Domestic abuse is described as involving the physical violence, sexual, emotional or financial abuse between current or former partners in an intimate relationship.
So how the abuse began? The onset of abuse could occur with increased relationship commitment such as marriage and cohabitation. In these circumstances, men had developed strong feelings of love and commitment to their partners and wanted the relationship to work by the time the abuse began.
Domestic violence in women has been extensively researched in the medical and social science literature; however, little is known of the characteristics, prevalence rate, or efficacy of Emergency Department (ED) screening of “male” victims of intimate partner violence (IPV). Previously published studies indicate the prevalence rate of IPV in men ranges from 6–30%, but these studies are from a variety of data sources and settings (EDs, primary care offices, police reports, and sociological surveys) and use several different, no validated questionnaires to estimate the prevalence of male victims of IPV.
Several explanations exist for the lack of information on male victims of IPV. First, male victims of female aggression may be reluctant to discuss or report their experiences, due to the psychological stress of acknowledging the physical or emotional dominance of the female partner. The social stigma that is attached to male victimization may be much greater than that associated with abuse of women, as men might consider it emasculating to admit they were abused by a woman. Second, just as controversy exists over the exact designation of IPV, there is no widely accepted definition of what constitutes IPV in men. Violence in couples is often bi-directional, with both individuals alternating between victim and perpetrator. Thus, the classic notion of the non-aggressive “battered spouse” may not easily apply to men.
Despite the relative paucity of research, national crime statistics suggest that male IPV victimization is a significant problem. Data collected from 1993–2001 for the National Crime Victimization Survey reveal that between 103,000 and 163,000 men per year reported being abused by a current or previous intimate partner. Whereas homicides in females are much more likely to be caused by an intimate partner, a significant number of homicides in males are also the result of IPV. In recent years, IPV has been associated with approximately 30% of homicides in women and 4% in men.
Currently, according to studies on health and mental health service utilization, men have been found less likely than women to seek help when they have encountered problems that require the attention of helping professionals (Wolf et al. 129). Other researches use the term “gender symmetry” to identify the equal seriousness of domestic violence against both male and female victims. These studies explained that men’s help-seeking behaviors have been largely influenced by societal perceptions toward gender differences that overemphasize men’s physical capability to repel abuse, as well as societal expectations toward men’s financial and physical ability to resolve their own issues. When men are victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), they face the struggles of reconciling their victimization with the perception toward their masculine identity.
What are the reasons for not seeking help? 30 respondents believe that abused men are typically unwilling to seek help and are facing many obstacles that block them from talking about their concern. The data showed that reasons explaining men’s reluctance to seek help could be grouped into five major themes in this order based on the respondents’ written inputs: service target perception, shame and embarrassment, denial, stigmatization, and fear.
The next part of the paper will considerthese reasons indetail. First isservice target perception. The major concern (66,7%) was the common perception toward the target population served by current domestic violence services. Most IPV services in the nation target female clients, which may make male victims to feel that there is not a direct benefit for them. Social and counseling services have been traditionally utilized by female clients, which may also make men feel that these services are unnecessary or not suitable for men. A lack of appropriate services makes men feel isolated. Even though some services may target men and may be gender-sensitive in nature, nevertheless, men may not know about these services, because they have been socially isolated. The respondents stated, “they didn’t feel it was necessary”, “these abused men don’t believe or don’t know that the services can also be utilized by them”, “not a lot of services offered geared towards men as victims”, and “all of our services are for women as victims and men as batterers”. There appears that resources are not sufficient or publicly accessible to help abused men to reach the next stage of treatment.
Second means shame and embarrassment. 14 respondents (46,7%) felt that male victims are reluctant to seek help mainly because of shame and embarrassment. Thus, “men who have been assaulted by their intimate partners, either in same sex partner or heterosexual relationships, do not want to disclose their problems to avoid additional problems”. Although some may relate abuse to their own weaknesses, others may blame their injuries on their own mistakes such as a careless fall or other accidents. Three respondents explained that the specific source of these feelings mainly came from the male victim’s inner voice, “if the abuser is a male, others may not know that the victims is in a homosexual relationship…believes he only has himself to blame; doesn’t think anyone will believe a male can be abused, especially if the abuser is a female; doesn’t want anyone to know; he’s embarrassed to tell family secrets; he’s unwilling to be viewed as weak…”
The third reason is denial. Nine respondents (30%) expressed that male victims do not admit that they were or have been abused. Male victims also do not define their partner’s action(s) as abuse. They refuse to acknowledge the abuse and may deny it even if the abuse was witnessed. Using denial as a self-defense explains why abused men do not come forward and seek assistance from professionals or social services, as expressed by these respondents, “males do not feel they are abused”, “the abused men don’t see it as abuse…”, and “not wanting to admit that it happened to him”.
The next reason is stigmatization. Eight respondents (26,7%) viewed stigmatization as a great obstacle that imperils abused men from seeking appropriate services. Abused men may think that no one, in particular the police, views them as victims. The longer they have been abused, the more likely they would hide their problems to avoid being stigmatized by others. It is common to hear that men should simply avoid the problem by leaving the situation for a while rather than confronting it, because they would be seen as the abuser if they would defend themselves, “…I figured police wouldn’t understand my situation. I called police once when my ex-partner was intoxicated and attacked me. The police told me to leave to cool off” or “…the male victim could not use the local shelter services because he was male… he was concerned law enforcement would not believe he was a victim. Age can also be a factor—elderly may find abuse and the services associated even more stigmatized, or resign themselves to the abuse because they don’t have much longer [to live]”.
The last reason is fear. Not as frequently expressed as in abused women’s experience, fear was still regarded as a factor blocking help-seeking among abused men. Three respondents also expressed that men who are inclined not to use community services are afraid that their masculinity would be challenged. Abused men do not report their incidents and are living in fear with anxiety. What makes these male victims feel vulnerable is their fear of losing male identity and power to defend, such as “fear of [the] perpetrator”, “threat of retaliation”, and “fear of being labeled as feminine”.
As a result, using the medical model, the “male trauma syndrome” concept can be useful in providing an outline of the possible service recommendations that could be categorized into three main areas: (a) advocating for public awareness and education; (b) providing gender-sensitive practice and services, and (c) strengthening training for service providers who work with male victims in domestic violence situations.
Speaking about public education to raise awareness, it should be indicated that there is a need for strong advocacy to increase awareness through public education on the topic of domestic violence that affects both men and women. Realizing the importance of breaking the abuse stigma in the public or in court, the respondents encouraged the promotion of public education to raise awareness that male abuse victims need assistance too. The means to raise public awareness and promote public education include analyzing the problem through the media such as designing gender-inclusive public service announcements, inviting celebrity speakers to discuss the topic, organizing IPV awareness campaigns and health fairs, and establishing Internet information-sharing channels for men. In addition, early education on family violence should be provided for young people so that they are aware of interpersonal relationship problems that may involve both men and women as victims. Overall, the organization of public education programs should be urged funding to eliminate bias and discrimination against men. Some of these comments in this aspect are directly related to gender stigmatization. For instance, there is a need of working on educating society to address stigma attached with being a male victim; more information is needed like an awareness campaign so victimized males know where to go. Moreover, education should begin in at least junior high school, sharing personal story and advertising on TV, radio, newspaper, Internet, sharing educational information at community events such as health fairs, even fun type town fairs providing education to police and emergency personnel.
Inclusion of men in service and practice is also an important issue. Most respondents who wrote their recommendations stated that services for male victims were not sufficient. They suggested the following services: male helplines, individual and group counseling, housing, shelter services, and legal aid services for men including transgendered and gay men. Through these comments, most (61,5%) pointed out a need to design services solely for male victims so that men’s unique needs could be examined, whereas others (11,5%) would like to see integrated services for both men and women so that there would be a better linkage between victimization and perpetration (Humphreys et al. 219). Regarding men’s lack of responsiveness in seeking services, the respondents expressed that anonymous online support, group activities, and other gender-sensitive services are important, for example, the entire domestic violence movement continues to operate as if only women are victims and only men are abusers. Many service providers still exclude men and transgender people from services, because they feel that men will trigger female survivors. Hotline advocates often make negative assumptions about callers that sound like men or identify as men. Men are not seen as legitimate victims in need of support. Men need to become more involved and supportive just as women had too in the 60s and 70s – no one will do it for men.
Furthermore, the need for gender-sensitive training is essential to increase men’s understanding and knowledge on issues related to male victims of partner abuse. Training curriculum must include specialized content addressing male victims’ cultural expectations and needs, as well as other related issues such as mental illness, substance abuse, and parenting methods. It is important to analyze all forms of violence in clinical practice as each relates to power and control dynamics, similar to the suggestions offered by Prospero. Some more training for service providers should be encouraged so that men would be equipped with skills to reach out to the male victims in gay or transgendered relationships. The training target should include not only social service and medical service providers, but also law-enforcement personnel. A few examples of these comments clearly identified these needs: there is a need to provide more training for social service and medical providers as well as law-enforcement personnel; there are needs to be greater respect for individuals who experience such treatment. Next, better ability of advocacy offices to distinguish between “common couple’s violence” and traditionally defined battering will help everyone to begin to distinguish between types of violence based on an actual assessment of the dynamics within a given couple rather than assumptions.
Hence, these suggestions are related to the various service needs of male victims that require specific service delivery, education, and training. It is also important to publicize these needs so that government funding and resources can be secured to support social services for men.
To conclude, there is little international research on male victimization or on counseling responses that are effective. Because society generally holds myths about gender and sexuality, men who have been domestically abused can be further traumatized by clinicians, counselors, and organizations from whom they seek help. This has been termed secondary or sanctuary victimization, and needs to be addressed. Thus, urgent and appropriate research is required in the area of male domestic abuse. Lastly, researching the altitudes of the general population towards male abuse could be useful in developing a public education program to raise awareness, dispel myths, and help survivors and their support networks.