How Can We Help Male Survivors Of Domestic Violence?
Content note: This article contains an extensive discussion of abuse and other potentially sensitive topics. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact one of the following hotlines.
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: Call 1-800-422-4453
National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1-800-799-7233 or text "START" to 88788.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: Call 1-800-656-4673 or use the webchat option.
Far too often, when we talk about domestic violence, we have an image in our heads of a cisgender woman experiencing abuse at the hands of a male intimate partner. What we often don't see, however, are the faces of the many male and other underrepresented survivors of domestic violence that exist throughout the world. Research shows that about 1 in 3 men in the United States will be a survivor of domestic violence within their life. Other non-female survivors also experience domestic violence at a similar rate. So how can we support these individuals and ensure they receive the support and help they may need?
What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is any act of violence against a domestic or intimate partner. But violence doesn't have to be physical. Domestic violence can take the form of verbal abuse, mental or emotional abuse, and more. It’s important to know that anyone can experience domestic violence regardless of age, gender, race, background, etc. and that there are resources available for support and help no matter who you are.
The Trouble With Leaving Domestic Violence
Male and other non-female survivors, just like their female counterparts, often generally feel anxiety, self-doubt and even fear when thinking about leaving a violent situation. They may not know how to get away or may think that their abuser will seek them out if they leave. This can result in an intense fear of leaving their home, going to the police, or seeking out shelter. With the memory of all that they have experienced at the hands of their abuser, many survivors won't seek out help and will stay with the abuser because they think there is no other way. This may be even more true for survivors who we may not think of as typical targets; the additional barrier of fearing that others won’t believe a survivor’s experiences can further inhibit seeking help.
The Difference For Underrepresented Survivors
All too often, people downplay the violence that male and other non-female, underrepresented domestic violence survivors experience. The people around them may mean well, but they may not be able to understand the severity of what is happening. Gender norms and expectations often preach that those who don’t identify as female ought to be strong and steely, which can make reaching out and receiving help more difficult. Sometimes, the solution a survivor is given may simply be to “man up.” Harmful rhetoric like this not only minimizes the experiences of underrepresented survivors, but it also continues to reinforce limiting stereotypes about what certain individuals are supposed to be like. The reality is that emotion, pain, and fear are universal human experiences, and there is no limit on who can and cannot inflict pain onto others. A survivor’s experiences are valid no matter who they are, and anyone can be a perpetrator of domestic violence.
Another key issue is the lack of resources that are commonly discussed and promoted for non-female domestic violence survivors. Even though domestic violence happens with nearly the same frequency and has the same negative impact on non-female survivors as it does on female survivors, few are aware of where to turn for help. Likewise, few resources are designed specifically for this population. Underrepresented survivors, therefore, often feel like they are on their own when they leave an abusive situation.
Facts Survivors Need To Know
If you’re looking to report domestic violence to authorities, be sure to hold on to any records you may have of the time, place and event(s) you’ve experienced as well as information for any witnesses who saw the event. Pictures or other documentation of the injuries sustained may be important as well. You may report domestic violence through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233 or texting “START” to 88788. You can also reach out to local authorities if you’d like.
Another helpful fact to know is that many domestic violence shelters are equipped to help men and other underrepresented survivors as well as women. Even if the shelter seems to have a name that is geared towards women (such as a women's shelter), survivors of all genders are likely eligible to make use of its resources.
In some situations, it may be beneficial to speak with a lawyer that can help you understand what your legal options are. This may be especially useful in cases where the perpetrator of abuse is a spouse, where children may be involved, or if you otherwise may have to navigate the legal system as a part of removing yourself from the situation.
Above all else, it's crucial to note that men and other underrepresented survivors who seek out help for domestic violence are not weak. They are not broken. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. There is something right about choosing to walk away from a situation that is not healthy for you, and you deserve the ability to do so. Don't let social perceptions or even comments from those who don't understand sway you or make you think less of yourself.
Getting Professional Help
If you are or have been a survivor of domestic violence, it's likely important to get help from a mental health professional as well. Far too many survivors of domestic violence end up back with their abuser; the support and guidance of a mental health professional may help you advocate for yourself.
Online Therapy Resources
One way that you can get the mental health treatment that you need is by checking out online therapy. These resources can be great because not only do they let you get the help that you need, but they do so in a more unknown fashion. You no longer have to get to an office in person; instead, you can log on via a computer from anywhere you happen to be with an internet connection.
In addition to being more accessible and perhaps more of a safe option for those experiencing domestic violence, online therapy works to successfully treat mental health symptoms. One study found that patients who had experienced trauma saw significant improvements in their symptoms, including signs of co-morbid mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Even if you aren’t currently experiencing domestic violence, the benefits of online therapy can still be helpful.
Male and other underrepresented domestic violence survivors are often overlooked by society, but that doesn’t mean that these experiences are any less valid or deserving of attention. In fact, more effort and awareness likely need to be dedicated to helping these survivors receive the help they may need. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, and the options available to seeking support are likewise available to all, at least in most cases. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it and remember that no matter what the world may say, you’re not less of a survivor just because of who you may be.
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