By the droves, men are coming out of the closet to talk about a type of violence they once dared not speak about -- violent abuse from their wives and girlfriends.
The outpouring -- hundreds of e-mails and calls -- was in response to a recent column I wrote about Dean Lai-how, a Renton man who tried his best to avoid stalking from his ex-wife. After months of harassing behavior, police say Dean's ex eventually ran after him and shot him dead.
"I have twice been the victim, even though I hate that word," Mark, a reader, writes about his former spouse. "Once I was chased down the hall with a butcher knife ... Second time, I was in the recliner, napping in the basement when (my wife) left a steak on the broiler, took the kids and left. Don't ask me how you could 'forget' dinner was cooking, but luckily there were few flames, just a ton of smoke."
"Since last October I have been harassed, stalked, slandered and financially impacted by an ex-girlfriend," says Vaughn. "I have had to move three times, change phone and cellular numbers and e-mail addresses. This woman has caused me to lose (business) contracts, interfered with my relationship with my children, had me falsely arrested and then harassed all friends who helped me through this ... I have been in therapy. I am not the first ex-boyfriend she has done this to."
"I've been there, for many years. It wasn't fun," confesses Tom. "There are plenty of men who are being battered, just as there are plenty of women. Too many of each. We all agree domestic violence is a serious problem, but we can't solve it as long as we insist on treating only one side of it: Man equals abuser, and woman equals victim."
I wasn't so much surprised to hear from men with stories -- about flimsy restraining orders, the lack of shelter services for abused men, about how the legal deck favors women -- as I was to hear from so many women who powerfully echoed what the men were breaking long-held silences to say.
By one estimate, a man in America is battered every 37.8 seconds. Nationally, about 1.5 million women are victims of domestic violence each year compared to about 835,000 men, according to a 1998 National Violence Against Women Act survey.
But given the way the issue has been publicly framed for so long one could easily conclude women are the sole victims of domestic abuse.
"I know that women initiate violence," says Jackie. "Of my friends that say it's not a problem, the usual response is that the 'man is bigger and has more physical strength.' ... I've thought for some time that women need to be as accountable as men for involvement in domestic violence."
"I have first-hand experience with women batterers -- my sister is one," writes Deborah. "When I tell people that women batter too, they look at me as if I am some kind of traitor. I guess 'us women' are supposed to stick together. I refuse to stick up for an abusive person, male or female."
Deborah adds: "I have a friend who called the state's Domestic Violence Hotline, the one MY tax dollars pay for, and because he is male, they told him he was probably a batterer and a liar."
Lisa Scott, a family law attorney in Bellevue, points out that society has an ingrained double standard when it comes to issues involving men who are victims of abuse at the hands of women.
That just serves to divide men and women who should be united on an issue of power and control that affects both genders.
Not long after Dean died, the local news was flooded with the story of a young Stanwood woman who was slain by her ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself.
"I saw several prominent stories about her case, with the usual interviews with family, friends and domestic violence advocates," Scott says. "Not so much as a peep was heard about Mr. Lai-how's background or what a horrendous experience he had already gone through before he was murdered. No interviews with DV victim advocates, talking about how dangerous it can be to get away from an abuser."
Scott is working to change perspectives and foster positive change in our legal system by making it less gender-biased. She's working with a reform group -- Taking Action Against Bias in the System -- that can be reached at this Web site: www.tabs.org.
Such an effort comes as more and more groups are coming to the fore.
There's the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men, which can be reached at www.noexcuse4abuse .org.
Jan Brown, founder and executive director of the helpline, says it's "a shame" that it takes a story such as Dean's slaying to get the public to look at the least-served victims of domestic violence -- men.
Philip Cook e-mailed to mention his Oregon-based international organization called Stop Abuse For Everyone, which can be visited at this Web address: www.safe4all.org.
Cook says lawmakers need to see whether adequate state money is set forth for male victims in need of services or emergency shelter. He also says police and sheriff's departments need to offer "outreach" efforts for male victims that are comparable with what they do for females victims.
His point is reinforced by one officer named David who says that in a decade of working patrol it "became obvious to me that there were more incidents of women being the primary suspect than what was being put forth during training."
David says prosecutors got police to buy into the "only arrest the primary aggressor" axiom and that officers were taught that person was likely going to be the man because of an assumption the man is stronger.
"I stopped going to the annual Puget Sound Domestic Violence conferences because of the biased slant toward only male suspects," David adds. "They would put silhouette cutouts on the stage of 30 or so dead victims and they were all women."
Domestic violence hurts both men and women.
Are we as a society ready to speak up and confront the problem on all fronts as we should for the benefit of everyone?
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