October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and with that in mind, the topic should be addressed. It is widely known that women are the most common victims of domestic abuse, but we tend to forget that men can also be victims of these attacks. According to the National Coalition for Domestic Violence, one in four men have been physically abused — slapped, pushed or shoved — by an intimate partner, and one in seven have been severely physically abused — choked, burned, etc.— by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. This is not acceptable.
Men tend not to speak up about domestic violence the same way women might because of the social repercussions. They fear that they could be taunted for “being a wimp” and not “handling their girl” or even told they are stronger than her and should be able to defend themselves. This is not true.
Additionally, men are taught not to hit women but when women hit them, they can’t fight back without being seen as the aggressor. Their partners might also be mentally abusive, using power and control to make the men fear standing up for themselves, so what are men supposed to do?
Most domestic violence-based shelters don’t focus or support abused men or at least don’t advertise it, making men feel that they don’t have a safe place to go when times get rough. They can call a hotline or the police if they are in need of immediate assistance but there is still a lot of courage required to make a phone call like that, just as it would be for women. The fear of walking away from an abusive partner can be earth-shattering as the fear of getting caught reaching for help can increase the abuse.
In our culture, men are also raised differently than women. They are taught not to express their feelings as openly as women are. Many of us know the saying “boy’s don’t cry,” so it can be challenging for men to change their beliefs which were instilled in them early on in life. If they don’t just deal with the abuse, then they aren’t “a man” and are considered “weak.” That’s something that many men don’t want to risk being called. Instead, men who are being abused will most likely bury those feelings deep down inside and just deal with the issue of abuse, keeping it to themselves because that’s the way most of them were raised.
This isn’t just an issue in heterosexual couples either; abuse is seen in gay and lesbian couples as well. According to the Center for American Progress, one out of four same-sex relationships have experienced domestic violence. In same-sex relationships, the fear of the aggressor is often heightened. The abuser can “out” the victim, isolate them from their peers and threaten the same way that straight aggressors will. The reasons for not coming forward are equally, if not more, intense. The fear of public opinion, threatening the image of LGBT relationships or marriages and forcibly outing themselves to receive help are additional worries that might prevent victims from stepping forward.
Men can be aggressors and are seen as the most common abuser in domestic relationships, but that is not always the case and the numbers are only rising. In 2010, the CDC conducted a study on intimate partner violence and discovered that about 39 million U.S. women have been victims of physical violence from a partner in their lifetime. However, men were not far behind with 31 million U.S. men expected to be victims of physical violence from partners in their lifetimes. Those numbers aren’t that far apart and with every passing year that gap is closing. We need to address the victims on both sides to fix this problem. That means we can’t tell a man he is weak for asking for help out of abusive relationship. He is stronger because he is attempting to escape a bad situation. The day a man or woman can step forward regarding being a victim of domestic violence and be treated equally is the day this problem will stop.