Men can be victims of abuse, too

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By Don Whitehead

Steve McNair, former NFL quarterback, was shot and killed on July 4, allegedly by a woman who was his girlfriend. While men kill their intimate partners more often than women do, women are also capable of this kind of violence.

Many years ago, a couple came to me for counseling, only reluctantly revealing that she had once shot him during an argument. He survived and they were still together. Her temper, however, was still painfully obvious.

Some men were victims of abuse as children. One man related to me that his father once hit him so hard he knocked him off the tractor that the boy was driving. The young man was 10 at the time and had made a "mistake" while driving. His father was violent with him throughout his childhood.

At other times, abuse may be emotional and not physical. Being called "stupid" and "fat" does not motivate a boy to lose weight or study harder. Instead, it sabotages his self-esteem and makes him hate himself.

Childhood sexual abuse does not happen just to little girls. Boys also have been sexually abused by fathers, uncles, cousins, stepfathers and grandfathers. One man told me that he had been sexually abused by a woman who lived next door and was a friend of the family. Aunts, babysitters and even mothers have sexually abused little boys.

Bullying is a form of abuse that is no longer being tolerated by schools. Boys who are the victims of bigger, more aggressive boys become afraid and do not want to go to school. Sometimes the bullying is done by a group of older boys, and fighting back only results in more pain. Adults have to take the lead in stopping this kind of abuse.

Some boys witness abuse, and witnessing abuse is just as damaging to a child as being abused.

If Dad is abusive to Mom, the boy may step in and try to protect Mom. This may result in the child being injured. The boy may also pattern himself after his father and become abusive, first as a child and then as an adult.

Some boys who grow up witnessing abuse make a conscious effort not to become abusers themselves. They work hard to be different kinds of fathers and parents than their fathers were. Environment is not destiny. While the human tendency may be to imitate Mom and Dad, we can choose to go another route.

Men may also be victims of abuse as adults. Wives or girlfriends can be emotionally abusive. A man may endure the verbal assaults rather than speak up for himself, which would only lead to more abuse.

Women can also be physically abusive, resorting to slapping, kicking and other types of physical assault. Men may be reluctant to tell anyone about the abuse for fear of looking like a "wimp." What man wants to admit that a woman hits him? Some men quietly endure the abuse without reporting the abusers or seeking help. They may think they have no other choice.

Any type of abuse (physical, sexual or emotional) can have effects for the rest of the victim's life.

A man of 40 who was abused as a child may be depressed, addicted or abusive himself. A man of 60 who witnessed abuse as a child has not forgotten nor will he ever forget the pain of watching his mother being beaten. Those images remain in the mind forever.

Bethany House provides help to victims of intimate partner violence. Call us at (606) 679-8852 or (800) 755-2017.

- Don Whitehead is a counselor at the Bethany House Abuse Shelter in Pulaski County. Contact him at (606) 679-1553 or bethanyhousedw@newwavecomm.net.