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The Other Face of Domestic Violence

By Ted Rowlands CNN

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering the news. Programming Note: A wife explains why she physically abuses her husband, Paula Zahn Now, Thursday 8 p.m. ET.
Leo (left), Paul (center) and Tom talk about abuse at the hands of their female partners.

SARASOTA, Florida (CNN) -- When I met Leo, Paul and Tom at a domestic violence shelter here, it was hard to believe the three men's story: that they were victims of physical abuse at the hands of their female partners.

Leo, who is about 6 feet tall and said he weighed more than 200 pounds at the time of the abuse, said his girlfriend terrorized him while he was recovering from a heart transplant.

"She would throw things, she would absolutely throw things, one time she did grab my throat and was screaming in my face," he said.

Another time, Leo said, she pulled a knife on him, but he suspected she was just trying to scare him.

Tom said his ex-wife would fly off the handle without notice. He said he had to lie when co-workers noticed scratches on his body, saying "my hands were so clawed by her, at work a day later I would be writing something down, and someone would say 'Oh, you must have a mean cat,' I'd say 'Yeah, a mean cat.' What am I supposed to say?"

Tom's wife was arrested and pleaded guilty to assault.

Tom said while sitting in a courtroom during his divorce, he realized he was a victim of abuse.

"I looked up, and I see a poster saying 'Are you a victim of domestic violence?' And I start reading the questions, and tears started coming down. I said, 'damn.' "

Paul, who works for a cement company, said his wife would attack him when he got home from work.

"She'd come running at me like a wild animal, both hands and arms swinging, I think she had her eyes closed half the time," he said.

According to a police report, Paul attacked his wife and threatened to kill her, but he said that is a lie.

"She came running up to me with a knife, and I end up doing six months over it," he said.

CNN's efforts to contact Paul's ex-wife were unsuccessful.

All three men said they were reluctant to call police. Leo said he thinks in the case of a dispute, an officer would believe a woman's story over a man's.

"Whether it happened or not, if she signs that affidavit, you're on your way to jail, you're on your way to jail, no investigation no anything."

All three men have left the women they say abused them.

Mary Thoroman, a detective with the North Point, Florida, Police Department, said she is seeing more male victims of domestic violence than ever before.

"Typically it's the throwing of objects, a lot of scratching, a lot of face scratching, neck scratching, even chest, but objects being thrown is very, very common," she said.

After meeting the three men, I interviewed Darlene Hilker, a woman who admits to assaulting her husband. Hilker said she was arrested after an argument spun out of control, and "I grabbed my husband's genitals, that's what I was arrested for."

Hilker was sentenced to 16 weeks of counseling at the Domestic Abuse Shelter Homes in Englewood, Florida.

The executive director at DASH, Donna LeClerc, said her group is dealing with more and more cases of women abusing their mates, though Department of Justice statistics show spousal abuse arrests nationwide have dropped significantly during the past decade.

"Men have gotten the point that it's not OK to do those things, but somehow it's turned around, and it's OK for women to do those things," LeClerc said.

Hilker said her anger would build and build until she couldn't control it. She also said other woman are feeling the same frustration, and are resorting to violence.

"There's a lot of women with a lot of anger, and they are letting it go," Hilker said. "It's not just husbands beating up wives; women can fly off, too."