First shelter for male domestic violence victims draws attention

Andrea Bruner, The Batesville Daily Guard

As the nation’s first — and only — registered shelter for male domestic violence victims in the nation, The Taylor House near Batesville, Arkansas, is capturing  national attention.  A crew is coming from California  to film a documentary on male victims just weeks before the safe haven celebrates its first anniversary on Sept. 30.

While men are less likely to seek help after being abused — and those who do face additional stigma — the problem of domestic violence is pervasive and genderless, according to shelter manager Bill Miller.

 

Such violence is often psychological. “It’s about power and control, as opposed to just physical,” Miller said. According to him, the word “battered” is no longer used in describing victims, because “that implies you have to have bruises. You don’t.”

Miller said there’s less research about male victims, and violence perpetrated by women is less recognized. If police are called to a domestic violence report, the man is more likely to be arrested, no matter who’s the aggressor, Miller said.

Furthermore, abuse is not just limited to couples and intimate relationships. “State law also recognizes family and household members, roommates. Sometimes those are harder to leave.”

“Some of the barriers are different,” said, Patty Duncan, director of Family Violence Prevention, which operates The Taylor House for men and Safe Haven for women.

“We’re dealing with the same dynamics as female, but we also have to deal with stereotypes,” she said.

Duncan said when it comes to domestic violence, society typically thinks of women — not men. So FVP is fortunate that Victims of Crime Acts funded approximately 90 percent of the shelter’s operation for its first two years. The rest of the funds come from FVP’s general funds and its resale shop, Fresh Start.

“As the first registered men’s shelter in the nation, you’ve got to take a giant leap of faith,” Miller said.

Like Safe Haven, The Taylor House is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year.

The men’s shelter can currently host nine men. The most it had housed overnight was four.

Since opening 10 ½ months ago, the shelter has housed 18 male domestic violence victims. Duncan and Miller feel confident they will meet the federal funding goal of 20 men in the first year of operation.

Miller’s background might appear unusual for a shelter manager. He’s a former alcohol and drug abuse counselor and holds a master’s degree in engineering. He used to be a traveling standup comedian based in Houston. He attended the Crime Victim Academy.

Thus, he said, he’s able to “bring so many different aspects from society” to the program.

The shelter staffs six people (four full-time and two part-time).

After they arrive at the shelter, the victims of male domestic violence meet with a case manager to figure out short- and long-term goals, what benefits they may be entitled to, how to go about getting a job, etc.

Miller said the men so far have ranged in age from 18 to 67. He said the shelter is LGBT-friendly.

The shelter provides food, hygiene products and cleaning items. If the men need clothing, they turn to the resale shop.

The Taylor House does not screen for drugs. “If they enter the program and have drugs or alcohol we work with the sheriff’s office to dispose of them,” Duncan said. But while it doesn’t screen, it does not advocate drug use either. If a man goes to an appointment, for instance, and brings back drugs or alcohol, “odds are you’ll be asked to leave,” she continued.

Miller said he is not there to test the men for drugs or alcohol. “I’m an advocate to get them to a safe place.”

“We want to empower them,” Duncan said. “We let the clients make their case plan. If we don’t, we’re not empowering them, we’re controlling them.”

The abuse doesn’t have to be going on right now for a man to call the hotline, Miller said. Sometimes “they haven’t dealt with abuse as a child — they’ve just not been able to face that it ever happened. Maybe they don’t need emergency shelter, they just need help to process.”

Those men are welcome to call the hotline, too, Miller said, even if they’re unsure whether they should be calling.

FVP offers a weekly community support group.

The Taylor House is designed to be a 30-day shelter, but Miller and Duncan said that’s not always feasible.

“It’s unrealistic to think they can find employment and housing in 30 days,” Duncan said, noting that on average it takes about $1,500 to set up a one-bedroom apartment with rent, utilities, etc.

The men take classes to learn things like coping skills, stress and anger management, budgeting money, grocery shopping, paying bills, managing medicine and doctor appointments, and how to live independently and domestic violence-free.

“We give them the resources, and if they have trouble we’ll be there to help,” Miller said.

For those who ask, “Why do men need a shelter of their own?” Miller tells the story about a resident who came to The Taylor House to get away from an “incredibly jealous and paranoid” significant other. The man had dreams about his significant other coming to the shelter, demanding to know where “the other women” were and firing a gun at him.

“That story tells me they need their own place,” Miller said.

In the case of an abused woman, the community might rally her. But men often fear being told they need to “suck it up.” They fear being laughed at or not being believed. Men are not socialized to express feelings.

It’s never easy to taking that first step to leave, and sometimes there are children in the household to think about. Resources for abused men are scarce. Even if they feel comfortable doing so, men don’t know where to turn for help.

But Duncan said FVP has seen the need for years.

Over the years, Safe Haven, FVP’s women’s shelter, did house men alongside women, but as Duncan said, gender (or sexual orientation) shouldn’t matter when a person is in need of help. Abuse is abuse.

Why aren’t there other men’s shelters?

Miller and Duncan said there a few reasons: 1) People are afraid to take that leap; 2) Funding is scarce; and 3) Men are not often recognized as domestic abuse victims.

And without the donation of the house that became the shelter, it probably wouldn’t have come about in Batesville, either.

When Dr. Charles Taylor died, his wife, Rachel, went to reside at an assisted living facility. She was a nurse and had worked with the women’s shelter for many years. When she moved, her son Dr. David Taylor began donating things, like the furniture from the house. Still, they didn’t want to sell the house, and the family considered donating it.

But getting a house ready to open as a shelter was a big task. There was a kitchen to gut, tons of work to be done, not to mention furniture to move in.

Still, they got it done in 5½ weeks. “It was a mad dash,” Duncan said with a laugh.

In June, there were 79 “bed nights,” meaning at least one man spent the night in the shelter. In May and June, The Taylor House actually had more bed nights than Safe Haven, but in some months Safe Haven might have as many as 600 bed nights.

Out of 200-plus days in operation, the shelter has probably only had 30 or so where it’s been empty of victims of male domestic violence.

The male domestic violence victim shelter has housed nearly as many men from outside the state as from Arkansas, and there probably have been that many more crisis calls. But Taylor House officials are unable to get transportation to Batesville. Miller said he would love to fund transport to the shelter or male domestic violence victims in a state of crisis.

The numbers don’t reflect the number of phone calls, Miller said, from men who have called for help to get out of a violent situation or seeking orders of protection. From Oct. 1 to June 30, the shelter had 41 crisis calls.

“That sounds like a small number, but considering they’ve never had anywhere to call before, that’s saying something,” Duncan said.

The word about male domestic violence is getting out. Duncan and Miller said they’ve fielded calls from women’s shelters all across the country, and The Taylor House is registered with state coalitions and online at sites like domesticshelters.org. Duncan said there are 32 shelters in Arkansas, counting the two in Batesville.

The Taylor House does have a family room if a man arrives with children, but so far that has not happened, Miller said.

This is an AP member exchange story from The Batesville Daily Guard (http://www.guardonline.com/)