October has always been a big month for me. It is LGBT History Month (Pride is something else yo). In college and graduate school there were midterms and big-deal projects. But October is also something else – it’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And to me that might be the biggest deal of all.
Domestic violence is such an important issue, and it’s one that I feel gets pushed to the side, or perhaps more accurately covered up. There are months that people celebrate pride and culture, history… and then there are things that need awareness. Usually it’s an illness or certain kind of cancer. And even these things I think are not shushed as much as matters like this. An illness, people can’t “deserve”. We can’t judge those who get cancer and there is no human villain, because it’s an illness. Domestic violence on the other hand is a problem. It is where one human is willfully and intentionally hurting another human – often in ways that seem far from human. See, I’m going to keep stressing the word “human” because this is a human issue – not a women’s issue.
In the past, me saying this has gotten a reaction – namely from women. I mean, I’m a guy and here it seems like I’m trying to take away a huge issue from women. Except I’m not, I’m saying it’s an issue that everyone needs to share. Because women aren’t the only victims – men are victims too. Men abuse men. Men abuse women. Women abuse men. Women abuse women. Anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a perpetrator. And as humans we should care whether or not it affects us personally. And the fact that it affects so many fellow humans, and can happen to anyone…
In the last year (or couple of years) there has been a small, tiny low light shining on male victims of domestic violence. And yes, I assure you they are very real. I am not going to speculate how many men versus how many women are victims of domestic violence. I mean how ridiculous is it to argue about who has it worse? But I will say that I 100% believe that male victims underreport much more than female victims. Because A) Many people believe that men cannot be victims. B) It threatens a man’s masculinity and an important part of his identity when he admits he has been victimized by someone else. I would speculate it’s even worse for men who are abused by women. Of course, coming forward is difficult for anyone. There is misplaced guilt, fear, and a broken system that sometimes victimizes someone who is already a victim.
When I was in college, I worked as a domestic violence and sexual assault victim advocate. I specialized in male victims and victims in the LGBT community. I did this for three years, without pay and without so much as a day off (because at the time, twelve years ago, I was the only person dealing with male victims). I predominantly worked with men that had been abused by other men. But I also worked with men that had been abused by women. (And I worked with women abused by women.) I obviously don’t/can’t talk about specifics, but I can share the general picture. It’s real. It’s not a myth. Men can be victims just as easily as women can. Just in my short time as a victim advocate, I worked with dozens of male victims. So again: Women can abuse men. Men can abuse other men. Women can be abused by both men and other women. Human. Issue.
This issue has always been deeply personal to me. When I was a young kid I witnessed my father being abused by my mother every day until he finally split for good. I’m not just talking about screaming and verbal abuse (sure there was that along with the regular suicide note); she would come at him, attacking him, punching him, shoving him, clawing at him. And he just took it. When he left, there were no other adults for her to abuse, so she turned to me. For years, she abused me until I left for good at the age of fourteen. It didn’t matter how many times my teachers made inquiries to the police: Women don’t abuse. Only men do. That was the response.
Growing up severely abused, where the streets were safer than home and a dad that wanted nothing to do with any of us, I had some issues. Who wouldn’t? Later Diagnosed with C-PTSD, I went on to have more abusive relationships. Contrary to the belief that those who are abused as kids go on to abuse others – that group is actually in the minority. *One in ten children who are abused physically/sexually goes on to abuse someone else. One in ten breaks free from the cycle completely. The remaining eight go on to be abused by someone else in adulthood. And I was stuck in that eight in ten for awhile.
After two violent boyfriends that I quickly left (and one incident inspiring me to write a story called “Fucking Nebraska” after my then-boyfriend would not let me physically leave and really messed up my arm, yet because a man cannot be a victim, I was treated like a criminal and the man who assaulted me was let go as soon as I left, despite the law that said they had to arrest him because I had noticeable physical injury requiring medical attention) I turned to victim advocacy. It became my mission, my cause. I don’t regret my time working with victims, even if it did impede my own healing, which is why I had to eventually let it go.
Everyone who works in this field – it’s personal to them. It doesn’t mean they have been on the receiving end, but it means that the darkness that is domestic violence has touched them in some way before, and led them down this path. Maybe they witnessed domestic violence, maybe they survived it, or maybe they simply loved someone who either witnessed or survived it, but there is always that reason.
I think if every person past or present who was a victim, survivor or witness of domestic violence… there would be few people left untouched, unburdened. Because even those without direct experience likely know and care about someone who does have that experience, whether they’re aware of it or not. It would be sobering.
Consider this a public-service announcement. Consider it a personal testimony from someone who has been a witness, victim, survivor and advocate of domestic violence. Consider it a reminder that this is not an issue that simply affects women and children. Men cannot be boxed up as automatic villains – if this were the case domestic violence could not occur between two men as they would lack a victim. And women are not immune from being perpetrators.
I feel like I should keep saying it because every year it’s mislabeled as a “women’s issue” and I think back to all the pushback when I worked as a victim advocate. And you know, even if it just happened to women, I would still consider it a “human issue”.
So, here is to Domestic Violence Awareness Month! Awareness is the first step, and I firmly believe that. Let victims know they can come forward, regardless of biological sex. Let them shed the fear of not being believed or being blamed. Let them break their silence. I’ve already broken mine.
*This is from a study I found through the Anti-Violence Project in 2003, when I started my crusade. More than a decade old, and three computers later, I can’t find the particular study, but that statistic has always stuck with me. Being an offender is a choice, whether someone is more prone to that choice can be debated, but it doesn’t matter how one is conditioned… it is still a choice. I’ve discussed this choice before, and how I make it every day.