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Men Battered by Their Wives

ABC News 20/20
September 21, 1997

Barbara Walters:

We focus a lot of attention on battered women in our society, because their plight is so common. But strange as it may sound, MEN are also victims of spousal abuse in surprisingly high numbers.


If you find this hard to believe .. that a woman smaller and weaker than a man could beat up on him .. then you're not alone. As Lynn Shurn (News Anchor) discovered, that perception is instilled in us form an early age. Maybe the stories you're about to hear will change what turns out to be a misperception.

Male Voice:

When I was six years old, a girl hit me and I went to hit her back, and she slickly told me 'boys can't hit girls'. So, I didn't hit her.


It is the law of the playground: little boys, because they are stronger and bigger are taught never to hit little girls ... even when the girls hit first.


But what if those girls grow up to be violent and abusive toward their husbands and the men still don't fight back? (clip of woman being taken away in handcuffs) That's the hidden side of domestic violence.

Abused Man:

People can't believe that a beautiful, little girl like that can hurt a big guy like me.

Second Abused Man:

I'm letting this woman terrorize me, beat me up .. it's extremely embarrassing .. you're making yourself feel like a wimp.

Third Abused Man:

We don't believe that women can step up to that level of violence.

(Hollywood clip of enraged woman beating the hell out of a sleeping man with a large implement. The implement cannot be determined as she is swinging it so fast.)

Voice of Battered Man:

She's beaten me up three times, and I still have her teeth marks in my side.


She grabbed my hair and started choking me.


She kicked me in the testicles and hit me in my right temple.


She stomped me across the bridge of my right foot and broke my right foot.


Across the country, male victims are just beginning to speak out, and men are victims more frequently than you might realize.

We're not suggesting that husbands are beaten as severely and as often as wives; in fact in some cases, both partners may resort to violence.

But the most recent reports from the Department of Justice documented nearly 150,000 cases against men .. ranging from attempts at violence to assault with a deadly weapon.

Experts say that, in terms of public awareness, male victims are where women were two decades ago .. and the stories are shockingly familiar.


It was just insanity, just pure insanity.

Voice Over:

Tom McKinney is a country fire investigator. He believes his erratic work hours, in part, would trigger her violent outbursts. When he'd come home late, she'd be waiting.


She'd throw things .. dishes ..at me, hit me with a baseball bat, ...tried to run me over with her car!

Another Man:

You feel like a prisoner in your own house; you have to be concerned about where you're walking, what your doing, you have to be always on guard .. it's a very tense kind of situation!


What makes a woman snap?

David Nevers said (clip of professional man, at work) when he lost his job, his wife just panicked. One day, he said, they were both (two girls) surprised when she struck him.


At first, I think I tried to dismiss it as something that had simply gotten out of control.


His response is typical of men .. taught to be powerful and protective .. don't see themselves ... don't see themselves as victims.

Nevers is a large and muscular man, he works out 5 times a week and his ex-wife is 4 inches, 100 pounds lighter. So, after one argument where she kicked him in the groin, propelling him through a plate-glass door, the humiliation was as searing as the pain ... especially when he had to take himself to the emergency room to stop the bleeding.


I was so ashamed and embarrassed about what happened that I told them it was an accident .. that I had backed into the door and that's how it happened.


Covering up for their abusive wives is a common response. Today, David Nevers is divorced, but along the way he also endured second-degree burns and was pushed down a flight of stairs by his ex-wife. Why would he stay in a relationship like this?


I stayed in the house, through all this, because I felt I had an opportunity to ask for custody.

Susan Steinmetz:

A man is afraid if he leaves, he won't get custody.


Sociologist and therapist, Susan Steinmetz, said abused husbands worry about custody with good reason ... most don't get it. David Nevers has only limited visitation rights with his children. (clip of girl hugging him)

Steinmetz also found greater numbers of male victims than anyone thought existed. Perhaps because she was using anonymous questionnaires and the couples faced no legal consequences. She found that when there is violence in a household (clip of police opening the front door), in terms of minor assaults, the man is just as likely to be the victim.

Shurn to Steinmetz:

Men are abused by their spouses as often as women are?


When you're looking at hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, they're fairly equal.


I just can't visualize a woman smacking a guy around.


They have to take advantage of the fact that they are generally smaller .. so the difference here is men are going to be attacked with an object ..pans, chairs, lamps ashtrays.


Thrown or struck at the person?


Rights .. they wait, catch the man off guard, or they wait until he's in the shower, for example, or he's asleep.


She's taken a night-stand and crashed it over my face while I was sleeping, she's threatened to throw boiling grease on my face.


This is NOT an aberration. Most men in this situation just won't talk about it .. even to their friends.

Robert Saunders says the first sign of his wife's irrational temper started before they were married, when a spat during a car trip escalated into her slugging him. But, sometimes he said it was jealousy that would send her into a rage.

Shurn to Man:

When you say 'she came to hit me, my first reaction is 'come on .. you're bigger than she is ... walk away from it'.


You know I could show you the pictures .. just the scratches on my forehead .. they're not big scratches ... when she got arrested ... but if I had done that to her, I'd be in jail RIGHT NOW. I wouldn't be here ... and that happened a year ago.


Some women DO get arrested after attacking their husbands. Rebecca Stern spent 3 days in jail.


I grabbed his face and my key scratched his neck and was trying to attack him. He had said 'you know I'm afraid of you.. you get a look on your face and I don't know why you get so angry'.


Could you have stopped yourself any time, if you wanted to?


I don't think so.


So, you were out of control?




Did you want to hurt or kill him?


I wanted to hurt him; I think I wanted to hurt him.


All of the men we talk to also worry about the effects of their wives abuse on their children.


My son, he was really traumatized by this behaviour because he was involved in watching it.


Robert Ellis, a commercial pilot, says he was so wary of his wife attacking him at night he would sleep fully clothed .. at times escaping with his son to a nearby hotel .. to remove him from the brutal scenes.

Shurn to Man:

He saw his mother strike his father?

Shurn to a group of 15 battered men:

Do any of you have custody of your children?

Men (all at once):



Did you all ask for custody?

Men (all at once)


[Changing Course - a rehabilitation programme for abusive women]


... I was arrested for spousal assault.

Another woman:

My name is Sylvia and I was arrested for domestic violence against my spouse.

Yet Another:

My name is Melanie and I'm here because I'm violent.

Innocent Looking woman:

My name is Janice. I'm here for breaking a temporary restraining order.. an d I'm hoping to use a different tool than anger.


They look like neighbours ... or, even family, But all have violent pasts (referring to group of 15 abusive women).

At a unique program in Sacramento CA, these women hope to change their future relationships.


Group Moderator:

Where do you punch, in the face?

All Women:



I pull hair, I pick up things and hit him with it .. whatever it takes. My boyfriend was down on the ground, crippled, can't walk, and I just beat him in the face with my shoe.


...The roots of husband abuse are exactly like those of men who abuse their wives.

... Growing awareness by police that battered men are not a joke.

... Men who put up with years of abuse risk being stalked by their wives - many have to go into hiding, move to a secret location

... David Nevers refuses to leave his home without a weapon of defence (pepper mace).

Barbara Walters to Shurn:

I believe this because I just saw the report. But, it's so hard to believe ... these big men....


I know that's it's fact what the men are complaining about ... that they are greeted by authorities and family with disbelief. they just want a fair shake, they just want to be treated equally.