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Male Victims of Domestic Violence

Dangerous RelationshipsDangerous Relationships

How to recognize the dangerous turning points in a relationship and safely diffuse tension between partners, lovers, and friends.

Possessiveness, insensitivity, and a sudden personality change are all warning signs of a potential abuser. Dangerous Relationships will help readers recognize a potentially violent personality before it's too late. Interweaving real-life stories of four couples, Dr. Noelle Nelson highlights dangerous turning points in relationships and explains how readers can safely diffuse tension between their spouses, lovers, or roommate and protect themselves from abuse. Kindle edition available.

Domestic Violence Works Both Ways

When most people think of domestic violence, they picture a man battering or abusing a woman. Statistically (not only in official statistics but also in self-reporting surveys), this tends to be the case. But if you think men can't be the victims of domestic violence, either from a woman, or from another man, you'd be very wrong.

Genders of Abuse

If you've looked around this site, you'll notice that almost all language here is gender neutral - and this isn't an accident. Men can batter men and women, and women can batter men and women. Not considering a victim as a victim because of the gender of the abuser is the ultimate in victimization. Domestic violence, and the control, jealousy, emotional abuse, threats, and dangers associated with it cannot be predicted by gender, race, age, size, or other factors. A person 5 feet tall and 100 pounds soaking wet can still be an abuser. They don't have to be physically superior to throw something at you, attack you when you're not looking, get in a lucky shot while you're trying to defend yourself, set your car on fire, cut up all your clothes, unleash lies to friends, family, or police, harass you at work until you loose your job, etc. etc.

Causative Elements

Some theories hold the concept of "male privilege" to be the root cause of family violence, but this approach overlooks the many other factors that come into play in family violence, and almost completely discounts the fact that the large majority of men NEVER batter, and that those who DO batter tend to have a past history of battering as well as specific and identifiable characteristics that could not only have predicted such violence, but also indicate a tendency for future battering (chief among these: coming from a fatherless home). While the concept of privilige may be a FACTOR in SOME batterer actions and motivations, if it was THE root cause, whether based on gender (whoever has the penis has the power), or on "provider status" (whoever makes the money has the power), then it would follow that female-perpetrated domestic violence (against both men and women) would be almost non-existant - yet we know this is not the case. While no one has all the answers, the first step to understanding and CHANGING a society filled with domestic violence begins with realizing that we DON'T have all the answers and that long held and common assumptions (usually based on VERY old research) aren't necessarily all-inclusive, definitive, or even marginally correct when considering the problem from a current-day perspective (obviously if we HAD all the answers, the problem wouldn't be as prevalent as it is!) Readers are encouraged to try to think outside the box, not only for the causes, but for the solutions.

Different Reporting

Although many victims of domestic violence resist reporting the violence, male victims have particular issues that most female victims don't have to contend with. Often victims of any gender don't want to report because they are embarassed, or they are afraid of making the problem worse (when so-and-so gets out of jail they're going to be REALLY mad at me), or they don't want the abuser arrested (for many reasons). Male victims have to contend with "machismo" - what their friends and family will think if it is discovered that they "let" a partner abuse them. There is also an element of total disbelief - not only from the victim, but sometimes confirmed by friends, family, police, and medical personnel - especially when those persons are also male - as victims are unwittingly, yet strongly, encouraged to minimize the importance and impact of what they experienced. Injuries may be played down; "it's only a scratch you big baby", or "what are you complaining about you big wuss". Trying to report once, and meeting this reaction is a primary function of why so many men never report again, or never report at all. Instead, just like female victims, they'll make excuses, try to escape being around the abuser by dedicating their time to work or other pursuits, or, simply not have to acknowledge any injuries, because unlike women, men are often semi-expected to occasionally have some minor injuries here and there caused by "normal male activities" like battling errant hedges, falling off roofs, and other side effects of "typical" recreational and household activities of males in relationships.

Some of this one sidedness has changed over the years, particularly from the first people to arrive on the scene: law enforcement. Toughening of domestic violence laws, education of police officers, liability issues, and policies of mandatory arrest when there are visible indications of possible injury HAVE increased the number of persons arrested for domestic violence against men over the years. If you are experiencing abuse, it is VITAL that incidents are reported to police. Domestic violence IS a crime! Get the name of the officer, their badge number, and ask them to write the case number or report number down - even better if you can get the officer's business card and write it on the back. Reporting and documenting incidents is your PRIMARY tool, and without documentation of incidents occurring at the time, victims often later find out that the courts aren't willing to consider such unrepored incidents when ruling on things like restraining order requests or child custody matters.

It can be (and often IS) argued that a good number of female perpetrators were acting in self defense, or that after a time in an abusive relationship they finally decided to be the one to "strike firstme". While that may in fact be the case some of the time, law enforcement and the courts can't "excuse" a possible current crime BY a person in light of possible past crimes committed AGAINST that person (the major argument brought to bear when women bring up Battered Women Syndrome as part of their defense - but that's a whole different article!). Each crime, at least for the purposes of arrest by police, stands on its own; and overall views of the violent dynamic within a relationship don't come to bear until the DA is deciding whether or not to bring charges, or when offering a plea, or even later when the court considers sentencing.

Getting Water From a Rock

Similarly, reactions and responses to men experiencing domestic violence are often little more than puzzled looks, shrugged shoulders, and referrals to the local homeless shelter. This reaction can sometimes be because of disbelief, sometimes because of suspicion (you wouldn't BELIEVE the number of abusive men who have claimed to be victims in order to try to get into secure shelters or otherwise find their victims to continue the abuse and control, or worse), and sometimes just out of not knowing what else to do or how to help. Sometimes abused men will call their local domestic violence program (often the shelter itself), and if the shelter turns them down for admission, the victim, not knowing what else to do, will never call back for OTHER services that may be available. They will try to resolve the abusive relationship on their own, or will simply go back to the abuse. Let us shed a little light on this common complaint.

First, it must be remembered that most shelters are not set up for co-ed habitation. Most are in "found" facilities, like an unused government property that has been filled with bunk beds, or a foreclosed property in a residential neighborhood; only a very few lucky programs have actually built a place designed to be a domestic violence shelter; and even fewer have the luxury of being able to integrate "his" and "her" spaces within that shelter. If you've never been in a shelter, understand that privacy is pretty non-existant, and that having mixed genders under the same roof, especially with teenaged girls and young women running around, just isn't wise (and can be a HUGE liability issue given the nature of the "business", and the many issues often associated with domestic violence which makes victims more likely to be re-victimized in other ways).

Overwhelmingly, victims seeking shelter are women (and there are a lot of reasons for this too) and donors, grantors, and foundations that fund such programs rely on statistics which tell them that most men are better able to work to support themselves; so allocation of resources for men is minimal. There actually used to be shelters specifically for abused men; one in California, and at least one in Colorado Springs (started just like most domestic violence shelters are...by victims) - but since even most MEN can't be convinced that men can be victims of domestic violence, they've all pretty much closed due to lack of funding. Even the Domestic Violence Hotline for Men, which was actually founded by a woman, ended up changing to a more general purpose hotline, and is now the Domestic Violence Helpline for Men & Women (at 888-743-5754). If you are a man reading this article, please consider that, in order to remain as a viable resource, that hotline and programs in your local community, need YOUR financial support.

Generally speaking, funding for social service programs from both public and private sources is based on two factors: demonstrable statistics and a track record to show funders that the program is supported by the community it serves. While cases of domestic violence with male victims may be appearing more often in police reports and statistics, (thanks to more men reporting, and more police arresting), the number of cases where male perpetrators have victimized female victims up to the ultimate victimization of murder, drastically dwarfs the number of cases where women have killed their male partners (or been convicted of hiring someone to kill on her behalf). Since getting out of these relationships, and living to tell about it, is the PRIMARY concern when bringing a victim into domestic violence shelters, men are not likely to see much changing in the way of accessibility to existing domestic violence shelters, thus the reason for referral to a local homeless shelter - because the need is seen as a shelter need as opposed to an immediate safety crisis need. Fundamentally, so long as men remain the primary killers and women remain the primary deceedants, this dynamic of where to concentrate the most expensive resource, physical shelter, promises to continue.

The other issue, showing that the community WANTS the program, as evidenced by a track record of support from individuals and business within the community being served, is the primary area where services to male victims fall flat. The vast amount of services now available for female victims didn't happen overnight, and services for male victims won't either; because even though some more recent research suggests that rates for domestic abuse are approaching more of a 60/40 ratio (suggesting WAY more male victims than most predicted), programs designed to provide services for male victims fail to receive the crucial support needed from individual men and from men-owned businesses. Until men can get past the denial of male victims, until male victims are willing to "go public" with their stories (a major factor in drawing initial public support for many woman-oriented programs) and until they are willing to help found, fund, and support those programs beyond infancy to the point where those programs are established enough to seek longer-term funding from government agencies, private foundations, and corporate donors, the lack of specialized services for male victims promises to remain woefully lacking. It really does come down to speaking out with your checkbook - and its not the AMOUNT that's important, it's the NUMBER of supporters who find the issue important enough to cause them to take action. If there's not such a program in your community that you can support, try another avenue: support your current local domestic violence program, and ask that funds that you contribute be earmarked specifically for use in providing services like hotel rooms, bus fare, or covering court fees for male victims.

If you happen to be independently wealthy and want to start a secure shelter or program of your own to service male victims, AND you plan on self-funding it or have a core group of dedicated supporters who aren't going to measure effectiveness or base funding on statistics, we can point you to planning, evaluation, safety, non-profit managment, and liability resources to help get you started; just drop us an email. There are also groups working at an advocacy and policy level for male victims of domestic violence and abusive relationships, and you'll find them listed below (under construction, so if you have links to add please email us).

So Can I REALLY Get Some Help?

If you are a man experiencing domestic violence, and feel that you need shelter specific to safety concerns (whether the danger is from a woman or from another man), don't give up. Ask your local program if they can help get you a hotel room for a few nights or help you to come up with alternatives. In many cases, just having some safe place to crash for a few days to get some sleep, to make phone calls and firm up plans, and have a base of operation can give victims the leeway they need to regain some control of their lives, implement safety plans, and turn the proverbial corner to an abuse-free life. Local programs should know what alternatives are available in your area and surrounding cities/counties because one thing advocates deal with a LOT is the shelter being full and knowing where else they might safely place a victim at least for the short term. Sometimes for safety reasons, you are better off being in a DIFFERENT city or county, to prevent a dedicated abuser from finding you. It'll do you little good for your local program to put you up at the Holiday Inn only to have a dedicated abuser cruising the parking lots until they find your car. But your local advocates will have these resources at their fingertips and have relationships with other programs, so their help in securing safe shelter can be priceless compared to having to look up and contact these resources yourself. Local advocates can also assist you in safety planning and looking into tools like Protection From Abuse orders, restraining orders, or the ADT personal safety alarms if you plan to return to a residence you shared with an abuser. Case management, therapy referrals, application for Crime Victim Compensation, group counseling, domestic violence education, and many other services and supports are often ONLY accessible through programs, so we strongly encourage you to work with these programs to maximize tools and resources. Even if the shelter issue can't immediately be resolved, please don't let that deter you from asking for OTHER services.

Starting or Expanding Services

It's important to ASK for services that you want. You can probably easily access a co-ed support group, but if you want a male victim support group, ASK if they have one or know of one in the area. Call programs in neighboring cities or counties and ask them too. Don't assume that they don't exist, and be CERTAIN that unless the service is requested, it's not likely to ever be offered. Call during busines hours and ask to talk to the Program Manager or Executive Director - see what would need to happen to provide services specifically for men in your area. Most programs have a list of their board members - you might come at it from that angle too. It might be as easy as just asking for them to provide an advocate a couple of times a month for a few hours in a place you can mutually agree on. If you happen to find a group or start a group, be sure to let ALL the domestic violence programs in your area know, so that they too can direct victims to the group. If you had a hard time finding services, it's a safe bet that other victims are facing the same problems, so help your fellow guys in need and spread the word about availability. Don't forget that many law enforcement agencies and the local office of the State Attorney have advocates too - and since law enforcement often talks to victims first, letting them know that there is a group in the area to support male victims will be a huge help in getting other victims some support as early as possible.

Participate and Be COUNTED

Few in-depth research studies (which generate statistics, which fuel funding) have been done on the topic of male victims of female perpetrated domestic violence. Now, the National Institute of Health is funding a study at Clark University to better understand the experiences of men who are in relationships with women who use violence. If you are a man between the ages of 18 and 59 and you have been physically assaulted at least one time in the last 12 months by a current or former intimate female partner you may be eligible to participate in this study. Visit www.clarku.edu/faculty/dhines to participate online or call 1-888-743-5754 or email dahmwagency@gmail.com for more information. Your participation in the study as well as your contact with DAHMW will be kept strictly confidential.

Where Can I Find Help?

Research: Male Victims of Domestic Violence

For a compilation of research on abused men, visit Questia

Women's Violence to Men in Intimate Relationships; Working on a Puzzle. Russell P. Dobash, R. Emerson Dobash. The British Journal of Criminology. London: May 2004.Vol.44, Iss. 3; pg. 324.

Abstract: Research findings are contradictory and point in two directions, with some revealing that women are as likely as men to perpetrate violence against an intimate partner (symmetry) and others showing that it is overwhelmingly men who perpetrate violence against women partners (asymmetry). The question of who are the most usual victims and perpetrators rests, to a large extent, on ‘what counts’ as violence. It is here that we begin to try to unravel the puzzle, by focusing on concept formation, definitions, forms of measurement, context, consequences and approaches to claim-making, in order better to understand how researchers have arrived at such apparently contradictory findings and claims. The question also turns on having more detailed knowledge about the nature, extent and consequences of women's violence, in order to consider the veracity of these contradictory findings. To date, there has been very little in-depth research about women's violence to male partners and it is difficult, if not impossible, to consider this debate without such knowledge. We present quantitative and qualitative findings from 190 interviews with 95 couples in which men and women reported separately upon their own violence and upon that of their partner. Men's and women's violence are compared. The findings suggest that intimate partner violence is primarily an asymmetrical problem of men's violence to women, and women's violence does not equate to men's in terms of frequency, severity, consequences and the victim's sense of safety and well-being. But why bother about the apparent contradictions in findings of research? For those making and implementing policies and expending public and private resources, the apparent contradiction about the very nature of this problem has real consequences for what might be done for those who are its victims and those who are its perpetrators. Worldwide, legislators, policy makers and advocates have developed responses that conceive of the problem as primarily one of men's violence to women, and these findings provide support for such efforts and suggest that the current general irection of public policy and expenditure is appropriate.

Psychological Effects of Partner Abuse Against Men: A Neglected Research Area, Denise A. Hines and Kathleen Malley-Morrison, Boston University. Psychology of Men & Masculinity 2001, Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 75-85

This article discusses the research on abuse against men in intimate relationships with a primary focus on the effects of this abuse. We begin by discussing the incidence of physical aggression against men, then address methodological and conceptual issues associated with the incidence data. We next review studies assessing the effects of aggression against men and discuss ways in which this research can be furthered and improved. Finally, we discuss why men would choose to stay in these relationships and consider the scant research on emotional abuse against men. You can find the article online HERE.

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Last Updated: March 4, 2011