In the mid-1960s, I knew an elderly Greek fellow who tended to fig trees in front of his home at the end of our block. My recollections of our neighbor are hazy, but the thing that sticks with me is how gentle he was.
Years later, I learned that his wife would throw things at him, or yell through the night when he did something that angered her. He lived with her, and never complained. He never had the chance to file a restraining order, or jump onto social media for his own #MeToo moment. Like many men of his generation, he suffered in silence.
About 20 years ago, when I first started practicing immigration law, a man came for a consultation. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on what made him so familiar, because we’d never met before. He was an Algerian immigrant and told me about his U.S. citizen wife. It hit me: The look in his eyes and the hunched shoulders reminded me of my old neighbor.
It turns out that my future client was a victim of emotional and physical spousal abuse. He had no photos, no police reports, only his word and proof that his wife was a convicted drug offender. Little by little, I was able to piece together his tragic story, one that started with her threatening to call immigration and have him deported if he didn’t keep funding her drug habit, and ended with her taking a knife and stabbing him in the arm.
We were able to get him a green card based on a law that protects the abused immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens. That law was passed under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), but extended its protections to spouses of either gender.
I’ve done a number of these petitions over the years — most of them on behalf of men.
I tell you this to highlight the other side of the #MeToo movement. When you have people like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg focusing on the benefits to women, it becomes even more important to tell the other side of the issue, one that might not advance a feminist narrative but that needs to be told if we are going to be honest about victimization and abuse.
The #MeToo movement started out as an attack on Hollywood and expanded to politics, taking down people like Judge Roy Moore and Sen. Al Franken, who, in my opinion, should never have resigned.
But when some women suggested that it didn’t matter if innocent men were swept away in the rip currents of the movement, as long as the patriarchy was destroyed and women were heard, I realized we are witnessing a movement where due process is optional and men are put on the defensive. According to some women, there is no room for the suggestion that men can be victims of false accusations and real assaults.
I’m sensitive to this refusal to look at men as potential victims, given my work and my personal relationships with people who have been on the wrong side of a baseless accusation. I just won an immigration case where a former refugee from Africa had been falsely accused of sexual assault and who barely escaped deportation. And I’ve handled VAWA cases where women have been the aggressors.
Two high-profile cases are now in the public eye. Rob Porter has been accused, credibly, of spousal abuse. While he is entitled to due process, there is reason to believe he assaulted his two ex-wives. David Sorenson has also been accused by his ex-wife, and he has fought back by claiming she is the one who abused him.
Predictably, most people refuse to even acknowledge he could be a victim. It is this toxic bias that prevents so many men from admitting they’ve been abused, whether out of embarrassment or the resignation that they won’t be deemed credible.
It’s time to turn #MeToo into #MenToo.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
(c) 2018 Philadelphia Daily News