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Domestic Abuse and Gender: It Goes Both Ways

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Domestic violence is a common problem in the United States. It’s so common that it’s nearly guaranteed for medical professionals to treat a victim of domestic abuse at some point during their lifetime. Both men and women can be the victims of domestic abuse, which itself can come in many forms. Escaping patterns of abuse can be difficult. Sometimes abuse is difficult to identify, even though it can cause significant physical, psychological, and emotional pain. 

Men aren’t usually thought of as potential victims of domestic abuse, which can lead to a stigma that creates a barrier to getting help when they experience violence. Many men feel that they won’t be taken seriously if they report domestic abuse or violence. However, men experience domestic abuse and intimate partner violence at similar rates as women. Abuses can be physical, psychological, or economic. 

Learn more about domestic abuse and how it can affect both men and women. 

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse is often thought of as spousal abuse, where one spouse, usually a man, physically harms another. That’s one common form of domestic abuse, but it comes in many other varieties, and some are harder to spot than others. Domestic abuse may involve abuse against an intimate partner, children, or elderly adults. Abuse can be economic, physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological. Abuse can also occur outside the home after an abused member leaves the house. This may include stalking, threats, and refusing to leave when asked.

Physical violence is the most easily recognizable form of abuse. It can include any form of physical harm, with or without a weapon. Though physical abuse seems obvious, there are a few forms that may be harder to recognize that don’t involve direct harm. It can include threats of physical violence or homicide, throwing objects at or near a person, physical intimidation, and destroying personal belongings. 

Can Domestic Abuse Be Emotional?

Yes, abuse can take emotional or psychological forms. Most relationships have moments where one person causes negative emotions and hurt feelings in another. Emotional and psychological abuse may be harder to recognize. However, abusive relationships may include emotional injury that’s consistent, recurring, and intentional. 

This involves non-physical abuse that a person uses to degrade, intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, or otherwise threaten your emotional or psychological well-being. Emotional abuse could involve yelling, insults, coercion, blackmail, devaluing what you say, ignoring you, and embarrassing you publicly. Cheating or extreme jealousy can also be forms of emotional abuse. In some cases, you may be inclined to brush emotional abuse aside as just a bad argument, but a pattern of these behaviors can lead to real psychological or emotional harm.

Domestic abuse can also come in the form of financial or economic manipulation. This can involve taking control of your money, harassing you at your workplace, forbidding you to work or get an education, and other things that might jeopardize your personal financial stability. 

How Common is Domestic Abuse?

Family and domestic violence are thought to affect as many as 10 million people in the United States each year. This includes intimate partner violence and domestic abuse against children or the elderly in a home. Over 43 million women and 38 million men experience psychological aggression from an intimate partner during their lifetime. The national cost for domestic violence is as high as 12 million dollars per year because of associated costs like criminal justice and medical costs. The number of affected people is estimated to go up as a large portion of the population gets older. 

When it comes to intimate partner violence, nearly 1 in 3 men experience sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by a partner during their lifetime. Nearly 56 percent of those cases occurred before the victim was 25 years old. Nearly 1 in 10 men report some form of violence from an intimate partner that has an impact on their lives. 

How Can Men Experience Domestic Abuse?

Since men are generally more physically imposing than women, and they often hold social and cultural positions of power, it may not be obvious that they can also be the victims of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse involves an imbalance of power, where one person uses intimidation, coercion, or some other means to gain power over another. This can be through physical violence or threats, but it can also be through non-physical actions or threats. 

Still, even though the average man may have more physical strength than the average woman, men experience physical abuse along with other forms of abuse. Not only do men experience domestic violence at similar rates to women, but they also experience the same kinds of abuse that women do. Male victims of domestic abuse report being kicked, bitten, slapped, punched, and choked. They also report stalking and sexual assault. 

It’s often difficult for anyone to report domestic violence, especially if abusers are able to manipulate, extort, or blackmail their victims. Plus, it can be difficult to make the choice to report a partner or family member, even if they’re consistently abusive. Both men and women may struggle to report abusers for the fear that they won’t be believed. Less than 20 percent of male domestic abuse victims report their abusers. They may be worried that no one will believe them or that they may be laughed at, which can be a common response. 

Men and women may both experience a cycle of abuse where the abuser threatens abuse, uses physical violence, apologizes with words or gifts, and then repeats the cycle. Many victims become caught in this cycle, feeling like they can’t do anything if they know an apology is coming or if they’ve accepted a gift. Breaking the cycle may mean removing yourself and reporting violence, no matter where you are in the cycle.

Can Domestic Abuse Cause PTSD?

Domestic violence can lead to several significant consequences, besides physical injury alone. It can also lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression and substance use problems later in life. Children that are affected by domestic abuse have a higher likelihood of becoming domestic abusers as adults. Any traumatic event can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a period of high stress in your life may make it even more likely. 

PTSD involves intrusive thoughts and flashbacks that cause you to relive a traumatic event. Traumatic events that cause PTSD can involve physical harm, psychological strain, or emotional distress. Domestic abuse may involve all three of these problems. PTSD can lead to other mental health consequences and substance use problems. It may also increase your risk of suicidal thoughts or actions. 

Addressing Domestic Abuse

Getting out of an abusive relationship or home may sound easy, but it can be complicated for men and women. A large part of domestic abuse involves coercion, manipulation, and extortion. You may feel like you can’t leave the situation, you may feel trapped by your abuser, or you may feel like you’re to blame as well. The first step in addressing an abusive relationship in your life is to recognize that the abuse you receive is not your fault. All of the previously discussed forms of abuse are unacceptable behavior. No relationship is perfect, but you don’t deserve physical, emotional, or financial abuse. 

The next step is to seek help. You can call a hotline for advice or seek help from a counselor, doctor, or medical professional. Each situation is unique, but domestic abuse has to be dealt with as soon as possible. In many cases, the abuse gets worse, not better. 

Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, October 09). Preventing Intimate Partner Violence |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/fastfact.html

Psychology Today. (2019, November 19) Domestic Violence Against Men: No Laughing Matter. Whitley, R., Ph..D. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-men/201911/domestic-violence-against-men-no-laughing-matter

Huecker, M. (2020, October 15). Domestic Violence. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499891/

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, February). Depression. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

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