The issue of domestic violence is currently front and center in the national media. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more hot-button topic in popular culture.
Efforts to draw attention to and stop domestic violence should be applauded. Nationwide, three or more women are murdered every day by a former male partner and 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.
However, women are almost always portrayed as the victims when discussing domestic abuse. While 85 percent of victims are women, it is important not to forget about the sizable number of males who face domestic violence.
One in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by a domestic partner compared to one in four women. For the past few years, more than 300 men have been killed annually by an intimate partner, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Male victims of domestic abuse might not be in the majority, but they shouldn’t be an afterthought either. And they face a unique set of obstacles when seeking help compared to women.
Consider for a moment the tenor of the conversation regarding some of the more high-profile instances of domestic violence over the last couple years.
NFL star Ray Rice was caught on video punching his wife and the footage justifiably stirred enormous public outcry. President Barack Obama even weighed in on the issue.
A couple other instances of celebrity domestic violence show how male victims are often ignored.
Singer Solange Knowles was caught on video slapping and kicking her brother-in-law Jay Z; actress Anjelica Huston recently confessed to beating her former lover Jack Nicholson “savagely” with “an array of punches,”; and female soccer star Hope Solo was jailed last summer on accusations of domestic violence.
The Ray Rice incident sparked an important national conversation on a sensitive topic that needs to be addressed. These other instances of serious domestic violence, however, were greeted mostly with mock laughter. (How many “Jay Z’s got 99 problems and a [woman] is one” jokes have you heard?)
According to a study released Wednesday by SafeLives on domestic violence in the United Kingdom, men are a neglected group not as readily identified and “may be less visible to services or be given less priority.”
This is critical, because as the study also notes, getting victims help as quickly as possible is key to preventing murder, serious injury and enduring harm.
There are a number of issues that can prevent male domestic violence victims from obtaining the help they need. First, there are stereotypes to deal with.
The Dallas Morning News recently produced a series on domestic violence with one part of the package focusing on male victims. In the story, a male victim identified as “John” explained his hesitation in seeking help.
“You don’t want to be embarrassed,” he said. “You don’t want to feel ashamed, [have] people looking at you laughing, ‘Oh, that’s the guy that got beat up by the girl.’ Or ‘that’s the guy hiding out from his girl.’”
Even if male victims are able to get past that stigma, they still might not find the help they need. While there is no shortage of domestic abuse shelters for female victims to seek refuge, men are regularly turned away. In some cases, the authorities find it difficult to believe that the male could be a victim in a domestic abuse case.
According to a 2008 study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, three-quarters of the men who contacted an abuse shelter or hotline found that the agency would only provide services to women.
The Dallas Morning News story makes a reference to the only hotline in the country focused on male victims not accepting calls in December because of “budget constraints.”
The story adds that there does seem to be some progress at the local level with more shelters offering counseling, hotel rooms and other services for male victims. It will still likely take years before the number of services offered to men reaches an adequate amount.
Domestic violence is a serious problem not just in the United States, but worldwide. It’s a positive development that the issue has been brought to the forefront, but it is crucial to take a deep look at everyone affected by the abuse.
Victims are victims, regardless of their sex.