Local male victims prove domestic violence does not discriminate

When a Salem woman was charged in December with abusing and sexually assaulting her husband over a prolonged period, it seemed like an unusual case, because the victim is a man. 

Those who work with domestic violence victims say that verbal and physical violence against an intimate partner is not gender-exclusive. 

Safe Futures, the New London-based agency that provides shelter, counseling and other services to domestic violence victims, is working with the man involved in the Salem case.

The agency also has in its caseload a male victim from out of the area who was beaten and raped by his same-sex spouse and left for dead in a Dumpster.

Safe Futures' Norwich office is working with a third man, a 42-year-old who said his wife has threatened to slice him with a knife and put feces in his food.

Ninety-five percent of victims who report domestic violence nationally are women, according to Karen Jarmoc, president and chief executive officer of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, but the men who do come forward report the same feelings of shame and fear as women.

In 2015, Connecticut's 18 domestic violence agencies provided services to 35,507 adults, including 3,279 males, according to the CCADV.

The agencies provided shelter to 31 men, making accommodations when necessary in the typically female-occupied settings.

"We never approach our work assuming men are not victims," said Jarmoc. "Our approach to serving men is very similar to how we serve women. The dynamics around the relationship, about power and control, are the same."

Jillian Washburn, 33, was charged in December with eight crimes, including sexual assault, strangulation and cruelty to persons, after her husband was hospitalized in New York City.

The husband reported that his wife had started slapping him in 2008 and the abuse escalated to the point where, in November 2015, he said she wrapped her hand in a towel and struck him in the mouth and used scissors to cut off the tip of his penis.

He said Washburn was so controlling that she made him wear a GoPro camera.

He told police his wife had told him she would kill him, that he lived in fear and that their children had seen their mother hit him.

"The victim stated he did not report anything in the past because he felt like he could just deal with it and that things would get better," according to an arrest warrant.

Washburn is free on $350,000 bond.

She has pleaded not guilty and is making regular appearances in New London Superior Court, where attorneys are discussing whether they will be able to resolve the case without a trial.

Men experience the same complicated dynamics that keep women in abusive relationships, including children, finances, low self-esteem and fear of being alone.

But because they are men, there might be more shame involved and they might not be aware that help is available, according to Jarmoc from the domestic violence coalition.

"They might not actually view themselves as a victim," Jarmoc said. "They just sort of deal with the circumstances."

A man in his early 30s who is staying at the area shelter has scars from his forehead to his feet as the result of his same-sex marriage to a man who seemed like the perfect partner. 

He is not being identified because his life is in danger and he is the victim of sexual assault, but Katherine Verano, director of client services at Safe Futures, said the agency has verified the man's story.

During an interview this week, he explained that his closest family members had died, or disowned him because he is gay, and that he thought he had found a partner for life a few years ago when he met and married a man within six months.

His husband quickly began to verbally abuse him, and after three months delivered the first slap in the face.

"I was stunned, but I thought, 'Maybe I'm wrong,''' he said.

Nineteen hospital stays and 16 police reports later, he has a different outlook.

He said he was stabbed, beaten, had his finger tip cut off and was sexually assaulted many times before he left the relationship.

Police did not seem to take his complaints as seriously because he was a man, he said, and he was often tempted to return to his husband, who was charming and remorseful.

After a three-month hospital stay following the Dumpster incident, his husband was on the run from police and he was left with no money and no home.

Getting help was not easy.

He said he made 70 phone calls before finding an organization that would help him get back on his feet.

He is making plans to acquire a new job, car and apartment soon and is grateful for the help he has received from Safe Futures.

"I would look up places on line, and they would only take women and children," he said.

He attends counseling sessions with women, whose experiences, he says, are the same as his.

"It has nothing to do with gender," he said. "It has nothing to do with body parts. It's about shame. Men carry this thing of not displaying who they are. It doesn't matter what people think about you. If you can be true to who you are it will save you."

A Norwich-area victim also is struggling to find a way out of a life that has become unacceptable.

His wife is involved in a relationship with another man and has shamed and treated him with disrespect, he said during a phone interview Friday.

The family is still together, but the man said he is uncomfortable in the home.

"She always says to me some bad words and I get hit," he said. 

As a devout Christian, he said he would never strike his wife, though she threatens him regularly with violence.

He said he feels disrespected, frustrated and fearful about what will become of the family he works hard to provide with a home.

"We have children," he said. "We're supposed to have good behavior in front of the children. The children are not going to be happy in the future, and that is the reason."

k.florin@theday.com

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