Most of us are no stranger to domestic violence. We likely have heard of it occurring somewhere around town, or perhaps even been a victim of it ourselves. When someone mentions domestic violence, what most people expect to see in a scene of domestic violence is a man threatening and harming a helpless woman or child. However, what if the victim of domestic violence was actually a man instead?
Men are usually expected to uphold certain standards in society. They are seen as stronger than women, less emotional and the head of the household. Most people believe that in any fight between a man and a woman, it is the man who should have the upper hand, and the woman should be the victim. On top of this, we often pass around phrases such as “real men don’t cry” and “be a man” to emphasize being strong and willful. If a man has been facing domestic violence or physical or emotional problems of any kind, he would generally be less likely to seek help for it or to even tell anyone about it, for fear of being branded as weak or a sissy. A man’s friends may laugh at him for being unable to fight back against his wife or girlfriend, given that he should be physically stronger than her. For a man, facing domestic violence especially at the hands of a woman can feel humiliating and crippling especially when placed under the stress of society’s expectations of what a man should be.
However, these problems are very real indeed and domestic violence against men does happen, even if most information we hear in the news is about violence against women. According to a 2010 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Justice, men were actually assaulted more often than women in situations of domestic violence. Additionally, more than 40% of severe physical violence was directed at men. Despite this shocking statistic, men have much fewer avenues of help to turn to. Most funding for domestic violence is spent on programs to help women, while man victims of domestic violence tend to suffer alone. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice solicitation of proposals for Justice Responses to Intimate Partner Violence and Stalking states, “What will not be funded: 4. Proposals for research on intimate partner violence against, or stalking of, males of any age or females under the age of 12.” Even if men overcome the initial hurdle to reach out to hotlines or help organizations on their own, they often find that these organizations either only help women or believe that the man contacting them was the instigator. Men who try to contact the police could be ignored, ridiculed or even arrested. It has also been observed that in legal cases, the authorities are more likely to press charges against an assaulter whose victim was a woman than an assaulter whose victim was a man.
Why is this the case? Why is our society not helping others in their time of need? Well, people often neglect the fact that men are human beings just like anyone else. They can cry, feel sad, get jealous and have a breakdown just like anybody else could. Men are not necessarily stronger than women, and in fact, men may be under more pressure to conceal their emotions in social situations although they may be suffering within. Society’s expectations of men, which are often unrealistic, do not make them any less vulnerable to becoming victims of domestic violence.
As education and job opportunities in our world are increasing, women are also becoming more empowered to pursue their goals. While women may have been confined to stricter societal expectations in the past few centuries, the women of today are bolder, have more support and are just as capable of instigating domestic violence or being aggressive. Domestic violence usually occurs due to disagreements between a couple. Partners may be frustrated or angry at each other and exert violence towards their partner in an attempt to make them behave in a more socially acceptable way or to make them stop behaving in a socially undesirable way. In a patriarchal society, it may be common for men to be the main ones in a relationship with such expectations of their partner. However, most of us would agree that the times have come too far for people to stick to such views any longer. In fact, women and men are just as likely to engage in such coercive behavior, making either one a likely aggressor and the other a likely victim. Unfortunately, some of our society may still be unable to realize this, as old misconceptions are usually difficult to shake. Most organizations meant to help victims of domestic violence may tend to hold their old views that women are the main victims of domestic violence and would suffer more, thus there is a lack of support for the men who do suffer from domestic violence.
One may wonder what we can do to turn this dire situation around. It may be a problem we should not undertake lightly, but one step forward would be to recognize that women should not be seen as inferior to men when it comes to capability for domestic violence. For our society to progress towards gender equality, it is imperative that we acknowledge domestic violence towards men as a real and serious issue and recognize the victims who have been calling out for help.
However, this is not saying that we should go light on men who have assaulted women. Of course, men who inflict domestic violence on women should still be punished accordingly, but so too should women who inflict domestic violence on men. It would be more correct to say that the severity of one’s punishment should not be affected by the gender of their victim.
In some measure of hope, there are existing avenues that man victims of domestic violence have found helpful. In a survey, most stated that they were helped most by friends, neighbors, relatives, lawyers and ministers. They also found online support groups and web pages directed to men helpful. Some men also found that turning to a mental health professional was helpful. On the other hand, most of the men surveyed believed that traditional resources for victims of domestic violence were the least helpful. This included the services of core domestic violence programs, domestic violence agencies, hotlines and the police.
It is clear that domestic violence against men is as serious a problem as domestic violence against women. However, the main difference is that women have more avenues for help, while men usually receive a negative response when they do try to seek help. This is largely caused by upholding our society’s unrealistic expectations of men, which can only lead to alienating man victims more and causing them to suffer both physically and emotionally. As such, it is important that our society acknowledges the extent of domestic violence against men and recognizes that women are not the only victims in need of aid.