Courtesy New Haven Register, Josiah H. Brown

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New Haven Register

FORUM: “Real men can help to thwart domestic violence”

Josiah H. Brown

Published: May 28, 2003


Recently several troubling incidents have highlighted the problem of domestic violence. Actress and Yale graduate Lyric Benson was killed by her former fiancé; Tacoma's police chief shot his wife; and a Boston Globe sports columnist was suspended for remarking that he would like to "smack" the wife of a player. Virtually every week, college and professional athletes are arrested on domestic abuse charges. In one notorious episode, a Texas woman purposely ran over her cheating husband with the family car.


Domestic violence, as well as a tendency to trivialize or ignore it, is disturbingly common. Because of the often-hidden nature of the problem, precise estimates of its prevalence are elusive. But its magnitude is evident from the fact that there are nearly 20,000 cases in Connecticut each year that result in an arrest. Unquestionably, millions of households nationwide and thousands in our region are directly affected. Indirectly, other family members, co-workers, classmates, and schoolteachers can feel the impact.


There is a cyclical syndrome in which the children of abusers often grow up to inflict violence. In addition, many survivors - accepting such behavior as normal -- are drawn to partners who mistreat them.


Domestic abuse transcends class and ethnicity, and includes male victims. Still, women and children are far more vulnerable.


Certainly, men comprise the majority of abusers. This is especially true in the category of physical abuse. Emotional abuse, verbal threats, isolation from friends or family, and monopolizing the family finances are all harmful, controlling behaviors. But it is physical violence that most severely threatens any partner or child.


Men are recognizing they can play an essential role in preventing and curbing domestic violence. Judges, police and parole officers are predominantly men and can help offenders to understand that violence toward loved ones is always wrong - and that it comes with consequences. Male teachers, coaches, and ministers can educate boys and young men to mediate their controlling impulses, and to defuse their anger constructively. All men can be examples to others - treating women and girls with respect.


Our mantra has to be, "Real men don't abuse women!" (or children).


Gradually, men's awareness of our responsibility is growing. Campuses around the country have groups of male students who encourage one another to resist and to treat abusive action in their relationships with women. Web sites such as offer information and resources. Similar efforts are under way among homosexual couples.


My experience with domestic violence is indirect but personal. Years ago a member of my extended family was abusive toward his wife before receiving treatment, which in his case included medication for chronic mental illness.


The vast majority of abusers, however, would not be classified as mentally ill. Craving power, they feel entitled to maintain control over someone who is unlikely to fight back successfully.


There are many permutations of domestic violence, and no single solution. It is a dilemma of families, of relationships, and of social systems that tacitly perpetuate gender inequalities.


Frequently those afflicted love their abusers and are ambivalent about speaking up if the revelations could result in punishment of their lover, provider, and/or the father of their children. Ensuring confidentiality and choices for survivors is critical.


From their standpoint, penalizing abusers is not necessarily the issue. Primarily, they just want the abuse to stop.


Where it is present, domestic violence should stop. Ideally, of course, it should not start.


In the effort both to prevent and to mitigate this problem, men are indispensable. Now in Greater New Haven, we have an opportunity to stand up against domestic violence. The Men Against Domestic Violence campaign is seeking 1000 men who are willing to have their names published in this cause, and to raise funds for vital services in the area - support for a shelter, hotline, advocacy, counseling, and public education efforts. Join us!



Josiah H. Brown lives in New Haven and is on the board of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven, a nonprofit organization. Readers may write him in care of the Register, 40 Sargent Drive , New Haven 06511. His e-mail address is:

More information about Domestic Violence Services and the Men Against Domestic Violence campaign is at or by calling (203) 865-1957.

Copyright 2003 New Haven Register