The first findings of the largest study to date focusing on male victims of female-perpetrated domestic violence were recently released, showing the existence of severe, controlling abusive behavior by women toward their male partners, on a level that many would describe as “intimate terrorism.”
Study results will be published as “Intimate terrorism by women towards men: Does it exist?” (Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research) and “A closer look at men who sustain intimate terrorism by women” (Partner Abuse).
Clark University research assistant professor of psychology Denise A. Hines is the lead author/researcher on the Men’s Experiences with Partner Aggression Project, a study at Clark University funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The co-investigator is Emily M. Douglas, of Bridgewater State College’s Department of Social Work.
The research team analyzed data collected from 302 men who sustained physical violence from a female partner within the past year and sought help. The overarching goal of this study is to better understand the experiences of men who are in relationships with women who use violence.
“Extensive research has shown that men are at risk for sustaining partner violence in their relationships, yet few studies have investigated their experiences, and there are few resources available to such men,” Hines notes. “This is an under-recognized problem in the United States, and by conducting this research project, we hope to provide much needed information on these men, their relationships, and their needs.”
Fact sheets about the research and final drafts of the articles can be found online at http://www.clarku.edu/faculty/dhines/results.htm.
The studies show that the 302 men in the research sample, on average, sustained physical violence and controlling behaviors on a weekly basis, and that over three-quarters had been injured in the previous year, on average about every other month, with 1/3 of them sustaining a severe injury (i.e., something that would need medical attention) in the past year.
“With every analysis that we do of these data, what is very apparent is how much these men resemble the women who participate in studies of battered women who go to shelters,” Hines says. “The level of violence these men sustain, their reactions to the violence, their reasons for staying, their protectiveness of their children, and their mental health, all very much mirror what we’ve seen in studies of battered women over the past 30 years.”
Contrary to popular stereotypes of male victims, the men in the sample were the size of an average man and were bigger than their female partners, and about one third of them were employed in stereotypical masculine or high-status occupations, such as a soldier, doctor, lawyer, or business owner. When their female partners are violent, their most common response is to try to get away or escape from her.
Why don’t the men leave? The most common reasons are because of love and commitment to the marriage and because of the children. The men do not want to leave the children with a violent woman, and they are often afraid that they would lose custody of their children in a family court system that tends to favor mothers in custody disputes. Many men also discuss the financial repercussions of leaving – about half indicate that they do not have the money or resources to leave, with others discussing their fear of losing all, if not at least half, of everything they have worked for and saved in their lives.
Hines: “What should also be noted is the profound effect that this violence probably has on the children involved. We know that at least 70 percent, if not more, of the children who were involved in these relationships either saw or heard the violence. From prior research, we know that child witnesses of domestic violence against women can suffer severe psychological consequences. There is no reason to expect that child witnesses of domestic violence against men won’t suffer the same consequences.”
Implications: Given the serious level of the domestic violence that these men sustain, it is necessary to educate practitioners, researchers and the public about men sustaining domestic violence, their experiences, and their barriers to leaving, which can include both their emotional ties and commitments, and a lack of resources. All of the men in this study indicated that they had sought help of some form, and because of the very serious nature of their victimization, it is important to educate and train front-line domestic violence workers about the existence of male victims, the seriousness of their domestic violence experiences, and their needs.
“It is important for all who work in the field of domestic violence to realize and acknowledge that both men and women can perpetrate even the most severe forms of partner violence and both men and women can be victimized by severe forms of partner violence,” Hines says. “Serious violence and controlling behaviors demand our attention, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or victim.”
Hines and Douglas are currently working on publishing more analyses of the data from the men in this study, in addition to developing follow-up studies on the mental and physical health consequences to these men and their children, and on male victims’ experiences in both the family court and criminal justice systems. Hines also directs the Family Impact Seminars at Clark and is co-Director of the Clark Anti-Violence Education (CAVE) Program.
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