CHARLESTON – Properly identifying and providing services to male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault will be the focus of a day-long conference next week in Charleston.

In observance of National Crime Victims Right's Week, a coalition of survivor support and political action groups, in conjunction with the U. S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime, are sponsoring "Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault: Not Just Problems for Women." According to a brochure produced for the conference, it will be held Wednesday April 25 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Hotel.

In addition to the Justice Department, the conference is sponsored by the Domestic Violence Counseling Center, Healing Through Creativity, Men Against Discrimination, the National Coalition for a New Perspective on Domestic Violence and the West Virginia State University School of Social Work. According to the brochure, the conference will consist of three workshops and panel discussion of male survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

First-hand accounts

Among the panelists is Ron Foster, a Scott Depot businessman, and a regional coordinator for Men Against Discrimination. Foster, 50, says being falsely accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife and losing custody of their now 12-year old to her as a result is what spurred him into action.

"Those men who are abused will not be custodial parents once the divorce is final, and the abusive women who are also the ones most likely to deny visitation," Foster said.

"The abused man faces a double-edged sword. He must either suffer the humiliation of being physically abused by a woman, or lose his children and a large portion of his wealth along with future income in the form of child support."

Another panelist is George Robertson, a geologist for a Poca environmental firm and director of Healing Through Creativity in Hurricane. A victim of sexual assault at the hands of two unknown assailants in 1996, Robertson, 55, says he quickly discovered the lack of trauma-recovery services available to men.

"As a survivor of a sexual assault," Robertson said, "I have found it very awkward to seek help or even to be free from the aftermath. "When I did seek help, I was informed that, not including childhood sexual assault, about 1 in 14 men are victims of sexual assault, and including childhood sexual assault it's about 1 in 6 or 7.

"However, in counseling I was exposed to radical feminist ideas that would make Rosie O'Donnell feel at home. There is not much help there for men."

An underreported national problem

In addition to the panel discussion, the conference will feature two experts in the area of male domestic violence and sexual assault.

Dr. Laura Petracek and Anthony D. Rodriguez are the scheduled speakers keynote speakers for the morning workshops.

According to their biographies, Petracek is a clinical psychologist in San Francisco, and Rodriguez is the director of the Men's Center in Davenport, Iowa. Petracek and Rodriguez will discuss their dealings with male survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the reluctance by many of their peers to address these issues.

The issue of male domestic violence and sexual assault is something that Elizabeth Crawford sees on a regular basis in the Charleston-area. Though most are the former rather than the latter, Crawford, 51, says in 2006 she counseled 10 male victims.

Ensuring equal justice for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, regardless of gender, is worthy of someone's time to attend the conference, Crawford said.

"The refusal to help men or any population is abusing them again." Crawford said. "The Domestic Violence Counseling Center stands against discrimination, and all other types of hatred being perpetrated against anyone."

Continuing education available

The cost to attend the conference is $100. The cost includes workshop materials, refreshments and lunch.

Continuing education units are being provided or pending for professionals who may deal with domestic violence and sexual assault victims. According to the brochure, CEUs are available for attorneys, law enforcement personnel, psychologists and social workers.

Deadline for registration is Monday, April 23. Additional information is available by calling Crawford at (304) 342-7752.

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