Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women: Jan Brown Interview
The following is a summary of some of the Q&A between Mr. Custody Coach representatives, Michael and Lexi Ambrose, and Jan Elizabeth Brown – the Founder and Executive Director of the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women.
Jan and her organization are on the leading edge of providing domestic abuse services to all people and is one of the rare groups that doesn’t discriminate against someone because of their gender. Unlike other DV organizations, they currently receive no federal government funding, but despite this they continue to grow and succeed! They are currently involved in a fundraising effort “America’s Giving Challenge” which gives them the opportunity to win $50,000 for the cause! Further, it’s not about how much you donate, but how many people donate – so even if it’s as little as $1 – the more people who donate – the greater the chance they can receive the much-needed funding that will help ALL victims of domestic violence. Click here to donate: Donate to the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women.
To listen to our full radio discussion: Radio Show with Domestic Violence Expert Jan Brown.
Some of what was discussed on the program, in summary, listen at the link above for the full show:
MRCC: Jan, the topic of domestic violence is one that is hotly debated and discussed across this country. Can you give us a little bit of background about how your organization is different from most domestic violence hotlines, and domestic violence shelters?
Our agency is different than many of the traditional domestic violence victims agencies in a number of ways. First off we specialize in offering supportive services to men in relationships with abusive women. Secondly, we are a virtual non profit so all our communication (other than the direct services we offer to victims and survivors i.e. emergency shelter, transportation expenses, food, clothing, court advocacy etc) including volunteer trainings are done through teleconference, email, group lists, chat and web conferencing. And lastly we receive no federal or state funding so we remain an all volunteer agency.
MRCC: Who do you actually serve?
At least 80% of our helpline callers are abused men or someone concerned about an abused man, however, we serve both men and women in heterosexual and same sex relationships who are victims of domestic violence.
MRCC: What event or events prompted you to start your organization?
Back in 1995 a good friend came to me with a problem. His wife of 12 years was verbally, emotionally and physical abusive towards him and he was concerned because the abuse was escalating. He didn’t know what to do, he had tried everything to get her to stop, or where to go to for help and he was worried about his children seeing the abuse. He asked me to help him and I did some research and find out that all of our domestic violence victim’s services were for women, men were not welcomed or allowed to use the services.
MRCC: We know that domestic violence affects men and women alike. As a provider for both men and women, what, if any, differences do you find when each calls on your organization?
The most striking difference between male and female victims is that few females call to say that the have been arrested as the abuser. A female abuser has the upper hand when it comes to using the court system against their victim. A female abuser can set up their victim is such a way that he can be arrested for protecting himself against his female partners physical attacks. Abused men also, for the most part, have less concern for their safety because they do not fear being seriously injured by their abusive spouse. They are more concerned about the psychological abuse they suffer and their children.
MRCC: To the best of your knowledge, what type of response will a man expect to receive when calling on their local domestic violence shelter?
Most of the traditional battered women’s shelter programs refer male victim callers to local batterer’s intervention programs or tell them that they can not help them because they are men. This is changing somewhat but this is still the practice in many of the traditional dv programs. Also, when a women calls a hotline advocates are trained to believe the caller, but when a man calls this is not always the case.
MRCC: What percentage of the overall number of people who call your organization are men versus women?
Before we added the word “Women” to our name in 2005 approximately 95% of our calls were from men or someone concerned about a man being abused. Today approximately 80% of our calls are from that group.
MRCC: Given the prevalence of domestic violence initiated by women against men, what are some of the reasons why men won’t call for assistance?
Shame and embarrassment, fear of not being believed, and a sense that they can handle the situation themselves.
MRCC: Do you feel that the significant disparity in resources allocated by our government, which almost exclusively favors women, contributes to the lack of wide public acceptance of the realities of woman-on-man domestic violence?
Absolutely. Back in the 1970’s we had a battered women’s movement not a battered person’s movement. As such the social problem was designated as problem of violence against women by men. Over the years through research and making services available to women we have come to better understand domestic violence and now know that anyone can be a victim or a perpetrator, however, the domestic violence service providers haven’t caught up with that reality yet and many refuse to do so.
MRCC: Your website indicated that 90% of your hotline volunteers are women. How are they trained to deal with both women and men when society is under a constant barrage of misinformation claiming that men commit almost all domestic violence by some high-profile, mainstream organizations?
Our advocates training is pretty comprehensive in that respect, we cover all types partner violence. We make sure that our helpline volunteers are informed right away of the specialized work we do. We once had a potential volunteer say she would rather marry George W. Bush than help male victims… needless to say she isn’t one of our volunteers.
MRCC: Our position is that abuse victims, regardless of gender, should be provided equivalent resources for help. It’s clear that’s what your organization is positioned to do. Can you share with us some programs or other initiatives you have to further that mission?
Our budget prohibits us from doing all that we would like to do for victims other than direct emergency services. However, through a small grant from Target Foundation this year we were able to start virtual support groups for male victims of dv. Each support group lasts 12 weeks and is peer led. The facilitator and the men meet weekly via webconference.
MRCC: My research has shown that the definition of abuse has been expanded to include just about anything, from dirty looks, to normal momentary angry moments, to disagreements over marital finances and how they should be spent – how has that complicated addressing people who are truly in an abusive situation?
In instances where someone is truly abused the expansion of the definition of abuse has been beneficial to victims, but as I stated previously for abusers who know how to use the system to continue to further abuse their victims the expansion of the definition has brought a lot of misery and false allegations.
MRCC: What are some of the consequences for children who grow up witnesses to abusive relationships?
Since their family of origin is the place where they learn how to have a relationship with an intimate partner they may repeat the pattern by getting into relationships with abusers or be abusers themselves in their intimate relationships.
MRCC: What improvements do you believe should be undertaken to improve the allocation of resources for all victims of domestic violence?
I think that we need to have services set up with a “first come first serve,” mentality instead of our present system that screens out by gender. DV agencies need to be better equipped to weed out system abusers and educated on how to serve both men and women. Valley Oasis in Lancaster, CA is a model program for assisting victims of domestic violence. They have been offering, housing, supportive groups, counseling, legal aid etc to both female and male victims for over 17 years now. No reason to reinvent the wheel, just follow Valley Oasis lead.
MRCC: What more do you believe we can do to help society understand that domestic violence can and is committed by many abusers from both genders and all victims should be treated with kindness and compassion?
Promote public awareness of the issue from a gender inclusive approach. Open up the lines of communication between battered women’s advocates and those who take a gender inclusive approach to dv (not necessarily men’s or father’s rights people but researchers and other who see the need) and bring the focus back to what’s best for our families instead of who’s right and who deserves the most services, etc.