BBC's 'The Last Refuge' Gives Information about Male Victims of DV
Here's what the BBC Radio followed its drama "Believe Me" with (BBC Radio 4, 1/10/11). The drama showed not only the reality of female-on-male domestic violence, but also how the DV system of police and courts more or less automatically treats all DV as perpetrated by men. The title of the piece is both plaintive and ironic. By the end, he's begging for his truth to be believed, but his pleas fall on deaf ears; by contrast, she finds her falsehoods accepted without question and even encouraged. The follow-up, entitled "The Last Refuge," is a documentary about domestic violence and the way the system treats - or doesn't treat - male victims. "Believe Me" was the art, "The Last Refuge" is the science of male-victim DV. To readers of this and other blogs that deal with the issue, that science is pretty well known, but the documentary deals effectively with it. A lot of that comes from the personal stories told by men interviewed for the piece. Perhaps the most important point is that the family dynamics that lead to domestic violence are much the same whether the perpetrator is male, female or both. Like the fictional situation portrayed in "Believe Me," the men in "The Last Refuge" describe female partners who begin with small criticisms and controlling behaviors and, as the relationship gets better established, become less and less tolerant of behavior most of us see as appropriate. That intolerance can take many forms, but often it seems to manifest itself in extreme possessiveness and mistrust of the man. When that leads to violence, he's faced with the decision to either accept or reject the woman who hits, slaps, bites, kicks, etc. His acceptance of the situation, if he gives it, operates as a kind of positive feedback that results in more of the same, or worse. Sometimes, the violence becomes completely arbitrary, not connected to any act or omission of the man. It comes out of the blue. So in the the documentary we hear men describe being hit by a woman wielding a vacuum cleaner, a bread board, a cheese board, etc. We hear about blood and stitches. Most eerily (to me) is the man whose partner walked up to him with a hot steam iron which she placed on his forearm as she pushed the 'steam' button. This he accepted. She proceeded to tell him that he had a choice; he could take off his shirt and be burned on the shoulder or she would burn him on his face. He chose the shoulder. To me, it's the passive acceptance of victimization that so clearly shows that domestic violence grows out of a family dynamic. Often enough, that dynamic reaches back into the childhoods of the adults involved. Research shows that children who see their parents hit each other are much more likely than those who don't to be violent when they grow up. In short, it's learned behavior that's more properly the subject of psychotherapy than of criminal law. Admittedly, there are some situations that require the intervention of the police and courts, but most people who commit domestic battery need a qualified therapist more than a judge. In fact, for the most part, both partners need a mental health professional. "The Last Refuge" is a documentary and gives some important information about domestic violence in England. For example, there are some 4,000 spaces for women in DV shelters, but fewer than 20 for men. The national domestic violence helpline essentially has no shelter to offer men who call. That's despite the fact that 60% of male callers have experienced physical violence, some of which was severe. The barriers to men seeking help is also explored. The well-known fact that men face powerful cultural expectations to be in control of every situation and never to be victimized militates strongly against men seeking the help of shelters, advice lines, mental health professionals, etc. Also, the morality of "men don't cut and run" tends to keep men in relationships they should leave. Commitment can become pathological. And of course many men well know that a call to the police about domestic violence carries the overwhelming likelihood that he will be arrested regardless of the facts of the domestic incident. The penalty he pays for being a victim of domestic violence doesn't end with his arrest; he'll be ordered to stay out of his house and, if he has kids, away from them as well. That last is one of the main things keeping men connected to partners who attack them; seeking assistance means not only the loss of the partner (which may be a good thing), but the loss of home, belongings and, most importantly, children as well. That's what happened to the man in the documentary who described his partner hitting him "20 or 30 times" with a hammer and only stopping because the handle broke. She called the police and had him arrested. In his case the police figured out the truth and charged her. She's now doing seven years in prison, but few men are so lucky. There's a lot more to "The Last Refuge" than I've described. It's a good piece and again, kudos to the BBC for dealing honestly with domestic violence and the DV system. Our recognition of the facts about domestic violence has been slow in coming. An entire industry has grown up around false concepts and is loath to admit the obvious. Pieces like the ones aired by BBC Radio do their part let the sun shine in. The lesson? The DV establishment doesn't just ignore men, it actively keeps them in abusive relationships.