This article originally appeared at http://waldo.villagesoup.com/Government/story.cfm?StoryID=179832
It is reproduced here with permission.
The Republican Journal Reporter / Village Soup
Domestic Abuse: One Man's Story
By Tanya Mitchell
October 14, 2009
BELFAST, Maine: The names of the people involved in this account have been changed in the interest of telling the story in its entirety, and to avoid compromising any ongoing court proceedings.
When "Jon" first met his ex-wife, "Tracy," 13 years ago, he never thought their relationship would end in a divorce – let alone a protection order, criminal charges, and a fight to obtain regular visitation with his 4-year-old daughter.
But his four-year marriage has ended that way, and Jon said it is largely because today's laws pertaining to domestic violence do little to protect men who are on the receiving end of abuse from their female partners.
Jon said things are improving between him and his ex-wife now, and he has his daughter with him for half of each week, but he wants to share his story to raise awareness about how domestic abuse can affect men.
"I'm not doing this to get back at her, I'm doing this to let people know that this stuff happens," said Jon in a recent interview. "I think a lot of men are just too macho to admit they can be abused."
While Jon said his ex-wife had occasionally subjected him to physical violence, he said much of the abuse he suffered was mental and emotional.
"It was mostly mental; she'd break me down and make me feel ashamed, like I was two feet tall," he remembered. "She'd always come with these threats that she was going to take my kid away if I left her, and she made me think she had the power to do so."
Jon said Tracy was generally a good person, but a combination of mental illness and alcohol use would turn her into a person he hardly knew. He stayed in the relationship as long as he did mostly for his child, Jon said, but he also stayed because he felt he was obligated to stand by – and get help for – his wife.
No easy fix
As time went on, the relationship became more strained. Jon said aside from working, he was focused on trying to keep Tracy happy and avoiding situations that he thought would start an argument. Though he played an active role in caring for his youngest daughter from the time she was born, handling everything from doctor's visits to morning feedings and diaper duty, he said his efforts to keep Tracy's behavior from spinning out of control were constant.
"I wasn't able to be the father I wanted to be for my kids," Jon said. In addition to the 4-year-old daughter he has with Tracy, he has a 10-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
Finally Jon considered his options for improving the situation for himself and his family. He talked to Tracy's family about it, and he also shared his story with social workers at the state Department of Health and Human Services. Nothing changed, Jon said, and each person he spoke with encouraged him to find a way to deal with Tracy and her issues.
The couple eventually sought marriage counseling, but Jon said while he learned some helpful tools for dealing with Tracy's behavior, he remained unhappy in the relationship because the abuse continued almost daily. For example, if Tracy's behavior became abusive, Jon said the counselor advised him to leave the house. But Jon said he did not want to leave his child behind, and he was worried about what Tracy might do if he took her with him.
"I was afraid she'd call the cops and say I kidnapped her," he said.
Jon said he did consider contacting a service organization like New Hope for Women to find help, but he said the very name of the organization made him feel as though it wasn't the best course of action for a man in his situation.
When he left
One day, just over a year ago, Jon decided to leave the relationship on his own.
"I finally decided that God wasn't going to give me an easy way out, so I had to take a leap of faith," he said.
Jon said he feared what Tracy might do to retaliate, especially when she realized there was no chance for a reconciliation.
"I left, and she started drinking," Jon said. "She did everything she could do to make me stay. But I left for my kids and for me, and I did it for her, too. I knew it would be better for all of us."
On the day Jon left, he and Tracy argued about his decision to end the marriage. While he said he was still concerned about how his choice might affect Tracy, he focused on moving on and went to work the next day. That's where a police officer came to see him, and presented him with a summons for domestic violence criminal threatening.
Jon said he told the officer he never threatened or harmed Tracy when he left, but the charge still stood. Jon said the officer assured him he would have his day in court.
When his day in court arrived, Jon said he opted to plead no contest to the charge as part of a plea deal that allowed him to serve no jail time. Jon said his memory of his court appearance was more focused on working out details of the plea bargain and very little on the events of the day in question, the day he left Tracy.
"I took this [plea bargain] because it ensured me I would not go to jail and spend time away from my children. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to say anything on my behalf then, either," said Jon.
Meanwhile, Tracy contacted New Hope for Women. Jon said that based on the criminal threatening charge against him, Tracy was able to obtain a temporary protection order against him, and that the order included his daughter.
"With the initial restraining order, I couldn't see my daughter for a month," he said. "Too often they're used as a way to get back at people, even though they're made to protect the people who need them. That was one of the things that made me feel helpless."
When Jon and Tracy went to court again, at which time a judge was asked to make a finding on whether or not Tracy was abused, Jon said he was surprised at what occurred there.
"I asked her to take my daughter off the restraining order, and she immediately said yes to that," he said.
That suggested to Jon that Tracy knew he would not harm their child, he said, and he hoped Tracy would opt to drop the order against him altogether. But that didn't happen, and instead, the judge granted the order – and Jon said it happened without his explanation of what had occurred the day he decided to leave.
"I haven't even had a chance to explain my side yet," he said.
But Jon said he was happy just to have regular visitation with his child, so he arranged for the girl's grandparents to help with pickups and drop-offs. That worked for a while, Jon said, until Tracy would contact the grandparents and ask them to relay a message to Jon asking him to pick the child up at a local store, or at her mother's home.
"Then there was one time when she came out and started talking to me," he said.
The conversation had largely to do with the child and visitation, and Jon said he offered minimal responses as he loaded his daughter into his car.
This happened on at least two more occasions, and Jon said he eventually asked Tracy to stop attempting to communicate with him because of the active protection order against him.
"I finally spoke to her and said if she wanted to be able to speak with me this way, then she needed to drop the protection order, because she was putting me in danger," Jon said.
Jon said he thought nothing of the encounter, until a few days later, when a Waldo County sheriff's deputy arrived at his residence and placed him under arrest for violating the protection order. When he told that officer about what had happened, Jon said, the officer advised that he should have walked away instead of responding to Tracy.
"I at least had to take the time to pick up my child," Jon said. "...But I was treated like a criminal."
As a result of his arrest, Jon spent a night at the Waldo County Jail, his first, and, he hopes, his only, stay there. That charge against Jon is still pending.
Since then he has worked out a new pickup and drop-off schedule for his daughter, and on the few occasions that Tracy has attempted to talk to him, Jon said he has not responded, because of the protection order.
Even with the charges pending against Jon, he said, his life has taken a turn for the better, as has Tracy's. Jon sees his daughter regularly now, and Tracy has gone back to college. Jon said the children are in a better situation, too.
"I just want things to be OK, and for us to get along," said Jon. "And after all of that, I'm still willing to sit down and say 'OK, this is done, I can forgive.' "
Two sides of the same story
New Hope for Women reports that 85 percent of intimate partner violence is male-on-female, but New Hope Community Educator Ellie Hutchinson said that data only reflects the incidents that are reported.
Hutchinson said although the name of the organization suggests New Hope is only there for women, men are welcome to take advantage of services there, too. Few men have sought help from New Hope over the years, but Hutchinson said she wished more men would reach out if they need help leaving an unhealthy relationship.
She encouraged anyone in need of assistance – male or female – to call the 24-hour New Hope hotline at 800-522-3304. Those interested in learning more about New Hope can also visit newhopeforwomen.org.
Jon noted that a nonprofit organization out of Rockville, Md., known as RADAR – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – seeks to improve the effectiveness of the Violence Against Women Act, put an end to a person's ability to abuse the law and to ensure the same protections for men as women. Finding such an organization, Jon said, has been empowering for him because its very existence has shown him he is not alone.
Jon is currently contacting his state representatives and congressman about reforming the Violence Against Women Act to fix the flaws that he said exist in the law. He also encourages anyone who is being hurt as a result of a former partner's misuse of the laws, or anyone who knows a person in that situation, to do the same.
"This happens to women, too, this is not a gender-biased thing," he said. "Anybody can take advantage of the law."