by Jeffery M. Leving
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge the all too familiar issue of physical and emotional violence between spouses and romantic partners. In this time of reflection, it is essential to recognize all victims of domestic violence, including the battered men whose struggle has been often muffled in the media.
This year marks the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a piece of legislation lead by then-Senator Joe Biden. The VAWA delegated $1.6 billion to help improve the response to violent crimes committed against women, but it is imperative that we do not forget the struggle of male domestic violence victims.
According to US News, the number of men who report domestic violence is much larger than studies show. Although statistics gathered by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control show that 3.2 million males are victims of assault by an intimate partner or spouse yearly, the actual number is likely significantly higher.
The media often dismisses men as victims of domestic violence because it contradicts the public’s idea of masculinity. Men are silenced because of the stigma of being a man and a victim, the fear of not being believed, the supposed failure to conform to the macho pigeonhole and the lack of support from loved ones who simply cannot fathom an idea that is rarely brought to light through the media. As a result, many battered men do not speak up and suffer in silence, forcing the issue further out of the public conscious.
If the goal of Domestic Violence Awareness Month is to bring attention to the cause, then it should not be narrowed to a single gender. Rather, it is a disappointing demonstration of gender bias. To neglect those men is to stifle the voice of millions of domestic violence victims.
Even if the numbers prove that women fall victim more, it does not negate that the victimization of men is just as damaging. Even the title of the VAWA suggests that domestic violence is solely a woman’s struggle. In a society that views domestic violence as a women-specific issue, men are less likely to speak up and receive the help they need. Men, just like women, struggle with coming to terms with their inability to fend off the attacker. The guilt could possibly weigh even heavier in the masculine mentality as society tells them that they should be able to.
It is fear that immobilizes victims and keeps them from seeking the help they need. The fear of the physical and emotional scars, fear of walking away from the life they know and fear of explaining themselves to friends and family. While the VAWA is successful in relinquishing many of those fears for females, there are still victims out there without access to these government delegated resources. The fear that is described is universal – fear does not know gender.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is not just about acknowledging the issue – is it also about promoting the possibility to overcome it. We must make it known that the term “victim” is genderless and is not synonymous with “helpless”. This message of hope is not just for the women victims, but for the men who fear being ridiculed, or worse, ignored.
The act of being aware asks us to acknowledge what is set before us – and that issue should come without a gender assignment. Women and men both are far from alone in this matter; they can, and should, receive equal and critical support to overcome the devastating, but real consequences of experiencing domestic violence.