Jason Chivers (whose name has been changed to protect his family) is a middle-aged Calgary teacher of average build. At home, his wife would engage in sporadic episodes of violence that Chivers won’t talk about even now that he’s left the marriage. At the time, despite the violence, he says he didn’t want to leave because of his kids.
Research into the area of domestic abuse targeted at men indicates that men fear going to jail on false charges, the loss of their children, and having to pay for both the family house plus an apartment on just their income.
Yet when Chivers and his wife sought help, the counsellor’s first advice was to just get a divorce.
”I spent a lot of time in the office, living there . . . for weeks at a time,” says Chivers. “Eventually I got the divorce, but not until I had tried everything else first. . . . The whole system is a disaster for men.”
Although it’s not often talked about, abuse against men happens in households across the city, in numbers and types nearly the same as women: according to StatsCanada, in 2005, seven per cent of women and six per cent of men experienced abuse. The difference is, men don’t tell.
Maybe that’s not surprising when you consider that men often try to be the strong, silent types, raised to respect women, to rescue them from danger. Chivers notes they don’t how to handle it when the woman is the danger.
Experts say that abuse can happen to anyone.
Like Roy Martin (whose name has also been changed), a local tradesman who admits he lost all control over his life. At the end, he says, he had withdrawn so far into himself that he didn’t have a friend left. After one incident, with the red bruise marks still on his face, Martin and his wife went for help.
In the first session, Martin recalls, “the counsellor said to me, ‘What’d you do to make her so angry she had to hit you?'”
According to an Alberta government booklet on preventing male abuse, the abuse can take many forms — including pushing, blocking doors, threats, financial control, insults, lies intended to confuse, blaming, isolating, monitoring phone and e-mail communication, making fun of a person’s body, forcing or pressuring him into sexual activities he doesn’t want, and many others.
“Abuse is power and control . . . for the person perpetrating it,” says Cheryl Krneychuk-Waddy, of the Calgary Counselling Centre, adding that for the abused men, “there is a lot of shame, it’s a question of their masculinity . . . victims and abusers come in every shape, colour, size, gender, age.”
She says the couple may want help — both for the abused and abuser. Counselling can be a lifeline.
“Usually if a man calls in, they’ll be able to talk with a counsellor the next business day,” says Krneychuk-Waddy, who holds a master’s degree in social work.
Safety and confidentiality are always top priority. But in a crisis, men don’t know where to turn. There are 43 women’s shelters in the province. But if men are under 55 years of age or have kids, they can choose from just two shelters.
Laura Bakken is with the Community Crisis Society (Strathmore). “For men with children, there are really very few places they can go. If they are dealing with family violence, then it really helps to be in a place that has some understanding, and some focus on that, as opposed to going to a homeless shelter.”
The Strathmore society offers one room, which can be used either for a man and his children, or for several single men.
Calgary has a four-bed, privately funded Men’s Alternative Safe House Society. It provides a homelike setting in which men can come in from work, relax and be among men who know what they’re going through.
Krneychuk-Waddy says that you can help the man in your life who tells you he’s being abused — or whom you suspect is being abused. For a start, don’t confront his abuser, no matter how tempting it might be to do so. Do, however, talk to the man involved.
“Offer them a safe place . . . ask them what they need. Validate what they’re saying,” she says.
Bakken agrees. “Believe him, don’t judge him, don’t tell him what to do — let him know you are there to support him no matter what decision he makes.”
Both Chivers and Martin left their abusive relationships. Life went on for them, and they began to heal. A chance at a whole new life, where abuse is not allowed.
Martin has a final piece of advice for men who are being abused. “Start thinking about your own needs — what do you need to make you happy?” Chances are that those needs include safety, security, respect and a feeling that you’re loved. And that’s well deserved.
Yvonne Dick is a central Alberta writer:
- Community Crisis Society (Strathmore): 403-934-6634.
- Kerby Rotary House Shelter (55+): 403-705-3250; kerbycentre.com.
- MAS H:403-242-4077; familyofmen.com.
- Counselling: 403-651-8075; calgarycounselling.com.
- Men’s Educational Support Association: 403-228-6366; mesacanada.com.
- Men’s Crisis Line: 403-266-4357.