October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Faces of victims include men, same-sex couples

Domestic violenceDoing something concrete about the longstanding dilemma of domestic violence calls for a new approach to searching out solutions. Male awareness is an important place to focus for obvious reasons. After all, this crime is most often committed by men.

The MSR sat with associates Sam Simmons (SAFE Families), Charisma Smith of From PRostitution to Independence, Dignity & Equality (PRIDE), Charles Dixon and Donald Collier (BeMore Campaign) at Family Partnership’s South Minneapolis offices to discuss domestic abuse.

The Family Partnership, offering counseling, educational programs and advocacy to empower troubled families, is home to SAFE Families, which intervenes with survivors of battery.

“We have gone into [the field] and asked people if they knew what a healthy relationship is and everyone said they did.” says Simmons, manager at SAFE Families. “But, when we asked when the last was that they’d seen one, the answer ends up being different. Over half the folks in the room can’t articulate having witnessed a healthy relationship as they described it.

“So we’ve adjusted our training for men and boys in the community to focus on healthy relationships,” Simmons continues. “They have be able identify healthy relationships [in order to] get to the conversation about how to end violence against women. If I have skills to deal with conflict, I can [do that] with less violence or no violence at all.”

The BeMore Campaign engages African American men to prevent domestic violence. Charles Dixon, BeMore Campaign coordinator, notes, “In my community, growing up, domestic violence wasn’t even something that was [spoken of]. It was part of a way of life. Things don’t go your way, you use your hands, not with every area of your life, but definitely with the home front.”

“We need to challenge that,” says Simmons, “Especially the African American community.”

PRIDE provides support services for those who have lived through violence and sexual trafficking, which frequently go hand in hand. PRIDE director Charisa Smith relates, “[Men need] to address their part in domestic violence by admitting, ‘You know what, I did this, because I was in this [frame of mind] or I felt this way at that time.’ We need the ‘I’ statements, the feeling statements.”

She underscores, “You may not know that you are dealing with something as a man. It may be very difficult for you to say, ‘I’m hurting inside.’ Being able to say that is important. That is the very first step to be able to raise your awareness.”

“Men can’t nullify the responsibility for their own behavior in the relationship they’re in,” reiterates Simmons. “The basic characteristic of the batterer is being overly emotionally attached to [the victim].”

However, men are not alone in perpetrating domestic violence. They are many more than is commonly acknowledged who are victims themselves. Also, physical assault isn’t the only form of domestic abuse. Domestic Violence Awareness Month offers a chance focus on the fact that household mistreatment of intimates includes same-sex relationships and marriages, mental and emotional abuse, women battering men and, the most helpless of prey, children.

According to a review of literature by Northwestern Medicine scientists, “Domestic violence occurs at least as frequently, and likely even more so, between same-sex couples compared to opposite-sex couples. Previous studies, when analyzed together, indicate that domestic violence affects 25 percent to 75 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. However, underreporting of abuse paints an incomplete picture of the true landscape, suggesting even higher rates.”

Richard Carroll, psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, states, “Domestic violence is exacerbated because same-sex couples are dealing with the additional stress of being a sexual minority. This leads to reluctance to address domestic violence issues.”

He adds, “We need to educate health care providers about the presence of this problem and remind them to assess for it in homosexual relationships, just as they would for heterosexual patients. The hope is that with increasingly deeper acceptance, the stress and stigma will disappear for these individuals so they can get the help they need.”

Regarding abuse against men, Jan Brown, executive director and founder of the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men, points out, “Domestic violence is not about size, gender, or strength; it’s about abuse, control, and power, and getting out of dangerous situations and getting help, whether you are a woman being abused, or a man. Domestic violence against men is very similar to domestic violence against women. It can come in the form of physical abuse, emotional, verbal, or financial.”

There are more than 4,000 domestic violence programs in the U.S., but Brown says few offer the same services to men as they do women. “So where can a man turn for support when he is being abused?”


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.

Related content: Black women face increased violence