From media portrayals of women slapping up men as comedy to cops who don't arrest the chicks, some men's rights groups have had it with a biased view of domestic violence.
He was hurt. He was the victim. The only reason he never fought back is because he thought he could help the woman he married. That didn't happen.
"One night, I was sleeping in bed and she got mad," John says. "Hit me over the head with a pan. The next day, she sent me flowers at work. I bet she sent me flowers eight times or so over the few years we were together. It's weird, being a guy and getting flowers at work. It's even weirder when you have a black eye."
John met Diane in 1997. (Their names, like those of other domestic violence victims in this story, have been changed.)
"It was a nightmare from the very beginning," he says. "I should have learned."
After knowing each other for about two weeks, the two ended up in bed. John recounts the episode as the first of many such stories where he would be blamed for troubles that he says Diane actually caused.
"It was the first time we made love and afterwards, for the next 30 minutes, she cried hysterically. Now, this is not a typical reaction. I couldn't even understand what she was saying. I tried to get her to calm down.
"Finally, she told me the problem. She told me she had a sexually transmitted disease, and that she'd had a breakout. She'd given it to me."
The 41-year-old financial analyst pauses and takes a deep breath.
"Now who was the victim here? She gave me herpes, absolutely."
In domestic frays, it's hard to know who's telling the truth. When men and women, gay or heterosexual, are asked by researchers and pollsters whether they've been abused or abusive, both tend to say they have been victims or perpetrators at fairly equal rates. From this, some infer that women use violence in relationships as frequently as men. The roots of this can be traced, some say, back to a society that tends to take a lighter view of domestic violence when the female is violent, controlling or manipulative.
"People hit and abuse family members because they can," begins a study titled "Controlling Domestic Violence Against Men," authored last year by researchers Charles Corry, Martin Fiebert and Erin Pizzey. Women, they contend, are given permission to be aggressive in a way that men never have.
"In today's society, as reflected in TV, movies and feminist doctrine, women are openly given permission to hit men," the study states. "For example, a woman slapping a man in the face is rarely, if ever, viewed as domestic violence. We are fighting a losing war against family violence until society withdraws permission from women to hit their intimate partners."
The researchers complain of "primary aggressor" laws in place that usually result in the arrest of the man in spite of evidence they cite that 50 percent of domestic assaults are mutual combat. The researchers cite studies showing that women admit to being more violent than men in dating relationships--and women use weapons more often in assaults than do men--80 percent for women; 20 percent for men.
"Almost every heterosexual man I know has been slapped by a woman," says Frederic Hayward of Men's Rights Inc., which is based in California. He calls himself a victim of domestic violence. "Domestic violence by women against men is so common in the media that we don't even notice it. It's become a staple of comedy."
IT'S TRUE THAT AGENCIES WHO deal with domestic violence see far fewer men seeking the same kinds of services--like emergency shelter and financial assistance--as do abused women. A report prepared by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence cites 1998 statistics from the National Institute of Justice showing that women make up 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence.
A National Violence Against Women survey done in 2000, however, listed different numbers. About 4.5 million women said they had been victims of intimate partner violence in the preceding year, and 2.9 million men, more than half the number of women, reported the same.
The needs of college-aged men who come for counseling at the UA's Oasis Center are varied, says Tina Haag, program director.
"Some come in to get assistance with an abusive partner (or) to talk about childhood traumas, and sometimes they come in with a partner to discuss relationship issues, or to support a partner who has been assaulted," Haag says. "As an advocate, I would have to say that working with men in crisis is the most difficult area for me. I tend to get very emotional when they become visibly upset, but that is just my own issue based on societal biases (which I have to explore and acknowledge quite often) about men being tough."
Where can a battered man turn for help?
In Tucson, agencies like the Wingspan Domestic Violence Project and the Brewster Center for Domestic Violence Services extend help to women and men--gay, lesbian and transgender.
"We don't say women are victims only because it's not true," says Carolina, who works at Brewster and didn't want her last name used. "Domestic violence has no gender, no age, no color and it's all around the world. It happens to young men, women and even teenagers."
At Brewster, counseling and support groups are offered to men and women.
But men won't find help from one of Tucson's largest and oldest domestic violence agencies--Tucson Centers for Women and Children. The TCWC, as its name suggests, deals exclusively with women and children. A caller looking for services for a battered guy might be directed, as this reporter recently was, to the homeless services organization, the Primavera Foundation.
Does Primavera offer services specifically for battered men?
Primavera director Don Chatfield can list many, many services that Primavera does offer--from drop-in facilities to a 105-bed men's shelter that's always full to transitional housing and job training.
But domestic violence services?
"I hear anecdotal evidence about participants coming to us as victims both women and men," Chatfield says. "It isn't really part of our program."
IN THE ABSENCE OF SERVICES IN many communities, men often share their stories online at Web sites hosted by organizations like Stop Abuse For Everyone, www.safe4 all.org.
One tall, athletic 45-year-old tells of constant abuse from his 115-pound wife.
"She has punched me, kicked me, slapped me, scratched me, pushed me and thrown drinks at me," says Mike in a bulletin board posting that links from the SAFE site. "I could easily make her the first German satellite, launching her into orbit! I know a few hand and wrist holds that I can usually apply to stop her long enough to run. The thought of hurting a woman makes me sick."
One night, his wife pulled a knife on him. Mike called the police and his wife was arrested. But he remains married to her, in part for the sake of his infant son.
"She thinks nothing of arguing, yelling and swearing with the baby in her arms. I point out that she shouldn't do this, but it only makes it worse. I now move through the house in a state of red alert. I sleep in another room with the doors locked."
CALIFORNIA PSYCHOLOGY professor Martin Fiebert's interest in the male side of the domestic violence story was piqued several years ago when he was asked to appear on a TV talk show. It was domestic violence week, and the show featured a panel with several women who were all victims of domestic abuse, counselors of abused women or members of legal community.
At the time, Fiebert taught a class called Psychology of Male Roles at California State University, Long Beach, and he'd found studies showing that men were victims of female aggression as well. The women didn't seem interested in his point of view.
"I went on the show and presented the information, but [the participants] doubted the validity of the studies," Fiebert recalls. "They doubted that the findings were representative of what went on."
He went to work to assemble domestic violence studies and statistics that proved his point. In the late 1990s, he published a paper that summarized the findings of 85 studies that showed a surprising number of men view themselves as victims of female aggression. Now his list of studies has grown to 132 articles, studies and reviews.
Here are just a few recent examples: A 2000 study published in Psychological Bulletin showed evidence that women were more likely than men to use physical aggression, though "women were somewhat more likely to be injured, and analyses reveal that 62 percent of those injured were women."
A 1999 study in Behavioral Sciences and the Law reviewed studies that "clearly demonstrate that within the general population, women initiate and use violent behaviors against their partners at least as often as men."
A 1998 study of verbal and physical abuse in dating relationships that was presented at a meeting of the American Psychological Association examined a survey of college students that showed "women were significantly more physically aggressive than men, particularly in the areas of pushing, slapping and punching."
Men who feel they've been victimized respond positively, of course, to Fiebert's work. "They feel personally validated that they aren't the only ones," Fiebert says. Young researchers just starting out in the field find Fiebert's compilation of research valuable, as well. In fact, he hears few complaints.
"I think people who are not into sort of a--I don't know--political agenda or radical feminist agenda are interested in the facts," he says.
Sometimes folks e-mail him suggestions for works to be added to his compendium of studies. Others tell him personal stories, many of which begin: "My girlfriend used to hit me."
It seems that his work is being accepted now more than it was when he first began citing studies that showed equality in the numbers of male and female victims."(Years ago,) there was a strong reaction, with some thinking that I was betraying feminism by presenting this information," he says, "but not anymore."
Some things, though, haven't changed. Like the cultural taboos that look down on men's aggressiveness toward women, he says. And that the reverse--women hitting men--is somehow seen as acceptable.
"Women being aggressive to men is seen as, 'So what?' So what if she throws something and hits him? There are no major sanctions. If adult guy hits his partner, he could be thrown in jail or lose his kids."
FREDERIC HAYWARD OF MEN'S Rights Inc. says police aren't doing enough. "If two people started fighting over there," he says, gesturing across the café to half a dozen busy tables, "and I saw a knife or a gun lying nearby, the first thing I'd do is pick it up and put it away so that no one can use it."
A longstanding domestic dispute is similar, he says. Only instead of removing weapons, some agencies are adding them to the fray.
"Two people are fighting, and the system goes up to one--the woman," Hayward taps his hand on the table, "and says, 'Here are some weapons you can use. We trust you not to misuse them. And if you lie in court, we will not prosecute you for perjury.'"
Domestic violence laws protect women, he says. Shelters are created for battered women. Many of the nation's oldest domestic violence agencies believe women's stories--and not those of men, contends Frederic Hayward, who founded his group back in the 1970s.
"I've been to the police bleeding, and they won't make an arrest," Hayward says. That is all he will say about his personal experience.
Hayward has appeared on Oprah three times--the first time getting kicked off for what he says was "pointing out her hypocrisies on sexism and men." Some years ago, he learned that CBS was running a made-for-TV movie, Men Don't Tell. He called a CBS affiliate in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., to see if they wanted to do a local story on men who'd been abused. He asked six men to come with to the station.
At the last minute, the station changed the time. None of the male victims could make it at the new time, so Hayward was left with no sources.
Hayward took the new recruits to the TV station. After the broadcast of the panel discussion, Hayward received about 60 calls within a few hours, he says. He started a men's support group based on the phone calls. The movie, he says, pulled in calls of a different kind.
"The producer of the movie got a lot of heavy flack with people who did not want this to get out," Hayward says.
Hayward makes his living as a videographer of weddings and special events, and he's has lately been tracking male bashing.
One common toast at weddings, he says, involves placing the man's hand over the woman's, then saying, "Enjoy this. It's the last time you'll have the upper hand in this relationship" to the man.
"They say things like, 'Men are like grapes; you have to stomp on them and hope they mature into something you want to have dinner with,'" Hayward says.
People learn this kind of behavior from the media. Hayward's collected eight hours of clips from television sitcoms that show female on male violence. He's only been able to find about 30 seconds of male violence toward women.
"Our society condones this, encourages it. We are horrified by violence against women, horrified by it. But when a man gets hurt, we are applauding like it's the funniest thing in the world. ... What planet do the media live on?"
LET'S GO BACK TO DIANE AND John, who says "life was a nightmare" and that he had to "walk on eggshells" to avoid setting his wife off.
John had been married before for eight years. The marriage ended, he says, when his first wife decided that she wanted to "go back to school and be a teenager."
"I wanted to have children," he says. "We had different goals. We're still good friends, and we parted amicably."
The two broke up just after Christmas one year. In the first week of January, they undecorated their Christmas tree together.
"We put half the ornaments in one box and half in the other," John says. "It was one of those, 'You take this. No, you take it, it means more to you.' There was no reason to be enemies."
John speaks via phone from his home in Colorado. After spending tens of thousands in legal battles in what's so far a losing battle for custody of his son, who's now 4 years old, he feels like an activist. He's told his story to Charles Corry, a colleague of Fiebert's who seems much more involved in the men's movement than the Long Beach psychologist. Corry's doctoral degree is in geophysics and less than a decade ago he was writing papers like "Investigation of Ferroelectric Effects in Two Sulfide Deposits" for the Journal of Applied Geophysics. He began publishing mostly co-authored papers on domestic violence in the past couple of years. In 2001, he contributed to a book, Domestic Violence Against Men in Colorado."
Corry, a former marine, is a father of three who lists "Buddhist" as his religion on an online resume, a document that links to some of his own essays like "Cinderella Revisited." The piece begins: "There is a dark side to the Cinderella story that is seldom told. Having failed to trap the Prince at the ball, the wicked stepsisters are still loose on the world." Corry introduces the piece by writing: "Women who have read this article generally accuse me of hating women, or having had very bad luck with them (true), or other antifeminine attitudes."
The origins of Corry's shift in research topics begins to emerge. "Mainly it is the legal system that destroys men," Corry says. "The abuse from their wives or girlfriends is almost minor in most cases."
John's story is an exception, Corry says. He's written about John and Diane in a case study article titled: "The Face of Battering," written for the Equal Justice Foundation.
"(John's) ex-wife appears to suffer from Munchausen Syndrome by proxy--to the great danger of his 4-year-old son, who the courts gave custody to (Diane)," Corry says. An individual with Munchausen Syndrome fakes sickness to gain attention. With Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, an individual imposes symptoms on others, often children. John claims that Diane has taken his son to the doctor about 200 times in the past four years.
The fight that ended John and Diane's marriage is described in Corry's article. The writing tells John's story exclusively, relating how Diane reacted to being awakening in the middle of the night by a newborn. (The censored letters are courtesy of Corry.)
"Diane would throw the covers back and scream 'F##k' or 'G#dammit' and call the baby a 'S##thead'--and how her husband once found her in the shower with her clothes on concerned that she had hurt her son. ... Then she told him that she could understand how a parent could hurt their child."
The child was uninjured, John says during the phone interview.
Things finally came to a head one day in the middle of June 1999. John says that Diane picked a fight with him, swearing and screaming at him to unload their truck so she could drive to town. While he unloaded the truck, he heard a loud bang in the house.
"But he figured it was just another door being slammed by Diane," Corry writes.
Long after Diane had left, John realized that the sound he had heard was that of the entertainment center being tipped over. The shelves had held a TV, all his trophies and other valued possessions.
"Many of the things were smashed. He stood the cabinet back up, picked up the TV and went into the kitchen to eat something. Then the phone rang. It was Diane." Diane told John she was leaving him, taking his son and making sure that John "would never hunt or fish with [the boy] or be a part of his life. 'I will teach him to hate you,' she told John." Corry continues: "The only glue that had been allowing John to continue trying to find a solution was his son. When Diane took that away from him ... John lost it."
Since the TV remote was in his hand, he threw it through the TV. He knocked over a china cabinet and a curio cabinet, "threw a couple things and then collapsed in the middle of the living room and cried."
The collapse, Corry relates, allowed John to tap into an inner source of strength and "to never allow another person to take so much from him."
"By publishing this, he hopes other men can learn and escape such horror."
In the meantime, John says, Diane had called the police. She told them John had gone on a rampage, smashing things in the house. She said he had guns and she feared he would commit suicide. Police surrounded the house. John refused to leave the house unless Diane would come and explain what had happened.
When she arrived and he left the house, he was "immediately swarmed over by a SWAT team, knocked to the ground, kicked and dragged across the parking lot handcuffed."
He spent the next three days in jail. Diane took out a restraining order. He did not see his son for more than six weeks, and then only saw the boy during supervised visits. Corry writes: "Foolishly, John pled guilty to a charge of criminal mischief and was given a deferred sentence. And finally he had sense enough to get out of the relationship. ... Diane filed for divorce."
BOB, WHO TELLS HIS STORY AT the SAFE Web site, is 28 years old. He's married to a woman, he says, who enjoys violent sex and has held sharp objects to his throat whenever it turns her on.
"When I called a rape hotline, I was laughed at! I feel so worthless and feeble, but mostly humiliated. Yet, I can't bring myself to try to get out of the relationship for fear of retaliation. My wife claims that, if I try to leave her, she'll cut me till my blood won't stop flowing and watch me die."
One woman, Joannie, posts a story explaining how she became abusive in one instance: "I don't know what happened. I suppose it all went by too fast. One moment, I was on the verge of leaving and the next, I had lurched my arm back to slug him one in the face, causing massive bleeding at the jaw, then in the chest multiple times. I didn't stop throwing punches--and even kicked him once--until he fell back against the bed, eyes gone wide ... the shock, hurt, then almost disgust, that crossed his face jarred me to the very core."
In a response to Joannie's post, another woman attempts to reassure the worried spouse: "You did the right thing, taught him who's boss. Works with my husband at least. Right on, sister! Don't feel guilty, feel proud!"
That's the kind of attitude that smacks of unfairness, says Hayward.
"People need to understand that women are just as human as men," Hayward says. "They are just as capable of abusing power as men."