Richard Syrett Radio Interview About Abuse Of Men by Women
During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I had a great interview on a radio station in Ontario, Canada about the realities of partner abuse when a man is abused by his abusive wife or girlfriend.
Listen to the recording of my interview on the Richard Syrett show on News Talk Sauga 960 AM and/or take a look at the transcript that I included in this post.
What's in The Interview
|Why Doesn't Abuse OF Men BY Women Get More Attention?
|What Does Abuse Of Husbands and Boyfriends by Abusive Wives and Girlfriends Look Like?
|How Does a Woman Physically Abuse Their Husband or Boyfriend?
|Why Should We Care About an Abusive Woman or an Abused Man?
|Financial and Resource Constraints for Abused Men
|How Many Men Are Abused by Wives and Girlfriends?
|What Happens When Abused Men Call Police for Help in DV Cases?
|Abusive Woman Red Flags
|How Abusive Women Exert Control
|How to Decide Whether it is Partner Abuse or Normal
|Backlash for Talking About Abuse OF Men BY Women
|How Man Law Gets in the Way
|How Can Physically Abused Men Defend Themselves?
|Healing After Being Abused
Welcome back to the Richard Syrett show on News Talk Sauga 960 AM.
Richard Syrett: In her book “Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It hurts and It's Time to Get Real About It.”, Ann Silvers provides a roadmap for men and women looking to help their brothers, fathers, sons and friends who are being abused by women, or teach them how to avoid getting pulled in by them. It's a call to action for professionals, police officers, ministers, counselors, teachers, and all people who are willing to see what's really going on.
Ann, welcome to the program. How are you?
Ann Silvers: Good. Thanks for having me.
Richard Syrett: You suffered abuse at the hands of a man—so one might ask, why then write about male victims of abuse?
Ann Silvers: Because all abuse matters and I care about it all.
I think that there's a lot of discussion about women being abused by men, but there's a real void of recognition that the flip side is also occurring and it's harmful to the men it's happening to, to the children who are witnessing it, and even the women who are doing it.
Why Doesn't Abuse OF Men BY Women Get More Attention?
Richard Syrett: Why is that? Why does male abuse at the hands of women get short shrift?
Ann Silvers: Great question. I actually was asked this question so often recently that I did a blog post about it.
I came up with eight reasons why we have this tendency to not recognize the abuse of men by women.
One thing is that we tend to look at things with a polarized view, an either/or view, which then is like: men are bad, women are good; men are liars, women are truthful; women are victims, men are perpetrators. This real black and white view of things makes it hard for us to see that the reality is that everything belongs on a continuum, or most everything belongs on a continuum, between those polar opposites. And most individuals are going to fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum. So that's one thing.
Another thing is that there's a lot of people who are afraid that if we give airtime to the reality of women abusing men, then somehow we're detracting, or we're taking something away from, the discussion or recognition of sometimes men abuse women. So there's that.
There's the whole pendulum swing kind of argument that men got away with abusing women—so now it’s payback time. And I really think that we can be above that if we choose to find a more balanced view that is healthier.
There's also a belief that a woman can't really hurt a man. And that's not based in reality. That's cultural bias. And that if a man got hit by a woman or abused or demeaned in some way by her, he must have deserved it, is another thing that gets in the way.
What Does Abuse Of Husbands and Boyfriends by Abusive Wives and Girlfriends Look Like?
Richard Syrett: Let's talk about what male abuse by women, what it looks like. How does it differ from female abuse by men?
Ann Silvers: The vast majority of time it looks very similar. At times it's exactly the same.
What we're talking about are all seven forms of partner abuse.
One is physical abuse, which does happen female to male. We're also talking sexual abuse, which does happen female to male. And then the ones that are easier for people to sort of recognize, which would be verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, legal and spiritual.
How Does a Woman Physically Abuse Their Husband or Boyfriend?
Richard Syrett: When a woman physically abuses a man, when one would say, well, typically, on average, men are physically stronger, they're more powerful. So how does that abuse manifest? Do women tend to use weapons or objects?
Ann Silvers: That's one way. There are quite a few ways that a woman can overcome the size differential. [Click here for my blog post that covers this more fully.]
You bring up a really good point. And I think that this is one of the things that blocks recognition that this is happening. This idea that, well, a woman can't really hurt a guy because she's smaller. But, I know a lot of large men who have been brutalized, physically brutalized, by short wives and girlfriends.
One of the ways is a surprise attack. For example, coming up from behind. One man I talked to, his wife had a pattern of coming up from behind him, jumping on his back, and scratching him, and punching him. Another example is being attacked in your sleep. I've talked to a number of men who have been attacked in their sleep. Being attacked while you're driving is another one where you can't really, you know, some condition where you can't easily fight back or resist. So that's one way.
Another way is using weapons, as you described.
Another way is getting other people to join in. One man talked about that not only did his wife hit him, but she engaged her teenage sons from an earlier marriage to also hit him.
Also, throwing things. You can throw from a distance and with quite a bit of force.
One of the things that really is disturbing about the issue of women abusing men is that culturally we have not only accepted it, but we make caricatures of it, we find it funny. So, the caricature of a woman with a frying pan coming up behind a guy, you know, in reality that actually utilizes a number of the ways that women can overcome their size differential: surprise attack and using a weapon.
Why Should We Care About an Abusive Woman or an Abused Man?
Richard Syrett: Ann Silvers is with us, the author of “Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It hurts and It's Time to Get Real About It.”
You sort of addressed this earlier, but let me just come back around to it. And that is how you respond to someone who might say that a woman who is (and let's put physical abuse aside for a moment) but a woman who is overly demanding or controlling or even emotionally abusive of her male partner, that does not compare to physical abuse by a man of a woman.
Ann Silvers: I think what you're saying is that people argue that it's not so important to care about women abusing men, because what we really need to just care about is the physical abuse of women by men.
Well, to me, again, it all matters. I care about physical abuse of women by men, and I care about physical abuse of men by women, and all the other forms of partner abuse. I don't think it's an either/or competition.
Financial and Resource Constraints for Abused Men
Richard Syrett: One of the issues that women face, and perhaps it's not as prominent as it once was, but that is a woman felt trapped that if she was in an abusive relationship, she might not have the financial means to live on her own. Is that the same for men?
Ann Silvers: It certainly can be, yes. And we have such a dire lack of resources for men who want to flee a physically abusive relationship with a woman.
There's very, very few, if down to none, shelters for men and their children.
A man could be financially dependent on a woman or there could be other financial constraints that make it very difficult for him to have a separate household.
Yeah, there's a lot of similar factors.
How Many Men Are Abused by Wives and Girlfriends?
Richard Syrett: What are the statistics concerning men being abused by their women? How prominent is it? Do we have any data?
Ann Silvers: There is data that is bounced around. I have a hard time with it. I don't know what to believe. In many ways, I think that the one that I lean toward is kind of a loose one. Because I think exacting numbers are hard to come by and believe. So the loose one that I've heard is: about a third of the time men are the instigators in domestic violence, about a third of the time women are the instigators in domestic violence, and about a third of the time it's mutual.
I think it's really important to bring up the mutual aspect of things. It took me a while as a counselor to figure out who's doing what to who here with some couples? You know, who should really be making the big changes? Or where to direct my help? And then I realized, “Oh, they're both doing it to each other.” So that can happen.
And it can also be that it's very innocent on one person's part and the other is really the reason why abuse is happening.
Richard Syrett: And how prominent is it? How many men report being abused in some way by their female partner?
Ann Silvers: So I've seen numbers where they say, one in three women are claiming to have experienced domestic violence in their life. And I've seen a stat that's one in four men claiming they've been the target of domestic violence in their life. I saw a different one that was one in seven men.
[Added Note: The National Domestic Violence Hotline page on Domestic Violence statistics seems to include both the 1 in 4 stat and 1 in 7 stat for male victims of DV, as well as the 1 in 3 for women victims of DV stat. For more about DV stats, you may be interested in the report "Fifty Domestic Violence Myths."]
I really have a hard time with the stats. I think that often they very much broaden what they're calling domestic violence, things that I would call partner abuse, certainly, but maybe not domestic violence. So as I said, I have a hard time knowing where the real stats are.
What Happens When Abused Men Call Police for Help in DV Cases?
Richard Syrett: Are men likely to be believed by police if they report domestic abuse?
Ann Silvers: No, unfortunately not. There are pockets that I hear about where it's better, that it's improving. And then I'll hear another story that's just awful.
I'll tell you a story. There was a man that contacted me, a recent story where he had over many years been physically abused by his wife. He kept believing she was going to get help. She lied about getting help. Things didn't change. Eventually, it got so bad that he retreated to a room with his children one evening to get away from her physical attack. She in the meantime, hurt herself and then called the police and claimed that he had attacked her and the police arrested him.
Richard Syrett: I'm sure that's quite common.
Ann Silvers: Yeah.
Abusive Woman Red Flags
Richard Syrett: All right. We'll take a timeout Ann and come back to discuss further. “Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It hurts and It's Time to Get Real About It.” Back with more of the Richard Syrett show in three minutes. Don't go away.
Just having a little chinwag on the Richard Syrett show on News Talk Sauga 960 AM.
Richard Syrett: Back with Ann Silvers. She is a counselor, relationship coach, author, and has been educated in the subject of partner abuse through academic study, personal experience, being the target of abuse by a partner, and by talking to and working with many women and men who are abused by and/or are abusing their partner.
You write about how men can avoid falling into the trap of an abusive relationship.
What are some of the tell-tale signs for a man that he might be in an abusive relationship? What are some of the red flags?
Ann Silvers: I think number one is, recognize it's possible.
I think we really set men up for being snared by an abusive woman because we're pretending it doesn't happen. So that's number one, educate yourself. Read my book so that you can understand what could happen and then you can help yourself recognize the red flags. And then when you see red flags, really consider them, take them seriously.
And if you have somebody supportive that you can open up to and talk it through with, try to get another view on what might be happening.
Richard Syrett: Can you share what some of those red flags are?
Ann Silvers: It kind of depends on what sort of abuse we're talking about.
Certainly, if a woman hits you, that should be the end. If it's early in the relationship, don't mess around, just exit, move on.
If she is demeaning to you, or to other people. A person will try and put their best foot forward in a new relationship. We all kind of do that, but when it gets very manipulative I call it dating guy and dating girl—where somebody has put on a really false persona in order to snare somebody. And so be able to watch out for any markers that somebody doesn't really seem to be the person that they tried to present to you, and take those things seriously.
Look at how do they treat a server in the restaurant? How are they treating other people? What kind of relationship do they have with their family? Do they introduce you to their friends? Or do you just hear glorious stories about how wonderful they are?
Because sometimes people will keep you away from the people who really know them well.
How Abusive Women Exert Control
Richard Syrett: How about the controlling form of abuse? How does that manifest itself? There's manipulation that we all engage in to a certain extent, but then controlling—that goes above and beyond. How does that exhibit itself?
Ann Silvers: Okay, so I think what you're saying is, how in the world can a woman have power over a guy? I think that's kind of what you're asking.
Control could come in many forms. Control can come in that there is this price to pay for when you don't do what she wants you to do. The price could be you get yelled at. The price could be you get the silent treatment. It could be pouting that gets you back in line.
It could be her using sex to control you, in that you'll get it when you're a good boy and you you won't get it when you've done something she considers to be bad. Now, having said that, that's very different than if you really do something that hurts her feelings, and she just genuinely doesn't feel like having sex with you. That's a different thing than when it's being used as a controlling manipulative tactic.
A woman could use seduction to control and manipulate.
Sometimes it's subtle, and sometimes it's more aggressive, like being hit, or undermining your time with the kids if you don't do what she wants you to do.
How to Decide Whether it is Partner Abuse or Normal
Richard Syrett: That's very nuanced, isn't it? Where do you draw the line between a form of manipulation that many of us probably engage in in a marriage or some type of relationship, and when it crosses over to abuse?
Where do you draw that line?
Ann Silvers: Great question. I think this is a really important thing to talk about.
And it's one of the things that makes it so confusing, because it isn't black and white.
Everything that we might consider as having the potential of being abusive, every kind of behavior that has the potential of being abusive, could also be totally not abusive, totally healthy.
I think each thing needs to go on a continuum, one end would be totally healthy, one end would be extremely abusive. You know, we could put killing somebody, killing your partner, on this continuum from totally healthy, because you really did it in self-defense and you really needed to use that measure in that circumstance, to totally abusive where you killed somebody without having those circumstances, you killed your partner without having circumstances that were self-defense.
And we could put yelling on a continuum from totally healthy to very abusive. On the totally healthy side, you know, somebody yells, “Watch out for that truck!” if they're going to step in front of a truck. On the totally abusive end, would be this demeaning kind of yelling that happens over and over again. And then there'd be things on the middle.
We have to look at motivation as a key piece to deciding where does something land on this not-at-all-abusive to abusive continuum. And sometimes people just don't want to do that effort of figuring it out, and they prefer to look at things black and white. But the reality is, it is a nuanced issue, as you said.
Backlash for Talking About Abuse OF Men BY Women
Richard Syrett: Ann Silvers stays with us for a few moments yet. She's a counselor, relationship coach and author of the book “Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It hurts and It's Time to Get Real About It.”
You mentioned that one of the reasons this doesn't get the attention it deserves is that this whole domestic abuse discussion is kind of a zero sum game: if you're talking about men getting abused by women, you're detracting from women getting abused by men. So, have you received any pushback from women's groups who say exactly that or argue that you're detracting from the far more serious, more prominent issue of women who are abused by men.
Ann Silvers: I haven't had a whole group come out against me. I always do, however, get some backlash pop up.
On LinkedIn just last week, I got yelled at (you know how people yell at you on social media with lots of exclamation marks and capital letters and things) when I posted an interview that I had done about the subject of women abusing men. The guy was a counselor who came at me with kind of how dare I.
And so that sort of thing happens, yeah. And I knew that was going to be the case when I wrote the book.
Richard Syrett: So obviously, we have a long ways to go when you have counselors who are angry that you're drawing attention to this.
Ann Silvers: Yes. When I go speak to counselor groups, I get lots of people very eager to hear what I have to say, lots of nodding of heads like they get it, they see it, they welcome that we're talking about it.
And invariably I have somebody angry that I'm talking about the subject and feeling a need to come up to me afterwards if they haven't spoken up in the group. You know, sometimes they'll speak up in the group and they often bring up this pendulum swing thing, “Men abused women for years and got away with it and so they are deserving now of whatever they get.”
How Man Law Gets in the Way
Richard Syrett: That's an incredibly cynical way to look at things for men. And again, you know, I hesitate, we're not comparing the tragedy of one group versus the other. But I'm wondering for men, if there's also the added problem of the shame that they feel because they have been victimized, because culturally men are supposed to be stronger. So not only are they being abused, maybe physically and emotionally, but also they feel the shame that they allowed it to happen.
Ann Silvers: Absolutely, absolutely. There's an extra layer of shame for men.
And I feel like man law gets in the way of men recognizing what's happening to them, the culture recognizing what's going on, and men speaking up, and gets in the way of men getting help.
The man laws of don't talk, don't need help, you should be able to fix everything. We train guys: fix the car, fix the toilet, fix the problems. And they feel then that they shouldn't need somebody, they should be the fixer. And in an abusive relationship with a woman, the guy often feels that they should be able to fix the situation.
I will say that women who are in relationships with abusive men, or, I also want to mention this can happen in same sex marriages and relationships as well, but, most targets of abuse in a relationship often will, regardless of the gender, will often feel like, “I can fix this, I can fix this. I just haven't figured it out yet.”
And it's one of the things that keeps you stuck.
And then the man law around “I shouldn't need help” also gets in the way of men speaking up and getting help.
And they have a hard time recognizing what's happening to them. Like you say, they’re shamed around it so they're embarrassed to speak up.
And so if a guy does come to you and shares this with you, be ready, be ready to be supportive and helpful.
How Can Physically Abused Men Defend Themselves?
Richard Syrett: Is it okay for men to defend themselves when they're being physically abused? Or could that lead to just further complications again, the police may believe that the woman was being abused, and that he was instigating the violence?
Ann Silvers: Correct, a guy could get into trouble, extra trouble by defending himself.
There was a hotline in the US for helping men who are being abused by women (it didn't last because of lack of funding) but they recommended that men try to roll up in a ball.
So, try to get your back to a wall to protect your back. Roll into a ball as best you can. Put your hands and arms over your head to try and protect your head. Try to get into that defensive position in order to protect yourself.
A man that I talked to who was beaten, and choked, and kicked, and in all kinds of ways physically abused by his former wife for 20 years, said that he would put his hands in his back pockets to not defend himself because he was afraid of hurting her. [Added Note: Click here to read more about this man's experiences.]
This is actually one of the ways that women get away with it. We talked a little bit earlier about how do smaller women get away with physically attacking larger men that they are partners with. One is that we train guys to not hit women. That’s a good training.
We also should be training females to not hit males. And unfortunately, that's not what we're doing. We actually have all kinds of cultural ways where we normalize women slapping men, and that's not okay.
How Can Men Heal After Being Abused?
Richard Syrett: How do you help men heal? How do you help men, you know, extricate themselves from that situation and maybe learn to trust again?
Ann Silvers: Well, that's a lot of questions there. There's a lot of repair work that needs to be done if somebody comes out of an abusive relationship, whether that's a man or a woman who has been abused.
And with men, we have the extra layers of shame. We have extra degrees of difficulty in helping them debrief and understand what was happening to them.
If a man is in an abusive relationship, it can be very hard to get through to him that this is what's happening and it's not okay. And so there is a lot of healing.
Trust can be rebuilt. It takes time. I would not encourage anybody to jump out of one relationship and quickly into another because you should debrief and figure out how did you miss the red flags? What are the red flags? Look back and see, “Oh, yeah, that thing happened early in the relationship that was a red flag. Now I can see that in the future.”
Do that processing of what happened, and the emotional healing as well.
Richard Syrett: “Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It hurts and It's Time to Get Real About It.” How do we get a copy, Ann?
Richard Syrett: And how do we follow you on Twitter, Ann?
Ann Silvers: On Twitter my handle is @AnnSilvers.
Richard Syrett: No ‘e’.
Ann Silvers: No ‘e’ on Ann. Thank you. Yeah. :)
Richard Syrett: All right. Ann, thank you so much for bringing this important topic to light.
Ann Silvers: Thank you for having me.
Abuse OF Men BY Women Book
- Ann Silvers