Monday, February 23, 2009

Domestic violence: Men are victims of abuse, too

Staff Writer


Every 21 seconds, somewhere in America a woman is raped or battered, according to a November 2000 Department of Justice report on the National Violence Against Women survey.

And every 38 seconds, somewhere in America a man is battered or raped by his intimate partner.

An estimated 1.5 million women and 835,000 men are the victims of domestic violence each year.

The reports show a raw, new face of spousal abuse -- where men and boys are also victims, said Jan Brown, director and founder of Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women, based in Harmony.

Brown, 52, and members of her support staff are to be the subjects of an upcoming documentary about male victims of domestic violence. The one-hour documentary is part of the series called "Secret Lives of Women" and will be aired this spring on WE tv, a cable-TV outlet.

"For 30 years, we've giving women more rights than men," Brown said in a recent interview at her rural home. "That's what has developed over the last 30 years; the pendulum has swung way too far."

Brown said the general public was previously taught domestic violence happens because of men's need to dominate and control women. While that may have appeared to be the case in the 1950s and 60s, it isn't today. Women aren't all at home taking care of the kids, but have high-paying jobs. In some cases, it's the man who is home taking care of the children.

"We've switched that around, (so) why do we have this antiquated belief about domestic violence?" Brown said.

Nick Verbitsky, with his brother Paul, and Blue Chip Films, a production company from Norwalk, Conn., traveled to Harmony recently to film the documentary.

"(Brown) is going to be part of the piece," Nick Verbitsky said during a break from the filming. "We're profiling a few different people; other people who have been the victims and we have one woman who's admitting to abusing her domestic partner. How we got involved with Jan was just the fact that she's kind of one of the only ports in the storm for any man who is involved in a domestic violence situation; not just in Maine, in the whole country.

"It's astounding how few services are available for men all over this country. They're almost nonexistent."

Another subject of the Blue Chip documentary is David Woods, a man from Sacramento, Calif., who was involved in a landmark lawsuit when he sued the state of California for domestic violence services for men, not just women.

"What (Brown) does is inspiring on a number of different levels, not the least of which is she's doing it with almost no funding and the fact that she's really dedicated her life to helping men who are in these situations," Verbitsky said. "Because really, when you talk to these men as I have over the past year researching this project, they're just in such desperate straits -- financially, emotionally -- and there's literally nobody out there to help them and Jan is that port in the storm."

Lyn Wright of York County is involved with Brown doing court advocacy work for men who believe the system does not work for them.

"Typically I get calls from Jan for men who have been abused and are in an abusive situation and I go into court with them and support them," Wright said. "Thirty to 35 percent of all victims are men. That comes from a study in 2000 by the Department of Justice that said that 835,000 men are physically assaulted annually by their intimate partners."

Brown said the stigma of men taking an abuse case to court or reporting domestic violence often prevents men from reporting.

That's where her agency comes in.

The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization, and is a member of the Maine Association of Nonprofits.

Brown said she has been running the 24-hour-a-day, all-volunteer hotline for eight years, generating most of her contacts via the Internet.

"We have a Web site and a toll-free hotline, nationally," she said. "People call the line and we have trained advocates -- we have an online training course -- we do everything pretty much by phone or Internet, e-mail, chat rooms, that kind of stuff."

Brown said her group takes the calls and offers safety plans and counseling, offers advice on getting court orders and contacting police.

There are five volunteers in Maine.

"We've been around eight years, but the fact of the matter is we're not well known in the state as far as having the ability to reach out," Brown said. "That's our challenge: Getting the information out there. We don't get a ton of calls from Maine, yet, because I don't think we're visible in Maine. We're visible on the Internet, we're national and we're virtual.

"I have 27 other people in other states that help with the help line. The help line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We get 500-600 calls a month from all over the country."

Brown said her group's help line information is available in some telephone books and on data bases for mental health and domestic violence hotlines and "2-1-1" information lines.

Brown said she sometimes works for stipends when grant money is available and from private donations, but for the most part, she does not get paid very much for her efforts. She and her husband Tedd rely on his oil burner service and repair business to make ends meet.

So why do this?

"A friend came to me for help," she said. "He was a male friend in a situation like this and I looked around and discovered men were ignored and turned away. Basically there was no help for them, so I said if not me, who?"

Doug Harlow -- 474-9534 ext. 342

Domestic violence: Men are victims of abuse, too

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