David Pisarra

My goal every Domestic Violence Awareness month is to open up the conversation about DV, who perpetrates it, who facilitates it, and who benefits from it. The sad reality is that domestic abuse happens in far too many relationships, and that it is extremely misunderstood. 

Abusive behavior is far more than just physical abuse today. It is emotional, financial, psychological, sexual, and the latest addition to the litany of ways that humans are horrible to each other is coercive control. I have no real problem with the expansion of what constitutes domestic abuse or violence. As a child who grew up with lots of abuse in my household, and in my schooling, I’m very alert to the long term damage that is done. 

What I do have a problem with is the lack of education about how women and men perpetrate abuse differently. The truth is that women primarily perpetrate abuse verbally and men tend to perpetrate through being more vocally aggressive, physically intimidating and/or actual violence. This is the source of the data that says women are more often the victims of abuse, because when a man gets physically violent, it is more likely that he is going to do actual damage to his victim, than when the average woman gets physically abusive.

But that doesn’t mean that the verbal abuse perpetrated by a woman is not damaging to her victims. In my own experience, physical damage heals far quicker than the emotional damage that was perpetrated upon me. And I have the therapy bills to prove it.

In my line of work as a divorce lawyer who specializes in father’s I have represented men who clearly have anger issues. I have spent hours in court hallways being yelled at by angry, resentful, hurt men. And that abuse of me, led me to seek help with the PTSD that I was experiencing. It’s been said that, “Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men” and I am here to share that it is not a luxury at all to be the recipient of an angry onslaught. I had the power at least to leave the relationship easily and with not further complications, but for the spouse who shares a child I can see that the lifetime entanglement would be a heavy burden to carry.

Similarly, I have represented men who have wives or girlfriends who are angry and witnessed their attacking, demeaning, abusive words and it’s just as painful. I still have the video of one woman who was no more than 110 pounds, a little southern Belle is how she portrayed herself to the court, her words were bone chilling, the terror in my client’s voice as he called me was palpable, because he knew he couldn’t call the police for help, and I knew that I could never get the judge to grant me a restraining order against her.

It is not even vaguely politic for me to be writing about the issue of male victimization in an industry that is primarily focused on the victimization of females by males. By taking the position that there are male victims and that females are completely capable of being abusive and/or violent I am running against the dogma that is put forth by industry leaders who refused to be interviewed by me. The male spokespersons in the DV industry wont discuss the issue of female violence, TED speaker Tony Porter has refused multiple requests for interviews, as has fellow TED speaker Dr. Jackson Katz. So I don’t know if they just refuse to believe it happens, or if they are protecting their business interests. 

Why would an industry refuse to acknowledge a significant victim population? Money. The dollars that are available for people such as Tony Porter and Dr. Katz are significant, from books and speaking engagements, to corporate trainings that focus on making sure that DV is, as Dr. Katz puts it “a man’s issue.” He’s right, it is a man’s issue, but he drops the ball when he ignores that it is also “a woman’s issue” as well. Study after study has shown that domestic violence is at least half the time, a ‘mutual combat’ occurrence, where both parties have engaged in abusive behavior and no one can determine who the instigator was.

One famous Harvard study declared that women are instigators of violence in 70% of the cases they reviewed. That is a highly contested study for the obvious reason that it indicates a problem which would need to be dealt with, if we accepted the conclusion as fact. What would it mean for the “Violence Against Women Act”? – perhaps it would have to be renamed the “Violence Against Humans Act” or “Stop Interpersonal Violence Act” but that could jeopardize the funding for shelters that focus on women. 

The honest experts have recognized from almost day one that there was a problem with family violence – that women have just as much propensity to be abusive as men. As Erin Pizzey puts it in The Red Pill (a documentary she appears in), “I knew within 6 months of opening the first refuge (in 1971) that the women were just as violent as the men.” The movie shows an archive clip of refuge residents (shelter clients in our parlance) proudly boasting of their abusive behavior. 

By failing to comprehensively address the issue of family violence we allow the cycle to repeat itself. Little boys learn that they are to tolerate abuse from females by watching their mothers beat their fathers. Little girls learn they can beat boys, because we teach that a boy never hits a girl, and we don’t teach that girls shouldn’t hit either.

In families where the father is abusive, little boys learn that men can dominate in relationships with violence, and little girls learn that this is what to expect from the men in their life, so they go looking for it in their future mates. This is how the cycle of abusers and abused is recreated across generations.

There are many ways we can help victims overcome their feelings of powerlessness: shelters, therapy, public service announcements and “awareness months” are all outreach programs – but probably the most effective way is to start naming the problem and stopping the shame around it. We have to raise the awareness not just that men can be abusive, but that they can be abused. We have to reach out to men to teach them ways to express emotions that are non-violent, just as we have to teach women to do the same. 

Domestic violence knows no limits. It is not solely “a man’s issue” as Dr. Katz would have us believe, it is not a socioeconomic issue – millionaires like OJ Simpson and Amber Heard have been abusers. Hope Solo and Sean Penn have both been accused of domestic abuse. 

Domestic violence stops, when we start talking about it honestly, without regard to laying blame, without concern for padding of budgets, and with the honest intent to stop the cycle of abuse.

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 dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra