Domestic violence commonly includes some type of physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and/or emotional/psychological abuse. It can be characterized as an isolated incident or a pattern of incidents involving an act of willful intimidation employed by one partner against another in order to exert power and control.
While the issue of domestic violence against women has been extensively studied, the comparable issue of domestic violence against men remains highly understudied and underreported. However, according to a study based on the 2014 data from Statistics Canada, more men than women seem to have been abused.
Why is Domestic Violence Against Men Underreported?
Men are Socialized to Repress their Feelings
Traditional gender norms continue to dictate how men are socialized. From a young age, men are taught to be tough and are told to repress their emotions. When faced with adversity, they are told to “suck it up” and “be a man.”
These ideas prevent men from even conceptualizing themselves as victims. Their denial or inability to recognize their own victimization often makes it harder for them to seek out help. Ultimately, these traditional notions of masculinity contributes to the underreporting of domestic violence perpetrated against male victims.
Dominant Stereotypes Characterize Men as Abusers and Women as Victims
Men are typically portrayed as the perpetrators of domestic violence and women as the victims in heterosexual relationships. Depicting domestic violence in narrow terms excludes people’s experiences that do not fit this definition, including intimate partner violence among homosexual, bisexual, and trans men. This can lead to men to suffer in silence because they may feel like their experiences do not fit the dominant narratives around domestic abuse.
Abuse of Men is Minimized or Dismissed when they do come Forward
According to expert Toronto Defence Lawyers at Pyzer Criminal Law Firm, when men finally do decide to seek help, their experiences are often minimized or dismissed. To add to the stigma, they are often mocked or ridiculed for failing to fit traditional notions of masculinity. These societal perceptions force men to retreat into their own spaces making it harder for them to seek help and heal.
Limited Resources Prevent Men from Disclosing their Experiences
Oftentimes, services for domestic violence are catered towards female victims. Men are generally underserved when it comes to accessing counselling, crisis centers, victim services, and domestic abuse shelters all of which factor into the growing reluctance of reporting their experiences.
Types of Abuse Men are Likely to Face
Abuse can come in many different forms including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and intimidation tactics.
There are many facets of emotional abuse that men may encounter. These include:
- Verbal put downs
- Controlling finances
- Isolating him from friends/family and restricting his freedoms
- Spiritual abuse
This includes any activity that can cause physical pain or injury to the victim. According to Statistics Canada, intimate partner violence against men is more likely to include major assault, weapons, and injuries. It was almost twice as common for weapons to be present in intimate partner violence involving male victims as when the victim was female (23% versus 12%).
Physical abuse happens when the abusive person:
- Shoves, slaps, hits, kicks, or bites
- Throws objects
- Uses a weapon
- Deprives him of basic requirements such as food, shelter, medical care, and sleep
On the one hand, sexual abuse occurs when the abuser uses force or pressure to compel his/her partner to have sex with him/her in a way that he does not want to. On the other hand, sexual abuse can also involve withholding affection or sex as a way to punish him for violating the abuser’s rules.
This includes any words or action that the abusive partner uses to scare his/her partner. Examples of this include:
- Destroying property
- Uttering death threats or creating a sense that punishment is imminent
- Stalking or harassing
Trends and Statistics in Canada?
- Findings from a new Canadian study reveal that, in the last 5 years, more men than women reported being abused. Specifically, 2.9% of men and 1.7% of women reported being physically and/or sexually assaulted in their current relationship.
- The same study reported almost equal numbers – 35% of men and 34% of women – experiencing high controlling behaviours including what is known as “intimate terrorism” – a form of extreme controlling behaviour in a relationship.
- Moreover, 22% of male victims and 19% of female victims of intimate partner violence experienced severe physical violence along with high controlling behaviours.
- Intimate partner violence against men is more likely to include major assault, weapons, and injuries.
Men are likely to Remain in Abusive Relationships
There are several reasons that compel men to stay in abusive relationships:
- Fear: Leaving an abusive relationship does not occur in a single step; it is a long process that involves a lot of contemplation. Like women, men are also fearful of leaving an abusive relationship. This fear is rooted in a fear of being alone, fear of losing children, fear of being hurt by their abuser.
- Children: If the children are at risk, men will stay in an abusive relationship to protect them. Men are also fearful of losing contact with children or having them taken away by child protection services. Together, these reasons usually compel men to stay in abusive relationships.
- Promises of Reform: Like domestic abuse with female victims, men are also likely to stay with their abusive partners if their partner promises to stop the abusive behaviour. Abusers typically make these false promises to exert control over their victims preventing them from leaving the relationship. This produces a vicious cycle of abuse where the victim is unable to leave.
- Lack of self-esteem: After enduring repeated instances of abuse or violence, the man may come to believe that he somehow deserves to be subjected to the abuse. A diminished self-esteem coupled with the idea that he does not deserve anything better could paralyze a man’s ability to leave the relationship.
- Economic Dependence: If the man is financially dependent on his spouse or fearful of having to bear the financial burdens of divorce or separation, he will be less inclined to leave the relationship.
- Stigma: As mentioned earlier, male victims of domestic violence are additionally stigmatized when they report their abuse because they are perceived as less masculine.
- Lack of Resources: A lack of resources also contributes to why men decide to remain in abusive relationships. Support agencies may subtly or explicitly turn men away from programs suggesting that they are only geared towards women.
It is important to acknowledge that victims of domestic violence span across all ages, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Although empirical research shows that domestic violence is disproportionately experienced by women at the hands of men, a cultural shift in perception is necessary to account for the varying victims of domestic violence and their narratives, including male victims of domestic violence.
Steady progress is being made in a number of Canadian outreach centers that are now tailoring therapy and shelter programs towards abused men. For example, the Calgary Counselling Centre and the Canadian Centre for Men and Families have been supporting male victims, in addition to female victims of domestic violence. However, there is still a long way to go. Until we fully address the host of social issues and systemic barriers that are rooted in traditional notions of masculinity, men who face domestic abuse will continue to suffer in unsafe relationships.