They are few and far between, but they exist. In the last five years, 32 men have been killed by their partners, compared with an overwhelming 335 female deaths from domestic abuse. Male victims barely represent nine percent of this alarming statistic, and that may well be the reason why there are fewer studies on the subject, and less help available to them.
Meanwhile, society does not encourage male victims of domestic violence to step forward; of 130,000 complaints filed annually on average, only two percent are by men. Experts note that for a man to admit that his partner beats him up and scares him is even more humiliating than for a woman.
So is domestic abuse different depending on the victim’s gender? Or does it reproduce the same roles of submission, contempt and domination?
Aurelio G., a 42-year-old man from Madrid, has authorized his lawyer, Víctor Martínez Patón, to tell his story, as long as his true identity remains concealed and neither his profession nor area of residence are disclosed. Both men fear that Aurelio’s wife might try to kill him.
She’s good but she has problems; she promised she won’t beat me again”
During the one year they have been married, she has beaten him up repeatedly. The last time around, she broke his wrist, which is still in a cast. Aurelio is a skinny man, while his wife, an athlete, is much heftier. He has told his neighbors, doctors and work colleagues that he broke his wrist after a bad fall. His silence and his lies sound a lot like the testimony provided daily by battered women all over the world.
“Poor darling. She’s good, and she loves me. But she drinks and she has problems. But she’s promised she won’t beat me again, and I believe her,” he says. Regardless of gender, this is the classic way that victims justify recurring acts of aggression. Professionals at courts in charge of domestic abuse cases know that these situations almost inevitably lead to more injuries or even death.
Aurelio did not dare lie to his sister. Together they sought out a lawyer and then they went down to the police station. “During the six or seven hours that we spent on the paperwork, his wife called his cellphone 31 times. I counted them,” his lawyer recalls. “She wanted to know where he was, with whom, why he was taking so long, complaining that she didn’t like his friends...”
Martínez Patón adds that his client’s teeth were chattering out of sheer panic, and that he said: “When she finds out I reported her, she’ll kill me for sure.”
The law only considers death threats a crime if a man proffers them
“If Aurelio were a woman, he’d be safe in a shelter, and he would be able to go to court without fearing for his life,” adds Martínez Patón, whose legal firm specializes in domestic abuse against men. This lawyer points to another legal discrimination against his client: the constant death threats issued by his wife would be reason enough to arrest her, if it were not for the fact that the law only considers death threats a crime if a man proffers them.
If the threat comes from a woman, it is merely an offense from a penal point of view.
“So there we have him, forcibly sharing a home with his abuser because he has nowhere else to go. And he’s living in mortal fear of her,” says Patón.
Aurelio displays the dangerous emotional combination that is so typical of abused women: domination, love, submission and fear. What’s more, just like 15 percent of female victims do every year, he wants to withdraw the complaint.
A 2011 report by the Observatory for Domestic Violence, which answers to the General Council of the Judiciary, shows that 61 women and seven men were killed by their partners that year. The figures are similar to 2010, and so are the settings: most of the crimes were perpetrated in towns of over 500,000 people, with a knife as the weapon of choice.
Inmaculada Montalbán, who heads this agency, is convinced that domestic abuse is different according to gender because “men are much more violent.” The 2011 report shows that one man was shot by his boyfriend, another man was poisoned by his wife, and yet another died when his former wife set his apartment on fire. In one case, the killer had reported the man for violence earlier in the relationship, a mitigating circumstance in court.
So far this year, there have been two male deaths from domestic abuse. In April, a Colombian woman named Alba Mary turned herself in at the police station in Sant Antoni de Portmany (Ibiza), where she told officers that she had “slit my husband’s throat.” She did so inside their car, to avoid suffering “the umpteenth sexual assault” according to her testimony. Before that, in February, a 30-year-old truck driver was stabbed to death by his partner after one of their many fights at home.