by Sarah Wallace
“You don’t get many of those around here do you?”
“Put it into perspective, we’ve had 100s of women and only 4 men in the last 12 months.”
These were some comments from peers and professionals when I introduced my research study topic. Surprise, confusion, uncertainty they had heard correctly: “men as victims?” Sometimes expressions told their own story. However, thankfully this was not the norm. From the beginning and through to the end of my study, I have received positive encouragement from supervisors, peers, professionals in the sector and audiences at conferences. Nonetheless, comments conveying disbelief and surprise served as a reminder that men experiencing domestic abuse are not easily recognised as victims of this very serious health and social issue.
So, “What about the men”?
In the United Kingdom, domestic abuse is largely recognised as affecting women. However, men experiencing domestic abuse is a substantial issue. Figures from the Crime Survey England and Wales (CSEW) indicates there are approximately 1.2 million female and 700,000 male victims (ONS, 2013). However, men are much less recognised. Research has traditionally focussed on male perpetrators and female victims (Graham-Kevan, 2007; Drijber et al, 2013). Despite a lack of research in this area (Hines & Douglas, 2010; Ansara & Hindin, 2011), the issue is gaining momentum and research is expanding (Zverina et al, 2011; Corbally, 2015). However, an in-depth qualitative understanding of men’s needs and their help-seeking experiences remains limited (Corbally 2015; Morgan et al, 2014).
Men experience a range of abuse (physical, financial, sexual, emotional and coercive control). Male victimisation is associated with poor health, alcohol and recreational drug use, physical injury and psychological harm including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression (Coker et al, 2002; Hines & Douglas, 2015). Men are less likely to seek support. Shame, social stigmatisation, notions of masculinity, denial and fears of humiliation, ridicule and not being believed are all barriers to preventing men from disclosing.
Knowledge of local existing services and referral pathways can help facilitate a safe enquiry and disclosure. Knowing that support is available is imperative; a lack of such can magnify feelings of isolation. Specialist support offers advocacy, safety, emotional support, practical guidance and the opportunity to recover. However, knowing help out there is not enough. The men in my study did seek out the support of a domestic abuse service directly. They required reassurance from others (mental health, welfare services, police and family) that accessing a domestic abuse provision was acceptable, that their experiences were serious and important enough to do so. The reassurance of others also meant that they were taken seriously, listened to and believed. This is important; being believed affords feelings of psychological strength (McCarrick et al, 2016). Nurses and other health professionals should be aware that anyone (irrespective of gender) can be a victim of domestic abuse. My study revealed very low numbers of referrals from health and mental health professionals for male victims into domestic abuse services. Nurses/health professionals may lack the confidence to enquire about domestic abuse to men, they might be uncertain how to respond, and they could be unsure of how or where to refer to. These are all very important concerns.
All these factors require consideration when thinking about how you as a nurse/health professional might enquire or manage a disclosure of abuse from a man. Without the knowledge and validation of those they had disclosed to, the men in my study would not have accessed the support they needed to recover.
Ansara, D. L., & Hindin, M. J. (2011). Psychosocial consequences of intimate partner violence for women and men in Canada. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(8), 1628-1645.
Coker, A. L., Davis, K. E., Arias, I., Desai, S., Sanderson, M., Brandt, H. M., & Smith, P. H. (2002). Physical and mental health effects of intimate partner violence for men and women. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 23(4), 260-268.
Corbally, M. (2015). Accounting for intimate partner violence: A biographical analysis of narrative strategies used by men experiencing IPV from their female partners. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(17), 3112-3132.
Drijber, B. C., Reijnders, U. J. L., & Ceelen, M. (2013). Male victims of domestic violence. Journal of Family and Violence, 28(2), 173-178.
Graham-Kevan, N. (2007). The re-emergence of male victims. International Journal of Men’s Health, 6(1), 3-6.
Hines, D. A., & Douglas, E. M. (2015). Health problems of partner violence victims. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 48(2), 136-144.
Hines, D. A., & Douglas, E. M. (2010a). A closer look at men who sustain intimate terrorism by women. Partner Abuse, 1(3), 286-313.
McCarrick, J., Davis-McCabe, C., & Hirst-Winthrop, S. (2016). Men’s experiences of the criminal justice system following female perpetrated intimate partner violence. Journal of Family Violence, 31(2), 203-213.
Morgan, K., Williamson, E., Hester, M., Jones, S., & Feder, G. (2014). Asking men about domestic violence and abuse in a family medicine context: Help seeking and views on the general practitioner role. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 19(6), 637-642.
Office for National Statistics. (2013). Focus on violent crime and sexual offences 2012/13 Chapter 4: Intimate Personal Violence and Partner Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_352362.pdf.
Zverina, M., Stam, H., & Babins-Wagner, R. (2011). Managing victim status in group therapy for men: A discourse analysis. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(14), 2834-2855.
Sarah Wallace has recently concluded a social care PhD entitled: An investigation into the needs of men experiencing domestic abuse and current service provision (Wales). Sarah interviewed abused men, and managers and practitioners of domestic abuse services and mapped domestic abuse and sexual violence services for men in Wales. Findings informed the development of a unique interactive service map.
Sarah has previously worked supporting men and women experiencing domestic abuse. In 2013, she secured Welsh Government funding to train as an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA). Sarah is a member of the Domestic Violence Special Interest Group in the World Organisation for Colleges and Academies in Primary Care (WONCA), and is a trustee for the Mankind Initiative.