Sanctuary for the Abused
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Can men get help?
by Douglas Larsen
As more men begin to come forward as survivors of domestic violence, they find that domestic violence agencies are not equipped to help them. What's going on? It's a complicated answer, but if you're blaming the agencies, you're blaming the wrong people.
First Things First
First of all, I do not accept the assumption that men can't get help from domestic violence agencies. Every agency I have ever worked with has helped men. The agency I directed helped dozens of men every year. Are there special challenges in helping men? Sometimes. Not always.
A Quick History
To understand the situation, we have to review the history of the movement against domestic violence. It began in the late Seventies and early Eighties with a group of women who were being abused. They tried to get help from existing agencies, but nobody was equipped to deal with it.
The police couldn't help, because there was no law against a man beating his own wife in his own house. Social workers couldn't help because battered women did not fit into their guidelines. Counselors couldn't help because there was very little information about domestic violence available at the time. The clergy couldn't help because they didn't know much about it either -- they would lecture the woman about the sanctity of marriage, and tell her to go back to her batterer and "stop making him hit you."
These women had no money, no resources, no support, no nothing. They didn't want to start their own movement -- they just wanted to stop being beaten. They started their own movement because nobody in society was equipped to help them.
The first laws against domestic violence were passed in the early Eighties. They were ridiculed around the world. There's a law that tells a man what he can and can't do to his own family in his own home?? How absurd! The first laws were very weak, but they were a start. Better laws followed. Slowly.
The Movement worked hard to raise awareness about domestic violence. They worked hard to educate society about the subject. Because of this, some of the best communities now have close relationships and cooperative alliances between the Movement and social workers, clergy, the police, and other institutions.
The Movement also lobbied state legislators to provide funding for these first agencies. Some states provided a little money, and the agencies set up shop.
Ever since the beginning, the Movement has progressed in spite of active hostility. Some of the most hostile community members have been state politicians. The result is that funding for these agencies has been very small; funding has been allotted with great reluctance, and this funding has been among the first to be reduced whenever a state has a budget crunch.
This is an important point -- one that everyone has to realize. Any progress made by the Movement has been progress made in the face of active hostility. The few legislators who were sympathetic to the Movement have been voted out of office by an electorate that only cares about tax cuts. The people in the Movement have chiseled the movement out of solid granite, using only their fingernails. And even though twenty years have passed, every agency in America is still basically holding on to a cliff face with their fingernails.
Women and Men
One of the biggest successes of the Movement has been the increased awareness of the problem of domestic violence. Extensive research has been conducted into the problem, and now we have answers for many questions that puzzled everyone for years.
Throughout its history, the Movement has helped men. But the proportion of men to women has been very low. My agency helped dozens of men. But we helped thousands of women. It was rare that a man would come in the door, but women came in the door, dozens every day.
The problem has been compounded by men who batter. When their victims go to an agency to get a restraining order, often the batterer would go and demand a restraining order himself, just to even the score and show his victim that he wouldn't be trifled with. However, restraining orders have specific requirements, and batterers don't fit the requirements, so the agency workers would send the batterers away empty-handed. Many of the batterers immediately complained to their state representatives, who are eager to believe anything bad about the Movement. They accept batterers' complaints without asking for any evidence.
The number of men who come to the agencies for help has been dwarfed by the number of men who come to the agencies to try to exploit the system and continue battering. If you are a man who genuinely needs help, one of the biggest reasons you may have trouble is because of the large number of male batterers who are trying to pervert the system.
Scarcity of Resources
The biggest problem, however, plagues both men and women who need help. Remember that the Movement itself has never achieved financial stability. They are still holding on by their fingernails, scrabbling to stay alive. In fact, in the last few years, things have gotten much worse. Across the country, funding has been slashed dramatically, forcing the agencies to significantly reduce their staff.
Here's a personal example. When I was director of a county-wide agency, we dealt with domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. We had eleven people. When I contemplated the amount of need in our county, I knew that I could triple my staff and still not be able to meet the enormous need! But today, crippled by budget cuts, the agency struggles to survive. It now has only four people, and its future is grim. And the voters just don't seem to care. Each legislature seems more hostile than the one before.
Now: More Men
Nowadays, more and more men are coming forward, genuinely needing help because of domestic violence. This trend is due to the efforts of the Movement to raise awareness of domestic violence. Some people have been surprised at the number of men who are coming forward, but not most people in the Movement. Domestic violence has always been one of the most under-reported crimes in America. Nobody knows how many victims are out there.
Now a new influx of victims is coming forward, and this is a good thing. The rate of domestic violence in America probably stays somewhat constant over time. So the more people who come forward for help means that the proportion of silent victims probably is decreasing. This is all conjecture, of course. Nobody knows for sure.
Men Encounter Problems
Unfortunately, the timing of this influx couldn't be worse. These men who need help are going to the agencies at a time when the agencies are at a very low point. Most of their funding is gone. Most of their staff is gone. Most of their support in the legislature is gone. Their ability to cope with a new type of victim, with new and unique needs, is at an all-time low.
Please note -- and this is very important! -- I said their ability is very low. Their willingness is not low. Every advocate I have ever known has been happy to help battered men as well as women.
So now battered men are confronted with scarcity. They have to wait for a long time just to find an advocate who has time to talk to them. Often, they can't be put in a Safe House, because the Safe House funding has been exhausted. Often, they can't find room in a shelter or transitional housing because there simply isn't room. And while men's needs are similar to women's needs, there are differences. And the agencies are not equipped to meet those different needs.
Some men respond with resentment. They feel neglected simply because they are men. But this is not correct. You have to realize that women have to wait a long time to talk to an advocate too. If the Safe House funding is gone, women can't go to Safe Houses either. And shelters and transitional housing units have always been criminally scarce. I remember several times when we arranged for a survivor to drive across three states, because we had found a room in a shelter three states away. So it's not a question of gender. The brutal fact is that the domestic violence movement has never had adequate resources to meet the need.
Some men report that they are received with suspicion when the come for help. That is very unfortunate, and I can certainly understand your resentment. As if you needed another problem, right? But you have to focus your resentment on the appropriate group. You come in, genuinely needing help. After a long wait, you finally get to talk to an advocate. Realize this: the last ten men that this advocate met with were batterers -- violent men who were lying through their teeth. So you need to blame the batterers. Don't blame the advocate for being cautious.
Is there a solution?
What is the solution to this problem? There are a few. Most battered people tend to take everything personally. After all, you've been told that everything is your fault, possibly including whether or not it rains. I hope that this article has helped you understand some of the realities of the situation, so you can realize that it's not your fault. It's not your fault that you've been abused. It's also not your fault that there is inadequate help available to you. Realize that it isn't the agency's fault either. They are doing the best they can.
In the end, the problem is one of scarce resources. Voters keep electing legislators who are hostile to the issue of domestic violence and the people who are working against it. When men complain to the legislators that they can't get help because they are men, the legislators are eager to believe it even though it's not true. Their response? To cut the funding even more. Who does that hurt the most?
Men, that's who. Men and other people with special needs.
The Problem of Special Needs
What are special needs? It's anything that's different from the "standard" case that agencies deal with. Just like in any business, a custom order costs more than a production, mass-produced model. What are some examples of "special needs" people?
Like we've been saying, men are a prime example.
The elderly are another prime example. The problems of age, isolation, physical impairment, extensive medications and the difficulty in finding good nursing home help, are all special needs that the elderly have.
Women with small children. As we all know, infants have special needs.
Women with older children, especially teenaged boys. It's not their fault that they have older kids. It's not the kid's fault that he's a teenager. But many women in shelters have been beaten and tortured by men, and they're terrified of all men. And that's not their fault, either.
People with impairments, like being deaf. It is estimated that the rate of abuse among deaf people is double the rate of the mainstream population. And if you're deaf, how can you even call for help?
Underage victims. In junior high and high school, the emphasis is on sexual assault because it's more common. But domestic violence exists there, too.
People from other ethnic groups. They face language and cultural barriers, and may not even be aware of their rights. Even if they are, what are their chances of finding an advocate who speaks their language? Most of those advocates have been eliminated in the budget cuts.
People with mental illness. It's not the person's fault that their genes include something like Schizophrenia. But if a schizophrenic says s/he's being abused, who's going to believe them?
This is only a partial list of people with special needs, who need more resources and help. This is only a partial list of people who will continue to suffer with little hope of assistance, because the agencies that could help them have been slashed to within an inch of their lives.
The only solution, the only way to relieve all of this suffering, is to further raise awareness of the problems of domestic violence. We have to convince legislators to support the agencies working against domestic violence. We have to press for increased funding so that the resources will be there for those who need it. Legislators never hesitate to increase funding for the War on Drugs or the War in Iraq, but for some reason, they hate to increase funding for domestic violence prevention.
We have to change their minds, or change our legislators. Only then will men, and all of the other people with special needs, get the help and resources they deserve.