Book review: “The Silent Man”

Author and therapist Patsy B. Evans (writing as Dr. Harmony) dedicates her new book, “The Silent Man: Uncovering the Hidden Epidemic of Domestic Violence Against Men,” with a quote by Václav Havel, the Soviet dissident and first president of the liberated Czech Republic: “You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day. . . .  It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.”

Of her own experience, Evans writes, “I have gotten a lot of criticism for my advocacy of men in both the intimate partner violence area and in the custody and family court system.  Many women have called me a traitor to my gender. . . .  I do not believe I chose to write this book, but instead, I think the culture of abused men wanted me to advocate, educat[e] and help these survivors have a voice.”  She hopes to “teach men how to help themselves even when the world tells them that they can’t.”

Writing from years of experience as a therapist, Evans touches on many of the challenges facing male victims of abuse, including the “massive public ignorance of the problem.”  “Men struggle,” she writes, “with shame due to the expectations of our culture and its gender role bias, so it isn’t surprising that a man who is being abused may not reach out for help, let alone have the ability to find support services.  Even if they do [reach out], chances are likely they are going to be turned away. . . .”

Among numerous examples, Evans describes a man who came to her after previous treatment by a male therapist.  The patient was a stay-at-home father, financially dependent on his wife, who had abused him for years, physically, emotionally, and sexually.  She had isolated him from friends and family, forbade him from working outside the home, and used threats of denying him contact with their son if he ever tried to leave the relationship.  Yet his first therapist told him that it was impossible for a woman to abuse a man, and he should be grateful for what he had.

Evans notes male abuse victims to be “usually very successful,” intelligent people who “are often natural caregivers and very empathetic.  Many subscribe to the ‘Prince Charming’ concept and look for women that they can rescue.  . . .  They also have a tendency to be male feminists” who “support, respect, and love strong women.”  Ironically, these generous, trusting attributes make them most vulnerable.

Among the recurring features of female-on-male domestic abuse, Evans notes: a tendency to use weapons violently; taking advantage of men’s reluctance to hit back; using children as pawns, aided by bias in the family courts; female abusers’ ease in portraying themselves as victims, and having law enforcement take their side; passive aggressive abuse through exaggerated performance of weakness and dependence; harassment of new wives/girlfriends of former partners; and men’s isolation, fear, shame, and lack of support.

In closing, Evans points out that her efforts are not intended to “decrease the importance of female victims.”  One wonders how many authors of treatises on abused women feel obliged to issue corollary caveats.

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