Winnipeg social workers treating male victims of domestic violence estimate that at least 25 percent of the victims are gay, and that a shelter for abused men is needed.
“We think it’s a big issue in the gay community,” says Duane Lesperance, executive director of the Men’s Resource Centre, adding that the 25 percent figure “is probably underestimated.”
Carol Ellerbeck, executive director of Osborne House, Manitoba’s largest women’s shelter, agrees with Lesperance’s estimate — and the need for a men’s shelter in the province. She and other social service agencies are working with the Men’s Resource Centre to calculate statistics and make recommendations to the provincial government.
Despite Lesperance and Ellerbeck’s estimates, no one knows exactly how many victims of domestic violence in Manitoba are men, or how many of them are gay. Last year, Winnipeg police attended 2,133 domestic disputes in which charges were laid. In 304 of those cases, the alleged victim was a man.
Every year, the tiny Men’s Resource Centre, with two full-time and two part-time staff, counsels 10 to 20 men who suffer verbal or physical abuse in their relationships. One of the counsellors, Chad Smith, says the most recent client he saw was a gay man who was stabbed by his partner, and got punched so hard that he lost a tooth. But that isn’t the only kind of abuse in gay male relationships, Smith says. Some men gain control over their partners by denying them money, or by threatening to ‘out’ them.
“We’re operating under the belief that way more men need our services, but they aren’t accessing them,” says Smith. “I bet there’s a hundred more that aren’t coming to us.”
According to Smith, the centre does very little advertising, since it already has a long waiting list. Furthermore, the doors are only open Monday to Friday during regular work hours. Men who call after-hours or on weekends get a voice mail telling them to call a women’s shelter. (Last year, the Men’s Resource Centre put in a proposal to the provincial government to start a seven-day service, but so far, there’s been no response.)
Since there’s currently no shelter for abused men in Manitoba, male victims of domestic violence have to stay in hotels, where they can’t access 24-hour counselling services. The maximum allowed hotel stay is three weeks, and for abused men, second-stage housing doesn’t exist.
“The system needs to be more responsive,” says Smith.
Lesperance says it’s too soon to tell whether a men’s shelter would look the same as a women’s shelter — for example, an apartment block or group home with bullet-proof glass. “We’re not sure if a men’s shelter based on a women’s shelter would work,” he says.
In the meantime, Smith is putting the finishing touches on a study dealing with abused gay men. Called “Hit Me, Hold Me,” its findings will be used to create brochures, workshops and presentations for local service providers.
Next month, Smith also plans to launch a group therapy session for male victims of domestic violence — his fourth since he started working at the Men’s Resource Centre five years ago.
The only Canadian shelter for abused men is run by a Calgary man who believes that “heterosexual men are the new Jews of Nazi Germany.”
In 1992, Earl Silverman established an organization called the Family of Men Support Society. Two years ago, he bankrolled a men’s shelter in Calgary called MASH 4077. MASH stands for Men’s Alternative Safe House and 4077 is the last four digits of the shelter’s phone number. The shelter has five beds.
Silverman is fairly well-known within Calgary as an anti-feminist ‘men’s rights’ advocate, so it’s no surprise that he rarely gets calls from gay men. When he does, he says he refers callers to the city’s local queer help line.
“I’m already burnt out dealing with heterosexual men,” he says. Besides, he figures that if he starts accepting gay male clients, people might ask, “How come you don’t take calls from animals who are victims of domestic violence?”