How Battered Men Behave Differently
The unique ways that men experience and respond to domestic violence.
Posted Jul 27, 2020
True, most domestic violence cases we read about involve female victims. But men are victims too. I have prosecuted many women for abusing their boyfriends and husbands.
The question of how often men are abused, however, presents a challenge, because domestic violence is severely under-reported, especially by battered men. If such cases come to the attention of law enforcement at all, it is as a result of the actions of concerned friends, neighbors, or other witnesses. Then there is the question of how men are abused, as opposed to women. In this respect, statistics tell only part of the story.
Statistics Do Not Tell The Whole Story
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) [i], between the years of 2003 and 2012, a much higher percentage of domestic violence was committed against females (76 percent) than males (24 percent). The BJS reports that only 56 percent of violence by immediate family members and intimate partners was reported to police, and that 77 percent of domestic violence took place at or near the victim’s home. Taken together, these statistics at first blush tell us that more women than men are victimized, only a little over half of the cases are reported to law enforcement, and that most domestic violence occurs behind closed doors.
But the untold story is the number of male victims who fail to report their victimization, and are consequently unaccounted for statistically. They also do not account for the different ways in which men are abused by women. Research provides some insight into the unique dynamics experienced by battered men.
Men Experience Domestic Violence Differently
Elizabeth Bates in a piece entitled “‘Walking on Egg Shells’: A Qualitative Examination of Men’s Experiences of Intimate Partner Violence” (2020) explored how men experience domestic violence from female partners. [ii] Using an online questionnaire, Bates explored, through a series of open-ended questions, men’s experiences of aggression: verbal, physical, and sexual, as well as coercive controlling behavior.
She found that although the men in her sample suffered aggression that sometimes resulted in injury, they reported that their most impactful experiences stemmed from being controlled by their female partners. This control included isolation from family and friends, gaslighting, control over basic freedoms, and the uncertainty of living with the prospect of daily abuse.
Men Suffer Different Types of Abuse
Babette C. Drijber et al. (2013) also examined what type of abuse is suffered by male victims. [iii] Studying an adult sample in the Netherlands, using an online questionnaire, they found that male domestic violence victims report being abused both physically as well as psychologically, most often by female (ex)-partners. Why didn’t they involve the police? The most significant reason reported was the belief the police would not take any action.
Men Seek Help Differently
Because men who are abused typically do not call the police, researchers have investigated other ways in which abused men seek assistance and support.
Venus Tsui et al. (2010), [iv] studying help-seeking behavior among male victims of partner abuse, discovered some common themes. Of note, they found that almost 25 percent of male victims did not use social services. Among those who did, the most popular resources were individual counseling and legal advice. The least popular services used were Internet sharing and group counseling. Accordingly, Tsui et al. recognize the need to increase public awareness and education about men as victims, enhance the ability of service providers to address the needs of male victims, and increase the availability of gender-inclusive services.
Tsui et al. note that prior studies have explained that help‐seeking behaviors among male victims have been 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.” They note that male victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) are challenged with attempting to reconcile their victim status with their perceived masculine identity.
They further note that their study results were consistent with past research to the extent that they found that most male victims fail to report their victimization because they do not believe others can help them resolve internal conflicts, or they consider the problems they are experiencing to be too personal.
New Directions and Resources
Learning more about male domestic violence victims helps to create best practices for dealing with this population. As we continue to learn more about how to decrease stigma and increase services and support, we hope to be able to connect with and assist men who are suffering silently in abusive relationships.
[ii] Bates, Elizabeth A. 2020. “‘Walking on Egg Shells’: A Qualitative Examination of Men’s Experiences of Intimate Partner Violence.” Psychology of Men & Masculinities 21 (1): 13–24. doi:10.1037/men0000203.
[iii] Drijber, Babette C., Udo J. L. Reijnders, and Manon Ceelen. 2013. “Male Victims of Domestic Violence.” Journal of Family Violence 28 (2): 173–78. doi:10.1007/s10896-012-9482-9.
[iv] Tsui, Venus, Monit Cheung, and Patrick Leung. 2010. “Help-Seeking among Male Victims of Partner Abuse: Men’s Hard Times.” Journal of Community Psychology 38 (6): 769–80. doi:10.1002/jcop.20394.