Study: Male DV Victims Experience PTSD

Denise Hines and Emily Douglas continue their excellent research into the effects of domestic violence on men.  Here’s a short article about their latest analysis of data (U.S. News, 4/12/11).  And here’s the study itself.

I’ve previously reported on their analysis of this same data, but Hines and Douglas have mined it for still more information.  Their results are reported in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.

For those of you who don’t remember, Hines and Douglas obtained self reports from two sets of men.  One set consisted of 302 men who had sought help via a domestic violence help line; the second consisted of 520 men from the community at large.

The specific goal of the new analysis was to determine if male victims of domestic violence suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result.  Many existing studies of female victims of DV show that they suffer PTSD, but before the Hines/Douglas study, no one had asked about a similar association among male victims.

Hines and Douglas use nomenclature that includes IPV which stands for any kind of intimate partner violence.  CCV refers to common couple violence which is relatively mild and not necessarily accompanied by psychologically controlling behavior on the part of the perpetrator.  IT refers to intimate terrorism and means severe physical violence together with controlling behavior. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, women exposed to CCV have much lower levels of PTSD than those exposed to IT and the same proved true for the men studied by Hines and Douglas.

PTSD is a psychiatric condition that can follow the experience of a traumatic incident, and according to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), its symptoms tend to cluster on three dimensions: persistent reexperiencing of the trauma, persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and persistent increased arousal.

Hines and Douglas found that it was especially IT, the severe form of domestic violence, that brought on symptoms of PTSD.

In support of previous research (Coker et al., 2005; Dansky et al., 1999; Hines, 2007), we found that for both samples of men, sustaining IPV was significantly correlated with PTSD and its three clusters of symptoms. However, we also found that in comparison to men who sustain no physical IPV and men who sustain CCV, men who sustain IT (a type of IPV that is characterized by severe violence and controlling behaviors) are at exponentially increased risk for exceeding a clinical cut-off for PTSD.

Among both groups of men, the presence of childhood physical abuse increased the likelihood not only of IPV victimization as an adult but of PTSD symptoms as well.  Controlling behavior on the part of the aggressor also tended to increase the probability of PTSD in the male victim.  Those findings mirror previous research into female victims of IPV.

And, as with female victims, male victims’ symptoms of PTSD were ameliorated by the presence of social support and treatment.  Needless to say, that has implications for how male victims of IPV should be treated by the community generally, but particularly by mental health professionals.

First, it is important for any treatment provider who encounters a man who discloses physical IPV and controlling behaviors against him by his partner to acknowledge that this man likely has been traumatized. This is an important first step, because previous research on this sample showed that not only did men experience more negative than positive experiences with treatment providers, but every time a man in our helpseeking sample experienced a negative response from a treatment provider, his odds of exceeding the clinical cut-off for PTSD increased significantly.

Stated another way, mental health providers who think that men can’t be victims of DV actually make the problem worse; they add to the trauma rather than subtracting from it.  That’s a finding that should inform all future efforts to address the problems of male victims of IPV.

Hines and Douglas note that female victims of IPV benefit from women’s support groups.  Rather forlornly they add that male victims would benefit from similar men’s support groups if there were any.

Given that there is no research exploring treatment options for men who sustain IT, we would urge therapists to use and evaluate a similar model for men who sustain IT and seek help, and to then tailor a more appropriate model for men. A crucial aspect of this development would be the institution of support groups for men who sustain IT, which are currently lacking.

This research is not definitive; it has its limitations which the authors describe.  But, particularly given the similarity between men’s and women’s responses to IT, it seems likely to hold up over time.

It’s yet another clarion call to our society, our elected officials and our mental health professionals to stop ignoring the truth about male victims of domestic violence.  There once was a bumper sticker that read “There’s No Excuse for Domestic Violence.”  It’s high time the DV industry stopped making excuses for women who attack men.

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