In His Own Words: Victimized by victim support advocates

It’s day 24 of Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2014 for Men and Boys, the invisible victims of domestic violence. Today’s In His Own Words is an example of the systemic abuse to which men and boys are frequently subjected. It is an egregious example of sexism and misandry. It is also an example of how many women use victimhood (real or imagined) as a form of “street cred” and/or social status.

My ex-boyfriend cheated on me. Yeah well, my husband beat me and I had cancer. My adopted third world son has soooo many behavioral issues, we have to give him meds that make him morbidly obese, it’s sooooooo hard on me. That’s nothing, I was raped by my college boyfriend. Big deal, I was molested by my father and gang raped by the marching band and have a deadbeat husband.”

I have personally witnessed this kind of “victim off” in academic settings, clinical settings and, most recently, at a friend’s birthday party — women trying to “out victim” each other. In other words, not in a therapeutic setting. These are  women who were superficial acquaintances, colleagues and/or classmates, not intimates. It’s disturbing. Healthy individuals don’t want to be seen as victims, even if they have, in fact, been legitimately victimized.

“Tim” wanted to give back to his community by volunteering with a victim advocacy support agency. In the end, he became a victim of their bigotry and sexism. If this is how a victims advocacy organization treats male volunteers, just imagine how they treat male victims. Is it any wonder there are precious few services for male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault?

Victimized by Victim Support Advocates

In my mid twenties, I was a shy, naïve, introverted, but equally idealistic young man. I had a steady job, but I was still finding out who I was and what I wanted out of life. I decided that there was more to me than technology, and I started looking for a more human way to contribute to society than mere economic activity.

Somehow, I found out about the work done by Victim Support, a volunteer organisation that helps victims of crime to recover from their experiences. They seemed a noble organisation, and volunteering my time to them seemed like a good way to do something positive for those for whom I felt empathy and compassion. So, I wandered down to the central police station (where their offices were co-located) and signed up.

First, I was interviewed to screen for unsuitable candidates. I was asked questions concerning my motivations and attitude towards crime. Memorably, I was asked whether I would be willing to work with victims of rape. The idea struck me as being singularly inappropriate: a man is likely to be the last person a freshly raped woman would want to talk to and, never having even heard of the red pill, I said so, but also that if that was what a victim wanted, then of course I would do what I could. Their response was that, “Well, men get raped, too”.

A charitable reading of this question and their reply was to check that I didn’t have anything in my past (such as sexual abuse) that dealing with rape victims might trigger though, cynically — especially in retrospect — I wonder if this wasn’t some sort of shibboleth to gauge how ‘rapey’ I was myself.

I was duly accepted into the next intake of basic training seminars, which involved three or four intensive weekend-long, 8 hours a day seminars. Most of it was lecture format with socialisation between sessions, but there were group activities as well. I was by no means the only male there but, at 25, I was certainly the youngest one, and the women outnumbered the men by something like 3:1.

The first sign that something was amiss was when I approached the convenor about the source of a passage that had been handed out the previous day. “Our deepest fear” so caught my attention that I looked it up to find out more and I discovered that, where the convenor had attributed it to Nelson Mandela, the original passage is to be found in Marianne Williamson’s book, “A Return to Love.” (That book and its related work, “A Course in Miracles” is deeply new-agey stuff that is somewhat extreme, even for most new-agers, and is a whole ‘nuther story.)

I felt that Williamson deserved to be correctly attributed, not least so that others whose interest it might catch could find out more, but the convenor wasn’t remotely interested. She certainly didn’t care for what was actually true, and I got the distinct impression that she was more concerned about not losing face in front of her class than accurate course materials (even though I spoke to the convenor privately between sessions rather than draw attention to the error in front of the rest of the class).

Still, ‘not that important,’ I thought, and I dismissed it as just a matter different priorities. Looking back, though, I wonder if there wasn’t something else going through her mind.

One of the group activities was an exercise in exploring our own pasts and, if I wished to be uncharitable, just a hint of a parade of victim credentials.  Many of those there described experiences of domestic violence and sexual assault themselves, and I recall feeling ‘outclassed,’ almost as if I didn’t deserve to be there because nothing particularly bad had happened to me. The task was to draw a few symbols representing certain events in our past in each of the four quadrants of a shield-like thing on a piece of flip-chart paper which was then to be pinned up along with everybody else’s. These were then discussed as a group, and then we paired up for further discussion.

It’s not that I had no bad things in my past, but my father’s stroke and subsequent death (when I was aged 7 and 17 respectively) seemed fairly ordinary and unremarkable compared to some of the horrors described by the other students. What this was all in aid of, I’m unsure (particularly as the point was repeated time and again that support work is emphatically not therapy), but I am certain of the effect: it made me feel extraordinarily vulnerable, it brought unprocessed grief to the surface and tears with it, and I see no reason this would not be true for the other students.

I don’t remember much more detail of this except that the guy I paired up with, and who saw my grief, was a middle-aged, softly-spoken Canadian gentleman.  I never did quite shake the feeling that we were constantly being evaluated, especially in that particular activity.

I think I got through most or all of the class work, and the next weekend we were scheduled to meet at the hospital for a tour of the areas and procedures we would be expected to know in the course of this work. At about 10:30am one weekday morning, I got a phone call from the softly-spoken Canadian. He said that he had something he needed to discuss with me, and could I meet him at the police station (VS’ base, and where the training sessions were held) at noon? Since it was only a 10 minute walk away, I agreed.

Immediately, I knew something was wrong. Why was a fellow student phoning me up and asking to meet at the police station? What was it that he couldn’t discuss over the phone? How, indeed, did he get my phone number, private information protected by law?

The softly-spoken Canadian gentleman turned out not to be a student at all, but rather a member of that chapter’s management board. He led me into a small room and baldly stated that a complaint had been laid against me by one of the women on the course. He would not say by whom (or even how many complaints), what the complaint was or what I was supposed to have done, only that my presence made the women ‘feel unsafe.’ I was given two choices: ‘voluntarily’ sign the provided letter of resignation (in which case the whole matter would be dropped and forgotten about, with no record made), or face official (but unspecified) proceedings, which would inevitably result in my being expelled from the course and other, implied, unspecified consequences.

What is a young man, in a police station, accused of unspecified perversions to do? I had not read Franz Kafka’s Der Prozeß (The Trial), but I instinctively knew that I could not win, so I yielded. I intuitively knew that I would stand no chance of getting justice done without a long, expensive and most likely very public legal process, and even then, not necessarily.

Miss Professional Victim

Empathy for the suffering of others is, for the INFJ (personality type), second only to their sense of integrity. That integrity was now being besmirched by the most egregious of means, and suspected of unspeakable wrong that anybody with even a passably adequate sense of empathy and compassion for others would not do. In tears, I signed the paper bearing that one, bald line, and I plead to be told what I had done wrong, whether there was anything I could do to make it right, and whether there was any chance of being able to try again at some future date.

I was told that now that I had resigned, the matter was closed and he could not divulge any further information. Reluctantly, though, he did add something about my having followed a female member of the course to her car, but would not elaborate.

I spent months afterwards trying to fathom what he might have been talking about. I could think of only two possibilities: I did, indeed, walk with a middle aged lady to her car, deep in conversation after one of the course days, but it evidently wasn’t that, for by chance I met this same lady in the street some time later. She greeted me warmly, and said that she was sorry that I left the course so suddenly, and that she and the other students had “missed my thoughtful contributions”.

The other possibility is that I happened to follow another course member along an arterial route in my car a short distance away from the police station after one session because that was the direction I happened to be going in. “Followed to her car” is not the same as “followed in your car,” but it’s the only thing that makes any sense.

This woman happened to be a feminist and a lawyer who, I think, specialised in indigenous rights.

The story does not end there. I tried to appeal the decision, but was told that the matter was closed. I wrote to the national oversight body, but was told that there was no case, and anyway, their policy was to back up the decision of the chapter’s management committee. They did, however, refer me to a counsellor to help me deal with the aftermath (at my own cost, naturally).

This counsellor was a piece of work. In our first meeting he reached over while listening to my story and pulled a piece of tape in its dispenser and stuck it to the knurled edge, but did not tear it off just to see, apparently, how long it would take for me to get annoyed and do it for him. Later, he complained about being a counsellor and said that he was probably going to quit the profession. He also said that he thought I might have Asperger’s Syndrome (of which the IT sector has more than its fair share), even though one with this condition would be exceedingly unlikely to volunteer for this work for the reason I did — out of empathy for the victims of crime.

Not only is it a gross breach of professional standards to offer even the suggestion of a diagnosis that he was not qualified to make, this counsellor, it turned out, was an advisor to the very same Victim Support chapter that perpetrated this sorry mess in the first place, but neither he nor the Victim Support guy who referred me told me this beforehand. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have demanded that this guy be struck from the relevant professional register but, as I said, I was young and naïve.

It has taken me over a decade of therapy and time to heal these wounds and although the episode doesn’t haunt me as once it did, I still feel the shame for something I did not do. To this day, I still do not know what provoked all of this. The only reason to speak publicly is the chance it might help other boys and men. That, and because I can’t expect others to be vulnerable and talk about their pain if I’m not prepared to do the same.

Sexual assault is a crime, but naïvety is not.

In His Own Words is a joint effort between Shrink4Men and AVoiceForMen to help raise awareness about the invisible victims of domestic violence, men. If you would like to submit your story, please follow the guidelines at the end of this ar ticle.

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