Thursday 29 April 2010

Men are also abused by their partners

In the early 1970s, the abuse of wives by their husbands finally gained the recognition and attention it deserved in the academic community and in the courts. This recognition was long overdue, as wives tend to be victimized by their husbands at an alarming rate. Much of male violence against women is arbitrary, unpredictable, and unrelated to any identifiable conflict.

Although there is a substantial research literature addressing abuse against women and its consequences, the flip side of this issue, physical abuse against men and its consequences, is a less researched area. Many of the previous1y cited studies provided some statistics on the rate of wives physically abusing their husbands, but there has been almost no research on the consequences of this type of abuse. In this article, I will first review data on the prevalence of violence directed at husbands by wives. Although the exact rate of this abuse is open to debate, some will argue that there are enough male victims of violence by their wives to warrant attention to the consequences of that violence. There is no doubt in my mind that many of the assaults by women against their husbands are acts of retaliation or self-defense

I do not doubt for as moment that in any society in which men are economically, socially, and politically dominant over women, women typically suffer more physically and psychologically from male-female violence than men do from female-male violence. Although it seems as if the debate until now has been about who the greater victims are, men or women, the research has made it clear that, on average, women are the more devastated victims of spousal abuse because of the relative size of men and women and because of the above-mentioned social structure. However, evidence that women are injured more seriously and more often does not mean that the male victims of intimate violence should be ignored. It is my view that because many men are being victimized in their intimate relationships, the effects of this victimization are worth exploring.

Incidence of Physical Abuse Toward Men

Incidence reports of women abusing their husbands have appeared since the study of family violence began in the early to mid-1970s. Crime statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice showed that in 1994, 167,000 men were the victims of assault by an intimate partner. Crime surveys, however, are assumed to provide low estimates of intimate violence against both men and women because many people are unwilling to label the physical violence they receive at the hands of an intimate partner a crime. This reluctance may be even more pronounced for men than for women because men are supposed to be the physically dominant and aggressive partner: consequently, admitting to being victimized by a woman and labeling it a crime may be viewed as emasculating.

In a survey conducted by the ‘National Violence Against Women Survey’, in which 8,000 men and 8,000 women were randomly telephoned and interviewed about their experiences with violent victimization, the survey found that 7% of the men reported being physically assaulted by a current or former wife or cohabitating partner over the course of their lifetime. In addition, 0.8% of the men reported being physically assaulted in the previous year. The survey also may have underestimated the amount of violence against men because the respondents were told that they were being interviewed about ‘personal safety’ issues, and many men may not have viewed the violence they received at the hands of their wives or girlfriends as a threat to their personal safety.

As many as 4.6% (2.6 million Americans nationwide) of husbands reported having been the victim of severe violence by their wives. Severe vio1ence was defined as behaviors, such as kicking, punching, beating, or using a knife or gun, that have a high probability of causing physical injury. Wives indicated that they had committed an average of three violent acts per year and tended to throw things at or kick their husbands as their favorite form of physical abuse.

Although I acknowledge that most battered women use violence in self-defense, the bulk of research on motivations for violence in intimate relationships has shown that self-defense is not the motivation for women’s violence in the majority of cases.

For instance, Follingstad et al. in their 1991 study found that the major reasons reported by college women for using physical force against their partners were not attempts at self-defense but rather efforts to show anger, to retaliate for emotional hurt, to express feelings that they had difficulty communicating verbally, and to gain control over the other person. Jealousy, anger, and confusion have also been cited as frequent motivations for violence among male and female college students. Although women cited self-defense as a motivation significantly more often than men did, it was never the most cited motivation for violence by either sex. In addition, other researchers have found that dominance and control are primary motives for female violence whereas still others have found that a high need for affiliation, when combined with life stress and low activity inhibition, is a strong motive for female violence.

In addition to the research on motives, other data from the 1985 'National Family Violence Survey' also failed to provide support for the interpretation that women’s violence is mostly in self-defense. Specifically, Straus and Gelles in their 1988 survey asked respondents who hit whom first and found that in 42%-45% of cases, the wife hit first.The differences in the percentages is a function of who reported, the wife or the husband; these two numbers are not significantly different from each other, whereas in 44%-53% of cases, the husband hit first. Although critics have argued that many times abused women will initiate their own violence to control the timing and place of violence by men, it appears that not all violence by wives can be considered simply a form of self-defense or retaliation.

I am convinced that husband abuse may indeed be a problem that should be characterized as a serious social concern. For instance, while treating the clients of a male batterers’ program, Stacey, Hazlewood, and Shupe in their research found that many of their cases were actually cases of mutual abuse. They found that many couples tended to be mutually abusive and that the roles of victim and perpetrator were constantly shifting. In addition, when studying responses of police officers in their study, Stacey et al. reported that the police would arrest the man as the batterer even if the woman was the abuser because there was no counseling program for violent women available. The police hoped that, by arresting the man, they could get the couple into a program. The assumption was that if they arrested the wife, no counseling would be mandated and the husband would generally drop the charges. Unfortunately, because the man was arrested, he had to sign a statement that labeled him as the violent perpetrator.

Years ago, I represented a man in court who was arrested for allegedly striking his wife. According to the terms of his release from custody, he had to stay away from his home and family until after the trial. A year later, at his trial, his wife admitted that it was she who instigated the fracas and that he went into the bathroom to keep from the matter getting out of hand. To her credit, she told the police this when they arrived at their home but they didn't care because they didn't believe her. The judge believed her and my client was acquitted.

To show you how the state goes after men whom they believe beat their wives, the prosecutor after hearing the trial judge acquit my client, actually had the temerity to suggest to the judge that my client sign a peace bond. Before I had an opportunity to object, the judge exclaimed that he had acquitted the defendant and for this reason, he had no intention of saddling him with a peace bond.

The lack of help for women who abuse their husbands is quite common. Indeed, one woman in Stacey et al.’s sample, remarked on the recovery of her battering husband by stating; “Now he tries to understand my side of the argument. He talks to me rather than hits me. I still hit him, however. I would like to enroll in a class in anger management, but the local shelter for battered women does not help women with this problem.”

Several studies have indicated that violence by women may be increasing. For example, in a longitudinal study of 272 newlywed couples, O’Leary et al., found the following: Before marriage, 44% of the women reported that they used physical aggression against their partners; at 18 months after marriage, 36% of the wives reported that they used aggression against their spouses; and at 30 months after marriage, 32% of the wives reported that they used aggression against their spouses.

This rate is 3-4 times that found in the 1975 and 1985 'National Family Violence Surveys'. In addition, at each of these three time periods, the women were more likely to be stably aggressive, whereas the husbands were more likely to be stably nonaggressive. O’Leary et al., also found that although 41%-57% of the time, any violence experienced was mutual, the differences between wife-only violence and husband-only violence were noteworthy. Specifically, in 8%-l3% of the violent marriages, the husband was the sole perpetrator of the abuse, whereas in 16%-26% of the violent marriages, the wife was the sole perpetrator.

Similarly, in the longitudinal 'National Youth Survey' of 1,725 young adults, Morse found that across four time periods, 27.9%-48.0% of the female partners perpetrated violence against their male partners. In addition, 13.8%-22.4% of the women perpetrated severe violence. These rates for minor physical violence are 2-4 times greater than the rate found in the 'National Family Violence Surveys', and the rates for severe physical violence are 3-5 times greater. When analyzing the dynamics or the relationships, Morse found that (a) between 48.5% and 58.5% of the violent couples were mutually violent; (b) men were the sole perpetrators in 9.9%-13.9% of the couples; and (c) women were the sole perpetrators in 29.7%-37.7% of the couples.

These results are similar to those of O’Leary et al.’s study. Finally, Morse in his survey asked the respondents in one of the assessment periods to report who used violence in the last most serious argument they had with their spouse. Men were 2 times more likely than females to say that only their partner used violence, and women were 3 times more likely than men to say that only they used violence.

In a study conducted by Simonelli & Ingram that looked specifically at physical abuse against male college students, 40% of those males surveyed reported that they were the recipient of physical aggression from their girlfriends, and 29% reported that they received serious physical abuse at the hands of their girlfriends. Again, these rates are 3-6 times greater than those found in the 1975 and 1985 'National Family Violence Surveys'.

These studies show that female-perpetrated violence does indeed exist in a great many relationships and cannot always be dismissed as merely self-defense. Although women are more likely than men to use violence in self-defense, many women readily admit that they have other motives for violence against their partners. Whereas self-defense may be a major motivation for many women in mutually violent relationships, violence in the 16%-38% of violent couples characterized by female-only violence is obviously not a matter of self-defense. Many women reported themselves to be capable of perpetrating violence against their partners, and the ramifications of this violence are worth exploring.

Effects of physical abuse against men

The majority of studies that have assessed the victimization of men in marriages have compared these men to abused women. Researchers have for the most part, attempted to ascertain whether abused women experience more physical injuries than abused men. However, in this article I am considering only the rate of physical injuries among men. Overall, as previously stated, the studies have clearly shown that abused women are at higher risk for physical injury than abused men. It should be emphasized, however, that studies stated in this article have also shown that abused men are at risk for physical injury as well.

For instance, Cascardi et al., found that 2% of the men who reported experiencing minor or severe spousal abuse reported suffering broken bones, broken teeth, or injury to a sensory organ. Similarly, Makepeace in his study found that 2.2% of the males in his sample of 2,338 students reported sustaining a moderate or severe physical injury as a result of the violence they experienced and the hands of their girlfriends. Finally, in an analysis of the results from the 1985 'National Family Violence Survey', Stets and Straus in their study found that 1% of the men who reported being severely assaulted actually needed medical attention.

Considering the relative size of the average man compared with the average woman, men can inflict more harm with their fists than women can, and they are more able to restrain an abusive partner than women are. Some researchers, however, have pointed out that sometimes women may even the score by throwing things that could hurt their partners (e.g., dishes, boiling water, or a frying pan) or by brandishing a weapon such as a knife or gun.

As much as 10.4%-19.6% of the abused men in Morse’s study sustained some type of injury at the hands of their wives. Similarly, Makepeace in his research found that 17.9% of the abused men in his sample sustained a mild or moderate injury. These rates of injury for abused men are noteworthy because they confirm that men can be injured by women.

In addition, although sources vary in reported frequencies of different forms of violence, it is clear that the effects of women’s violence against men, like those of men’s violence against women, can be lethal. For example, using data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI’s) Uniform Crime Reports, Supplemental Homicide Report (1994) to analyze homicides between marital partners in the United States from 1976 through 1985, Mercy and Saltzman in their study found that “husbands and wives were nearly equal in the risk of spouse homicide victimization” killed by male partners”

Although women are more likely to be killed by an intimate than men are, it cannot be denied that a substantial number of men are being murdered by their female partners — and, although some of these murders are undoubtedly in self-defense, there is no evidence that all of them are. I don’t think the figures have changed that much over the years.

Psychological Effects

Because men tend to be at low risk of physical injury at the hands of their female partners, the most fruitful avenues to pursue in research exploring the effects of abuse against men are the psychological effects. The bulk of the research that has been done on the psychological effects of physical abuse against men has compared abused men to abused women on various psychological outcomes. These studies certainly have been valuable in highlighting the potential consequences of this form of abuse on men.

In a study comparing the psychological effects of physical abuse on men and women, Follingstad et al in their 1991 study found that, following physical abuse, approximately 75% of the abused men reported experiencing anger; nearly 40% reported being emotionally hurt; nearly 35% reported experiencing sadness or depression; nearly 30% reported seeking revenge; nearly 23% reported feeling the need to protect themselves; approximately 15% reported feeling shame or fear; and approximately 10% felt unloved or helpless. In addition, in her longitudinal study, Morse (1995) found that 9.5% of the younger males and 13.5% of the older males reported experiencing fear in their violent relationships.

For both abused men and abused women, the higher the level of violence experienced, the more severe are the depression, stress, and psychosomatic symptoms. In addition to comparing abused men to abused women, abused men are significantly more likely to experience psychosomatic symptoms, stress, and depression than non-abused men. Abused husbands have significantly greater levels of depression than non-abused husbands.

In a study that specifically addressed the issue of abuse against men, Simonelli and Ingram in their 1998 research assessed psychological distress and depression among college men experiencing emotional or physical abuse in their present or most recent relationships. They found that 90% of their sample reported experiencing emotional abuse, 40% reported experiencing physical abuse, and 29% reported experiencing severe physical abuse. Psychological distress and depression were significantly greater in men who reported being the recipient of either physical or emotional abuse than in men reporting no abuse. In addition, being physically abused predicted 37% of the variance in depression, whereas being emotionally abused predicted 14%-33% of the variance in depression (depending on the emotional abuse scale used). Thus, abused men appear to be at substantial risk for experiencing depression and psychological distress.

The results of these studies show that abused men are at risk for emotional hurt, fear, helplessness, anger, revenge seeking, sadness, shame and humiliation, depression, stress, psychological distress, and psychosomatic symptoms. However, these studies have a number of major weaknesses. First, the researchers focused primarily on internalizing symptoms, which women experience at two times the rate of men in the population as a whole; they did not examine more externalizing symptoms, such as alcoholism, that are more characteristic of a man’s reaction to stressful events.

Men who suffer physical or mental abuse often are loathe to admit that they are victims of domestic violence by the women or men they live with. Generally, those who do step forward are suffering from severe violence. According to one study, the number of men who are abused by their partners is only one percentage point less than the number of women who are abused. But the stigma is so great that men are much less likely to seek help or call the police. Assaults found in a 2005 report from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, showed that there were only two in 10 offences that were reported to police by male victims.

When couples are involved in a mutually abusive relationship, the line between victim and perpetrator is unclear and constantly shifting. The causes and consequences of violence in these mutually combative relationships may be quite different from the causes and consequences of violence in relationships in which men refuse to fight back because of societal sanctions against hitting a woman and because of the potential damage they know that they will bring to their marriage.

Why do wives who are abused, stay?

Extensive research has been done to investigate why abused women would choose to stay with their abuser. Explanations range from social and economic constraints against leaving to being the victim of learned helplessness (i.e., a syndrome in which the woman feels she is helpless to effect any change in her environment. Other explanations focus on the woman’s psychological dependence on her abuser such that whenever she moves toward separation from him she experiences distress at the prospect of losing this important relationship. Finally, the gravest concern for a battered woman is that if she leaves the relationship, her abuser will come after her and most likely kill her. Indeed, statistics show that the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship is the time immediately after she leaves her abuser.

Why do men who are abused by their wives stay?

Several qualitative studies have attempted to explain why men would choose to stay in relationships that are abusive, especially when, compared with abused women; many of these men have the physical and economic resources to leave. One explanation that has been forwarded relates to marriage. When a couple marries, they merge their economic resources and living situations and make vows to each other of commitment and love. This commitment to marriage has been found to be one reason men are reluctant to leave abusive situations. These men may genuinely love their wives, and their wives are apologetic after an incident. Also, disclosure of the abuse by their wives would be extremely embarrassing for these abused men, especially because this type of abuse is the opposite of society’s stereotypes, in which the man should be dominant and the woman submissive. These men may be unwilling to endure the snickers, innuendos, and sarcasm that they would probably have to face if they filed a formal complaint.

In addition, abused men, like abused women, may become used to a certain standard of living. If they were to leave their wives, they most likely would have to move out of their homes, support their ex-wives and pay for their own living expenses as well. The abused husbands often don't make enough money to rent another place to live and at the same time, pay the mortgage on their homes. In addition to being committed to the marriage, many men refuse to leave an abusive situation because of their children. Because abuse of husbands is relatively unrecognized, it is difficult for abused men to use this defense in court to obtain custody of their children (assuming that they are willing to admit they are abused). In addition, mothers usually are awarded custody.

Therefore, many abused men refuse to leave for fear of leaving their children with abusive women. They believe that if they stay, they can at least protect the children if necessary.

Finally, many men refuse to leave their abusive wives for the same reason that women refuse to leave their abusive husbands: They are psycho1ogically dependent on them and excuse the abuse as being a result of certain circumstances, such as alcohol intoxication.

Emotional Abuse

The scant research that has been done on the dynamics of emotionally abusive relationships has tended to concentrate on battered women. However, even though many battered women have identified the degradation, humiliation, and fear they feel at the hands of their abusers as the most devastating aspect of their abuse, few researchers have looked at the specific effects of emotional abuse on either women or men, probably in part because of difficulties in defining emotional abuse.

There are six components of emotional abuse: (a) verbal attacks (ridicule, verbal harassment, name calling); (b) isolation (social or financial); (c) jealousy/possessiveness (even with family, friends, and pets); (d) verbal threats of harm, abuse, or torture; (e) threats to divorce, abandon, or have an affair; and (f) damage to or destruction of personal property. The abused women in their study said that isolation and jealousy/possessiveness were the most frequent types of emotional abuse, whereas verbal attacks and verbal threats of harm, abuse, and torture were the worst types of emotional abuse.

One of the most consistent findings in the research on emotional abuse is that it often coexists with physical abuse In addition; emotional abuse by either partner was one of the strongest predictors for the first instance of physical abuse by the other partner. Even though emotional abuse tends to coexist with or predate physical abuse, emotional abuse can occur without physical abuse, and its effects are still devastating to those victimized by it. Many emotionally abused women, for instance, have stated that the emotional abuse they experienced was worse than the physical abuse. I believe the same also applies to men who are abused by their wives.

I represented a woman years ago who was charged with being drunk while seated in the front seat of her stationary car late at night in the middle of winter. The ignition key was in the ignition and the motor was running so that she wouldn't freeze to death. She was nevertheless charged. She testified before the judge that had she gone home, she would have stabbed her spouse and for this reason, she chose to sober up in the parking lot of the firm she worked for. The woman was telling the truth. She was one scary woman who was always threatening people, even me. She was convicted but given a very small fine after I argued that being drunk in a stationary car in a parking lot was better than being in jail facing a murder charge. The judge agreed.

In a study of emotional abuse in 1,625 college-aged participants, Kasian and Painter (1992) found that males reported experiencing high levels of emotional abuse in their relationships. Specifically, approximately 20% reported isolating and emotionally controlling behaviors by their partners; approximately 15% reported the diminishment of their self-esteem by their partners; approximately 20% reported experiencing jealousy behaviors from their partners; approximately 10% reported experiencing verbal abuse from their partners; and approximately 10% reported experiencing withdrawal behaviors from their partners.

The types of emotional abuse experienced most frequently were jealousy (77%). withdrawal (77%), diminishment of self-esteem (63%), verbal abuse (60%), and social and emotional control (49%).

Effects of Emotional Abuse

The effects of physical abuse have been studied much more systematically than the effects of emotional abuse. Men suffer psychologically from the emotional abuse they experience at the hands of their intimate partners. The emotional abuse suffered by men is probably more severe than that suffered by women because men believe for the most part that they should be able to take their partner's abuse like a man.

Research has shown that men can be victims of physical abuse in their intimate relationships with women. According to several studies, including at least two nationally representative studies, women physically abuse men at a substantial rate. This physical abuse takes the form of both minor and severe abuse, and it cannot always be dismissed as self-defense.

Research on the psychosocial problems resulting from abuse is what is most lacking in the literature on abused men. Researchers know that abused men tend to suffer injuries, depression, and psychosomatic symptoms in response to their victimization. However, for the most part, studies that have considered the experiences of abused men have done so in comparison with abused women, even though abused women are not always an appropriate comparison group. To study the psychosocial adjustment of abused men properly, abused men should be compared with non-abused men. In addition, most studies have tended to look at injuries and internalizing symptoms. Although these obviously are important areas to assess, that most domestic violence incidents do not result in injury (especially in men) and that men tend to display externalizing, not internalizing, symptoms in response to stressful life events must be considered. Therefore, the extent of externalizing symptoms such as alcohol and substance abuse in abused men should be assessed. Self-mutilating behaviors and assaultive behaviors should be considered. In addition, because the few studies that have addressed this issue are cross-sectional, longitudinal studies are needed so that causation can be inferred.

In addition, further quantitative research regarding why men stay with their abusive partners is needed. Although qualitative studies have shown that abused men stay with their wives because they may suffer from traumatic bonding, seek to protect their children, wish to maintain their current economic standard of living, are embarrassed by their situation or are committed to their marriages, quantitative research is needed so that these conclusions can be further validated and generalized.

Finally, research is sorely needed in the area of emotional abuse against men. The research so far has shown that it occurs in a large percentage of relationships, and studies have demonstrated that emotionally abused men can experience depression, psychologica1 distress, high blood pressure, alcoholism, weight loss, fear, and self-blame. It is for this reason that more research in this area is desperately needed.

My Japanese-born wife and I have been married 35 years and we have never laid a hand on one another in anger nor have we psychologically abused one another. We have learned how to deal with our differences in a more reasonable manner.

Some couples are simply not right for one another. They are either immature or they are bullies. The trouble facing them is that they find it difficult to separate, either because of the children or because they don't want to go out on their own.

It is indeed a strange anomaly in life that love turns to hate and eventually to abuse. Spousal abuse has been with us since the beginning of time. It has only been during the last forty years that we have been made cognizant of the fact that wives are not the only victims of spousal abuse.

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