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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

My Response to an Article on Men Being Abused by Women


Warning- this post is probably very triggering for people who have been through abuse. It contains details about abuse and also talks about suicide and murder. Read at your own discretion.

I was at a friend’s house this past weekend and was looking through a magazine that is popular in my circles. It had a piece written by two men entitled “We’re Only Addressing Half the Problem” that talked about the abuse men go through, especially during and after divorce, and said that while society helps women who are abused, it ignores the other half of the problem, men that are abused. 
It cited a few studies but misrepresented them, and then they made an internet survey of 199 divorced people from a divorced group, and then asked them leading questions about whether or not they were abused and what the abuse was like. Of the respondents, only a quarter of them said they were abused, and of those that answered, more men than women responded that they were physically abused. Which made me realize, even more than I did at first, just how problematic this piece was. As I read it, I got more and more incensed.

This is an edited version of my response that I sent to the magazine. There’s very little chance that this will ever be published, because of its length, but it's too important a topic to not be shared, so I’m sharing it here with you to right a grievous wrong and to correct some, unfortunately too common, misperceptions about abuse.

Let's start with the fact that this is based on an online survey of divorced couples surveying only 199 people. 199 is not statistically relevant at all (and its even less relevant when its no more than 50 people who responded about abuse) and especially when done by an online survey by the authors of this piece who admit that they are biased, as one author shared on his Facebook wall that “[he has] a personal connection to this issue”. This is selection bias in addition to being a non reputable source and significantly meaningless. And yet the basis of this op ed seems to be such fictitious statistics that the authors created, for example, that more men are victims of physical violence by their partners than there are female victims. It means nothing and it is not data; it is skewed anecdotes.

In order to properly address this topic, one must first look at verifiable statistics on the topic from reputable sources.

From the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime. 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner. 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped in their lifetime. 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder-suicides are female.

Here are some more sobering statistics from the 2010 CDC report: Nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) and 1 in 10 men (10%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner and reported it having a related impact on their functioning.

According to a report from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 1994 to 2010 approximately 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) were female.

Yes, men are sometimes the victims of intimate partner violence, but the percentage of times they are abused compared to the percent of times that women are the victim show that the topic of male abuse victims is not nearly, as the title suggests “the other half of the problem”.

This is by far a problem that women face many times more than men do, and turning the conversation around to “what about us men” is just to deflect from the issue that women face.

But this isn’t just abuse. This isn’t just a “victimhood Olympics” as someone I know suggested. These are lives we’re playing with. Because this isn’t just about abuse; oftentimes abuse escalates into murder.

According to the National Research Center on Domestic Violence:
From 1980 to 2008, nearly 1 out of 5 murder victims were killed by an intimate partner. Women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner (husband, boyfriend, same-sex partner, or ex) than by anyone else. Approximately 2 out of 5 female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner. In 2013, fifteen times as many females were murdered by a male they knew than were killed by male strangers. For victims who knew their offenders, 62% were wives, common-law wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends of the offenders. Men can also be victims of intimate partner homicide. In recent years, about 4.9% of male murder victims were killed by an intimate partner. There is reason to believe that the motivation for female perpetrated crimes may be self-defense or retaliation, as the majority of women who use violence against their male partners are battered themselves.

According to statistics from Canada between 2000 and 2016, there were 5.1 females victims of murder via their partner per one million compared to 1.4 males victims per one million. To do the math for you, that means that women are 3.6 times as likely as a man in Canada to be killed by their partner.

If you talk about the world at large, according to a UN report, women account for 82% of victims killed by their partner or ex-partner. Let’s do the math for you there- 18% of victims killed by their partners or ex partners were men. That’s 4.6 times as likely.

An important part that is being left out of all this talk about men victims of intimate partner violence is that not all relationships are heterosexual. There are lots of stats of intimate partner violence in the gay community as well. Therefore, you cannot know, just by looking at the numbers of men victims of IPV, the number of women abusers.

Clearly what the article claims, that women abuse men just as often as men abuse women is wrong. Statistics don’t lie. Yes, abuse from women towards men does happen, but those instances are rare. And it gets more complicated than that as well.

Let's start with the story mentioned at the beginning of the piece, which claims that Simon is a victim of abuse. But within the first paragraph, it mentions that he “would often get angry and scream at Dinah or the kids”. This already shows me that Simon wasn’t this innocent victim of abuse that this piece was making him out to be. The likelihood that he was violent if this is what he was actually admitting is sky-high.

Lundy Bancroft wrote a book about abusive men and tackles lots of myths about abuse. Myth 14 is “There are just as many abusive women as abusive men. Abused men are invisible because they are ashamed to tell.”

Abused men are rare. As Bancroft says “I don’t question how embarrassing it would be for a man to come forward and admit that a woman is abusing him. But don't underestimate how humiliated a woman feels when she reveals abuse; women crave dignity just as much as men do. Even if [they] didn’t want to come forward, they would have been discovered… Among my physically abusive clients nearly one third have been arrested as a result of a call to the police that came from someone other than the abused woman. If there were millions of cowed, trembling men out there, the police would be finding them. Abusive men commonly like to play the role of victim and most men who claim to be “battered men” are actually the perpetrators of violence, not the victims.”

In fact, not only is it humiliating for a woman to admit being abused, admitting so often subjects them to completely inappropriate interrogations from “well meaning” friends, neighbors and acquaintances, and attempts to determine whether they were “abused enough”, or if they “deserved” that abuse. They also get accused of being man haters and having an agenda and being “feminazis” and liars. Additionally, according to Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us, when women claim abuse in a custody situation, more than 25% of the time they lose custody of their children completely. Claiming abuse doesn’t necessarily work in a woman’s favor.

Statistically, men are stronger than women, and women fear men physically much more than men fear women. There is a physical power imbalance between men and women and this affects everything between them, especially abuse. As the famous quote by Margaret Atwood said “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

As someone who runs a support group for women who are divorced or contemplating divorce, I will not make the fallacy that the writers of this article do in claiming stories as statistics, but I wanted to share a bunch of stories that explain why this piece is incredibly problematic.

I know many, many, many women who are abused. I know so many abused women whose exes claimed that they were the true victims of abuse. These are just a sampling of the stories I’ve been given permission to share. (The rest are terrified of their exes finding out what they said and will use it to further harm them.)

Take Debbie for example. Debbie’s husband pins her to a wall and screams at her. Debbie is very intimidated and scared and asks him to please back up but he refuses to. She pushes him away from her and then he throws her onto a table, breaking her wrist.
Chantelle’s husband abuses her routinely, emotionally, physically, financially, verbally, and sexually. But Chantelle’s husband claims that she abused him because she didn’t want to be intimate frequently with someone who was abusing her.
Annie’s husband dragged her across the floor by her arms, and then had the chutzpa to complain that she was hurting him by digging her nails into him.
Sarah’s husband threw her down the stairs, but says she abuses him by asking for a divorce.
Lisa’s husband financially abuses her, racking up thousands of dollars in her name that she is legally required to pay for, but claims that she is being abusive and controlling to him when she begs him to please make a budget with her and to include her in financial decisions.
Mandy’s husband choked her while screaming that he would kill her, but claims she both made him do it by refusing to give into his demands, and that she was just as much at fault for kicking him in his family jewels to be able to escape the choke hold.
Meg’s husband taunts her all day, saying “hit me, hit me” and locks her into a bathroom. Meg grabs a bar of soap and throws it at him, and he uses this as “proof” that she’s the abusive one.

Abusive men are experts at denying or rationalizing any abuse they do and then claiming that their wives are actually the ones abusing them.

The sad part is that people believe them.

In fact, this is actually why the actual statistics on male vs female victims of intimate partner violence aren’t even telling the whole story. Situations like Debbie pushing her husband away, Annie’s digging her nails into her husband, and Mandy kicking her husband in self defense are also included in the statistics of male victims of domestic violence, given equal standing with bone-breaking, dragging someone across the floor, throwing someone down the stairs, and choking.

Abusers are generally not these wild crazy men that most people assume they are. There are many people with good reputations in the community who are abusers. According to Bancroft “The great majority of abusive men are fairly calm and reasonable in most of their dealings that are unrelated to their partners...Sometimes the more educated an abuser, the more knots he knows how to tie in a woman’s brain, the better he is at getting her to blame herself and the slicker is his ability to persuade other people that she is crazy. The more socially powerful an abuser the more powerful his abuse can be, and the more difficult it can be to escape.”

And this is why I hear so often people saying that they personally know men who were abused by their wives, and they know these people well, and they’re good, kind people. Many abusers are. Their wives are the place that their abuse comes out. So even if they’re “wonderful people” to everyone else, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t actually the abusive ones in the relationship.

How does this happen? How does an abuser actually convince himself and others that he in fact is the abused one? More from Bancroft here: “One of the basic human rights abusers take from [the abused woman] is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats [her], he believes that [her] voice shouldn’t rise and [her] blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is for him alone. ...He uses [her] anger [...] to prove what an irrational person [she is].”

The fact that she is angry at him in response to his abuse, in his opinion, makes her the abusive one.

According to clinical psychologist and trauma specialist Betsy Usher, “Mutual abuse does not exist. Abuse is about power and control. In an abusive relationship, only one person has power and control. Both people can’t have equal power and control; someone holds it and craves it. The person who has power and control manipulates the victim into getting pushed to their limit so they react back, and believing they are also an abuser (blame shifting).”

When women are attacked and fight back, they aren’t also the abusers. When someone is routinely the victim of abuse from their partners they develop mental health issues with coping mechanisms to help them survive. Complex PTSD is among the most common of these. When these women fight back, they are called crazy, and their reactions which are very normal for what they are going through, and often self-defense, are used as examples by their husbands of how the husbands are actually the abused ones.

This painting of men, the ones with societal power, the ones with physical power, the ones with sexual power, and often the ones with financial power as the victim cowering in fear is akin to people subverting the issue of systemic racism against Black people and saying “white lives matter”.

Another claim of the article is how many divorced men nationally commit suicide each year, and claims that this is proof of the abuse that men go through. This does not show nearly the whole picture, and it is not proof that men are abused, or that they are worse off than divorced women as this piece claims to do. According to the CDC's annual Multiple Cause of Death Files, the suicide rate among divorced adults is more than three times that of married adults. For both men and women, marriage is a mitigating factor against suicide. In general, men are disproportionately at risk of suicide in almost every country in the world that reports suicide rates. In the United States, in 2010, the ratio of men to women dying by suicide was almost four to one. However, women are more likely than men to have suicidal thoughts and three times more likely to attempt suicide. The reason more men die, though, is that men’s methods of suicide tend to be more lethal than women’s. The fact that more men do die via suicide after divorce doesn’t mean that women don’t also attempt suicide after divorce; they just are less successful.

Studies on why more divorced men die via suicide than divorced women also do not in any way support the claim that they do so because of abuse. In fact, the reasoning given for this phenomenon is complex. In part, it is because men are more ashamed of being divorced because of society’s perceived idealized masculinity. The fact that in general marriage is a more positive experience for men than for women, and conversely the experience of being married entailing more distress for wives than for husbands also contributes. Men tend to have fewer close relationships, and even their close relationships often don’t talk about emotional issues they are undergoing so divorce makes them feel even more alone.
Additionally, multiple studies have shown that many times suicide in men after a relationship ends have actually been intended to control their ex-partners. These often are reactions of sexual jealousy when ex-partners started new relationships and are ostensibly meant to punish ex-partners, with some examples of bitter and abusive suicide notes. These suicides are actually an extension of the high prevalence of men’s controlling behaviors in intimate relationships. Homicide-suicides, as mentioned at the beginning of my article, are the most extreme cases of this, and are a result of extreme jealousy and the desire to control. Changing dynamics with their children post divorce is only a very small piece of the picture of why divorced men commit suicide.

The op ed we are discussing claims that parental alienation is a form of abuse and is one that women commonly employ and one that Simon suffered from. At least in my country, I know this is a complete fabrication. Our laws and court system favor giving parents nearly equal custody and always gives them shared guardianship, even in cases of clear abuse. Only in the most extreme cases does one parent not get at least partial custody, and even then the court system requires regular, if supervised, visitation, and the parent is still a guardian and gets an equal say in their child’s educational and medical decisions. The alienation so many divorced men claim happens does not exist in my country unless it is court ordered and that is very, very rare and for extremely good reasons.
I’ve heard claims that spouses took their kids to another country without permission and alienated them from their parents that way; while this is wrong, these can be dealt with in international kidnapping cases, called Hague cases. When it happens across state lines it is also considered kidnapping and can be pursued via the FBI and other legal means. Alienation is wrong if it happens for no reason and it can usually be reversed via the courts. Court-ordered restraining orders against abusive people is not alienation and “abuse”, as I’ve seen claimed by men’s rights activists, but is actually the parent keeping their child safe from abuse.

The reason why I cannot keep quiet about this topic is that men claiming to be the abused ones makes me very, very wary. I can’t prove that they weren’t the abused ones, but as shown above, this is rare. The likelihood of an abusive man claiming to be the abused one? That, according to Lundy Bancroft is extremely, extremely high. Many times more likely than the inverse.

What should happen if a man claims to be abused by his spouse? No matter what, he does need help. There should be organizations to help men claiming to be abused, and this help that they should get is therapy by someone especially skilled in both spotting abusers and helping abused people. In the unlikely case that they were truly abused, they can help heal. And if they were the abusive one, hopefully, it’ll help them normalize as well. And if they need help escaping to reach safety, they should be helped with that. Make shelters for abused men. They need it. But this article mentioned none of that.

What definitely should not be done is write articles like the ones I read, making spurious claims and attempting to obfuscate the issue of abuse by claiming that men are equal victims here. All these do is attempt to silence women when they are speaking out to try and stop abuse and murder, which are serious cases.

In the past year in my state alone there were multiple cases of murder and attempted murder of women by their husbands. Women who speak out and say that they are being abused need to be believed; not believing women in cases of abuse, suspecting them of perhaps actually being the abuser, as articles like this suggest, literally kills people.

Women who are being abused are often convinced by their husbands that they are just as abusive, if not more, and this keeps them staying in a relationship that is extremely damaging to both them and their children, even when their lives are in danger. Articles like this reinforce this claim that their husband makes, and makes them even more likely to blame themselves, even when they are being abused.

Saving a life is one of the most important things you can do. Articles like the one referenced get women killed.

2 comments:

  1. I'm divorced. My ex claims I was "mentally abusive" (I guess because I got angry at his cheating on me) and that I'm alienating him from his kids. One child refuses to speak to him because of his behavior and the other has a distant relationship with him. Many men blame all their problems in life on their wives or ex-wives. It's so convenient that way.

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  2. Your article brought back memories of my ex-husband punching and choking me when he knew my daughter was not at home. (This was my 2nd marriage with my then 11 year old daughter, not his child thank god.) Three months after our initial "honeymoon" phase, we were having a pleasant conversation in bed when we awoke, and I disagreed with something he said. He came up into my face and told me - teeth bared - that he knew how to give pain without leaving marks. He then proceeded to take his elbow and smash it down on me from my hip to my knee. I was in pain and in shock. Later, he cried real tears when he saw the length of bruises he made, but incredibly convinced me it was my fault, that I wasn't supportive enough and that it wouldn't have happened if I had been. That was the beginning. Never, ever accept crying, apologies, sweet talking, flowers, chocolates, or promises it will never happen again. Forgive them at your peril. It WILL happen again, only and if, you don't expose their actions to others (authorities or the police). It you don't, no matter the tears or promises, you forgave them and now they understand they'll be safe, and it WILL HAPPEN AGAIN. Paper trail of abuse is very important!

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