Women

07.22.13

In Cases of Domestic Violence, Men Are Also Victims

In the wake of Emma Roberts's arrest for allegedly battering her boyfriend, Philip W. Cook writes on the shockingly high number of women who beat their partners—and why it's harder for the men to find help.

The recent news that Emma Roberts was arrested for domestic violence July 7 in Montreal after a fight with her boyfriend, American Horror Story co-star Evan Peters, is merely the latest celebrity case where the man is the victim.

Police were called to their hotel and Evan had a bloody nose, and one source reported a bite mark. Emma was arrested, but Evan did not press charges so she was released. Emma is the daughter of actor Eric Roberts and the niece of Julia Roberts and was a child star on the Nickelodeon series Unfabulous.

But this is far from the first time a female celebrity or celebrity’s wife has been in the news for violence against a man.

Kelly Bensimon, who played in the reality show The Real Housewives of New York City, was arrested for allegedly giving her boyfriend a black eye and a bloody gash. The girlfriend of Tampa Bay linebacker Geno Hayes was arrested for reportedly stabbing Hayes in the neck and head. The former wife of ’80s pop superstar Lionel Richie was arrested for investigation of spousal abuse, trespassing, and vandalism. Humphrey Bogart’s third wife, Mayo Methot, was frequently abusive to him, with Bogart receiving a stab wound in the back. In an interview with Redbook, Whitney Houston said that she was the aggressor in her marriage to Bobby Brown. “Contrary to belief, I do the hitting, he doesn’t.” Actress Tawny Kitaen agreed to plead to spousal abuse and battery charges after attacking husband St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chuck Finley. Actor and comedian Phil Hartman was shot and killed by his wife, as was Carolina Panther Fred Lane. Lane’s teammates reported that prior to his death, he had more injuries from his wife than those received on the playing field. Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was fatally shot by a girlfriend.

There is great similarity between female and male victims and their abusers. The biggest difference is that male victims find themselves in the same position women were 30 years ago. Their problem is viewed as of little consequence, or they are to blame, and their are few available resources for male victims. Three-quarters of the men who contact an abuse shelter or hotline report that the agency would provide services only to women, and nearly two-thirds were treated as the abuser rather than the victim.

University of New Hampshire researcher Murray Straus calls it “selective inattention” because of the total emphasis on female victims, despite what research has shown since 1977. Straus and his colleagues found that in minor violence, the incident rates were equal for men and women. In cases of severe violence, more men were victimized than women, with 1.8 million women victims of severe violence and 2 million male victims of severe violence a year. Women suffer a greater amount of total injuries ranging from mild to serious, but when it comes to serious injuries where weapons and object use come into play, the injury rate may be about the same.

Hundreds of scientific studies support what every experienced law-enforcement officer knows: half the time, it is a case of mutual combat; a quarter of the time only the woman is violent; a quarter of the time only the man is. Women strike first in some manner half the time, which of course, greatly increases her chances of being hurt in return.

In May 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its latest study with about half of violent couples reporting mutual combat, but “in nonreciprocally violent relationships, women were the perpetrators in more than 70 percent of the cases,” and men incurred significant injuries. The CDC reported that about one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

We need to be realistic about how to deal with intimate-partner violence, based on research and best practices—but that is far from the case.

In Gender Inclusive Treatment of Intimate Partner Abuse, researcher John Hamel says, “Individuals who have been identified as perpetrators by the criminal justice system are typically mandated to batterer intervention programs, also known as BIPs. Forty-five states have established legal standards to regulate BIPs. Treatments based on psychodynamic theory, impulse control disorders, family systems or mental health models are prohibited. More than two-thirds (68 percent) forbid participants in BIPs from seeking couples or family counseling. … Less than one in six states require BIP group facilitators to hold a professional mental health license."

All this means that women and men who return again and again to the same type of violent relationship are not being helped. One size does not fit all—there is a difference between the intimate-partner terrorist and the one-time family dispute.

Celebrity or not, men, women, and the children who learn about violence from their parents are, in most cases, not receiving appropriate help and intervention.

 

Philip W. Cook is the author of Abused Men—The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (Preager second edition 2009).  He is also the author with Tammy Hodo, Ph.D., of the recently released When Women Sexually Abuse Men (Prager/ABC-Clio June 2013).