Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence
Encouraging the United Nations and others to take action
It might begin with a slap across the face or a moment when a partner grabs and pulls another partner’s hair with such force that it sends an unrelenting wave of pain that ripples across the entire scalp. It burns at the root with immense intensity. The scalp tingles and throbs for minutes and minutes and minutes.
The first time it happens, it leaves a person emotionally paralytic, but one never forgets it. The slapping and hair-pulling become more frequent and in time recede into common place as slaps and hair pulling turn to punches and beatings while sleeping. The abused person does not sleep comfortably in his own home.
Talking about abuse is always awkward, particularly when it involves males. After all, what kind of a man allows himself to be abused? Can’t he just leave? He can easily defend himself against a woman and at least attempt to against another man.
These questions and beliefs actually dismiss the psychology of the abused, males and females who experience the trauma and seem incapable of distancing themselves from it and finding the necessary support.
Ordinary conversations about domestic violence and intimate partner violence begin with the premise that females are more likely to become victims of abuse even if people do not have any real knowledge on the subject. And truthfully, what would a person who is not in the field of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence research or prevention really know about such statistics? Why would we expect them to know?
I am confident, though, that the majority of people do know males are victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, whether they believe it is less, the same, or more frequent than women and that an abuser can be female or male. The trouble in understanding the depth of this topic is embedded into some social sense of proportionality. After all, males are stronger than females, so males are more likely to be abusers, as the social attitude goes. Right?
We know, for instance, that males in the U.S. are 80% of suicides, 72% of alcohol deaths, 70% of drug overdose deaths, 80% of homicides, and that male infants and toddlers are greater victims of child homicide by significant margins. The proportional differences do not mean females are not in need of services and protections in these areas. (It’s important to recognize that the causes and female needs may differ from those of males.)
In Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, Philip W. Cook observed that abuse is often a mutual experience:
The most often cited reason for ignoring the higher or nearly equal rate of domestic violence against men is that the figures include women acting in self-defense. This is not true in the majority of cases. Mutual combat is the norm in violent households.
Cook’s reporting is certainly one of the better books on the topic and helps us think more openly about the universal nature of abuse and its impact.
Children who experience adverse childhood experiences (such as the abuse of a father, for instance) are less likely to do well in school, more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, more likely to become homeless, and experience a host of other challenges, including difficulty forming healthy relationships and instead falling into abusive relationships. The Adverse Childhood Experience Survey (ACE) is one of the most cited studies regarding the impact on early experiences that can cripple children into adulthood.
One of the single greatest failings of the ACE study was its exclusion of questions that asked sons and daughters if they ever witnessed the abuse of their fathers, stepfathers, or mothers’ boyfriends. The ACE survey did, however, ask sons and daughters about witnessing the abuse of mothers, stepmothers, and girlfriends.
It is these sorts of blind spots in studies that further alienate victims of abuse from the mainstream conversations and shame them into silence. Males who do speak up are often not believed and usually have fewer agencies and services (including law-enforcement) willing and able to help. Government, media, and academic institutions site these studies without identifying the glaring flaw in the study, which does not diminish the other findings of the study. Part of this happens because of the inability to look at violence and abuse as a human failing that exists in females and males.
Higher education, media, and government at the national and international levels knowingly and unknowingly contribute to the disproportionality-of-understanding when it comes to domestic and intimate partner violence that is physical, sexual, and emotional in nature.
Groups around the world are now organizing an International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Men on November 18th. They are calling on the United Nations to recognize this day in a way that is similar to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In a letter, a portion of which is included below, to the United Nations, the NGO Domestic Abuse and Violence International Alliance (DAVIA) and dozens of organizations around the world asked the following of the United Nations:
In previous years, the statements issued by UN Women for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women only addressed some cases, specifically those involving a male perpetrator and female victim. Although we certainly care about violence against women, we also understand that ignoring male victims fosters an incomplete depiction of domestic violence that is harmful to children, both boys and girls, who witness the abuse of their fathers and the adverse childhood experiences that evolve from that violence. An international recognition of violence against men and women will promote the importance of protecting all persons…
The more we see domestic violence and abuse as a harmful element of human nature the more we can make the act of domestic violence a cultural and familial prohibition…
Therefore, the undersigned organizations hereby request that the 2022 observance of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women promote information that presents scientifically accurate attention to the problems of domestic violence against men and reciprocal domestic violence between partners...
In my personal experience, the men I have met and the women of sons who have been victims of abuse do have a tinge of anger, not violence, in their bones. They feel betrayed by humanity and the institutions designed to protect them and their loved ones. Many do get along with their lives to some degree of course. But many end up in very dark places and life-ending scenarios.
But if you ever speak to someone who is a victim of abuse at the hands of a woman or who has witnessed the abuse of a father, there is something so uncomfortable about it all. When the person begins talking, it seems cathartic at first until you notice the modest perspiration on the forehead and the seemingly natural tapping of a finger or foot moving incessantly.
The experience lingers for them, and the decision of those in education, government, and media to dismiss it only makes the pain more traumatic. It lives in them. Anger seems like a perfectly healthy emotion for people in these situations. Helping them heal is a social responsibility on a national and international level.
Although I have always advocated for agencies that promote the well-being of boys and men, I have never done so with the intention of excluding girls and women. So many of the people researching, advocating, and writing in the male space would be appalled at a Gender Policy Council that excluded girls and women or an Office of Men’s Health and no Office of Women’s Health. The opposite is true of course: The U.S. has an Office of Women’s Health and no Office of Men’s Health. There is a Gender Policy Council for Women and Girls, but no such program for boys and men.
By calling on the United Nations to recognize an International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Men and promote it, women and men across the world are encouraging groups to break away from special interest narratives, acknowledge the detrimental impact of violence against males and females, and to look at this as an aspect of human nature that manifests itself differently but impacts men and women equally, if not in number, at the very least in some form that is severe to the victims, families, and societies.
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