According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1 in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a current or previous cohabiting partner. Many more have suffered at the hands of other family members.
As hard as it is for female victims to speak up when they’re affected by domestic violence, research is showing that even fewer men are seeking help when they need it. Here are some of the worrying statistics surrounding domestic violence against men in Australia — and what can be done about it.
It’s hard for many of us to wrap our heads around the fact that men can be victims of domestic violence. As a society, we’re conditioned into the false belief that men can, and should, always protect and defend themselves against threats.
But at Relationships Australia NSW, we receive in excess of 24,000 referrals from police every single year for men who are reported as victims of domestic and family violence events.
Their stories paint a worrying picture of the prevalence of violence in some Australian households. They illustrate just how varied men’s experiences of abuse can be. They also show just how many hurdles men can face in coming forward and seeking safety and support.
It’s not just partners against partners
In approximately 50% of the cases we see, men have experienced violence at the hands of their intimate male or female partner. The other 50% meanwhile, generally involve other family members.
Some of the most common stories we hear involve instances where men have experienced violence (or threats of violence) from:
- their teenage or adult children or stepchildren (particularly after a relationship has recently broken down between the child’s parent and stepparent)
- their parent or stepparent
- the former partner of a new partner — or the new partner of a former partner
- a male family member (such as a father, brother or uncle) of a new or former partner.
Domestic abuse isn’t always physical violence – it can also be emotional
In many instances where men are the victims of domestic abuse, they may feel more psychologically unsafe than physically unsafe.
Intimate partners may threaten to never let their partner see the children again, make threats to financially ruin their partner through legal action, or threaten to make false allegations of violence to the police if their terms are not met.
Studies suggest that only 20% of men who experience violence and abuse speak up and seek help.
Even in cases where there isn’t a threat to someone’s physical safety, the lack of emotional safety and stability within a relationship can lead to a range of other negative side effects. These may include a loss of confidence and self-esteem, as well as ongoing mental health issues and a reduction in capacity to make good decisions.
And while men may be statistically less at risk of death or serious injury than women in similar situations, the possibility of it happening is still very real — particularly where drugs or alcohol are involved.
Even fewer male victims seek help for domestic violence than female victims
Perhaps the most worrying statistic is how few men in situations of domestic abuse feel they can do something about it. Studies suggest that only 20% of men who experience violence and abuse speak up and seek help. There’s a multitude of reasons why this can be the case.
Men coming forward to talk about their experiences of violence can feel confused, invalidated, and humiliated. They can worry: “what does it say about me as a man?” It can challenge their socially-constructed perceptions of what a man is “supposed” to be.
If the violence involves a man in a gay relationship, or in a small cultural community, the fear of speaking up due to potential repercussions such social ostracism, can be even greater.
There are also many cases in which men coming forward as victims are greeted with suspicion: are they actually the aggressor in the situation, but are lying about it to try and win sympathy? And with the prevalence of men committing domestic violence still far too high in Australia, it’s sadly not without reason for people to be suspicious or on high alert.
The good news: there’s help available to anyone who’s experienced domestic violence
Violence of any kind, against anyone, is never excusable or acceptable. It is never the person’s fault who is at the receiving end of the violence. Everyone deserves to live a life free from fear.
If you’re experiencing violence and abuse, or know someone who is, there are places to turn to get judgement-free support, expert counselling, and professional advice on what to do next.
Silence and isolation can compound the problem and its effects, and violent behaviours generally don’t change without professional support, and sometimes, legal intervention.
If you’ve experienced any of the following, please seek help and support:
- Physical violence such as hitting, scratching, punching, pushing or slapping
- Emotional coercion
- Any kind of bullying
- Dominating, frightening, humiliating or controlling behaviour, including making threats of violence.
- Behaviours or actions that prevent you from seeing or talking to your friends and family, leaving you socially isolated
Relationships Australia NSW offers a number of specialist services to men who have experienced violence, and in many cases, they’re free or means-tested to ensure they’re accessible.
- Individual counselling support
- Referrals to legal services
- Planning services to help you move to a safer living situation
- Group programs and seminars to connect you with other victims for ongoing support
Please call us on 1300 364 277 for more information. We’ve also put together a comprehensive list of resources for men who’ve experienced domestic violence.