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Most victims of domestic violence are women but not only women. One in seven men have suffered severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the CDC. Now, more communities are opening shelters exclusively for battered men and their families. From Dallas, KERA's Lauren Silverman spoke with one victim about the challenge of finding a safe place to stay. We're calling him Jeff to protect his identity.
LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: After two decades of abuse, Jeff had no friends, wasn't allowed to go to church or make decisions for himself.
JEFF: But you love this person. You've entered into a marriage covenant - sickness and health, better for worse. And you are going better or for worse, right? I know you said you didn't mean to push into me or open that door in my face or our child's face, but it's for better or for worse, right?
SILVERMAN: Jeff and his older daughter created a safe word so when it got bad enough that they needed to leave, she'd say the word. One day it got that bad. He started calling down the list of domestic violence shelters in North Texas. The responses were crushing.
JEFF: The thing that you get the most is they only serve women. We're sorry to hear you're in the position you are. We're here to support you, but we only serve women.
EMILY DOUGLAS: As a society, we don't necessarily see that men are capable of being the targets of partner violence.
SILVERMAN: Emily Douglas is an associate professor of social work at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. She says in relationships, men and women use violence at roughly the same rates, yet men have far fewer places to turn. In a study she co-authored, just 8 percent of male victims who called domestic violence hotlines found them very helpful. Sixteen percent said the people at the hotline dismissed or made fun of them.
PAIGE FLINK: In the past two years, we kept seeing an increase in men seeking shelter.
SILVERMAN: Paige Flink is CEO of The Family Place. It's a Dallas nonprofit that's offered domestic violence help for decades.
FLINK: First, we thought it was an aberration. We weren't sure what was going on, but it just got more and more expensive.
SILVERMAN: Flink was spending $150,000 a year putting male victims in hotel rooms. She and some other shelter managers across the country say it now makes financial and therapeutic sense to provide a safe space specifically for men. The day after Jeff and his daughters finally left home, Flink opened the first such shelter in Texas.
FLINK: So we have two floors of bedrooms.
SILVERMAN: She shows me around a wooden two-story house in Dallas with a large kitchen and a basketball court in the backyard. This may be the only shelter for men in Texas, but the first in the country opened two years ago in Batesville, Ark. Shelter manager Bill Miller says he got some strange looks when he told people about his new job at The Taylor House.
BILL MILLER: People tend to think of battered only when they think of domestic violence. Well, there's much more to it than that. It can be psychological. It can be financial. It can be father on son, son on father, family members. There's any number of ways that this manifests itself.
SILVERMAN: So far, more than 30 men have stayed at the Arkansas shelter.
MILLER: Clearly, there is a need. We get calls from all over the country.
SILVERMAN: Researcher Emily Douglas is thrilled more shelters are opening for men, but she wonders if it's always necessary to separate men from women. The idea is that being exposed to the opposite sex could hinder recovery.
DOUGLAS: But if you are a man in a relationship with another man and you are being abused by that individual, maybe it actually would be helpful to be surrounded by women. I don't know.
SILVERMAN: It's new territory for researchers, just as it is for people running shelters. The managers at the Arkansas shelter and The Family Place say they'll see if this approach works. First, to test it out in Dallas, Jeff and his two girls sitting inside a bedroom with bunk beds and a TV. Jeff says it feels like he's finally seeing clearly.
JEFF: And even after you pull yourself out of the cloud, it still takes time to say, where am I? Who am I? I mean, I know I can do all these things, but really who am I anymore?
SILVERMAN: While at The Family Place in Texas, Jeff made plans to leave the state with his daughters. The shelter helped him secure money for gas, and they arrived in Florida last Saturday. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Silverman in Dallas.
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