When we discuss domestic violence, it is often assumed that the victims are women. And the statistics are truly traumatic. The less-told story is that a striking number of men are victims, too, suffering physical, mental and sexual abuse in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships. According to the CDC, one in four adult men in the U.S. will become a victim of domestic violence during his lifetime. That's upwards of three million male domestic violence victims every year, or one man in America abused by an intimate or domestic partner every 37.8 seconds.
Highlighting these statistics is not meant to downplay in any way domestic violence among women. It is, however, intended to add to the growing conversation that anyone can be the victim of domestic abuse and everyone who needs protection deserves access to it.
Male victims of domestic violence, just like female victims, often deal with intense self-doubt and anxiety before reaching out for help. Victims may fear their abusers will seek retribution if they go to the police, or they feel great uncertainty about leaving their home for temporary safe house shelter. Men and women can both experience these kinds of worries. But one barrier to that tends to only apply to male victims? The belief that domestic violence laws and resources don't apply to them.
Is there any truth to this? There may be no better time than October's Domestic Violence Awareness Month to clear up a misconception that has persisted for far too long. If you are a man in an abusive relationship, or know someone who is, here are five reality checks that your safety is valued and important.
Fear: Police Don't See Women as Abusers
Reality Check: A few weeks ago, a domestic violence case in Florida made headlines when a man - an army ranger - came forward with evidence that his estranged wife had physically abused him. His proof? Video from a Go Pro camera he was wearing that allegedly showed his wife physically assaulting him in front of their children. The two have been engaged in a bitter divorce and custody battle, and now domestic violence has been added to the mix. The wife in this matter has been charged and is currently in jail.
You don't need video evidence before the police will take you seriously. Start keeping a log of all instances of abusive actions taken by your partner, and be as specific as possible with dates, places, times, what happened, and the names of any witnesses. Carefully document any cuts, bruises or other injuries, taking photos whenever possible and seeking medical care as needed. If you feel unsafe having this information in your home, ask a trusted friend or family member to keep it in a secure place in their home. In the event you call the police, or someone else calls 911 to report an incident, producing this kind of evidence can be a powerful tool to clarify the situation for the police. Yes, female abusers may falsely claim that they were only fighting back in self-defense, or in a same-sex relationship, the other male partner may claim it was a mutual argument that got out of hand. The police understand these kinds of tactics and are trained to do their job to assess the incident and take the correct action. You can help them by being up front with what has been happening in your relationship.
Fear: Domestic Violence Victim Shelters Don't Help Men
Reality Check: This month the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women, one of the state's leading domestic violence agencies, changed its name to the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence. A statement put on the organization's website explains that this more inclusive name clarifies that the group's work is for the benefit of all domestic violence victims. What's in a name? Unfortunately, the female-centric names that many domestic violence advocacy groups carry can send male victims the message that they aren't welcome. While women may be the predominant group these agencies serve, many shelters and outreach groups provide services for male DV victims, including safe house shelter and legal assistance. In you are a male seeking help, don't let a shelter's name or title throw you off. For help finding the shelters in your community that provide services to men, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233.
Fear: Domestic Violence Laws Are Stacked Against Men
Reality Check: In domestic violence situations, all states offer their courts the ability to issue restraining orders that restrict contact between abusers and victims. Restraining orders are often the most significant legal remedy available to abuse victims, and can be obtained regardless of gender. When it comes to other domestic violence statutes, most states (approximately 37) have laws that use gender-free language. Even in states that don't, the law in practice is typically applied to both female and male victims; a few states even have special legal language protecting victims in same-sex relationships.
You don't need to be an expert in the law to get help as a male victim of domestic violence, but it can be helpful to have an attorney by your side to advocate for your rights and guide you through the system, especially when it comes to filing for a restraining order. According to one recent study, 83 percent of victims who had an attorney help them file a restraining order successfully obtained one, compared to approximately 30 percent of victims who went it alone.
Fear: Gay Male Victims Will Be "Outed"
Reality Check: When seeking help from a shelter or other domestic violence victim services, gay men who wish to keep their sexual orientation private may believe they will need to reveal this information in order to get help. However, it is enough to identify yourself as a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence advocates and counselors know that you are in crisis and are trained not to pressure victims to respond to questions they are not comfortable answering. It's also okay to ask about what policies are in place to ensure that any information you share will be kept private.
Fear: Men Who Seek Help Are Weak
Reality Check: Many men don't seek help for domestic abuse because they fear that it will make them look weak. The truth? There are few actions that require as much bravery as walking away from an abusive relationship. To recognize that you are in need of help and then take the steps needed to get it is not weakness. It's a sign of strength.
If you, or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or domestic abuse -and this includes spousal cyber abuse - get help immediately. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) has full details of what to do and Domestic Shelters has contact information of local help and shelters near you. Alternatively call National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).