Female violence society’s “dirty little secret,” especially in Alberta

July 29, 2011

By Christopher Walsh

Twenty years ago, a man named Earl was sitting alone in a mobile home, the oven door open, two propane tanks set on either side, when the phone rang. He wasn’t expecting the call, it just sort of came out of the blue as he readied to turn on the gas…

…Forced to finally leave his wife and admit that he was the victim of female-perpetrated domestic violence was not an easy thing to do…

…Earl didn’t kill himself that day, but 20 years later, not a lot has changed.

“I’m still trying to find some services to help me deal with this experience and I can’t,” he says. “There’s nowhere I could go to talk about it. There’s an effort to ensure that the voice of male victims of domestic violence is not heard.

“They don’t want to admit that there’s a problem.”…

…Although he has helped dozens of other men through the help line and safe house, he still hasn’t found the support he’s been looking for and has been unable to come to terms with the abuse he suffered…

…“It does [feel good], for that moment,” Earl says. “Then I have to face the bias and all the other issues I typically face.”

Dr. Martin Fiebert, a professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach, who has been studying the issue of female-perpetrated domestic violence on men since the mid-1990s, says the problem is only now beginning to be accepted by law enforcement and other social agencies.

“It’s one of those dirty secrets,” he says. “There was an entrenched mindset that developed and I would say, a feminist viewpoint, that always viewed men as the perpetrators…

…Fiebert says research funding agencies have tended not to provide grants to study the issue, journals have been reluctant to publish studies (in one case a researcher was threatened by the public, Fiebert says), a lot of talk around domestic violence is female-centered and female violence has traditionally been viewed as self-defence. But one of the biggest reasons for the silence around the issue is that a lot of men do not want to talk about it.

“Men have been victimized too, but what usually happens is that a man is ridiculed when he’s victimized; a woman is sympathized with,” Fiebert says. “People will laugh at men who are beaten up by their wives. That’s a pretty strong stigma.”

Numbers out of the United States show the problem of domestic violence may in fact be equally perpetrated by men and women. That’s what Fiebert has concluded.

He says since the 1980s, rates of domestic violence by men have steadily decreased where violence by women rates have not reciprocated. Part of that may be due to what Fiebert calls the “chivalry norm” – the rule engrained in men since childhood that women are not to be hit. Although girls are told that fighting is not lady-like, that same admonishment for hitting the opposite sex isn’t there.

“They’re certainly not inhibited from hitting men,” Fiebert says. “In fact, where we are going culturally, women are getting more assertive, in sports and in other things. It’s seen as a positive value for a woman to be aggressive.”…

…Between 1999 and 2004, more than half a million men in Canada had a female partner who was violent toward them, according to numbers released by Statistics Canada. Alberta pegs that number around one in six men now.

“It’s an emerging issue that is becoming more and more publically shared and spoken about,” says a spokesperson with Alberta Children and Youth Services. “Violence, regardless of gender, is an issue we’re continually working on and striving to address.”…

…Earl says there needs to be a safe place for men only, which he has started with no funding from the government. MASH 4077 is the place he had hoped for when he left his wife and had nowhere to go.

“There should be a safe place, not men being told how to feel, how they need anger management or how the woman takes priority,” he says. “The idea of the abused woman who was beaten up by the alcoholic husband is a very small proportion [of domestic abuse cases today].

“The other part of it is that the community does not want to admit that there are violent women.”…

…“Studies [show] that women’s shelters save men’s lives because the woman has an option of killing the guy or going to the shelter,” he says. “So I say the same thing is true in reverse. Men’s shelters will save women’s lives because right now men don’t have [a lot of] options, [and if] they don’t have any money, they have to stay.”

Twenty years after deciding to not kill himself in the kitchen of the mobile home, Earl wonders some days whether it’s all worth it; the fight, the ridicule, the exclusion from the public and the avoidance from government agencies. He’s still a man looking to come to terms with the abuse he suffered through. That’s in part why the phone line was set up, why the safe house was established: not just for the others, but for him too. And after all that he’s not sure he’s any further ahead…

…More information on male victims of female perpetrated domestic violence can be found at www.familyofmen.ca.

Read more at the Calgary Beacon.