Partner violence is a broad term that encompasses physical violence, psychological abuse, controlling behaviors, and sexual violence against one’s current or former intimate partner. For almost 50 years, experts in the field of family violence have known that men are at risk for partner violence victimization from their intimate partners, whether their partner is male or female. My colleagues and I have been studying men as victims of all forms of partner violence for 20 years, and we have come to the firm understanding that partner violence against men represents a hidden health crisis. Why?
- It happens more than people know. When people think about partner violence, they typically think about men abusing women. People don’t think about women abusing men, or men abusing other men in intimate relationships (or women abusing other women). However, statistics from the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Study show that in a given year, women abuse men in intimate relationships just as much as men abuse women. Women are at greater risk for injury and homicide, but women abuse men at rates much higher than most people realize. In addition, men also abuse men in intimate relationships at almost the same rate as in opposite-sex couples. And studies show that abusive relationships impact victims’ physical and mental health. The fact that people just don’t know about men’s victimization leads to the second reason this is a hidden health crisis.
- Men don’t get help. The reasons men don’t get help are multifaceted. Men don’t get help because they don’t recognize the problem as partner violence – after all, partner violence doesn’t happen to men (see point #1 above). Men don’t get help because they are less likely than women to get help for a variety of physical and mental health issues, likely due to masculine norms about seeking help for health-related issues. They don’t get help because partner violence is considered something that happens to women, and thus, even if they do recognize it as partner violence, they feel isolated and like no one will understand. They often report feeling that services are only available to women, that they will be laughed at or ridiculed, and/or that they will be blamed, which brings me to the next point. But nonetheless, this lack of help-seeking and feelings of isolation negatively impact men’s health.
- When they do try to get help, it’s typically not that helpful. Some men do reach out for help for partner violence victimization. The majority of these men report that with the exception of individual mental health counseling, services are typically not helpful. The services that they most often report as unhelpful are the police, domestic violence agencies, and domestic violence hotlines. Men report that when they reach out to these places for help, they are often turned away, told that the services only help women, or told that he must have done something to deserve it. Even worse, sometimes the men are laughed at and ridiculed. One of our studies showed that when men call the police because his female partner is violent, he is just as likely to be arrested as she is. Thus, even when men reach out for help, they don’t get the help they need. Furthermore, the negative response they get worsens their mental health.
- Men stay in abusive relationships longer than women do. Because of points 1-3 above, men tend to stay in abusive relationships longer than women do. That means both they and any children involved are exposed to an abusive, dysfunctional, unhealthy relationship pattern that typically just gets worse as time goes on. This obviously can have detrimental effects on men’s health.
- Studies show that it impacts both their mental and physical health. Finally, our studies definitively show that men’s experiences of partner violence negatively impact their physical and mental health. Among samples of male partner violence victims, we found high rates of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and high rates of symptoms of depression, rates that were significantly and exponentially higher than men from the general population. We also found that partner violence victimization increased men’s risk for poor health, especially a range of cardiovascular health problems.
As dire as all of this seems, my research team and I are hopeful that things are changing for the better. We are seeing more services devoted to men’s partner violence victimization, and we are getting more requests to deliver specialized trainings to domestic violence agencies for how to work with men as victims. Thus, we are interested in learning about men’s current experiences of partner violence victimization and help-seeking. We are recruiting men for our latest study on men’s partner violence victimization. If you or someone you know may be eligible, please pass along the below advertisement for our study.
Researchers at George Mason University and Montclair State University are conducting a study on men who experienced aggression from their romantic partners. If you are a man between the ages of 18-59 and have experienced aggression from a romantic partner at some point during your life, you may be eligible to participate in this study. We invite you to follow this link https://chhs.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0TIx4yKoXpRHQTX where you can complete an Internet survey about your experiences. The survey takes about 20-30 minutes to complete, is under the direction of Denise A. Hines, Ph.D., George Mason University, and is being funded by George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services. Please contact Dr. Hines at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-703-993-2024, if you have any questions. Participation is completely voluntary and you can withdraw your participation at any time. IRBNet number: 1689545-1.
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