It’s October, and that means it’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The month that is set aside to raise awareness of the long-term effects of emotional, psychological and physical abuse on individuals.
My family law practice has seen a tremendous increase in the number of domestic violence filings. As a consequence of that, I represent a great many men who are faced with losing their children, their homes and oftentimes their livelihoods for being an alleged “abusive spouse.”
However, we rarely look at the possibility that a man could be a victim of an abusive woman, even though highly respected studies like the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey demonstrate that about 50 percent of domestic violence should be classified as “mutual aggressor,” meaning “they both started it.” That survey was conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control so it’s hardly a partisan study out to push an agenda.
Sometimes men are abusers, and sometimes not. Sometimes they have been abused and done the “manly thing” and let it go; they’ve been chivalrous and just taken the emotional abuse or the physical hits, “because it wasn’t that bad.”
The problem with this thinking is that domestic violence, no matter who the victim is, is like climbing a spiral staircase with each round of abuse getting more dangerous, more damaging and harder to escape. In the beginning, ignoring an over the top burst of anger at a parking attendant, may seem like a little thing, until that anger is directed at you. The non-aggressor is being groomed by the burst of anger, so that when it is eventually turned on them, they are already resigned to the fact that they will be the target of the anger. As the angry outbursts progress from verbal to throwing things, then slapping or punching, the increase in lethality is happening. Sometimes it results in mutual combat that turns deadly, as in the case of Daniel Crespo, the Bell Gardens mayor who was killed last September by his wife.
The issue of male victims of domestic violence gets little publicity, but when I speak to both men and women, each acknowledges that it happens and it happens in greater numbers than is generally recognized. Men don’t want to admit they are being abused – it’s an affront to their masculinity – but it does happen.
This is why I’m producing a documentary called “What About the Men? Exploring the Hidden Side of Domestic Violence.” The documentary has survivors of abusive relationships, psychologists, a law enforcement officer who minimized his own wife’s violent behavior and a domestic violence shelter director. I’ve been amazed at the level of support I’ve received from men, women, service providers and mental health experts who are pushing me to do this movie. I’ve been disappointed at the level of resistance I’ve found in some areas of the domestic violence community; areas that I thought would be much more supportive of victims in general.
There’s no excuse for domestic violence, but there are explanations for behavior and if we’re going to actually break the cycle of violence, it’s important to not only understand those causes but also treat them.
The cycle of abuse continues until we speak up about it. It happens too often. It’s men dominating women. It’s women dominating men. It’s a parent dominating a child in inappropriate ways.
Think about this, where does an abusive man who grew up in a single parent household, (that’s mostly moms these days) learn how to abuse? If dad wasn’t around to abuse mom, where did the lesson come from?
Men and boys are often the victims of emotional, and physical abuse. We need to recognize this and deal with it because until we do, we’re ignoring a large population of victims who need our help.
Throughout this month I’ll be doing articles on domestic violence and the documentary, “What About the Men?” Later this month I’m launching a crowd-funding campaign to raise awareness on the subject because it is like a vampire; domestic violence cannot survive in the sunlight.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments.He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.