Assistance Inc, (07) 4972 5899.
Rockhampton Lone Fathers Association, (07) 4927 6448.
DADS Alice Springs, (08) 8952 4485.
DADS Darwin, 015 615 669.
Lone Fathers Association, (08) 8932 3339.
Lone Fathers Association, (08) 8370 3169.
DADS Tasmania, (03) 6247 7790.
Lone Fathers Association, (03) 6247 7790.
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.