Increasingly, perception of domestic abuse broadens. It now includes abuse against men, abuse in same-gender relationships and more. This renders the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women (DAHMW) a forward-thinking informational and support resource.
The Maine-based nonprofit says in its mission statement, “[We provide] crisis intervention and support services to victims of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and their families in order to help survivors recover from the trauma. We work toward the elimination of IPV by increasing public awareness and decreasing tolerance of IPV through community collaboration and education. DAHMW strives to improve the quality and safety of the lives of victims…in their homes and in daily existence.”
Heading up the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women is founder Jan Brown, who attests, “Our agency was established to compliment the traditional domestic violence shelter programs that specialize in services for women abused by their male intimate partners. We specialize in offering supportive services to men abused by their female intimate partners. However, all who call us, whether they are male or female in a heterosexual or same-sex abusive relationship are offered the same respect and support because no one deserves to be abused.”
Jan Brown (JB) gave an email interview that, while DAHMW aids all who’re abused, focused on discrimination against men.
MSR: Why did you start Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women?
JB: Back in the ’90s, a male friend started calling me during his lunch hour. Numerous times during their decade-long marriage [his wife] had thrown household objects…spat, kicked, punched, slapped him many times. She fractured his ribs…and put a cigarette out in his shoulder…leaving a permanent scar.
They had a young [daughter], and he was deeply concerned about what effects [his wife] was having. I made some phone calls and did Internet research [on] resources for him. Domestic violence shelter programs told me, ”We don’t help men.” The more I learned about domestic violence and the discrimination against male victims, the more determined I became to do something about it.
In October 2000, a small group of us launched the Battered Men’s Helpline. We changed the name to Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men in 2002 because male callers didn’t seem comfortable with the word ”battered.” In 2005, we added ”and Women.”
MSR: Has DAHMW made a difference?
JB: We have made a difference to fathers and children we’ve sheltered and helped in other direct ways, such as the middle-aged man with disabilities who escaped a violent relationship and was homeless on the East Coast. We put him up in a motel and put him in contact with the only domestic violence shelter that would take in a male victim. Once he was accepted [at] the shelter, we [provided] a bus ticket [to] the shelter located on the West Coast.
We’ve made shelter available to fathers with children who escaped [abuse]. Helpline callers have told us they’re grateful [for] someone who listens and believes them. They’ve called domestic violence hotlines and been hung up on or treated as if they were the abuser.
MSR: What public feedback has DAHMW drawn?
JB: Feedback from family members and friends of victims has been positive. Dear Abby has discussed put our contact info in [her column]. Some who work in domestic violence have had positive reactions to our message. I find young people the most receptive. They witness how female friends treat their boyfriends.
The climate has changed some from when we started. Back then — it seemed to me, anyway — women’s advocates were less concerned about being called out for not assisting male victims. Things are beginning to change. That’s mostly due to the progress that’s been made over the last 40 years regarding women’s rights and the fact that advocates [who] deal exclusively with LGBT victim issues have created programs and made it easier for victims to get and receive supportive services. We still have a long way to go.
MSR: We spoke by phone, and you said DAHMW has stepped on toes.
JB: Whenever you speak out about an ”un-politically correct” subject, you step on toes. When I have spoken out on behalf of male victims, I’ve been called naive and gullible to believe men are victims and told that most are abusers pretending to be victims to get back at the real victim for leaving them, et cetera. I’ve also been told male victims are rare, they don’t need help like female victims do — and one advocate told me that once we end violence against women we can work on male victimization but not until then.
I was the featured expert in a documentary on [the cable channel] WE tv, Secrets Lives of Women: Husband Beating. The show was slated to air in spring 2009 but didn’t air until December. I sense there was opposition to the topic.
I worked with producers for a well-known weekly news show. These producers were all set to go into production on a show on male victims…had all their interviews lined up…until their boss…wanted the film crew to follow a victim around with cameras from the time he called our helpline until he was safely out of the situation in shelter. She said that was the only way people would believe he was a victim. [That’s an] an extremely high expectation. I refused to put a victim through that.
Locally, I’m treated like a leper for my stance on domestic violence. Some local advocates claim to help male victims and offer the same services to male and female victims when I’m present at any type of domestic violence awareness function. However, I’ve found most of this is lip service used to diffuse arguments to the contrary.
MSR: What’s most important for victims to know about DAHMW?
JB: That abuse isn’t their fault no matter what their abuser tells them. When calling our helpline, you will never be hung up on or treated as an abuser if you are a male victim.
Due to our philosophy…we’re unable to obtain many of the large funding streams that are open to agencies who primarily work on violence-against-women issues. So, we can’t offer direct services at present. However, we are working on changing that.
The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women can be contacted at 1-888-743-5754 or www.dahmw.org.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.