When The Family Place first opened its doors nearly 40 years ago, it didn't hear from many male survivors of domestic violence. But as the decades passed, more and more men began to seek out the Dallas-based family violence agency's services. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of male victims The Family Place helped shelter jumped from 10 to 32. This year, the organization expects to serve at least 50 men.
In the recent past, The Family Place would house male family violence survivors and their children in Dallas-area hotels, where they were given food and counseling services. But that set-up proved to be too costly for the small agency, says Paige Fink, CEO of The Family Place. So in 2016, the organization announced that it would soon operate an all-men's shelter in a new space. After more than a year's worth of financial roadblocks and bureaucratic red tape, The Family Place was finally able to open the shelter's doors in early May, albeit quietly (it didn't receive widespread media attention until earlier this month).
"We [opened the shelter] because we don't believe anyone should be afraid of the person who loves them or be hurt in their home," Fink says of the all-men's shelter, which she says has received community support.
The Family Place doesn't run co-ed shelters; it's common practice among most service providers to have women-only shelters as a way to minimize re-traumatization among women survivors. But Fink noticed that more men were turning to The Family Place for safety and stability after leaving an abusive relationship. "It is something we've seen an increased need for," she says.
But The Family Place is not the only direct-service group that runs a family violence shelter exclusively for men and their children: Family Violence Prevention Inc., a crisis prevention center in Batesville, Arkansas built what may be the first registered facility for male victims in the US, known as The Taylor House Domestic Violence Shelter for Men, in February of this year. Although The Family Place's shelter opened about six weeks ago, the 21-bed facility is already filled to capacity, Fink says; the tenants are mostly men with young children.
That's not surprising when you look at the statistics. Although women — particularly transgender women and women of color — are disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence, more men are coming forward with their experiences with abuse. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in one in four men have been raped, physically abused, and/or stalked by an intimate partner; by contrast, one in three women have been victims.
Advocates believe greater awareness about domestic violence in recent years has led to more men speaking out about their experience of abuse. "The more that we can come to terms as a society about domestic violence, the more men who are being victimized will be willing to come forward," says Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"No one deserves to be hurt by the person who's supposed to love you."
But all survivors can face immense social stigma and shame, which still prevents many from reporting abuse. Advocates say they're also often blamed for the violence done onto them and bombarded with accusatory questions and probations. The details of their accounts of abuse may be severely scrutinized and often are met with disbelief by police, family, friends, and strangers.
And when men are able to reach out for help, they are often rejected by service providers; according to a 2011 Journal of Family Violence survey of 302 male survivors, nearly 67 percent said they were turned away from domestic violence hotlines and agencies when seeking help. "A series of barriers that our society puts up makes it very difficult for them [to seek help]," Glenn says.
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Decades of research shows that domestic violence is centered around power and control, regardless of who is the victim. But advocates say that patriarchal social norms and notions of masculinity dictate the false belief that, because men are the so-called "stronger sex," they "can't be abused or raped" —particularly if the alleged assailant is a woman. And from an early age, men are conditioned to not view themselves as victims or express their feelings. "Society will put the man in the box," Fink says. "You know, 'Be tough,' 'Stiff upper lip,' 'You're the provider.'"
For gay men who are survivors of family violence, stigma is compounded by discrimination and homophobia; according to NCADV, anti-LGBTQ bias and lack of appropriate training can cause LGBTQ survivors to be denied services and feel isolated within their communities. According to a 2016 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report, 44 percent of LGBTQ survivors who attempted to find shelter were denied; of that number, nearly three-quarters were gay men and trans women.
Although many domestic violence agencies serve men, advocates say most are already strapped for cash and resources, which makes operating a men's only shelter or providing adequate legal, medical, and mental health services to men less feasible. Still, Fink hopes that, over time and as awareness increases, offering direct services and shelter to male victims of family violence will become more commonplace. But for now, The Family Place —as well Family Violence Prevention in Arkansas — will have to lead the way.
"There should be no judgment in this issue. When we use judging words, we put them in a place they shouldn't be," Fink says. "No one deserves to be hurt by the person who's supposed to love you."