The other victims
Males who suffer domestic violence are less likely to seek or receive help
For most people, it’s hard to think of Dale Jones—or any man—as a victim of domestic violence. And that, he says, is the problem. Despite his estranged wife’s two convictions for spousal abuse against him, the jobs he says he lost because she showed up at his work to harass him, and his repeated requests for restraining orders against her, most service and counseling agencies are not prepared to offer much support to Jones or others like him.
Quite simply, size matters.
Standing around 5 feet 8 inches tall, it would seem that the 45-year-old Jones could easily overpower any blows delivered by his 5-feet-2-inch wife, 38-year-old Robin Miller. Yet Jones said there’s been a lot of fight in that diminutive frame.
“Her mother said I should tie her up to a chair and take her to the nut house. She told a friend of mine if I couldn’t handle a little thing like her, then I have some serious problems,” Jones said, adding with a grin, “My middle name is wimp. I felt like if I hit her back, I’d play into all she knew in her life.”
Repeated efforts to reach Miller have been unsuccessful, so her side in the domestic disputes can only be gleaned from her comments in court and police records. But those records support the fact that, in at least some instances, Jones was clearly on the receiving end of domestic violence.
Like other male victims of domestic violence, Jones says it’s not about who has the upper hand in a fight. It’s about violence and control over another person, “which is just plain wrong.”
Spousal abuse can take many forms, but abusers do share some common characteristics, says Shireen Miles, communication outreach director for Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE). And those characteristics show up in both genders.
“They try to do things for you, and that gradually turns into wanting to control you and threats. But controlling and jealous behavior go across the board,” Miles said. “It’s not solely physical abuse—there’s emotional, verbal, psychological and financial [abuse]. They’re a little less apparent, but can potentially be as serious as physical abuse. A lot of homicides in Sacramento County are not preceded by known physical abuse.”
A 1994 U.S. Department of Justice study shows men and women involved in intimate violence kill and injure each other at the same rate. A recently updated study by Murray Strauss and Richard Gelles surveyed 1,000 families and calculated the incidences of violent crime: 113 times, men reported assaulting women while 121 times, men were the victims. Yet men are less likely to report violence to the police.
Male victims of domestic violence all too often are viewed as “wimps,” men who let themselves get pushed around by the weaker sex, rather than legitimate victims of spousal abuse. They often won’t report the incidents, fearing ridicule at the hands of law enforcement or even trial juries, should the case go that far.
Locally, Miles says she did her own study of domestic violence homicides in Sacramento County. Of the more than 30 domestic violence-related deaths in 1999, the victims were evenly divided: 10 were women, 10 were children and 10 were men.
Jones is among 379 men in Sacramento who filed reports of domestic violence in 1999. That number jumped from 309 in 1998, according to Sacramento Police Department records. Approximately 20 percent of all domestic dispute reports classify men as victims, although records do not differentiate between heterosexual and homosexual couples.
Victims can range from people with high self-esteem and advanced degrees to people who endured abuse in their childhood and didn’t manage to accomplish their goals in life. The key is that victims often try to “fix” it, and stay in bad situations.
“Victims often become caretakers, they’re socialized that way. They accept responsibility and try to make things better,” Miles said. “Society gives us a lot of bad information. We give kids—and girls soak this up—the message that ‘love can take care of it all.’ ”
Love didn’t conquer all for Jones, but he’s putting his life back together. A judge recently granted a start to divorce proceedings. He has a steady job with an employer that greets any calls from a female voice with suspicion. And now he has a mission: to change the system.
Jones gives police agencies high marks for responding to his 911 calls and calming things down. He also says he feels vindicated because his partner’s attempts to accuse him of abuse were deemed without substance.
It was just six months after Jones and Miller were married on Nov. 20, 1995, that the first incident occurred. Although he learned of Miller’s chaotic childhood and series of abusive relationships during the two years they dated, he says he felt compassion for her.
“I thought I was rescuing Robin from a violent relationship,” Jones said. “In reality, I was bringing an abuser into my life.”
Miller was first arrested for felony spousal abuse on March 14, 1996, according to police records. When police arrived at the scene, Jones had bruises around his neck and a black eye, as well as scratches and bruises on his face and the rest of his body.
Miller’s sentence included attending a batterers’ treatment program for anger management. Jones says Miller failed to attend the program meetings and was tossed out in September of that year.
A few months later, on Nov. 29, 1996, Miller was again arrested for physically assaulting Jones, according to a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department report. Jones says incidents always started with hours of yelling and carrying on, but ended with hands around his throat, fists on his face and body and fingernails everywhere they could puncture skin.
Jones called 911 in both incidents. At court hearings, he says he requested joint counseling, thinking the couple could learn to resolve differences amicably and effectively. He was denied each time.
“When a couple stays together, why isn’t there joint counseling required? It’s only logical,” he said, adding that he would still attend joint counseling, despite the couple’s impending divorce. “When domestic violence occurs, it’s a breakdown in communication.”
Miles doesn’t agree that domestic violence stems from a breakdown in communication. And she certainly doesn’t think that the cure for a violent relationship is to put the two combatants together in joint counseling.
The key is to look at the history of the relationship: Who is afraid of whom? That’s why it’s imperative for the batterer and the victim to receive separate counseling, Miles says. Plus, in the sharing environment of joint counseling, the information that comes out can later fuel an abuser’s rage.
“There are gruesome consequences [with joint counseling]. We know what happens to victims later,” Miles said. “It’s absolutely verboten.”
Lori Greene, who supervises the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office domestic violence unit, said her office treats male and female victims of domestic violence the same way, even as she admits that men who are truly victims of domestic violence are rare.
“You have to consider that 90 percent of the time, the man is bigger than the woman, and 50 percent of the time, the man has prior incidents where he was the defendant,” Greene said.
While law enforcement or the legal system may not discriminate on the basis of the victim’s size or history, a jury might.
“Jurors tend to give a victim who’s a woman more credibility than a victim who’s a man,” Greene said. “So you have to take that into consideration when you try to take a case forward.”
One key obstacle to male victims of domestic violence is the stereotype, says Miles, but professionals now are trained to detect abusers. Occasionally, a batterer may self-inflict injury while a victim is calling for help, so that when the police arrive, both parties have battle wounds.
Records show that the police and sheriff’s departments paid several visits to Jones and Miller’s trailer in 1997 and 1998. In June of 1998, after what Jones describes as “10 hours of rage,” he and Miller got into a shoving match.
Deputies came, at Jones’ request, and intervened. Jones sat in the squad car while Miller gathered her things, according to Jones’ testimony. At that time, he had bruises and scratches and had been pushed through the bathroom door of their trailer. Miller, according to the police report, said she had no injuries and did not want to file a report.
Several days later, though, she did file a report: “We started fighting about me going out to dinner with a friend of mine. The fight started as us just yelling at each other for the evening. At about [4 a.m.], Dale pushed me to the floor of the motor home, between the door and the chair. Then he choked me with his hands and was screaming at me in my face. Then I fell and hit my head on a toolbox. I was unable to get away from him and I pushed him away four times. After that he left me alone.”
She also stated: “I want him arrested and will testify against Dale. He done did it to me; I’m gonna do it to him. What’s fair for me is fair for him.”
The deputy who took the report wrote: “It should be noted that I responded to the call on Saturday, 6/6/98 for Miller to pick up her clothes from the motor home she shared with her husband. At that time, Miller stated she had just returned from the doctor and was wearing a soft collar neck brace. She did not have any visible injuries at the time and did not request a report be taken from her. Her only request was to go and get her clothing since she was moving out.”
After Miller filed her complaint, while Jones was taking refuge at the Bannon Street Shelter, he was arrested on felony spousal abuse charges. The testimony he gave to the arresting deputies further described the night: “That night she hugged me good night but I did not return the hug. This made her angry and the problem started to roll. Robin became enraged at me. She was screaming at me and calling me names.”
It quieted down at 2 a.m., however, she started right up again at 4 a.m., and this time she was worse. She was screaming and shoving me. She was just enraged. There was no way to calm her down. Finally, I threw a glass of water on her. Robin was startled at this.”
The injuries Miller cites, Jones told deputies, are the result of an auto accident in November 1997 for which she currently receives insurance payments. That story could not be independently verified by the SN&R.
Sorting out blame
By their very nature, sorting out blame in domestic violence cases is difficult, often involving subjective judgments about who’s lying and who’s telling the truth.
There’s also the potential for differing definitions of violence and assault: Could a self-defense move that causes injury to an attacker be classified as an assault? Could blocking a blow or pushing someone away count as an assault?
And, much like the relationship between Jones and Miller, many partners accuse each other of abuse and file restraining orders against each other. It’s up to detectives to determine whom the abuser truly is, Miles says.
With regards to felony and misdemeanor domestic violence, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office has a reputation for being tough.
“The D.A.’s office is very aggressive,” said Sacramento Police Sgt. Andrew Cruz. “They go after everybody—even if they’re police officers. The sentence always includes 52 weeks of a batterers’ treatment program.”
Working in the police department’s Family Abuse Unit, Cruz witnessed the rise in the number of reports of domestic violence—from 1,924 in 1998 to 2,560 in 1999. He attributes the increase partly to greater awareness, thanks to information campaigns and the growth of services. His own recent study of suspects shows that 99 percent had a lengthy criminal history—assaults, drug abuse, alcohol involvement.
“People who are committing these crimes in Sacramento are violent people, and this is the way they are choosing to deal with their problems,” Cruz said. “They seem to be the type of people who just can’t control their emotions. … We need to better teach our young how to deal with anger.”
Adding to the problem is that suspects have conditions that might play into their abuse, such as a personality disorder or an addiction problem. Those issues may not be addressed by a court conviction or through anger management programs.
On the job
Jones’ battles with Miller weren’t confined to the home. Aside from physical abuse, Jones says Miller attempted to create financial dependence by ruining his VCR repair and other businesses, which he eventually had to close.
Jones lost a key contract at Donation Station after Miller allegedly appeared at the Blacktop Road office repeatedly. Sources there say Miller appeared at least nine of the 10 times Jones worked there.
“He did wonderful work for us,” said David Jenkins, shop manager. “I’ve seen his wife beat him up physically. She yelled and screamed obscenities right in front of customers. It wasn’t a pretty scene.”
In November of 1999, Jenkins says the firm terminated its working relationship with Jones, at the request of other nearby business owners and the landlord, Patrick K. Willis. After one incident, Willis reportedly called the Sheriff’s Department.
“He’s the type of guy who wouldn’t hit a woman,” Jenkins said. “I know there’s two sides to every story. He must have done something to set her off. But he had his hands in his pockets the whole time he was getting his butt kicked.”
Yet once Miller had filed her belated police report claiming that Jones had abused her—even though prosecutors found insufficient evidence to file charges against him—Jones found himself battling against the presumption that he was guilty.
“Support services should consider prior arrests and partners’ arrests,” Jones said. “I was arrested twice with no convictions, yet she was arrested and convicted two times before me and still I couldn’t get status as a victim.”
Lack of services
For female victims, WEAVE offers a host of services, including a 24-hour crisis line, shelter, counseling, clothing and legal assistance. For men, the services vary: There’s no shelter (although hotel vouchers are available) and there are no counseling programs.
Jones says it’s a flawed system. While every report of domestic violence reportedly makes its way to WEAVE, Miles agrees that the agency doesn’t review prior incidents or arrests when choosing whom to offer assistance. The organization treats all calls to its 24-hour crisis line as serious and all people requesting assistance get it, she says.
When the prosecutors refused to file charges against him, Jones was released from jail. But because of the arrest, he was no longer accepted at the shelter. He contacted WEAVE, but the organization apparently was working with Miller, based on her complaint. He also contacted the Domestic Violence Center in Woodland, but he said that agency was working with Miller also.
“WEAVE can’t be expected to provide housing for male victims, but they can work with male shelters,” Jones said. “Why should I have been kicked out of Bannon Street Shelter when there was a history of domestic violence and arrests?”
He acknowledges that violence against women is a serious problem, and he understands why the system is quick to respond to a woman’s complaint. But he said that legitimate complaints from men shouldn’t be ignored in the process.
“We need to get the pendulum into the middle,” Jones said. “I can understand why it swung to the other side, but how can I get it back to the middle? That’s why I got to get this out.”