The Men's Alternative Safe House in Calgary was the only shelter in Canada dedicated to helping battered men and their children. Lacking any other source of facilities or funding, Earl Silverman -- himself a survivor of an abusive marriage -- ran the shelter out of his own pocket and his own home, until mounting bills forced him to give up. The Men's Alternative Safe House closed last month, and Silverman announced he would have to sell his home.
Domestic violence isn't just a women's issue; although lifetime prevalence rates show a larger gap, studies looking at violence experienced over more recent time periods tend to show roughly equal rates of men and women as victims of domestic violence. In the United States, for example, the first National Violence Against Women Survey
(PDF) estimated that 0.9% of American men and 1.3% of American women had been physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the twelve months prior to the survey. More recent research also indicates that among younger adults, women may now commit the majority of non-reciprocal partner violence
. Canadian statistics show similar parity; a 2009 survey
estimated 6% of Canadian men and 6.4% of Canadian women had experienced spousal violence within the previous five years.
Agencies and shelters which will actually help male victims of domestic violence are still relatively rare, and face uphill battles; similar to MASH's situation as the only men's shelter in Canada, for many years, Valley Oasis
in California was the only shelter in the United States which offered services to all victims regardless of gender. Former director Patricia Overberg reported that she faced abuse and obstruction
(PDF) from operators of women-only shelters as a result of Valley Oasis' policies.
Meanwhile, outcomes for men who speak up or seek help are not encouraging. A survey of male victims' experiences in seeking help
(PDF) found that 78% of men who contacted domestic violence agencies and 63% of men who contacted hotlines were told "We only help women." In many cases, staff attempted to refer them to programs for abusive men or otherwise accused them of being the real abusers. Among male victims who called police, only 26% reported that their abuser was arrested; 33% of male victims who called police reported being arrested themselves.
Some progress is being made, however. Stop Abuse For Everyone (SAFE)
maintains advice pamphlets for victims
, including two targeted specifically to male victims, as well as a list of worldwide resources for abused men
. In 2008, a California appeals court found constitutional problems
with the state's domestic-violence grant system, which exclusively funded women-only programs. And the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act is gender-neutral with respect to grants
, although government agencies with power over grant money have been known to pre-emptively forbid funding research into violence committed against men
But any progress, at this point, will come too late for Earl Silverman. After shutting down his shelter and selling his house, on Friday Earl Silverman killed himself