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Domestic Violence 101: Understand the Truth, Stop the Abuse: Male victims (USA)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. To help me clear up common misconceptions about domestic violence against men, Philip Cook, author of Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (Praeger) and Policy Adviser for Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (S.A.V.E.) has generously agreed to answer a few questions.

How common is domestic violence against men?

The National Violence Against Women Survey funded by the Centers For Disease Control and the Justice Department declared that 36% of victims are men (1.8 million women, 885,000 men-1998). On the other hand, more than 200 peer-reviewed published surveys and analysis more closely resembles the reality that law enforcement officers actually experience: 50% of the time it is a case of mutual combat, 25% of the time only the woman is violent, 25% of the time only the man is.

Even if however, only police arrest rates are tallied, a spot check of major city arrest rates by myself and another by the New York Times, finds that arrests of women for domestic violence now constitute an average slightly greater than 20%. Still, we find that many domestic violence advocate officials and organizations and even District Attorney offices declare the truth of a 5% or 15% male victim rate, even when their own city's police arrest rate of women for this crime is greater than that.

What got you interested in the subject of abused men?

I am a journalist, with more than twenty years of daily news broadcasts and writing and therefore am interested in any issue that has not been widely covered by others and that has a significant impact on a large number of people. This issue fits that definition of news and it is also controversial as well as affecting a substantial segment of public policy. I realized that it was best explored in a full length book.

I came across a listing of research on the topic and realized it was significant, but not widely known by the public or the news media. Researcher Murray Straus, Ph.D., was most helpful in many ways as was R.L. McNeely, Ph.D., and many others. Eventually, the book was accepted by a publisher. It is fairly rare in publishing to have a second edition published, but that has occurred (2009). The first edition was published in 1997. The second edition contains updated research and details reaction and changes since the first edition.

What surprised you the most while researching for the book?

Although the research reveals that it was a more significant problem than many would believe, that was not the most surprising aspect. The research in effect, only supports logic and common sense, and mirrors what many in law enforcement told me is the reality they face. That this is contrary to the established wisdom of many advocacy groups and service providers as well as gender-feminist (as opposed to equity-feminist) ideology was also not surprising. What was surprising is how easy it was to find abused men to interview and how readily they came forward or were eager to do so. It is not that abused men won't talk about their experience-it is that no one asks.

How has the book been received?

I devoted an entire chapter to this very subject in Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, "Resistance and Acceptance-The Challenge to Understanding," as well as addressing needed current reforms in the final chapter, so it is difficult to summarize. It was interesting to explore in the first edition and even more interesting to gage the reaction ten years later in the second edition.

A book is strange animal I've discovered, and the impact is often not direct and cannot only be measured by sales. Certainly, I've been pleased by the positive reviews from many experts in the field of intimate partner violence, as well as the general news media and national columnists. I've been honored to share author credit with experts in scholarly journals and books, as well as being referenced.

The general news media reaction has been very positive-more for when the first edition came out-because the whole idea was so new-but I still get fairly frequent calls without trying hard. There was certainly wide-spread coverage in the national news wires, TV, radio and newspapers and a few magazines. More importantly, many groups have been formed that did not exist before and many individuals have embraced the issue, and are doing wonderful work. But, much remains to be done.

What do you think can be done to encourage more abused men to come forward?

Find them and ask them. It is often posited to me by reporters and producers that men are 'naturally' more reluctant to come forward. I disagree. No abused woman I've ever met (and other women who have worked with them agree), was ready to "come out" in a public way in the midst of the crime or its immediate aftermath. It is probably not a healthy thing to do for them in any case at that point. It takes time and healing recovery before a relatively few women are ready to transform their experience into a desire to help others. The same is true for men.

How can we improve domestic violence policy to address both male and female victims?

There should be some new questions about intimate partner violence and our public policies. Here are just a few of these new questions:

Does it really matter if men or women are in the minority or the majority? Do not all people deserve equal services and equal access to help, social services, law enforcement, and legal remedies? Since the majority of intimate partner violence involves mutual combat should not our approach to intervention strategies acknowledge this reality and devise methods to deal with it?

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