MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, October 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Here at WORLD we’re always looking for the proverbial “man bites dog” story. That is to say: It’s not news when a dog bites a person. It’s unpleasant, but it isn’t news.
What’s news is when man bites back.
REICHARD: Today, we have a story that goes with the metaphor.
The MeToo movement has raised the public visibility of sexual and physical abuse of women. This happens typically at the hands of men.
But sometimes, men are on the receiving end of abuse. Here’s WORLD Radio’s Katie Gaultney.
AUDIO: [Sound of kids in the common area, talking, music]
KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Thomas fills a doorway and cuts an intimidating figure. It’s hard to imagine many people feeling bold enough to pick a physical fight with him.
And yet, after serving in the military, he says he found himself facing an unlikely attacker back home: his wife.
THOMAS: You know, I’ve been to war five times, and then it’s like when I started to feel like I was in war again… the best situation for me is not to go back into that.
But Thomas faced a problem: his gender. He says when his wife smashed his car windows, the police made him feel like a suspect. It took a second incident—with a fractured wrist and stitches—for him to feel validated.
The medical personnel who treated Thomas at the VA hospital referred him to The Family Place in Dallas. It’s one of only two shelters in the nation that serve male victims of domestic abuse.
Thomas arrived at The Family Place still sporting bandages. Paige Flink serves as director.
FLINK: He had no idea that we had any such a service. He wasn’t in danger anymore, but there was no place else that he could go live.
The story of The Family Place helps to explain why there’s only two men’s shelters in the country.
Flink says the group started serving male clients more than a decade ago. Only a few at first.
Then in 2012, the Dallas Police Department began using assessment questions to identify potential victims. The result: more male victims. So police began directing them to The Family Place.
FLINK: So then our numbers went to be 10 and 15. And then we at The Family Place changed all our communication to be gender neutral.
But the group still didn’t have a dedicated shelter for men. It couldn’t house men in the same place as women who had escaped male abusers. But putting men in hotels was expensive.
FLINK: It was really economics. I mean, basically, I’m looking at our board of directors saying, “We’re on track to spend $150,000 this final year. That doesn’t make any sense.”
The safe house devoted to male abuse victims opened in 20-16. Flink said men keep coming—and defying gender stereotypes.
FLINK: I thought they’d be way more independent or self-sufficient—financially, emotionally—and not wanting to have someone to talk about it. That is part of the stigma, that men don’t talk about their feelings and don’t ask for help. But if you give them the chance, they will.
The Family Place is not a faith-based shelter. Initial funding to serve male abuse victims came from an LGBT group. That’s partly because a high number of male intimate partner abuse victims are gay. A recent University of Michigan study found nearly half of men in same-sex relationships have experienced domestic abuse by their partners.
But plenty of men flee abusive women, too.
After working with both female and male clients, Flink has noticed differences. Women expect to find support at a shelter. Men are shocked they have a place to go.
FLINK: The men are so thankful when you say yes, and surprised. “You mean you will help me?” Because a lot of times they haven’t been able to receive help.
She’s seen similarities, too.
FLINK: But the fact, they have same amount of shame and the same sorrow of leaving that relationship, and the same guilt, and the same “I think I can make it different.” The genders are different, but they’re still emotional about this person that’s supposed to love them and how much it hurts.
Men’s and women’s needs within the shelter vary. Think about practical stuff, like hygiene products. But fathers who flee an abusive partner also have different needs.
FLINK: The men have possibly left with the kids because of the danger everyone has been in, but they have not been the primary caregiver, and so that’s interesting, and helping dads learn to parent, because that hasn’t been the role they’ve played.
Male domestic violence victims often don’t report their abuse. Reasons vary, but they often feel shame—like they should be able to defend themselves. Experts say abusers of women and men are motivated by control.
FLINK: For a woman to have power over this man, she might have to use a weapon as opposed to her physicality as part of that power. But the emotional abuse, the financial abuse, the psychological abuse, the verbal abuse, it still has all those types of indicators just like we have with females.
For Thomas, those emotional scars will take longer to heal than his physical ones. Especially since he is now locked in a legal battle with his wife.
But while that process plays out, he’s getting practical help—like housing, some food, and counseling. He wants others to know help is out there.
THOMAS: This awareness can save lives, can actually help people cope. That’s what I appreciate in sharing my story, just so people can kind of be aware.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Katie Gaultney, reporting from Dallas, Texas.