Battered Men: The Painful Truth
Today, society is awakening to the fact that domestic violence—physical abuse between men and women—is a problem that goes beyond gender stereotypes. A variety of studies conducted since 1975 have shown that men and women are both equally likely to abuse and to be abused.
In other words, domestic abuse is a "human" problem. And battered men, like battered women, need help. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men are the victims of 2.9 million physical assaults from their partners.
Facing Up to the Problem
Unfortunately, awareness of the problem of abused men has been slow to come.
R. L. McNeely, PhD, professor of social welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and coauthor of several groundbreaking reports on domestic violence, attributes that, in part, to society's long-standing belief that men are typically stronger than women. How could big, strong men possibly be injured by "the weaker sex"?
Armin Brott, in a Washington Post story, noted that even police officers often discount men's claims of abuse, assuming the men are exaggerating their injuries or that the woman involved was merely trying to defend herself. In one police report, a man identified as "Stanley G." was described by an officer as having been "pawed" by his wife and suffering scratches on his back and face. The official hospital report of the same incident noted that Stanley G. had suffered multiple bruises, abrasions, and lacerations, a chest wall contusion, and psychological trauma.
Those who view female-on-male violence as a ridiculous are overlooking one fact: the abuse becomes worse the longer it goes on. While some injuries are minor (like cuts and bruises), other injuries are major and long-lasting, like knife wounds and broken bones. Weapons give an equalizing effect, making women equally capable of seriously assaulting their partners.
The similarities between the sexes don't end there.
According to Dr. McNeely, women lash out for the same reasons men do. He says the four main reasons for inflicting violence are:
- As a response to something that was said or threatened
- To get a partner to do something
- To stop a partner from doing something
- As a method by which one partner gets the attention of the other
In addition, battered men, like battered women, are likely to stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of the children in the household. "A high percentage of men who suffer abuse are trying to protect their children against abuse," Dr. McNeely notes. "And if they seek a divorce, they risk losing the children."
Finding Help and Hope
Gender similarities end, though, when it comes to getting help. While awareness is growing, the lack of public concern for battered men means that fewer social agencies exist to help them. And the abiding stigma of being an abused man means that very few victims are going to step into the spotlight to demand support services. But, men need to realize that the longer they remain in the abusive relationship, the more harm they will do to themselves both physically and emotionally—low self-esteem, depression, even suicidal thinking can all result from being abused.
The Internet offers one avenue for help. Websites and chat rooms have made it possible for victims, counselors, researchers, and others to connect in a shame-free environment. Some victims use the Internet as a community, a place where they can share their feelings with other abused men and discover they are not alone.
Support also comes from organizations that serve battered women and men. The Domestic Abuse Helpline, for example, is currently running a public awareness campaign on abused men. The non-profit group has a hotline, referrals to counseling and support groups, educational services, and emergency shelters. Although, support groups and shelters for male victims are hard to find compared to resources offered to women. In some cases, private counseling may be the best option for men.
Although society's laughter is fading, abused men and battering women must still work to seek out the help they need to heal relationships, manage their emotions, and rebuild families. But help can be found. And while men may be abused by their female partner, the risk of battering for men in same sex relationships also exists. Violence appears to be one of the human species’ defining characteristics, and even at home men are not infrequently both victims and perpetrators.
Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women
Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE)
The Family Violence Initiative
Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres
About domestic violence against men. Oregon Counseling website. Available at: http://www.oregoncounseling.org/Handouts/DomesticViolenceMen.htm. Updated May 2007. Accessed August 12, 2008.
Abuse in America. National Domestic Abuse Helpline website. Available at: http://www.ndvh.org/educate/abuse_in_america.html. Accessed August 12, 2008.
Our services. Domestic Abuse Helpline website. Available at: http://www.dahmw.info/Services.html. Accessed August 12, 2008.
Understanding intimate partner violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/ipv_factsheet.pdf. Published 2006. Accessed August 12, 2008.
Last reviewed June 2008 by Theodor B. Rais, MD
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