Men affected by domestic abuse endure disbelief, fear & isolation

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Though at least one in four men experience domestic violence, myth and stigma often prevent them from reporting incidents where they’ve been victimized, advocates like child counselor Rose Berkman, say. 

“Abuse suffered by men at the hands of partners of any gender is less often recognized as a problem because we are not socialized to see it,” Berkman said. 

Nearly a quarter of men in the U.S. have experienced some form of contact with sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

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Chris Wienke, the undergraduate director for the Department of Sociology at Southern Illinois University said that of all intimate partner homicides, about 25% of the victims are men.

Berkman, who works at the Carbondale Women’s Center, said those statistics are likely an undercount, as people face many obstacles in reporting their abuse. 

“There are so many reasons people don’t report violence stigma, shame, lack of access to services, worry that law enforcement wouldn’t respond, etc.,” Berkman said.

Gender bias is also a factor in reported statistics, said O.J. Duncan, chair of the Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ+ Center Board of Directors.

“Many places are required to put a perpetrator and a victim in paperwork,” Duncan said.  “Gender bias comes into play, and men are listed as perpetrators even if they did less harm and were also a victim themself.” 

Approximately 40% of domestic abuse cases include both partners abusing the other, Duncan said, not just violence going one way. 

Less than half of domestic violence incidents were reported to police, according to the 2017 National Crime Victimization Survey, and 80% of victims of intimate partner violence did not receive assistance from service agencies in 2015, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics.

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Duncan said many people believe men cannot be victims of domestic violence because of perceptions of men being physically stronger, sexually aggressive or having more agency to leave any given situation.

“A National Violence Against Women Survey from 2000, showed 27% of women and 19% of men have been pushed or shoved by an intimate partner in the past year; 22% of women and 17% of men have been slapped in the previous year; and 4% of women and 2% of men have been hurt by a knife or gun in the previous year,” Weinke said.

At least one study showed women were injured in domestic violence incidents at more than twice the rate of men, Weinke said.

“Men are told that they cannot be victims by police, and are not believed. Police won’t even file a report. Sometimes police even laugh at them, and make fun of them,” Duncan said. 

He said the case of abuse between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp is illustrative of how men and women are held to different standards, as Heard received less backlash than Depp despite evidence of her own abusive actions.   

“People often believe that women who abuse were just fighting back, and won’t believe that they were the perpetrator,” Duncan said. Janine Armstrong, president of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Registered Student Organization at SIU said one reason men may be less likely to report abuse is a fear of emasculation. 

“We associate masculinity with strength and self-sufficiency. Admitting that they have suffered abuse can hurt their self-image as a man,” Armstrong said. 

She  said the mindset that it is okay for a woman to hit a man is toxic.

Armstrong said abusers use their power to intimidate, control, or punish the other person. 

“Some people who become abusive for a time may not know how to communicate in healthy ways. Therefore, they turn their anger or sadness against the other person. The latter individual is more likely to seek help once their behavior is called out,” Armstrong said.  

Armstrong said that it’s important to acknowledge domestic violence affects LGBTQ+ individuals as well. 

“A lot of work has been done to create support for victims who are women, but not much has been done to support non-binary people and men as victims,” Duncan said. 

Weinke said that as of 2017, there were two shelters in the U.S. exclusively for male victims of domestic violence.

This is, at least in part, the result of language the Violence Against Women Act that allows for segregated victim services Duncan said.

“Most programs created in the last 50 years deem it necessary to the essential operations of a program to segregate by sex,” Duncan said. “Programs that serve women generally get preferential treatment, through bias rather than written law.”

Duncan said there are still resources available to male victims of abuse, including 1in6.org, which focuses on sexual abuse.

“Male victims can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and its youth-focused project, Love is Respect. In 2016, about 12,000 male victims called, about 9 percent of victims who identified their gender. That’s about double the about 5,800 male victim callers from 2010,” Weinke said. 

The Carbondale Women’s Center has also made steps toward accommodating non-female victims of abuse, Duncan said, including removing the symbol for female from their logo.

“In the past I would not have called them a resource for men, but I feel comfortable now,” Duncan said. 

SIU also has resources for victims of abuse. 

“We have an amazing confidential advisor here at SIU in the wellness center, Rebecca Gonnering, who can give survivors advice without having to report it if someone decides they don’t want to,” Duncan said. 

Berkman said abuse can be reported through medical offices or police departments, and that there are options such as orders of protection which provide a barrier between survivors and their abusers. 

“Reporting to the police also allows for the possibility of criminal charges to be filed, although we never want to promise that this will lead to the justice they want,” Berkman said. 

Duncan said men have most of the same avenues as women in regards to abuse in the legal system. However, in practice, gender bias factors heavily in how they are treated. 

“As with many victims of abuse of any gender, they are treated very poorly in the legal system, and often it is too painful to keep trying to get legal recourse,” Duncan said. 

People of all genders should be educated that they can be both perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse, and what that abuse can look like, Duncan said. 

“[A] good way is to tell our stories, and be visible. People need to see that men who are their friends and family have been victims of abuse,” Duncan said. 

Duncan said it would also be helpful to remove gendered language about abuse because the, “men as perpetrators, women as victims,” narrative is steeped in misogyny.

“It assumes that women are always pure and innocent, and men are always evil dark predators in all situations. It doesn’t recognize the full humanity of women or men, and the complex nature of abuse. It also does not fit with the facts of abuse,”  Duncan said. 

SIU events during Domestic Violence Awareness Month include the Clothesline Project, Sexual Healing Workouts, and Take Back the Night.

Staff reporter Joel Kottman can be reached at [email protected] , on Instagram: @joel.kottman and on Twitter: @JoelKottman 

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