“Don’t let the neighbors know what happens behind closed doors!”
This was the theme of my childhood, and that of most families in my small town. I can remember being scolded by my mother for the time that I was crying as a young boy in kindergarten and Mrs. Campbell consoled me, and then spoke to my mom about what was happening.
Our society has historically kept up appearances so that when domestic violence and abuse happens it is not discussed, and that perpetuates the problems and creates the endless cycle of abuser/victim, victim turned abuser.
When children see abusive behavior in a family home they are learning many lessons. They learn what is tolerated, what is acceptable, and it sets the pattern for their future relationships. When one parent abuses another, that is the dynamic that the child will seek out on an unconscious level in their future mates, either as the abusive partner or the victim partner.
Abusive behavior is not limited to one gender, and neither is being abused. Both men and women can be abusive or abused. The domestic violence industry (and it’s very much an industry with large amounts of money at stake) recognizes this fact, although it took a lawsuit by the National Coalition for Men suing service providers for equal protection to recognize that men needed services.Woods v. Shewry (California Supreme Court Case # S168367)
The problem with domestic violence is that it is shameful. Shameful for the abuser and the abused. Abusers often feel justified in their actions, whether it is a man beating a woman because he feels that she is “his” or a woman abusing a man because she feels that he has “disrespected” her somehow. Male abusers often feel they can “get away with the abuse” because “that’s what men do.” It’s the model they learned at their feet of their fathers and mothers – children mimic their parents. Female abusers often feel their abuse is acceptable because “they’re smaller and can’t actually harm him” or they saw mom beating dad growing up and think that is “what women do.”
Female victims are often intimidated by the physical size of a man and some men do use that imbalance to exert power and control in a dysfunctional relationship. Conversely some men are intimidated by their spouse either physically or emotionally. I have represented men who were much larger than their wives and because we proved that she had physically abused him to the point of drawing blood, the court agreed that he was the victim even though he was at least twice as large as her.
Domestic violence shelters in California are supposed to accept both male and female victims of domestic violence. In my research for this article I have spoken with Carol Crabson the executive director at Valley Oasis in Lancaster. She said that her shelter was the first in the county to accept all victims regardless of gender, sexual orientation or presentation. As we were walking the grounds of Valley Oasis she brought me to the individual standalone units that housed families in need, which allow a parent to flee a dangerous situation with their children.
Women’s Shelter Long Beach executive director Mary Ellen Mitchell met with me at their new corporate offices in Long Beach and we had great conversation about the services they provide, how they take clients from all over Los Angeles, and the reception that men receive from both the shelter’s staff, and the women who are in shelter. Mitchell said that the services they offer, such as parenting classes, family counseling, life skills classes, and resume writing and interviewing are all taught. The crisis portion of the shelter is usually a 30 day stint, but some clients are in shelter and residential programs for up to a year, “which is not a long time” Mitchell said.
Service providers have a county supported Domestic Violence Council to address differing needs within subject populations. Representatives from groups like the Gay and Lesbian Center, the Center for Asian Pacific Families, Haven House and many others, come together on a semi-regular basis to discuss budgeting issues, public policy and legislative initiatives. The chair of the committee is Michelle Daniels who is an Assistant District Attorney. The vice-chair is Pat Butler from Santa Monica’s own Sojourn. She declined to be interviewed for this series. I was disappointed that Ms. Butler would not talk to me, or allow an on-site visit to the shelter that is partially paid for by the taxpayers of Santa Monica.
I had the opposite experience earlier this month when I flew to Memphis Tennessee to then travel to Batesville Arkansas where currently the nation’s only domestic violence shelter dedicated to men is located. There is a second men’s shelter slated to open in Dallas in November. The Taylor House was the brainchild of Patty Duncan who is the executive director of Family Violence Prevention. I asked her if I could come visit Taylor for the documentary I am doing about male victim and she could not have been more welcoming and open. Her response and that of her entire team was one of sharing the information to expand the awareness that the cycle of domestic violence affects everyone in a family.
“We started Taylor House because we thought that a man might not want to come to a shelter run by women, housing women and aimed at women victims.” Duncan told me. “The response has been amazing. We have men from all across the country calling for help. More surprising is the number of other shelters that are calling asking how we did it, because they want to start a men’s shelter in their locale.” She continued.
When it comes to domestic violence the answer is never silence. By speaking about it, by addressing the different dynamics of men and women, by looking at it as a social problem, we can bring it into the light, and from there, we can do more to stop it.
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