The Family Place was built for survivors of abusive relationships. In many cases, their partners controlled everything – the people they interacted with, the money they spent, how and when they’d be punished for something they did.
“I believe that I am not a terrible person,” Marco Diaz says, “that I can be a sweet son, father and brother.”
Diaz is not the stereotypical survivor of domestic violence: a man, trying to overcome years of abuse.
With men like Diaz in mind, Paige Flink with The Family Place created the shelter’s new wing. Because right now Texas has no such shelters for men.
“We’re the first in the state of Texas… I believe there’s a small organization in the state of Arkansas that might have the first shelter,” Flink says, “but it’s still all really new.”
So new in fact that there are very few experts in the field. Denise Hines teaches psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts.
“I would say there might be about 10 people who focus on male victims,” she says, “in this country.”
Hines specializes in the study of male survivors. In fact she’s the first person ever in the U.S. to receive a grant to study this dynamic, in which men are the targets of aggression and not the aggressors. Hines became passionate about the subject as an undergrad working at a hospital.
“We had a lot of men burn victims,” Hines says. “It would be an argument and the woman would grab a pot of boiling water or something near by and throw it on him – and it never seemed to be talked about as domestic violence.”
In reality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say almost half of all victims of domestic abuse are men. What may be even more shocking are the methods for the abuse. When men are violent they often use their bodies as weapons – they punch, kick and choke. When women are the abusers, most of them use deadly weapons.
Diaz says his former wife would use her hands and fingernails first and then she would grab a kitchen knife.
“She didn’t say that she is going to kill me or that she is going to put the knife on me – but the way she was holding it in front of me was enough threat to make you feel scared,” he says.
Now, Diaz has heard it all: couldn’t you have disarmed her? don’t you outweigh her and tower over her? But he was scared to lose his daughter and scared of the police because, he says, no matter the circumstances, he was always the one arrested.
Researcher Denise Hines says that comes back to the belief that a man cannot be a domestic violence victim.
“There’s very little that he can actively do to change the situation,” Hines says. “He can’t fight her back. He can’t physically defend himself because then – he is the one that gets arrested if the police are called. He is in quite a bind because his abuser can really rely on these cultural stereotypes to further her abuse on him.”
Starting this October, a place in Dallas will offer a fresh start to men who can break free of their abusive relationships. The Family Place offers a shelter for men and their children – the only one of its kind in Texas – and just one of just two in the country – at least until more places decide to recognize the issue.