The vast majority of people in the field of psychology still see domestic violence as an issue between heteronormative couples, with women being victims and men being perpetrators. But understanding domestic violence through this lens limits our potential to understand experiences that fall outside of these parameters, specifically when men are the victims of domestic violence.
This violence can befall gay men, transgender men and heterosexual men, and each faces different struggles.
Domestic violence in same-sex relationships operates similarly to heterosexual relationships except for a few unique tactics. Perpetrators can threaten to “out” their partner or isolate them from the community, and there are fewer supports in place to protect male victims.
Police usually are not trained or familiar with the idea of domestic violence among same-sex couples and are likely to minimize the danger that could be evident to the victim. Since men often are not seen as being on the receiving end of interpersonal violence, police and mental health professionals may be reluctant to even consider a situation as an act of domestic violence. In addition, law enforcement and mental health workers with homophobic attitudes or beliefs may be more likely to see the situation as characteristic of the relationship rather than as domestic violence.
Traditionally, men have immense difficulty seeking help and being a gay man experiencing domestic violence in a world where only women are seen as victims can hinder finding social support and resources.
Finally, we must consider the unique struggles gay men of color face. Men of color are targets for police brutality, making it is less likely that they would seek out law enforcement if they are abused, so many cases may go unreported. And while gay men facing domestic violence may lean on the LGBTQ community for support, men of color often are underrepresented and less included in LGBTQ circles. That means that for many gay men of color, yet another support system is unavailable.
Transgender men often are overlooked as victims of domestic violence. Here, too, police are not likely to have the training to handle domestic violence cases with this population and there are no shelters for transgender men. In addition, the transgender community as a whole is frequently misunderstood and abused. Because of this, as in many cases of domestic violence, it can be easy for perpetrators to convince victims that they are their only source of love. Victims, who may have few or no support systems outside of the home, can feel as if leaving the abusive relationship is not an option.
Finally, heterosexual men who are abused by female partners face singular struggles. Victims may be described as “whipped” or “pussies” for “allowing themselves to be abused” in their own home. While this can happen when men are abusing men, men abused by women may not come forward to seek help because we live in a world where we don’t readily acknowledge that women can be perpetrators.
There creates another threat. The female abuser may falsely accuse the male victim of committing violence against her or their children and may threaten legal steps to take their children away or to have the man criminally charged. That’s a common tactic in situations of domestic violence, as is hurting children, or instructing them to abuse or demean the other parent.
Female perpetrators also engage in other behaviors common to male abusers, including throwing objects at their partner, emotionally or verbally abusing him or hitting or sexually abusing him. Women are not expected to engage in physical violence against men simply because they are often seen as the physically “weaker sex.” Due to this stereotype, many men might not even know that they are being abused.
Overall, there are few systems in place to protect men who are experiencing domestic violence. Most shelters are female only. Law enforcement and mental health professionals may feel unable to handle reports of domestic violence from populations that differ from the norm.
Looking forward, it is imperative that everyone’s stories are told in order to fully understand domestic violence as an overarching form of abuse and control between people.
Shana Pryor, M.A., is a doctoral student of Counseling Psychology at The University of Akron. She has spent the majority of her career focusing on issues surrounding men, masculinity, and men as victims of interpersonal traumas, specifically sexual trauma. She and Ronald Levant, Ed.D., are the authors of The Tough Standard: The Hard Truths About Masculinity and Violence, published by Oxford University Press. Her email is: Smp69@zips.uakron.edu