Published in: The Association of Certified Family Law Specialists Newsletter, Volume: Summer 2009, no. 2
When men are victims of domestic violence, they do not come forward and seek treatment, shelters, and legal protection as readily as women. This is true for a number of reasons which will be explored in this article.
I became interested in men as victims of domestic violence when four of my recent male clients complained of intimidation, threats, and outright physical violence. One of my clients showed me a color photo of his bleeding skull after his wife smashed and broke a glass on his head. Even with clear evidence and police reports to back him up, he refused to seek restraining orders or custody of his child. I wondered why, and further, what could be done for men in his situation.
I thought if I attended a Conference on “Preventing, Assessing and Treating Adult Trauma,” I would get an answer to my questions. And, indeed, I was able to attend the first presentation of the only NIMH research grant in the United States funded to assess and study the phenomenon of men as victims of domestic violence. The research was conducted by Dr. Denise A. Hines of Clark University and Dr. Emily Douglas of Bridgewater State College, who have graciously consented to my use and publication of their findings. They discussed the results of their research in their presentation entitled “Men who Sustain Partner Violence and Seek Help: Their Abuse and Help Seeking Experiences and Implications for Prevention.” All the statistics I will be quoting below come directly from their study.
The discussion and study of male victims of domestic violence is surrounded by controversy. Nothing I present herein is meant to minimize or take away from the awful predicament in which women victims of domestic violence find themselves. I am not advocating that we focus on men instead of women—merely suggesting we consider the predicament of male victims in addition to the attention, and treatment remedies we now offer women.
To begin with, Clark and Douglas found population-based studies show that 25-50% of all partner victims in a given year are men. Men are generally ashamed to come forward, as they fear they will not be believed. They also fear they will be accused of being the batterer if they do come forward. The researchers sought to understand who these men were; what kind of abusive behavior occurred and how frequently; why didn’t they just leave; what help-seeking efforts they undertook, and what responses they got when seeking help. A summary of their findings and what is most pertinent to family lawyers follows.
Clark and Douglas studied 229 men who had been physically assaulted by their female partner in the previous year. The average age was 40 years, and average income was $48,000. Most were white, but all demographics were represented. Sixty-three percent had 2 or more years of college and 14% had graduate degrees. Seventy-nine percent were employed: 31.3% in IT, 23.4% in construction, 15.6% attorneys or doctors, 14.1% police/firefighters, 14.1% CEO’s or business owners, 12.5% engineers, and 7.8% military. The mean relationship was 8 years, and 73.5% had children. The men and their partners were married or cohabited, and some had separated or divorced.
The study looked at both psychological and physical aggression. It compared male and female perpetrators of aggression. The psychological aggression included minor incidents, name calling, isolation/monitoring [of actions, e-mails, phone calls], severe psychological aggression and insistence on sexual intercourse. For example, the men reported 87.8 % of female partners used isolation and monitoring to intimidate the male partner, compared to 32.8% of the male partners using this technique. The men reported that 94.3% of the female partners used severe psychological aggression, while only 40.2% of the men in the study said they used this technique.
As for physical violence, 100% of the men in the study group experienced physical violence from the female partners. Of the female partners, 99.6% committed minor violence, 92.1% severe violence, and 54.6% very severe violence. 54.1% of the men reported they had also perpetrated some form of physical violence. The men reported a mean number of 49.53 acts of violence from their women partners in the previous year, and yet they only acknowledged using violence themselves a mean number of 8.29 times in the previous year.
The next set of statistics is an eye-opener for family lawyers. The men who sought help reported that 69% of their female partners had allegedly falsely accused them of hitting or beating them, 37.6% of their women partners filed restraining orders against them under false pretenses, 34.5% of their partners accused them of physically abusing the children, and 11.8% were falsely accused of sexually abusing the children.
Sometimes we find in our legal practice that both parties are so entangled in the violence it is difficult to determine who initiated the violent incident. The men in the study reported the female partner initiated the most recent physical argument which culminated in physical aggression 92.1% of the time. The men reported they took the following actions in return: 74.2% went to another room or tried to get away; 52% yelled or cursed; 34.1% phoned a relative; 28.7% phoned the police; 27.5% cried; and 14% hit back.
We often believe that because men are stronger, they inflict more violence. In this sample, 25.8% of the women suffered injuries, while 77.7% of the men said they suffered injuries. The men were tested for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), and 59% of them tested above the clinical cut-off score for PTSD. I first heard of a PTSD diagnosis for male victims of domestic violence about six years ago when I sent one of my clients to a clinician who specialized in trauma to find out why he had blacked-out on the details of the violent incident he was being accused of perpetrating in his wife’s restraining orders. He was diagnosed with PTSD, which at the time I thought was a highly unusual diagnosis that was reserved for victims and witnesses of war, combat, and such crimes as rape/mayhem.
As practitioners, we often ask both our male and female victims of domestic violence, “Why don’t you leave?” Just as women often do not leave permanently until after several attempts to leave, 94.5% of the men still living with their partners in the sample had not left although they had considered it. Their reasons should be on every practitioner’s list of questions to explore with new clients reporting incidents of violence or psychological intimidation. They cited the following reasons: 79.8% said “marriage is for life”; 68.6% were still in love with their partner; 54% said there was not enough money, 51.1% said there was nowhere to go; 50.4% were embarrassed others would find out; 49.6% thought their partner would change; 27% of the partners threatened suicide; and 24.1% said their partner threatened to kill someone else.
For the 97 men who had children, their concerns about their children over-rode their personal concerns for their own safety. 87.6% of the men were concerned about their children, 67% thought they might never see the children again, and 43.35% did not want their partner to take the children away.
Of course, lawyers want to solve problems and keep their clients safe. But, where can a male victim of domestic violence receive treatment? Almost all domestic violence shelters and hotlines offer services only to women. Most men were either turned away or referred to batterers programs. The men found on-line resources somewhat helpful, but 63% found domestic violence hotlines not helpful at all. Sixty-five percent found their local domestic violence agency to be no help at all, 26% found them to be somewhat helpful and 9% found them to be very helpful. Ninety-seven percent experienced the local domestic violence agency to be biased against men; 80% did not treat men victims of domestic violence; and 69% suggested the male victim was really the batterer!
When men turned to the police for help, they found them only slightly more helpful than the treatment opportunities. Only 47% sought help from the police in the first place. Of those, 53% found them not helpful at all, 27% found them somewhat helpful and 20% found the police very helpful. The study broke down the police responses and arrests and whether the police determined who the aggressor was. In the majority of the cases where the police found the woman partner to be the aggressor, no arrest was made. The men victims were incarcerated more often than their women perpetrators.
The men fared better with the medical profession, but there still was a problem of some not providing adequate treatment to male victims of domestic violence. Of the 19% of the men in the study who went to the doctor or ER, 20% found the medical professional was not helpful, 49% found them somewhat helpful and 32% found them very helpful. Of the 66% of the men who sought help from a mental health professional, 32% found it was not helpful at all, 43% found it was somewhat helpful, and 25% found it very helpful. Sixty-nine percent felt the mental health professionals took their concerns seriously. As of now, a referral to a mental health professional appears to be the best alternative for treatment a family lawyer can make.
In summary, the men found on-line resources and mental health services as well as informal means such as friends and relatives the most helpful. They found community programs, police, and hotlines not helpful. It is important for the attorney to understand that the men find the traditional domestic violence services help only women, and they perceive they are biased against men, often insinuating the man is the batterer. Over half the men said they would leave if there was a safe place to go. Unfortunately for most, they had nowhere to turn for help.
Ultimately, my client who suffered injuries from the glass broken on his head chose to leave his partner without secure custody arrangements and no restraining orders. He chose his personal safety, but in comparison to the study group, he would be in the minority of male victims of domestic violence.