Portland, Maine DV Against Men Conference a Success!

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend A Conference on Male Victims of Domestic Abuse in Portland, Maine on Friday evening. The event was sponsored by the Maine Battered Men's Helpline and the Bangor Daily News, and was superbly done. Speakers included David Burroughs, Mary Cleary, Cathy Young, and Richard Davis. Click "Read More" below to view a summary of the event and see some photos that I took (with a very cheap digital camera, I might add).

The conference was held at the University of Southern Maine on Friday, May 18, 2001. I believe it was said that this was the first conference of its kind (focusing on abused men) in New England, and they hope to make it a yearly event. Attendance was moderate, I'd roughly estimate that 30-40 people were there, but this also made it very easy to approach the speakers and attendees and get some good conversations and networking going. Mary Cleary and Cathy Young agreed to do e-mail interviews over the summer, so Mensactivism.org readers can look forward to this in upcoming months!

Ray Saulnier

(Ray Saulnier introduces Cathy Young to the audience)

Ray Saulnier from the Battered Men's Helpline introduced the speakers and acted as the host for the evening. He talked a bit about the Helpline, which is one of only a handful of resources available for men in the entire country. The group is entirely volunteer based (they receive no federal funding from VAWA or the like) and are an official 501c3 non-profit organization. Details about making a donation to the hotline are included at the end of this article. I would encourage people to give to this group, as they are breaking ground in this area and will serve as models for other men's help lines and shelters - so please consider helping them out to keep them going strong!

David Burroughs

(David Burroughs made a lot of good points about activism that evening)

David Borroughs runs the Forum for Equity and Fairness in Family Issues in Delaware and is a member of the Domestic Violence Task Force in that state. He gave a very good overview of current studies which are often cited in DV advocacy, including those used by feminists against male victims and those which show a greater balance of information. He also gave some examples of how and why the bias exists against men when police need to decide who to arrest, as much of the training materials police have use the pronoun "he" for the attacker and "she" for the victim. David urged people to get involved in state politics and work from the local level to convince legislators of the urgency and reality of domestic violence against men. This is the first step we must take before we can even begin to think about changing the social biases about DV, he said. David is a survivor of domestic abuse and also talked about the difficulties he had in confronting the fact that he was being abused and how difficult it is for men (and women) to stop denying the problem when it exists in their own lives.

Mary Cleary

(Mary Cleary talks about her AMEN program in Ireland)

The next speaker was Mary Cleary. Mary is the founder of AMEN (Abused MEN), which is a well organized support services group for battered men and their children in Ireland. AMEN was started in December of 1997 and has served the needs of over 15,000 men. Mary believes that she is close to obtaining government funding for her program, and that in some ways it is easier to make this kind of progress in a small country because the community is much tighter and an individual's impact can be much more influential if they are persistent. Mary's talk was mostly anecdotal, giving an outline of how she became aware of the abuse of men when she worked as a nurse in a fracture ward, and how her awareness and compassion brought her to become a full-time advocate for battered men. Her message was hopeful - "Despite [the naysayers], the truth is emerging...the monologue is turning into a dialogue." She is most encouraged by college students, many of whom are doing their thesis papers focusing on DV against men, and she spends much of her time helping them do research in this area. She told me after her lecture that her work is very demanding and often draining, but the fact that she is seeing progress, especially with younger people, keeps her going on in the struggle.

Cathy Young

(Cathy Young talks about how women's violence is almost always "explained away" as the man's fault)

Cathy Young, a well known writer on gender issues for over 15 years, spoke after the intermission. She admitted that at first the idea of male victims of domestic violence wasn't easy for her to accept, but that upon uncovering the advocacy research of domestic violence she was led to conclude that there is a strong bias against finding that men are victims of this tragedy, and that the message needed to be brought out into the open. She discussed many examples of how female violence tends to be "explained away" by researchers and the media, and that no matter what the scenario is, it is assumed that the man is responsible for a woman's violence, even if he remains completely non-violent and non-threatening. She also explained the insidious technique that some researchers use in which certain studies (such as Straus, Gelles, etc) are used to obtain the high number of female victims, and then use others (like the Justice Dept.) to determine the number of male victims, to create as large a spread as possible between the prevalence of domestic violence against each gender.

Cathy also took a close examination of the amount each gender reports being "afraid" of the other, debunking the idea that only women are afraid of men in relationships. Again, dishonest tactics are used to come up with high numbers of women who fear their male partners and not vice versa. One of her final points, which I think was well-placed, was that even if men were only 5% of DV survivors (which is the common feminist advocacy number), the funding for male-related services is nowhere near 5% even now. She compared this to coming up with an Occupational Safety Act for Men, since women are a very small percentage of workplace fatalities. Clearly, the outrage a law like that would incite is not being felt in relation to VAWA, where the genders are reversed!

Richard Davis

(Richard Davis talks about new strategies to get funding for services for men)

The final speaker was Richard Davis, a retired police officer from Massachusetts. He currently teaches Criminal Justice and Domestic Violence classes at Quincy College in Plymouth, MA. He is currently writing a training manual for police officers which does not include biases against men or women when discussing the perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse. Richard had an interesting message: that we should change our tactics in approaching DV awareness and instead of turning it into a battle of statistics (with each side having enough data to keep this debate going endlessly), we need to look for the ways feminist tactics open themselves up to rebuttal using their own facts and statistics against them. He compared this to the martial arts techniques of using an enemy's strength against him (or her). He pointed out that the reports being issued under VAWA acknowledge the men are victims in certain numbers and the we should be able to use that to demand resources for male victims of abuse. He strongly voiced his support of the Equal Rights Amendment and encouraged people to make their arguments from a perspective of establishing equality, not simply as a men's rights issue. Richard believes that if we simply expose the ways data about male victims is hidden in DV research done by feminists, that they will have no way to refute it. He gave several examples of studies (such as the one that showed a woman is beaten every 15 seconds) which also include lots of data about men, but these facts are glossed over in the publicity materials that are used to promote awareness of domestic violence.

MCFM Group Photo

(Members of the Massachusetts Coalition for Men stand with Cathy Young and Mary Cleary)

There was a great deal of enthusiasm about the event, and afterwards I was able to talk with the speakers and attendees about men's rights and domestic violence. I heard in the back of the room there were a couple of people who didn't agree with the message being said, but they had enough sense to stay quiet, knowing they were well outnumbered by supporters and even men who had themselves been abused. It is hard to deny the truth when it is sitting in the same room as you. Again, I can't express how impressed I was with the professionalism of the presentation and the opportunities it presented for meeting people who research or advocate for men in this subject. Mary Cleary shoved a CD-ROM and several research papers into my hands when I explained my purpose for being there. Certainly, Mary's message and her own progress is the proof that we must keep fighting to bring awareness of male survivors of DV into the world.

Unfortunately, in the U.S. we haven't yet achieved what Mary has in her own country of Ireland. As I mentioned before, the Maine Battered Men's Helpline is a non-profit organization which is still being held together on a volunteer basis and is in need of more financial support. If we want shelters and hotlines for men to become more prevalent in the U.S, I think we have an opportunity to help this process along by ensuring the success of the Maine Helpline. They field on average 25 calls each month, and this is with very little advertising in the state. Few of the people who need to know about the hotline are aware of it, so the word needs to be spread further. If you'd like to send a donation to the Helpline, you can send a check made out to Battered Men's Helpline to the following address:

Battered Men's Helpline

P.O. Box 252

Harmony, ME 04942

NOTICE: This story was migrated from the old software that used to run Mensactivism.org. Unfortunately, user comments did not get included in the migration. However, you may view a copy of the original story, with comments, at the following link:


Like0 Dislike0