MICHELLE T. BERNARD
While domestic violence is often thought to be just against women, it may be surprising to some to know that statistics show that one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. For women, it’s one in three. The statistics change considerably, however, to one in four women compared to one and seven men when the abuse is considered “severe.”
Perhaps even more unusual is that the current executive director of the Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence (LCCADV) is a man. This is a position that is predominately held by women across the country and, except for six months when Skip Steele served as interim executive director while Vicky Lingerfelt was out on medical leave, the position has never been held by a man in the history of LCCADV.
“After Vicky Lingerfelt left Amy’s House, we had a male interim director for a few months with no issues,” LCCADV Board president Sue Gauthier said. “So when we hired Robert (Dalton), we really didn’t think much about him being male. We were searching for someone with experience managing a nonprofit and Robert fit that mold. However, it soon proved to be a win-win as Robert also serves as a positive male role model not only for the female victims of domestic violence but for the children as well, many of whom have only been around men who are controlling and abusive.”
Robert Dalton has been the executive director of LCCADV for two and a half years now. His background is in nonprofit work but when approached about this position he was attracted to it because it was a chance to be involved in the community and to give back.
“I don’t personally have any relationship to domestic violence but I’ve known domestic violence victims in other positions I’ve held so the chance to take on this kind of work seemed like a good fit for what I do and what they were looking for,” Dalton said. “A lot of the coalition’s work with victims was already very good so they were looking for someone with that administrative background and that’s what I do well. It was a meeting of my skills and my experience and the needs of the organization.”
Currently, Dalton is the only male working at LCCADV, so it was a change for the staff. Some clients are uncomfortable being anywhere near a man and Dalton has to step back, but he said that doesn’t happen very often.
“I give them a wide berth, say hi and leave it at that but for some victims it’s refreshing for them to be around a male that’s not abusing or seeking anything from them,” Dalton said. “For the majority I’m part of the staff and they recognize that.”
When Dalton goes to conferences, he’s only one of a handful of men that are attending as executive directors or other managerial staff. He said that being in the minority has helped him, especially when he first started the job, because people tended to remember him.
“When you come in that room and there’s a handful of other men and you’re talking all the way from the top level down to frontline service members, the men in the room recognize each other,” Dalton said. “Some agencies have male staff members that work with male victims but Lincoln County isn’t really big enough for that specialization so I’ll often handle that. It may be the inverse of other businesses where women are underrepresented.”
LCCADV does serve men as well as women and children but the percentage of men served is much smaller and usually the services given are not at the shelter, according to Dalton.
Dalton said that it’s interesting being a man in the domestic violence world and even though statistically it doesn’t hold that the violence is only against women, it’s opened his eyes to the other larger issues surrounding domestic violence and how it’s part of a bigger set of issues women face. He’s also seen and been inspired by people doing amazing things after suffering extreme domestic violence.
“I’ve learned a ton about how deeply and how broadly domestic violence goes in our community,” he said. “I would have never guessed that one in three women or one in four men number. I also never would have guessed that some people go through abuse for decades before getting out but I now realize how traumatic and difficult it is for them to leave and start over.”
Since Dalton has taken over the helm of LCCADV he said they’ve made great strides to becoming cutting edge in their field. They’ve revamped all of their policies and procedures. Some of his future goals include getting out into the more rural areas of Lincoln County, because Amy’s House is known as a Lincolnton shelter. He’d also like to increase the size of the shelter so more people can receive shelter services and increase their non-shelter programs.
“Stopping domestic violence is something our whole community has to do,” he said. “It’s not just women banding together – domestic violence is not a women’s issue, it’s a community issue. I think me speaking out as a man against domestic violence possibly gets people to listen that might not otherwise do so. It’s hard to see domestic violence as a women’s issue when I’m the one standing up and saying ‘we’ve all got to work together on this.’ So maybe it gives the message a little more oomph in certain segments of our community.”