Men experience domestic violence, with health impact

Group Health study debunks five myths about abuse of men

SEATTLE—Domestic violence can happen to men, not only to women, according to Group Health research in the June American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “Domestic violence in men is under-studied and often hidden—much as it was in women 10 years ago,” said study leader Robert J. Reid, MD, PhD, an associate investigator at the Group Health Center for Health Studies. “We want abused men to know they’re not alone.” His findings confirm some common beliefs but also debunk five myths about abuse in men:

Myth 1: Few men experience domestic violence. Many do. In-depth phone interviews with over 400 randomly sampled adult male Group Health patients surprised Dr. Reid and his colleagues: 5% had experienced domestic violence in the past year, 10% in the past five years, and 29% over their lifetimes. The researchers defined domestic violence to include nonphysical abuse—threats, chronic disparaging remarks, or controlling behavior—as well as physical abuse: slapping, hitting, kicking, or forced sex.

Myth 2: Abuse of men has no serious effects. The researchers found domestic violence is associated with serious, long-term effects on men’s mental health. Women are more likely than men to experience more severe physical abuse, said Dr. Reid. “But even nonphysical abuse——can do lasting damage.” Depressive symptoms were nearly three times as common in older men who had experienced abuse than in those who hadn’t, with much more severe depression in the men who had been abused physically.

Myth 3: Abused men don’t stay, because they’re free to leave. In fact, men may stay for years with their abusive partners. “We know that many women may have trouble leaving abusive relationships, especially if they’re caring for young children and not working outside the home,” said Dr. Reid. “We were surprised to find that most men in abusive relationships also stay, through multiple episodes, for years.”

Myth 4: Domestic violence affects only poor people. The study actually showed it to be an equal-opportunity scourge. “As we found in our previous research with women experiencing domestic violence, this is a common problem affecting people in all walks of life,” said Dr. Reid. “Our patients at Group Health have health insurance and easy access to health care, and their employment rate and average income, education level, and age are higher than those of the rest of the U.S. population.”

Myth 5: Ignoring it will make it go away. Not so. “We doctors hardly ever ask our male patients about being abused—and they seldom tell us,” said Dr. Reid. “Many abused men feel ashamed because of societal expectations for men to be tough and in control.” Younger men were twice as likely as men age 55 or older to report recent abuse. “That may be because older men are even more reluctant to talk about it,” he added.

This study extends Group Health’s research on domestic violence, a.k.a. intimate partner violence. The team’s previous publications have documented the prevalence, persistence, and health effects of domestic violence on women. In the current study, they asked men the same questions that they had asked of women. “Our team is concerned about abuse of people: of women as well as men,” Dr. Reid added. “We do not want to downplay the seriousness of domestic violence as experienced by women.”

Dr. Reid said more research is needed to determine the best ways for doctors to ask men if they have experienced domestic violence—and how best to help them into couples counseling, leaving their partners, or getting protection orders. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is toll-free 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Group Health Center for Health Studies funded this work, co-authored by Melissa Anderson, MS, Paul Fishman, PhD, David Carrell, PhD, and Robert Thompson, MD of the Group Health Center for Health Studies; Amy Bonomi, PhD, MPH, now an Ohio State University associate professor of human development & family science in Columbus; and Group Health Center for Health Studies affiliate scientific investigator Frederick Rivara, MD, MPH, of Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and the University of Washington.

This article courtesy of EurekAlert!


Group Health Center for Health Studies

Founded in 1947, Group Health is a Seattle-based, consumer-governed, nonprofit health care system that coordinates care and coverage. For 25 years, the Group Health Center for Health Studies has conducted research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major health problems. Government and private research grants provide its main funding.

3 Responses

  1. This article reminds me of one couple I know. The husband claims his wife is verbally abusive and shames him horribly. The wife claims her husband is financially irresponsible. She was urged by the pastor and church leaders to turn the finances over to her husband because his spending made it impossible for her to pay the bills. The result was that he procrastinated paying the bills and numerous times their electricity and phone was cut off. The wife had many days where she was stuck at home with no electricity to cook, bake, do laundry, etc, while her husband was at work. (she baked to make an income selling baked goods, so this was quite stressful.) She reported that one day when she came home rather late from grocery shopping, her husband had not started dinner. But when she turned in the drive he got out a package of chicken and opened the wrapper, and then proceeded to expect her to continue to praise him for the next week or two for work well done.

    She also reported that he put her down frequently and expected to get his way because he is the husband.

    Was his complaint legitimate? Was she out of line to express her frustration with his repeated negligence? (By the way, we are not talking about a man who is so busy working, he just does not have time. Her husband is one who spends hours playing computer games or reading fiction, and loses track of time.

    My tendency is to dismiss his complaint because his procrastinating and negligent behavior repeatedly brings hardship to his family. If anything, by refusing to help with household responsibilties and by neglecting his own responsibilities, he seemed to be choosing behavior aimed at bringing distress to his wife. He also made demands in the bedroom that were so out of line, sex became repulsive to her. And with his attitude that he had the right to control her, it seemed to me the abuse was one-sided, with him doing the abuse through neglect and verbal attack.

    Yet, if he had answered the questionaire mentioned in this article, he would have claimed to have been abused by his wife. My ex-husband would also have claimed to have been abused. He thought me standing up for myself, defending myself , or negatively responding to his mistreatment of me was abusive behavior. In both cases the so-called abuse was about a wife begging for and finally insisting on a minimal bottom line of decent respectful behavior below which she could not tolerate, and the husband refusing to maintain even that very low minimum.

    Frankly, I question the veracity, the truth of this study. Most abusive men (as both men in the above example were) twist the truth and accuse their wives of doing the husband’s behavior. How many of the men in the study were themselves the abusers and were mis-reporting the facts?

  2. Ms. Dawn domestic violence happens to both men and women and the abusers are also both male and female. Most abusive people, men or women, twist the truth. Gender is no barrier when it comes to all forms of human behaviors.

  3. Ms. Dawn,

    Just a follow up. Domestic violence is not the only are where men and women are offenders. Below is some information taken from an article in the Patriot Ledger in Jan 09:

    Wendy Murphy (a leading victim-rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst) states that according to DOJ stats that roughly 1.6 million men and 1.5 million women were sexually abused by women when they were children. The majority of female offenders are between 22 and 33 years old and are not mentally ill. They are typically employed in professional jobs or as managers and a high percentage of their victims are “close” contacts, such as students, family friends and children they advised in some fashion.

    So just as we ask people to be open minded and hear the truth about abuses in the church we should also be the same way ourselves about other areas of abuse even if it may not match our experiences in life.

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