Heterosexual men at the bottom of the barrel

by Greg Peterson

Numerous studies show 1 in 4 heterosexual women will be the victim of domestic violence, as will 1 in 4 lesbians. Until 2005, however, Federal law prohibited funding research regarding domestic violence against men. Even after the law changed the U.S. Department of Justice still refused to fund research on domestic violence against men. Much of the work on men has been funded by medical grants.

A 2007 study with a sample size of over 11,000 published in the American Journal of Public Health found that women initiated domestic violence at the same, or greater, rate as men:

Other studies have concluded that on average 1 in 3 victims of domestic violence is a man. The Massachusetts Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project (GMDVP) has conducted annual surveys, which repeatedly reveal 1 in 4 gay men will experience domestic violence. The U.S. Bureau of Crime Statistics reports 1 in 4 domestic violence murder victims is a man (400 out of 1,600 total each year). Domestic violence activists have long asserted that most of the men killed are batterers whose wives or girlfriends reached their limit, while also claiming that none of the female murder victims were killed by abused men with nowhere to turn.

Keep in mind that most men feel they cannot defend themselves if physically attacked by a woman, and expect to be viewed as the perpetrator if they ask police for help, making them feel hopeless. Look at this devastating presentation by Dr. Denise Hines of Clark University, detailing how police and domestic violence organizations dismiss, refuse to serve and re-victimize men:

Lt. Leo Crowe of the Carlisle Police Department reports 16 domestic disputes in Carlisle in 2010 and 26 in 2009. Of those, approximately 25% resulted in arrests. Lt. Crowe is aware of only one reported case in Carlisle where the husband was physically attacked by his wife. Jacquelin Apsler, the Executive Director of the 80-volunteer Domestic Violence Service Network, Inc. (DVSN), which serves Concord and Carlisle among a total of 10 towns, says about 7% of the 650 cases DVSN handled in 2010 involved men.

Ms. Apsler notes cumulative factors cause underreporting: general denial in the suburbs that domestic violence occurs here; shame, given the importance of appearances to the wealthy and educated; and because a man often feels he cannot be a real man if he is being abused. (Men also fear being ribbed rather than supported if they open up.) Ms. Apsler noted rising abuse of the elderly, including men, by caretakers and children.

But domestic violence is not just physical violence. Patterns of coercive and controlling behavior can be just as dehumanizing. See this account by a former US Army officer abused by his wife: DVSN deals with executives and professionals whose partners use the victim’s bad day at the office to hammer home how worthless he or she is.

While all domestic violence survivors face many obstacles, certain cultural and institutional barriers add to the problems facing male survivors, whether gay, bi, transgendered or heterosexual, including discrimination and a lack of belief that men can be victims of domestic violence. GMDVP educates providers about and advocates for these survivors statewide. Iain Gill, GMDVP’s Education Director, noted that GMDVP “serves everybody who is a victim, and that should be the model for providing services – not basing it solely on someone’s gender. In many ways if you base services solely on gender, heterosexual men are the bottom of the barrel.”

If you or a man or woman you know is dealing with coercive or controlling behavior by a loved one, reach out for help before it escalates. The DVSN helpline can be reached at 888-399-6111. GMDVP, which offers shelter and assistance to both men and women, gay and straight, has a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-832-1901 and a website at Both organizations are also worthy of your time and donations. ∆