1. Assumptions about the circumstances of individuals who sustain IPV should be tested so that we have empirical data on their experiences, which can then inform the provision of services. 2. Given the serious level of the IPV that these men sustain, it is necessary to educate practitioners, researchers, and the public about men sustaining IT, their experiences, and their barriers to leaving. 3. All of the men in this study indicated that they had sought help of some form, and a previous article using this sample showed barriers to receiving help, particularly from domestic violence hotlines, domestic violence agencies, and the police. These barriers included being turned away, ridiculed, accused of being a batterer, and arrested (Douglas & Hines, 2009). Because of the very serious nature of their victimization, it is important to educate and train frontline domestic violence workers about the existence of men victims and their needs. 4. Finally, it is important for all who work in the field of IPV, whether practitioner or researcher, to realize and acknowledge that both men and women can perpetrate even the most severe forms of IPV, and both men and women can be victimized by severe forms of IPV. Serious violence and controlling behaviors demand our attention, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or victim.
Those are the recommendations of researchers Denise Hines and Emily Douglas that appear at the end of their study entitled “A Closer Look at Men Who Sustain Intimate Terrorism by Women.” It’s published in the journal “Partner Abuse,” Volume 1, No. 3, 2010. (It’s only available by purchase, so I can’t provide a link.)
In it, the authors inquire into the realities of certain persistent claims that have been made by DV advocates over the years. Those include notions like, “If a woman commits DV, it’s only in self-defense;” “Men are bigger and stronger than women, so they can’t be injured by a woman;” “Men have greater financial resources and greater strength, so they can leave any time they want to;” “Men have less invested in children and family so those don’t hinder their leaving;” and “When men are victims of DV, it’s either trivial or humorous.”
Put simply, we can now add each and every one of those claims to the steadily growing pile of myths about DV that have been perpetrated over the years. There are clear limitations to Hines & Douglas’ research which they acknowledge, but their findings frankly contradict those claims as does the most minimal common sense.
The two researchers interviewed 302 men who had sought services because they were victims of domestic violence at the hands of their female partners. Now, that fact alone means that their sample isn’t representative. By choosing only those men who sought services, their sample consists of men who are better educated and more affluent than the average. That is, they’re the ones with the knowledge to seek out services and the education to understand that they’re victims of DV. It also consists of a greater percentage of white men than does the population of the United States generally.
And of course, their cohort is of men who have experienced DV in their current or immediate past relationship. So it’s not meant to measure the rate of DV against men; it’s meant to measure the experiences and motivations of men who have.
The picture of these men drawn by Hines and Douglas is one of men who are indeed larger than their partners. In fact, the average size of the men interviewed, 5′ 11″ and 195 lbs is far larger than the average adult American male. A significant number of them were police officers, firemen and construction workers. Their reaction to being attacked was most often to try to make peace either by going into another room, fending off the blows or bear-hugging the woman until she settled down. Those actions often came from motivations of love and/or the moral conviction that men shouldn’t hit women.
But however peacefully the men behaved, that didn’t shield them from injury that was sometimes serious. Some 90.4% of the men reported being the victim of “severe physical aggression” in the previous year and 54% said they had experienced “very severe physical aggression,” i.e. life-threatening aggression. About 80% of the men said they’d been injured by their partner in the past year and over 35% said their injuries were severe. Among those who had been injured, the average number of injuries over the previous 12 months was 11.68, or about once a month.
One thing that got my attention is what the men reported when they were asked about their partners using psychological abuse against them.
Specifically, 67.2% reported that their partner falsely accused them of hitting or beating her; 38.7% reported that she filed a restraining order against him under false pretenses; 48.9% of the men with children reported that their partners falsely accused them of physically abusing the children, and 15.4% reported that they were falsely accused by their partners of sexually abusing the children.
So one of the primary methods of psychological abuse of men is the filing of or threat to file false abuse complaints with police, courts or other authorities. Over the years, much has been made by DV advocates of men’s supposed desire to control women. While there are certainly men who want to do that, this research finds that women do too. And where a strong man may be able to control a woman as long as she’s in his presence, women use the power of the state against men and often without regard to the facts. So do DV advocates count the filing or threat to file false claims of DV as the method of control it unquestionably is?
Why don’t these men leave their abusive partners? About 38% did leave, if I read the report correctly. But of the 189 who hadn’t yet, some 94.2% had considered it. Their reasons for staying are instructive. Overwhelmingly, the men’s commitment to their children and the concept of marriage as a lifelong commitment cause them to stay. Most importantly, the fear of losing custody caused fathers to stay in abusive relationships. According to other research by Brinig and Allen, that’s the same thing that keeps fathers from filing for divorce and encourages mothers to file.
Men with children also expressed concern about what their children might suffer at the hands of their abusive partner if they left.
And then there’s good old fashioned love. That too was an important factor in men’s decision to remain with an abusive partner. The idea that that might be part of a dysfunctional family dynamic is suggested by the authors, but actually exploring it is beyond the purview of their study.
Now, a word about the journal Partner Abuse. It’s new; this is only its third issue, but its mission is vital to the entire area of domestic violence and abuse research. The first issue, the editors announced
the journal”s premise that partner abuse is a human issue and that the particular role of gender in this phenomenon can not be assumed on the basis of ideology or political considerations but must be empirically scrutinized and considered from a range of perspectives.
That same issue included an article entitled “Do We Want to be Politically Correct, or Do We Want to Reduce Domestic Violence in Our Communities?” The title alone makes the point that I never tire of repeating – that current definitions of – and approaches to – domestic violence perpetuate or exacerbate the problem rather than ameliorating it.
In short, Partner Abuse is that rara avis among DV journals – one that eschews the political in favor of the scientific.
Thanks to Ed for the heads-up.