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Unsafe at Home: Abuse comes with stigma for male victims

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Most accounts of domestic violence tell of women, battered and broken by men they love.

The vast majority of domestic abuse victims, about 85 percent, are female. Most people never give much thought to the men who make up the other 15 percent and, as a whole, those men don’t talk much about what they’ve endured.

“They may not even recognize it as abuse,” said Shanna Scott, education coordinator for the Rape Crisis Center. “There’s a stigma that women are the ones who are abused.”

If they decide it’s time to get out of the relationship, they usually do it quietly, she added. For a man to admit he has been abused by a woman, especially a young man or a teen, “they dare not say it because they see it as a direct insult or a stain on their manhood.”

Of about 60 criminal domestic violence cases handled every month by the 15th Judicial Circuit, less than 10 percent have a woman charged with abusing a man. But in nearly all those cases, the male victim requests a dismissal, said Manuela Ardeljan, an assistant solicitor.

There’s a stigma attached to domestic violence, no matter who the victim is, said JoAnne Patterson, director of Citizens Against Spouse Abuse. There’s still a tendency by people to want to sweep it under the rug and keep it secret.

“But if you think it’s hard to get women to talk about it, it’s really hard to get a man to admit his wife or girlfriend smacked him,” she said. “Most of them just won’t do it.”

She knew one man who was a voice for male victims of abuse. He was a big man, about 6-foot-6.

“He called me up one day and told me his wife threw a bottle at his head. She missed and hit the baby,” Patterson recalled.

His wife had hit him before, but that wasn’t what motivated him to seek help. He wanted to leave, but worried his wife would get custody of their child. She didn’t.

The man was embarrassed at first, Patterson said, but he went on to be a spokesman for CASA, encouraging other men to come forward and get help. He died last year. His death was not related to abuse.

Linda Collins, a case manager for the Family Justice Center in Georgetown, said concerns for children often keep men from seeking help.

“When a man comes in, there’s generally a child involved. They don’t want to leave because they’re afraid they won’t get custody and they’re not willing to leave the child behind. They want to be part of their everyday lives and they might be afraid once they leave that situation the abuse will be transferred to the child,” Collins said.

Agencies provide information to help men in a custody battle and to keep themselves and their children safe.

For the men who seek help, being violent themselves — even to defend themselves — usually isn’t an option, particularly when there’s a woman involved.

“It’s just not going to happen with them,” Collins said. “Just because a man is not willing to use physical force on a woman doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with him. It just means he needs to get the law to handle it.”

The same legal protections are in place for men as for women who are abuse victims, and it’s not unusual for the center to help a man get an order of protection.

“Usually when a man comes in, he says ‘I bet this is unusual’ or ‘I bet you don’t get a lot of men in here,’ ” Collins said. She’s quick to inform them it’s not unusual at all.

“It has become more prevalent,” she said.

Society tends to take a different view when a woman slaps a man. Violence against men is more accepted than violence against women, Scott said, perhaps because men have an advantage in strength and size. Some people don’t find it plausible that a woman could do real physical harm to a man, often neglecting the fact that abuse can also be emotional.

But while men have certain physical advantages, reports from the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office prove women can be just as or more aggressive than men and do plenty of damage.

Last week, deputies responded to a domestic dispute call in a parking lot at Litchfield. The woman said she and her husband were driving home when he “began to drive erratically” and hit her on the head. They argued and he slammed her head against the dashboard, she said. A deputy noted “some redness and a bump” on her forehead.

The husband, 30 pounds heavier and an inch taller, said his wife hit him first and nearly caused him to lose control of the vehicle. He had a split lip and swelling and cuts on his face from where he said she hit him.

Both were arrested.

The solicitor’s office is seeing an increasing number of dual arrests for domestic violence.

“Officers are having a harder time finding out who the primary aggressor is,” Ardeljan said. They more often find the man and woman involved show physical signs of abuse, she said.

Arrests are made based on physical evidence on the people involved as well as the scene, and witness statements, Georgetown County Assistant Sheriff Carter Weaver said.

“The law is crystal clear and our response is based on S.C. state law,” he said. “We make a determination if we can according to the law as to who the aggressor is. If we are unable to determine who the aggressor is, then both parties are going to jail. There is no ambiguity.”

News from across the state shows a range of serious incidents of domestic abuse against men in recent years, including women charged with shooting, stabbing and attempting to mutilate their partners.

In 2006, a Belton man was beaten to death by his common-law wife.

To read previous stories in the series, click here.

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