Study Examines Why Abused Men Don’t Leave Their Wives

I recently attended the excellent Los Angeles domestic violence conference “From Ideology to Inclusion 2009: New Directions in Domestic Violence Research and Intervention.”

The conference featured many domestic violence dissidents–researchers and clinicians who do not believe that the mainstream domestic violence establishment and its “men as perpetrators/women as victims” conceptual framework is properly serving those involved in family violence.

When discussing male victims of domestic violence on the radio, I’m often asked “Why don’t they just leave?” My response has always been that they are in a difficult Catch-22:

They can’t leave their wives because this would leave their children unprotected in the hands of an abuser. If they take their children, they can be arrested for kidnapping, and in any case when they’re found, the children will be taken away and given to the mother. Moreover, they would probably lose custody of their children in the divorce anyway, again leaving their children in harm’s way.

Denise Hines, Ph.D. is a research assistant psychology professor at Clark University and a research associate at the Family Research Laboratory and Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. At the conference, Dr. Hines gave a presentation based on her study of this issue. What options do abused men have? And when they don’t leave their wives, why not?

Hines’ study included 302 heterosexual men, ages 18 to 59, who had been in a relationship lasting at least one month within the previous year, had been physically assaulted by their female partners within the previous year, and had sought outside assistance/support. The median age of the abused men was 40, and the median age of their abusive female partners was 38. The relationships had lasted on average a little over eight years, and 73% of them had minor children. About two-thirds were married, separated, or divorced.

Hines found that there were many different answers to the question “Why not leave her?” These included: “marriage is for life,” love, “I think she’ll change,” “not enough money,” “nowhere to go,” “embarrassed others will find out,” “she threatened suicide,” and “she threatened to kill someone else.”

However, the biggest reason why these study respondents said they did not leave their wives or female partners was that they were “concerned about the children.” Of these, the overwhelming majority thought that if they left their abusive partners, they may “never see their children again.” One explained, “I was advised that if I leave, I would hurt my chances of gaining custody of the children in the long run.”

Many also feared that if they left their abusive partners, the partners would use the legal system against them. One abused man explained:

She has promised to lie and accuse me of physical abuse against her, sexual abuse of our daughter, if that helps her win custody.

Unfortunately, we know that such tactics are often effective. Another abused man responded:

She threatened to ruin me financially, ruin my professional reputation (we worked together), lock me out of the house, and tell the police anything she wants to tell them.

To read all reports from the Conference, please click here.

From Ideology to Inclusion 2009 featured some of the world’s leading experts on domestic violence, many of whom serve on the Editorial Board of the new peer-reviewed academic journal, Partner Abuse, published by Springer Publishing Company. The conference was presented by the California Alliance for Families & Children and co-sponsored by The Family Violence Treatment & Education Association. Some of you may remember that I also wrote extensively about the 2008 conference–to learn more, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *