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Men Can Also Get Abused in Relationships, Experts Say With AM-EXP--Abused Men-Help

July 13, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bill L., a 32-year-old Californian, figures his girlfriend hit him hundreds of times in their two years together.

She bit, scratched and punched.

″She threatened to kill me a couple times,″ he said. ″She said she would wait until I’d fallen asleep, and then kill me.″

And there was the day, after he finally had moved out, that she came at him with a five-foot-long barbell bar because he had a date for a Rolling Stones concert and she didn’t.

So when he read the other day that the American Medical Association’s new guidelines on domestic violence focused on female victims, ″it was as though my suffering didn’t occur to the rest of the world because I’m a man.″

Men are far more likely to inflict physical injury than to endure it in their relationships with women, experts say. But Bill L. is not alone.

The AMA’s scientific affairs council is planning to look into abuse of men by women, said Dr. Robert McAfee, vice chairman of the AMA board of trustees.

″About 5 percent of the domestic violence that we can identify does involve males″ as victims, he said. Most of this is probably psychological, involving berating or belittlement, rather than physical attacks, he said.

Studies suggest men are the primary victims of physical violence in some 5 percent to 10 percent of domestic fights, said psychologist Robert Geffner, president of the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute in Tyler, Texas.

″It’s not a major problem, in comparison to battered women,″ he said.

If a woman physically hurts a man, it is often after years of being abused by him, said Irene Gillman, director of the Psychological and-or Physical Abuse Center at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

″I think there’s no question about it, more women get physically abused than men,″ she said. ″It’s 50-50 in terms of emotional abuse, I would say.″

But Murray Straus, a domestic violence expert at the University of New Hampshire, said his studies and more than 20 others found that women physically attack men in a relationship about as often as men attack women, if one includes minor violence like a slap or shove.

He stressed that the picture is far different if one focuses on injuries. Women are six to seven times more likely to be seriously injured in a domestic dispute than men are, he said. That is partly because of gender differences in strength, but also ″I think women in most cases don’t have as much intent to injure,″ he said.

Only a minority of fights are bad enough to cause such injury, Straus said. A national survey found that two-thirds of physical conflicts involved only what he called minor violence: slapping, shoving and throwing plates or other objects, he said.

Geffner said studies showing that women physically attack men as often as the reverse overlook a crucial point: ″Is he really in fear, is he being intimidated, or is she striking back in self-defense?″

The question of who is doing the intimidating is particularly important to answer in cases of ″mutual combat,″ in which a man and a woman hit each other. Some research suggests this occurs in 20 percent to 35 percent of domestic physical fights, Geffner said.

″When you talk to some of these men in treatment, they say, ’She hurt me, but I wasn’t really afraid of her, I knew she couldn’t really hurt me,‴ he said.

Police sometimes arrest both parties after mutual combat, but they should instead try to determine who was doing the intmidating, he said.

Straus said violence prevention efforts should focus on assaults by men, but ″we’re not going to be able to end wife-beating until we end the use of violence by wives themselves.″

If a wife slaps her husband for saying or doing something outrageous, Straus said, the man may hit her back.

And even if the man does not hit back immediately, ″the damage is still done. ... Sooner or later it’s going to be her turn to do something that he thinks is outrageous, and she’s not listening to reason, and then she’s provided the moral justification for hitting her.″

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