Study: Men Can Also Be Victims of Domestic Abuse
> 5/30/2008 10:52:08 AM

Domestic violence is most often associated with women, but new research appearing in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that men are also common victims. Their experiences with both physical and psychological abuse cannot be dismissed, as this new study demonstrates that men often become involved in abusive relationships and can suffer lasting mental distress as a result.
A team of researchers from the University of Washington surveyed 420 men aged 18 and older, all of whom had been insured by the same health care system, Group Health, for at least three years. The survey involved questions about psychological abuse, where a partner might be threatening, demeaning, or controlling, as well as physical abuse, which could include rape and such behavior as hitting or kicking. Overall, 28.8 percent had been physically or psychologically abused by a partner at some point in their lives, while 10.4 percent had been abused in the previous five years and 4.6 percent had suffered abuse during the previous year. These instances of abuse had a great impact on the men’s mental health, although the specific effects varied by age. Depression was much more common among men aged 55 and older, especially those who had been victims of physical abuse. Compared with older men who had not been in abusive relationships, older men who experienced physical abuse were 2.8 times as likely to have depressive symptoms and 3.1 times as likely to be severely depressed. Men aged 18 through 55 were twice as likely as older men to have been abused within the past five years, and among this group, abuse was associated with lower scores of measures of social functioning.

Few previous studies have focused on domestic abuse suffered by men. In addition, men themselves are often unwilling to discussing abusive relationships and may fear the shame and embarrassment that can come from being labeled a “victim,” especially when dealing with an issue that is associated with women. But talking about domestic abuse may be a vital component to helping many escape harmful relationships, as a recent article from the New York Times explains. Doctors may be an especially important link in identifying those who need help, and yet few doctors ask their patients about potential abuse, even if they suspect that violence is present. Many factors could form a barrier between doctors and an open discussion about domestic abuse, including increasingly shorter time spent with patients, a fear of offending, or a lack of training on the subject. Still, many doctors and researchers believe that screening patients during physical exams could be an effective tool for helping victims of abuse. Besides discussing the matter privately and with empathy, doctors can also refer their patients to social services and resources that specifically deal with helping men and women who have been abused. Even if the patient denies being in an abusive relationship, the discussion might help them acknowledge the reality of their situation.

The current study was flawed in some ways— its results may not apply to more diverse groups of men, and the researchers did not look at whether the men, in addition to being victims of abuse, were also perpetrators of abuse. Still, its results may actually be an underestimate of the true level of domestic abuse suffered by men, especially because the men were asked to recall abuse that happened in the past or may simply have been reluctant to report abuse. Researchers should keep studying domestic abuse as it is experienced by both men and women, looking specifically for the most effective ways of broaching the subject in a clinical setting. By raising awareness of domestic abuse and discussing how it can affect anyone, we can help many individuals leave relationships that have harmed their physical and mental well-being.

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