Society turns a blind eye to women who commit domestic violence and the men they abuse

By Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Tommy, a domestic violence survivor, speaks out in the documentary “What About the Men? Exploring the Hidden Side of Domestic Violence,” being produced by Santa Monica attorney David Pisarra

Tommy, a domestic violence survivor, speaks out in the documentary “What About the Men? Exploring the Hidden Side of Domestic Violence,” being produced by Santa Monica attorney David Pisarra

The first time I was hit by a man, I’d hit first. We were standing in his kitchen, in a heated argument and he said something rude. Tongue-tied, I responded the way I’d seen women from Scarlett O’Hara to Cher in “Moonstruck” (“snap out of it”) respond: I slapped him across the face.

He slapped back. Hard.

Perhaps in my anger, I, too, had slapped harder than I’d intended. We each took a step back.

From the beginning, our relationship had been out of balance. I was 23 and this was my first “real” relationship.  He was much older and, as an accomplished trial lawyer, much more articulate than I was. For a nanosecond, slapping him made me feel powerful. Although I’ve never hit anyone since, I immediately understood the seduction of how physical violence could make a woman feel in control.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, men and women initiate violence against an intimate partner at approximately the same rate. In instances where one partner initiated violence and the other withdrew, the instigator was the woman 71% of the time.

But my partner had hit back. We were both victims … and we were both abusers.

Statistically, more men than women get hurt by their partners, but more women get hurt more seriously. Since female victims are three times more likely to get hospitalized — or worse, killed — by their partners, the impact of domestic violence on male victims is masked.

According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, more than 830,000 men fall victim to domestic violence every year. (This doesn’t include child abuse or elder abuse. “Domestic violence” is now referred to as “intimate partner violence” to make the distinction.)

That means one in three intimate partner violence victims is male.

However, the vast majority of resources allocated to assisting domestic violence victims is allocated toward women, says Santa Monica family law attorney David Pisarra. He knows of only one domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles County that accepts men. He’s lobbying the County Domestic Violence Counsel, a taxpayer-funded board of shelters and counseling providers, to conduct a study to determine the number of male domestic violence victims, the barriers they encounter when attempting to receive services and how those barriers differ from what battered women and children face.

“One of the problems we have with domestic violence is talking about it, because it’s so slippery. People flip from victim to abuser and abuser to victim,” Pisarra notes. Furthermore, “Are we talking about emotional, psychological, financial, or physical [abuse]?” Without a clear picture, he says, “we’re trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.”

Pisarra is so disturbed by the lack of support for male domestic violence victims, he’s creating a documentary called “What About the Men? Exploring the Hidden Side of Domestic Violence.”

“She stalked my social media and found out I was house sitting for a friend. She showed up at four in the morning and punched the shit out of me,” a burly Santa Monica man named Tommy says in the documentary, referring to an ex-partner. “It feels powerless when you are wrapped up in the tornado. You don’t really understand what’s going on or why. I got out of the relationship, but I wasn’t allowed to leave.”

To look at him, it’s hard to imagine anyone — much less a woman — beating up this man. Yet, if we argue that women are capable of serving in combat, then we should accept that women can be, and are, capable of intimate partner violence — and should be treated equally.

“If the [gender] roles were reversed, she’d be incarcerated,” observes Tommy.  “If she was the man, and I was the woman … the things she’s done to me, I would be locked up. Women, they get a pass.”

Men have to learn to speak up, and society has to learn to listen to them.

“I’m 240 pounds and covered in tattoos and I’m going to walk into a courtroom and tell the judge this 140-pound girl beat me up?” Tommy rhetorically asks.

During the last two generations, we’ve seen powerful campaigns to teach men, law enforcement and the public that it’s unacceptable for a man to hit his partner. But those efforts are undercut by a gender double-standard that applauds women slapping men in movies, allows disgruntled girlfriends to stalk and threaten their partners, and cheers vengeful ex-wives who dismember their spouses.

If we don’t accept “she deserved it” as justification for assaulting a woman, then how can we smugly shrug and say “he had it coming to him”?

If violence is wrong, then it’s wrong no matter which partner or parent is perpetrating it.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, every 15 seconds somewhere in America a woman is the victim of domestic violence, and every 38 seconds a man is.

Isn’t it time we stop the clock?

For help dealing with abuse by a partner, call the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE [7233]. Find out more about Pisarra’s film by searching for “What About the Men?” at indiegogo.com.

Kelly Hayes-Raitt, a Santa Monica resident, blogs at LivingLargeInLimbo.com.  She can be reached at KellyArgonautColumn@aol.com