Let’s begin by talking about Domestic Abuse in general - how it is regarded and dealt with in our culture. As a psych intern I was taught that we must report Child Abuse, Elder Abuse, a credible threat by one individual to physically harm another or a credible threat by an individual to physically harm him or herself. So we do protect children, elders and people who are about to be harmed. However, unless a child was present during the time it was occurring, we are not allowed to report domestic abuse – only the parties involved can do that. What that means for me as a clinician is that I can defend an adult individual who is (possibly) about to be physically harmed, but I cannot defend an adult individual who actually was physically harmed. The logic here is that the individual should be able to stand up for him or herself. But a lot of the times that is simply not the case; and the reason it is not the case is that the individual may fear retribution, may be attempting to protect their partner or children, or may be so psychologically enmeshed that they don’t have the wherewithal to stand up for themselves. In the case of men who are abused, there is the additional factor of shame and not believing that anyone else will take their situation seriously.

Domestic Abuse has always been treated as a personal family issue, and the Womens Movement has publicized it as an issue of female oppression. It may be both but it is also much more. Just as Child Abuse and Elder Abuse are no longer considered just personal family issues but social and legal issues as well, so must the abuse of one partner by another. It’s time we reconsider the laws surrounding Domestic Abuse.

Now to the specific topic at hand. When we think of domestic abuse we mostly think of men battering women partners or men battering male partners and to a much lesser extent, women battering their female partners in a Lesbian relationship. But when it comes to women battering men, most people would say that they don’t really believe that can happen because men are physically stronger and therefore more capable of defending themselves. However, women do batter their male partners and in much larger numbers than anyone would have imagined.
In 2008, California led the nation in public awareness of this previously hidden Domestic Violence issue. And subsequently, in October of that year, “the California state courts ruled that battered men deserve equal protection under the law”. (mensnewsdaily.com/2008/10/17/domestic-violence-awarenes-month).

The California court ruling was based, in part, on empirical research undertaken by hundreds of social scientists. “This research has demonstrated that both men and women initiate Domestic Violence at roughly equal rates with some recent studies suggesting that the initiation rates for girls and women may be increasing. Furthermore approximately 40% of the physically harmed victims of Domestic Violence are men.”(MND.com) While we have a federal “Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), it may be time to replace it with a “Domestic Violence Act” that doesn’t discriminate against gender.

You wonder, how this is possible? It has taken years of advocacy and support to encourage women to report domestic violence. But virtually nothing has been done to encourage men to do the same. Because there is a widely held assumption that women are victims and men are perpetrators – it is embarrassing, almost unthinkable, for many men to consider reporting. It makes them look weak, ineffectual even laughable in other peoples’ eyes. And they don’t believe that much will be done if they do report. They are right. While it is true that the actual physical harm inflicted by women on men is usually not as severe as the reverse situation, the emotional, psychological damage can be even greater. “Mental and emotional abuse can be an area where women are often more “brutal” than men.” (D.V. Against Men). And when there are children involved, it is equally as negatively impactful as abuse against women.

Why do women abuse? For many of the same reasons that men abuse – alcohol and/or drug abuse, psychological disorders, and unrealistic expectations and assumptions. These women make unreasonable demands on their partners and attribute most of their depression, and frustration on them. They blame their partner rather than admit to their own insecurities, emotional problems, childhood traumas and current substance abuse. They want their partner to make them feel whole rather than take responsibility for their own lives. Making your partner a punching bag for your own insecurities and demons is gender blind. How the violence erupts though can be different between the sexes. With men, they commonly say “She made me do it”. With women it’s, “he doesn’t care, he’s insensitive – I wonder if he has any feelings at all. It is the only way I can get his attention.”

Why do men stay in abusive relationships? For many of the same reasons that women stay, they believe that it is their fault or that they deserve the treatment they receive. They are mentally, emotionally or financially dependent on the abusive female partner. Many men are afraid to leave their children alone with such an unstable person. They may also be afraid that they won’t be allowed to see their children or that she’ll turn the children against him.

It is no surprise that help for men who are victims of domestic abuse – and come forward - is not as prevalent as it is for women. There are virtually no shelters, programs or advocacy groups for men. For now, most abused men will have to rely on private counseling services.

If you are an abused male and need help, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE. Let them know you are out there.

Roni Weisberg-Ross LMFT

Author's Bio: 

Los Angeles based psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of sexual abuse, emotional abuse, major depression and social anxiety. Roni works with individuals, couples and families and leads a weekly AMAC (Adults Abused As Children) support group at the Family Resource Counseling Center in West Los Angeles.