Abused men not taken seriously


By -- For the Edmonton Sun

Fri, December 3, 2004

Sam says he was a victim of spousal assault. It was two decades ago. He and his wife were arguing over whether Sam's daughter from a previous marriage could come and live with them.

Things got very heated, he explained, "and the next thing I knew, she attacked me with a broken beer bottle."

She tried to cut him with it but he managed to knock it away. They continued grappling and in the struggle his wife's finger was broken.

"When anyone asked her what happened, she'd just tell them that I broke her finger," said Sam, who asked that his real name not be used. "Without any context, any explanation that I was defending myself against her attack, it sounded like she was the only victim."

On Dec. 6, memorial ceremonies will be held across Canada to honour the victims of Marc Lepine, the misogynistic madman who in 1989 gunned down 14 female students at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal for the sole crime of being women.

The tragedy has become a rallying point in the battle to end all forms of violence against women. And so it should be. There is something horrifically wrong with a society in which victimization of women - whether it's physical, sexual or emotional - is so prevalent.

According to Statistics Canada, 8% of all women in the country, nearly one in 12, reported being the victim of domestic violence in the past five years. That figure is only for assaults within intimate relationships - it doesn't include attacks by strangers or other people known to the victim.

In the past generation, great strides have been made for women trapped in abusive relationships, and there is still much work to be done.

But there is another side to this coin that barely gets any recognition, and often when it does it is dismissed, mocked or turned into an either/or argument. Many men are also trapped in abusive relationships with women, but that issue is hardly being addressed at all.

"There is a mythology, as expressed in current law, that indicates in cases of spousal violence, all perpetrators are men and all victims are women," said Dr. Paul Sussman, an Edmonton psychologist. "That's poppycock."

A 2004 study by StatsCan said that of spousal violence cases reported to police, 15% of the complainants were men.

Interestingly, when police lay major assault charges (as opposed to common assault), nearly twice as many women are charged than men. The study offers one possible explanation: men are far more reluctant to call police "until the violence becomes very serious."

Sussman believes that because of the perpetrator/victim mythology, "less serious" incidents, such as slapping, uttering threats, etc., are vastly under-reported by men.

"Go and tell the police that you've been assaulted by a woman and see what kind of response you get."

Men's organizations are trying to call greater attention to the issue, but often they end up falling victim to their own bitter, resentful rhetoric. The substance of their arguments routinely sounds like an attempt to trivialize violence against women.

The U.S.-based Equal Justice Foundation, for example, calls charges of domestic violence "the weapon of choice for women in divorce and custody battles."

Meanwhile, women's advocacy groups bristle at the suggestion that more attention be paid to violence against men, suggesting that it will somehow divert focus from their cause.

Somewhere along the line, the struggle to address domestic abuse has been lost in a sea of ideology.

Abuse, no matter who the perpetrator and victim are, is abhorrent. And just because the victim is in a statistical minority, it doesn't make his suffering any less.