About Domestic Violence Against Men

Revised: May 21, 2014


Domestic Violence Is Against The Law In Oregon

Statistics About Domestic Abuse And Violence Against Men

Very little in known about the actual number of men who are in a domestic relationship in which they are abused or treated violently by women.  In 100 domestic violence situations approximately 40 cases involve violence by women against men.  An estimated 400,000 women per year are abused or treated violently in the United States by their spouse or intimate partner.  This means that roughly 300,000 to 400,000 men are treated violently by their wife or girl friend. 

For more information see www.dvmen.org


Why Do We Know So Little About Domestic Abuse And Violence Against Men?

There are many reasons why we don't know more about domestic abuse and violence against men.  First of all, the incidence of domestic violence reported men appears to be so low that it is hard to get reliable estimates.  In addition, it has taken years of advocacy and support to encourage women to report domestic violence. Virtually nothing has been done to encourage men to report abuse.  The idea that men could be victims of domestic abuse and violence is so unthinkable that many men will not even attempt to report the situation. 

The dynamic of domestic abuse and violence is also different between men and women.  The reasons, purposes and motivations are often very different between sexes.  Although the counseling and psychological community have responded to domestic abuse and violence against women, there has been very little investment in resources to address and understand the issues of domestic abuse and violence against men.  In most cases, the actual physical damage inflicted by men is so much greater than the actual physical harm inflected by women.  The impact of domestic violence is less apparent and less likely to come to the attention of others when men are abused.  For example, it is assumed than a man with a bruise or black eye was in a fight with another man or was injured on the job or playing contact sports.  Even when men do report domestic abuse and violence, most people are so astonished men usually end up feeling like nobody believes them. 


The Problem With Assumptions About Domestic Abuse And Violence

It is a widely held assumption that women are always the victims and men are always the perpetrators.   Between 50 and 60% of all domestic abuse and violence is against women.   There are many reasons why people assume men are never victims and why women often ignore the possibility.  For one thing, domestic abuse and violence has been minimized, justified and ignored for a very long time.   Women are now more organized, supportive and outspoken about the epidemic of domestic abuse and violence against women.  Very little attention has been paid to the issue of domestic abuse and violence against men - especially  because violence against women has been so obvious and was ignored for so long. 


What Is Domestic Abuse And Violence Against Men?

There are no absolute rules for understanding the emotional differences between men and women. There are principles and dynamics that allow interpretation of individual situations.  Domestic abuse and violence against men and women have some similarities and difference.  For men or women, domestic violence includes pushing, slapping, hitting, throwing objects, forcing or slamming a door  or striking the other person with an object, or using a weapon.  Domestic abuse can also be mental or emotional.  However, what will hurt a man mentally and emotionally, can in some cases  be very different from what hurts a woman.  For some men, being called a coward, impotent or a failure can have a very different psychological impact than it would on a women.  Unkind and cruel words hurt, but they can hurt in different ways and linger in different ways.  In most cases, men are more deeply affected by emotional abuse than physical abuse. 

For example, the ability to tolerate and "brush off" a physical assault by women in front of other men can in some cases reassure a man that he is strong and communicate to other men that he can live up to the code of never hitting a woman.  A significant number of of men are overly sensitive to emotional and psychological abuse.  In some cases, humiliating a man emotionally in front of other men can be more devastating than physical abuse.  Some professionals have observed that mental and emotional abuse can be an area where women are often "brutal" than men.  Men on the other hand are quicker to resort to physical abuse and they are more capable of physical assaults that are more brutal - even deadly!. 


Why Does Domestic Abuse Against Men Go Unrecognized?

Domestic violence against men goes unrecognized for the following reasons:

  • The incidence of domestic violence against men appears to be so low that it is hard to get reliable estimates. 
  • It has taken years of advocacy and support to encourage women to report domestic violence. Virtually nothing has been done to encourage men to report abuse. 
  • The idea that men could be victims of domestic abuse and violence is so unthinkable to most people that many men will not even attempt to report the situation. 
  • The counseling and psychological community have responded to domestic abuse and violence against women.  Not enough has been done to stop abuse against women.  There has been very little investment in resources to address the issues of domestic abuse and violence against men. 
  • In most cases, the actual physical damage inflicted by men is so much greater than the actual physical harm inflected by women.  The impact of domestic violence is less apparent and less likely to come to the attention of others. 
  • Even when men do report domestic abuse and violence, most people are so astonished, men usually end up feeling like nobody would believe them.  It is widely assumed than a man with a bruise or black eye was in a fight with another man or was injured on the job or while playing contact sports.  Women generally don't do those things.

What Are The Characteristics Of Women Who Are Abusive And Violent?

The characteristics of men or women who are abusive fall into three categories. 

  • Alcohol Abuse.  Alcohol abuse is a major cause and trigger in domestic violence.  People who are intoxicated have less impulse control, are easily frustrated, have greater misunderstandings and are generally prone to resort to violence as a solution to problems.   Women who abuse men are frequently alcoholics. 
  • Psychological Disorders.  There are certain psychological problems, primarily personality disorders,  in which women are characteristically abusive and violent toward men.   Borderline personality disorder is a diagnosis that is found almost exclusively with women.  Approximately 1 to 2 percent of all women have a Borderline Personality disorder.  At least 50% of all domestic abuse and violence against men is associated with woman who have a Borderline Personality disorder. The disorder is also associated with suicidal behavior, severe mood swings, lying, sexual problems and alcohol abuse.
  • Unrealistic expectations, assumptions and conclusions.   Women who are abusive toward men usually have unrealistic expectations and make unrealistic demands of men.  These women will typically experience repeated episodes of depression, anxiety, frustration and irritability which they attribute to a man's behavior.  In fact, their mental and emotional state is the result of their own insecurities, emotional problems, trauma during childhood or even withdrawal from alcohol.   They blame men rather than admit their problems, take responsibility for how they live their lives or do something about how they make themselves miserable.  They refuse to enter treatment and may even insist the man needs treatment.   Instead of helping themselves, they  blame a man for how they feel and believe that a man should do something to make them feel better. They will often medicate their emotions with alcohol.  When men can't make them feel better, these women become frustrated and assume that men are doing this on purpose.

A Common Dynamic:  How Violence ERUPTS

There are a number of commonly reported interactions in which violence against men erupts.  Here is one example that illustrates a common dynamic. 

The woman is mildly distressed and upset. The man notices her distress and then worries she may become angry.   The woman attempts to communicate and discuss her feelings.  She wants to talk, feel supported and feel less alone.   She initially attributes some of her distress or problems to him.  The man begins to feel defensive, shuts down emotionally and attempts to deal with the problems rationally.  He feels a fight is coming on.  The woman feels uncared for, ignored and then gets angry.  She wants him to share the problem and he doesn't feel he has a problem.  The man will attempt to remain unemotional and stay in control of himself.  He avoids accepting any blame for how she feels.  He is also worried that she may explode at any moment and that she will certainly do so if he talks about his feelings. The man will start talking about her problem as if she could feel better if she would only listen to him and stop acting so upset.  He fails to understand how she feels and tries to remain calm.  He tells her to calm down and ends up looking insensitive.  She begins to wonder if he has any feelings at all.  She tells him that he thinks he's perfect.   He says he is not perfect.  She calls him insensitive.  He stares at her and says nothing but looks irritated. 

The woman is frustrated that he won't reveal his feelings and that he acts like he is in control.  On the other hand, the man feels out of control and like there is no room for anybody's feelings in the conversation but hers. Communication breaks down and the woman begins to insult the man.  When the man finally expresses his disapproval and attempts to end the fight.  The woman becomes enraged and may throw something.  The man will usually endure insults and interactions like this for weeks or months.  This whole pattern becomes a recurrent and all too familiar experience.   The man becomes increasingly sensitive to how the woman acts and becomes avoidant and unsupportive.  The man begins to believe that there is nothing he can do and that it may be all his fault.  His frustration and anger can build for months ike this. 

This risk of violence  increases when the woman insults the man in front of their children, threatens the man's relationship with his children, or she refuses to control her abusive behavior when the children are present.  She may call him a terrible father or an awful husband in front of the children.  Eventually he feels enraged not only because of how she treats him, but how her behavior is harming the children.   At some point the man may throw something, punch a wall, or slam his fist down loudly to vent his anger and to communicate that he has reached his limits.  Up till now she has never listened to what he had to say.  He decides that maybe she will stop if she can see just how angry he has become.  Rather than recognizing that he has reached his limits, expressing his anger physically has the opposite effect.  For a long time the man has tried to hide his anger.  Why should the woman believe he really means it?  After all, he has put up with her abuse for a long time and done nothing.  Instead of realizing that things have gotten out of control, the woman may approach him and say something like, "What are you gonna do.  Hit me?  Go ahead.  I'll call the police and you'll never see your children again."  Once he expressed his anger physically, the situation became dangerous for him and for her.  The door to violence has opened wide.  He should walk away.  When he does walk away, she ends up more angry than ever, will scream obscenities at him and strike him repeatedly.  She may even strike him with an object.


Why Do Men Stay In Abusive And Violent Relationships?

Men stay in abusive and violent relationships for many different reasons.  The following is a brief list of the primary reasons.

  • Protecting Their Children.  Abused men are afraid to leave their children alone with an abusive woman.  They are afraid that if they leave they will never be allowed to see their children again.  The man is afraid the woman will tell his children he is a bad person or that he doesn't love them.
  • Assuming Blame (Guilt Prone).  Many abused men believe it is their fault or feel they deserve the treatment they receive. They assume blame for events that other people would not.  They feel responsible and have an unrealistic belief that they can and should do something that will make things better.
  • Dependency (or Fear of Independence).  The abused man is mentally, emotionally or financially dependent on the abusive woman.  The idea of leaving the relationship creates significant feelings of depression or anxiety.  They are "addicted" to each other.

Who Can Help If You Are In An Abusive or Violent Relationship?

Help for men who are victims of domestic abuse and violence is not as prevalent as it is for women.  There are virtually no shelters, programs or advocacy groups for men.  

Most abused men will have to rely on private counseling services.  Community resources for breaking the cycle of violence are scarce and not well developed.

National Domestic Abuse Hotline   1 (800) 799 - SAFE
National Child Abuse Hotline   1 (800) 4 - A - CHILD