“John” was a U.S. marine who served his country in two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was considered by his peers and commanding officers as a brave and exemplary marine, someone who put the lives of others before his own. When he was discharged he returned to his hometown in Wisconsin, said goodbye to friends and family, and set out to begin the next chapter in his life, in Canada. John had married a Canadian woman and to be closer to her ailing mother, moved to Saskatchewan.
The first year went well. John and his wife “Sarah” were happy enough. But after a while, things began to change. Sarah had a temper. It became a daily routine for Sarah to verbally abuse John. If he came home from work late, or hung out with friends, she wasn’t happy. Pretty soon, that abuse turned physical. She started with slaps and hair pulling. Then the slaps turned into closed fists. Finally, she started to use whatever came to hand…
When Sarah was at a friend’s house for a baby shower, John went into the garage, put a rope around his neck, and hanged himself. He simply couldn’t take it anymore.
For John, it was easier to take on Taliban forces than it was to seek sanctuary from his abusive wife. To many, that might sound shocking. The idea that John wasn’t able to call a domestic violence hotline, or take refuge in a domestic violence shelter seems absurd. What’s even more absurd though, is the fact that there aren’t any help-lines for men or domestic violence shelters. For men like John, who are the victims of such abuse, there is nowhere to turn.
There is no help. At least—not yet.
June 5-7 sees the return of the Toronto Domestic Violence Symposium. The event, now in its second year, will bring experts from around the world to discuss the issue of domestic violence—particularly as it pertains to men.
Among the featured speakers are:
Dr. Tanveer Ahmed, an Australia-based psychiatrist and politician. Dr. Ahmed will discuss domestic violence from a broad perspective in terms of how it affects families, and the role of the judiciary in understanding the issues.
Dr. Miles Groth, an American professor of psychology at New York’s Wagner University. Dr. Groth is editor of the International Journal of Men’s Health as well as the author of three books on German existentialist philosopher, Martin Heidegger.
Vernon Beck, a Canadian family conflict specialist and mediator. Mr. Beck is an expert on the Canadian family law system and will discuss the additional trauma that the system often inflicts on families.
One of the key aims of the TDVS is to undo the myths around domestic violence. Currently, the issue is broadly understood as one that mainly affects women, but decades of research shows conclusively that domestic violence is not a gendered issue—that it affects men and women almost equally. Unfortunately, men find it next to impossible to access services and help when they find themselves victimized. Speakers at the symposium will explain the roots of this misunderstanding and will argue for a system that is welcoming to both men and women and that understands the causes and effects of domestic violence for all people.
John’s story is tragic, but is also one that is repeated every night in homes across Canada. If more tragedies like his are to be avoided then the conversation needs to change. It is time to acknowledge men’s suffering as victims of domestic violence. It doesn’t help anybody if we keep ignoring the problem.