The Family Place in Dallas plans to open first Texas shelter for battered men

by Emily Roberts | Jan 20, 2016

Dallas' The Family Place plans to open first Texas shelter for battered men

January 20, 2016
by Jeff Mosier
The Dallas Morning News

Dallas family violence cases increased by 7 percent last year. But the most stark rise at one local shelter was in the number of battered men needing a temporary place to stay.

The Family Place nearly tripled the number of battered men it served last year compared with 2014. The 24 men assisted through November represented about 10 times the figure from just a few years ago, when the organization provided emergency shelter for two or three men annually.

In response to the escalating need, The Family Place plans to open a separate shelter for battered men early this year. Executive director Paige Flink said it would be the first in Texas and one of the first in the nation.

“Some people can’t believe me and others are saying, ‘Finally,’” Flink said about the new effort.

Deputy Police Chief Rob Sherwin said about 20 percent of Dallas’ family violence victims are men. At The Family Place, men accounted for nearly 7 percent of those given emergency shelter last year. Nationally, about 8 percent of abuse victims calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline in November were men, about double the 2014 figure.

Assisting battered men is a requirement for shelters that receive federal funding. But the issue has long been politically fraught, with some concerned it siphons attention and money from helping abused women. A large majority of abuse victims are women, who also make up a disproportionately large number of those killed.

Still, men are a substantial minority of those abused. They’re also a group that’s now more likely to seek help thanks to new police procedures, changing gender role attitudes, greater acceptance of homosexuality and overall domestic violence awareness campaigns like the one started by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Flink said her organization already raised the money needed for the shelter with the help of a federal Victim of Crime Act grant but is still looking for the right location. The best option, she said, is something similar to The Family’s Place’s first shelter: a McKinney Avenue house.

For at least 15 years, The Family Place has provided shelter for abused men, usually in rented hotel rooms or apartments. The number was steady but small until a few years ago.

This recent surge, Flink said, made the existing model too expensive. She estimated that she spent about $147,000 last year on lodging for men. A small rented space for a separate shelter might cost about half that.

Also, Flink said the old approach doesn’t provide a suitable setting for helping victims, who could use group therapy, legal assistance and case management.

“It’s not therapeutic,” Flink said. “They’re isolated.”

In 2015, Flink said a majority of men The Family Place served was gay. But there also were heterosexual men, some with three and four children.

The Family Place could not find a male domestic violence victim willing to talk about his experience. The numbers are still relatively small and stigma still large.

‘Victim blaming’

Katie Ray-Jones, president and CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said this is one of the rare cases when the male victims are at a disadvantage.

“Your masculinity is challenged,” Ray-Jones said. “There is victim blaming.”

Flink said her numbers show that several factors are starting to change views about domestic violence, particularly among young people. She said there’s an easing of gender stereotypes and rejection of the idea that an adult man can’t be abused by his wife or girlfriend.

“The millennial generation doesn’t have the same patriarchal view,” she said.

Flink said more people realize that death threats, stalking and other behavior don’t require one partner to physically overpower another.

Also, the greater acceptance of gay relationships — illustrated most recently by U.S. Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage — increased the number of men seeking help. Closeted men would often avoid shelters fearing that that could out them to friends, family or co-workers.

The Dallas police might get the most credit for the increased numbers, Flink said. Previously, the department gave domestic violence victims a card with information about available resources.

“They’re [victims] in distress, and they might not do that,” Flink said.

Now, officers responding to these calls fill out an 11-question “lethality” assessment. Depending on the responses, the officer will immediately put the victim on the phone with a representative from The Family Place or Genesis Women’s Shelter.

Greater awareness

Sherwin also credits citywide and national campaigns with bringing a greater awareness of domestic violence. The cases of high-profile athletes — such as former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy — also bring the topic out of the shadows.

Although reports of domestic violence were up in 2015, Sherwin said that’s likely the result of more victims willing to come forward rather than an increase in actual crime.

“We’ll take these offenses because we’re trying to reduce domestic violence,” he said. “And to reduce it, we have to start getting out from the behind the scenes.”

That applies to both men and women. Sherwin said the reduction in family violence deaths is a more accurate reflection of progress made.

Most shelters have taken a similar approach to The Family Place and use hotels and apartments as substitutes for a dedicated shelter.

In Lancaster, Calif., Valley Oasis pioneered a different approach about 25 years ago. The Southern California nonprofit became the first domestic violence shelter to offer shelter services to battered men, CEO Carol Crabson said. That was considered “taboo” since family violence shelters grew out of the women’s movement.

In this case, the shelter mixed both men and women victims. Crabson said it didn’t feel right to treat them different, and the two groups could learn from each other.

“If you were a victim of domestic violence, you deserve the same comprehensive services provided to women,” she said. “This is not a numbers game. This is not a gender thing. This a quality of life issue.”

Flink said mixing men and women wasn’t an option for The Family Place.

“We are not going to do that,” she said. “For a woman especially, the dynamic of a man’s violence against her can be frightening. … There’s a therapeutic reason to not mix the populations.”

But Flink said she still wants to provide the same level of service women have received for decade.

“I don’t want it to be an afterthought,” she said.

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