Celebrating Men’s Health Month: Acknowledging Male Victims of Domestic Violence

June is Men’s Health month, designed to facilitate national dialogue around important and common health issues that men face: heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc. But this month, I want to explore a lesser-discussed (and perhaps lesser-acknowledged) health issue that many men struggle with and one that I see routinely in my Front Range criminal law practice: domestic violence (DV).

One’s first instinct hearing the term “domestic violence” is usually to picture a female victim of male-inflicted abuse. And sure, statistics show that women are more commonly victimized than men by their partner. But violence against men by their female or male partners is real, too – and it’s damaging on all levels. I’ve spent nearly a decade working with domestic violence victims, on both the prosecution and defense sides. Here’s what I’ve learned about this important legal and public health issue.

Let’s Talk Facts: Understanding the Scope of Domestic Violence against Men

A 2007 study[1] of callers to the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men found all 190 of the studied men experienced physical violence, which included being beaten, punched, kicked, spit on, scratched, attacked (or threatened) with knives, kicked or hit in groin, and attacked while asleep. But the facets of the domestic violence these men experienced didn’t stop there: 90 percent of those men also reported psychological abuse (i.e., controlling behaviors from the partner) and 29 percent had been stalked while out and about in the community.

The textbook definition of psychological abuse is: “verbal and non-verbal acts which target the victim not through physical abuse, but through non-physical means – derogation, ridicule, coercion, humiliation, disrespect, intimidation, threats, vandalism, surveillance, and control.”[2] A 2010 national study examining acts of “psychological aggression” against men found that participants reported having their valuables destroyed (29%), having to consistently account for their whereabouts in the community (63%), and being repeatedly called “fat” or “ugly” (52%)[3].

Behaviors that may have become normalized over the course of a man’s relationship with his partner could also constitute abuse:

  • A partner having exclusive control over the finances in the relationship
  • A partner who routinely insults, name calls, or threatens
  • A partner who is overly aggressive during intimate situations or does not respect your desire to refrain from sexual interaction

Psychological abuse doesn’t leave physical bruising, but it is just as insidious as physical violence, if not more so. It quickly – and seriously – damages the victim’s sense of self-worth and self-image. Often, the damage has long-term impacts which, in some cases, can be far worse than a punch to the face.

Finally, just as women do, male DV victims experience the cycle of violence, in which a victim and his partner move through argument to physical or psychological violence and then to a peaceful phase of apologies and remorse. It is not uncommon for men to stay in abusive relationships, and it is always hard to leave someone you love or—worse—see them prosecuted in a court of law, a process which is often outside of your control.  A good victim’s attorney can help you navigate the criminal law system… more on that later.

Overcoming Stigma around Domestic Violence against Men

A victim of domestic violence is a victim of domestic violence – gender is immaterial. But intimate partner violence against men, unfortunately, is often not taken as seriously as is domestic violence against women. This might be because of our implicit biases that paint women as more vulnerable than men or because media attention on instances of domestic violence overwhelmingly involve female victims. Whatever the reason, a tendency to look at male victims differently is real, and I see it all the time in my domestic violence defense practice.

For example, Colorado has mandatory arrest laws, which means that law enforcement offers with probable cause to suspect domestic violence has occurred must make an arrest, even without the other party “pressing charges.” But the situation can play out differently when the male partner is the victim. I recently handled a case through Project Safeguard – a Colorado-based non-profit that helps victims of domestic violence – and the sheriff’s office neither made an arrest nor charged the offender with domestic violence. Only when my client showed up in Denver for a Temporary Restraining Order, beaten and bruised by his partner, did law enforcement finally take action.

Identifying Domestic Violence in Criminal Defense Cases

Men are just as likely as women to suffer psychological, emotional, and verbal abuse at the hands of their partner. They are equally likely to not report it either because they don’t consider it to be abuse or because they know the unfortunate and unspoken rule of domestic violence arrests: no marks = no crime.

But these issues come up frequently when my male criminal defense clients begin telling me their story. Psychological or physical violence by one partner against the other can often spark fights. A man’s defensive efforts to protect or defend himself against additional attacks can easily be misconstrued by law enforcement as aggressor behavior. It is not uncommon, then, for my male assault and domestic violence clients to report that their partner’s abusive behavior in the first instance fueled the incident that later gave rise to their assault or other DV-related charge.

In many instances, my clients don’t even recognize what they’re describing as abuse – but I do. I have extensive experience with domestic violence cases, representing victims through my involvement with Project Safeguard and defending those charged with domestic violence and related charges at Colorado Lawyer Team, LLC. I handle Colorado domestic violence cases in a holistic manner – read more about that here – and this approach helps me get to the root of what’s really going on with my criminal defense clients.

Unearthing underlying domestic violence is just the first step. I go beyond what other defense attorneys do and also talk treatment with clients. I find this to be particularly important for my male clients, who are often in denial or just simply unaware that their partner’s behavior is not normal and most certainly not OK.

If you feel victimized, either by your partner or by the police, reach out for help TODAY

If you feel as though you’ve been charged with a crime and you’re actually the victim, or that the charges don’t match the offense, contact me today! It’s important that you act quickly to mitigate the effects of a domestic violence case on the rest of your life. You can also turn to me if you feel that you are being re-victimized by the police or the DA just isn’t listening to you. You have rights under the Colorado Constitution’s Victims’ Rights Act. These rights apply whether you are male, female, LGBTQ, asexual, pansexual – however you choose to identify.

I handle cases for domestic violence victims on a flat-rate fee and can advise you through the criminal process and explain victims’ compensation rules and restitution. I’ll even go with you to every court hearing. Moreover, I can also make treatment referrals that might work within your insurance, to help you get the assistance you need outside of the court process. Let Justie get justice for you! Call me directly at (970) 670-0738 or send me an email at justieforjustice@gmail.com.

[1] Hines, D.A., Brown, J., & Dunning, E. (2007). Characteristics of callers to the domestic abuse helpline for men. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 63-72. doi: 10.1007/s10896-006-9052-0

[2] McHugh, M.C., Rakowsky, S. & Swiderski, C. (2013). Men’s experience of psychological abuse: Conceptualization and measurement issues. Sex Roles, 69, 168-181. doi: 10.1007/s11199-013-0274-3.

[3] National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). National intimate partner and sexual violence survey: 2010 summary report. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/cdc_nisvs_ipv_report_2013_v17_single_a.pdf