Domestic Violence Awareness Month: The Invisible Victims

October 1, 2013
By Dr. Tara J. Palmatier

October is domestic violence awareness month. In the true spirit of raising public awareness, Shrink4Men, AVoiceForMen and DAHMW (the Domestic Abuse Hotline for Men and Women) would like to shine a spotlight on a group of individuals who comprise approximately half the victims of domestic violence. A group who is afforded very few resources and are typically ignored and/or ridiculed when they speak out about their victimization — often by the very individuals seeking to raise public awareness about the insidious social malady of domestic violence.

Who is this invisible and marginalized group of domestic violence victims pushed to the periphery of public awareness?

Men.

Men are turned away from most domestic violence shelters. Men do not meet eligibility to receive aid from most domestic violence support organizations by virtue of being men, which is nothing short of overt discrimination, sexism and bigotry.

To the best of our knowledge, there are no court advocacy programs for male victims of domestic violence. Men (and their children) are not eligible for state and federal stipends for safe housing from their female abusers. There are no free or subsidized counseling programs nor are there free legal services/legal aid for male victims of domestic violence.

In the United States, there is only one shelter for male victims of domestic violence (the Valley Oasis Shelter in Antelope, CA) out of the approximately 1,800 shelters available to women and their children nationwide. Canada also used to have a domestic violence shelter for men that was run by the late Earl Silverman.

Mr. Silverman committed suicide this past spring after succumbing to a state of learned helplessness and hopelessness after years of begging for funding and assistance for his much needed shelter. Essentially, Canadian women’s domestic violence organizations locked arms and blocked Mr. Silverman from the funding trough. The same thing happens to organizations like DAHMW in the United States.

The repeated message to organizations that want to help male domestic violence victims seems to be, “Be grateful for the few scraps of government funding that drop from the table and if you complain about the disparity, you won’t even get that.” The reality is that most governments are willfully blind to and/or profit from the suffering and victimization of their male citizens. Since men are currently the most underserved group of domestic violence victims, one would think funding the few organizations that help this population would receive priority from state and federal programs. Instead, male abuse victims are begrudgingly acknowledged, that is if they are acknowledged at all.

According to RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting), less than 10% of the United States OVW’s (Office of Violence Against Women) funding is used to help male victims. A big part of the problem lies in the very names of the OVW and the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act). “Violence against women” is exclusionary and ignores half of all domestic violence victims. Even worse, it demonizes men as perpetrators and women as victims in the majority of domestic violence cases, which simply is not true.

It also doesn’t help that the U.S. Department of Justice refuses to fund research about male victims of domestic violence. On page 6 of the DOJ’s solicitation for proposals on intimate partner violence and stalking, they have a section that explicitly states what kind of projects they will not fund, including:

Proposals for research on intimate partner violence against, or stalking of, males of any age.

It is hard to imagine in this day and age that any victim of domestic violence is ignored, scoffed at or denied support, but this is precisely what we do to male victims. It will come as no surprise to many of you reading this that men are approximately 40% to 50% of domestic violence victims. Sadly, most people are still woefully ignorant about domestic violence in large part due to persistently dishonest and misleading public awareness campaigns, data gathered via unscientific methodology and woozles like the 1 in 4 woozle about rape on college campuses.

Despite the abundance of peer-reviewed research on male domestic violence victims and female perpetrators, most domestic violence awareness campaigns focus exclusively on female victims as if our society isn’t already well aware that women can be victims of domestic violence. Many domestic violence organizations persist in publishing long ago debunked statistics that portray women as the victim and men as the primary aggressors in the majority of domestic violence cases.

Read more: Shrink4Men