Hilary Madsen opened Hope, Health & Healing as a way to offer services to male victims of domestic violence. Photo: Katie Panzer
In the realms of domestic violence, myths can sometimes be the toughest barrier to overcome. The most common myths are that men can’t be victims or that men are always the perpetrators, but last year alone, there were 835,000 cases of domestic violence involving male victims (according to research done by saveservices.org). Breaking down destructive myths can be difficult, and it’s something Hilary Madsen deals with almost every day.
Hilary Madsen is a licensed domestic violence counselor and certified anger management instructor who works with men and women in domestically violent relationships, and specializes in the treatment of trauma and PTSD. Last April, Madsen opened her own private practice (Hope, Health & Healing Counseling Services) because she “continually saw that there were no services for male victims,” she says.
Hope, Health & Healing Counseling Services offers anger management courses for adults and teens, support group sessions for male victims of intimate partner violence (every Tuesday night) and a variety of therapeutic services for individual men or women, couples, single-parent families, blended families, plural families and LGBTQ families … all on a sliding scale.
After teaching in Japan for several years, Madsen returned to the U.S. in 2001 and went into social work. While earning her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, she was trained under the Duluth Model, a very gender-biased program which encourages the idea that domestic violence is based on male privilege, or Patriarchy. During this time, Madsen noted that this model didn’t allocate for male victims. “So many studies have disproved the male privilege theory, but everyone is ignoring that information,” she says. “Studies have revealed that lesbian women report some of the highest levels of intimate partner violence when compared to other relationship dynamics studied. It’s difficult to understand how male privilege accounts for that.”
Throughout her time in the industry, Madsen has had many people tell her that what she’s doing is wrong. She’s heard some say, “When [men] start to own up to all of the abuse they’re perpetrating, then maybe we’ll recognize the two percent of male victims.” It’s a mindset of misconceptions that she’s had to deal with in other areas as well, but it’s those misconceptions and myths that establish a system ripe for abuse. Madsen uses the example of a recent episode of The Talk where Sharon Osbourne and the other hosts laughed about an incident in California involving a male victim of domestic violence that ended with his castration. “If that had been a female victim, nobody would have been laughing,” Madsen says.
Utah is also a mandatory arrest state when it comes to domestic violence. Recent studies have shown a 60-percent increase in homicide in the 22 states (along with DC) that enforce mandatory arrest laws. “Men go through doubt and skepticism when they come forward as victims. People can accept male-on-male violence, sexually or physically, but there is this wall when it comes to female perpetrators of physical or sexual violence,” Madsen says. The main problem with our mandatory arrest status is that the male is automatically arrested even if he is the one who called the police in the first place, because it’s the man who is assumed to be the perpetrator (though there are a few arrests of female perpetrators). Madsen says, “With women, I can advise them to call the police, but with male victims, I hesitate to recommend this because so many men have reported being arrested when they’ve called for help and the police believe her story over his. Without severe injuries to clearly determine the predominant aggressor, police sometimes identify the victim as the perpetrator.” Madsen has worked with some women who admit to being abusers, and notes that there is very little being done to help violent women. “They need help, they don’t need judgment. You can’t help people when you’re judging them,” she says.
When the Violence Against Women Act, one of the most effective pieces of legislation against domestic violence, was scheduled for reauthorization, Madsen was hopeful that some change could be made. She recently lobbied on Capitol Hill with Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), a grassroots organization dedicated to providing services for all victims of domestic violence, where Madsen also works as their Utah Coordinator. SAVE proposed the creation of the Partner Violence Reduction Act, which includes services for male victims. Unfortunately, during that trip to Washington, she wasn’t able to make much headway. No one seemed interested in spending money on male victims. “We don’t need 50/50 shelters right off the bat, but why can’t we set aside funding for just one in each state?” says Madsen.
To change people’s perceptions and work toward preventing domestic violence, Madsen would like to implement early prevention education and start teaching youth about domestic violence in a gender neutral way. Not just representing the reality in relationships, but teaching youth statistics and clearly defining all the different forms of domestic violence. After all, 50 percent of children who grow up in domestically violent homes grow up to be in a domestically violent relationship.
In the end, Madsen says, “I’m a stubborn redhead and I am not giving up on this issue.” You can get in touch with Hilary Madsen through phone (801.696.3166), email (email@example.com) or online at utahabusedmensupportgroup.com. You can also get involved by volunteering with SAVE at saveservices.org.