There is a chorus of voices in the US who appear to believe that by revealing the size of the problem of violence by women against men we somehow seek to minimize or obscure the problem of violence against women.
It is not easy to admit, but earlier in my life I was the victim of what professionals rather antiseptically call “intimate parter violence (IPV).” Now, I was raised in a household where I was taught that there is no circumstance in which it is permissible for a man to strike a woman. Unfortunately, I spent nearly four years in a relationship with a woman I cared for who did not think that the opposite was true. I was emotionally abused, regularly struck physically, and at one point she tried to run me over with her car. I never fought back. I couldn’t. I had learned that it was morally and socially reprehensible for a man to strike a woman.
When I finally left the relationship, what remained were three convictions: that domestic abuse is underreported; that men are victims, too; and that the resources to help abused men are so inadequate as to leave one believing that nobody gives a crap about abused men. “Suck it up, dude,” is what we tell ourselves and what we are told.
I could look back on all of that as a short-duration nightmare, one that made it possible to appreciate in full the remarkable woman I eventually married. I could, that is, except for one thing: I have a son.
He’s tall, athletic, outdoor-type, and intellectually sharp, perhaps even brilliant. He’s also, underneath a bit of teenage swagger, one of the gentlest souls I have ever met. And I look at him and know that if he gets into the wrong relationship, he could abused into emotional and physical hamburger. And I know he is not alone among his cohort.
Yet the few advocates out there who are speaking out about domestic violence committed by women on men are at best ignored. One vocal example is Erin Pizzey, the English humanist who founded the world’s first shelter for battered wives in 1971. Pizzey has argued forcibly as a part of her White Ribbon campaign against domestic violence that most partner violence is reciprocal, and that women should be held responsible for their violence just as men are. That stance has seen extremists kill her dog and threaten her family with death.
Scholarly articles about the role of women in domestic violence are at best met with disbelief, and at worst with ad hominem accusations against the researchers. Advocacy organizations are pushed to the fringe. And abuse of men sits nowhere on the mainstream political agenda, despite the findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that found that:
- One out of every 19 men in America has been the victim of intimate partner stalking;
- Over 28% of men in America has experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an
intimate partner in their lifetime;
- One out of every 7 men in America has been the victim of severe physical violence from an intimate parter in their lifetime;
- Men and women experience roughly the same level of psychological abuse from intimate partners – slightly over half of all cases surveyed noted that men were the victims.
Let’s be clear: the majority of domestic abuse – and the larger majority of reported intimate partner violence – is against women. This is a problem that must neither be ignored or eclipsed by any other discussion.
But the facts make clear that the problem is all forms of intimate partner violence, and that as long as our focus remains exclusively on violence against women, we are condemning male victims of IPV to lives of anonymous suffering – or worse.
Let’s stop making domestic violence a women’s issue: this is an issue that – like crime, pollution, the economy, and national security – affects all Americans regardless of gender, and it is only going to be effectively addressed if we treat it as such. And please, let’s do it before my son – or anybody’s child – is made to feel that reporting intimate partner violence is a mark against their personal character.