Domestic violence is typically thought of as something that happens only to women, but men suffer it too, a new survey suggests.
The telephone survey of more than 400 adult male Group Health patients found 29 percent had been victims of domestic violence during their lives. The researchers defined domestic violence to include slapping, hitting, kicking or forced sex as well as nonphysical abuse — threats, chronic disparaging remarks or controlling behavior.
"Domestic violence in men is understudied and often hidden — much as it was in women 10 years ago," said study leader Dr. Robert J. Reid, associate investigator at the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle. "We want abused men to know they're not alone."
Other previous studies support the new research and have found that men often can be reluctant to strike back in self defense and are unlikely to report the abuse. Some famous cases — such as an NFL wife stabbing her husband in 2006 during an argument — have brought the issue to the attention of police and researchers in recent years.
The new survey found younger men were twice as likely as men age 55 or older to report recent abuse. "That may be because older men are even more reluctant to talk about it," Reid said.
The survey results, detailed in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, are said to debunk five myths:
Myth 1: Few men experience domestic violence. In fact, many do, the in-depth phone interviews suggests. Five percent said they had experienced domestic violence in the past year and 29 percent said it had happened to them at some point in their lives.
Myth 2: Abuse of men has no serious effects. The researchers instead found domestic violence is associated with serious, long-term effects on men's mental health. Women are more likely than men to experience more severe physical abuse, Reid said, "but even nonphysical abuse can do lasting damage." Symptoms of depression were nearly three times as common in older men who had experienced abuse than in those who hadn't, with much more severe depression in the men who had been abused physically.
Myth 3: Abused men don't stay, because they're free to leave. In fact, men may stay for years with their abusive partners. "We know that many women may have trouble leaving abusive relationships, especially if they're caring for young children and not working outside the home," Reid said. "We were surprised to find that most men in abusive relationships also stay, through multiple episodes, for years."
Myth 4: Domestic violence affects only poor people. The study actually showed it to be an equal-opportunity scourge. "As we found in our previous research with women experiencing domestic violence, this is a common problem affecting people in all walks of life," Reid said. "Our patients at Group Health have health insurance and easy access to health care, and their employment rate and average income, education level, and age are higher than those of the rest of the U.S. population."
Myth 5: Ignoring it will make it go away. Not so, the survey suggests. "We doctors hardly ever ask our male patients about being abused — and they seldom tell us," Reid said. "Many abused men feel ashamed because of societal expectations for men to be tough and in control."
Group Health is a Seattle-based nonprofit health care system that coordinates care and coverage and researches various major health problems. The group has done several studies that document domestic violence on women. "We do not want to downplay the seriousness of domestic violence as experienced by women," Reid said. The new research was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality as well as Group Health.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline, open to women and men, is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).