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Male Victims Of ‘Intimate Terrorism’ Can Experience Damaging Psychological Effects

April 7, 2011

First study of post-traumatic stress examines impact on men who sustain partner abuse

Men who are abused by their female partners can suffer significant psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts, according to two new papers published by the American Psychological Association.

Although most reported domestic abuse is committed by men against women, a growing body of research has picked up on the prevalence and significance of domestic violence perpetrated against men, says research published in the April issue of Psychology of Men & Masculinity. “Given the stigma surrounding this issue and the increased vulnerability of men in these abusive relationships, we as mental health experts should not ignore the need for more services for these men,” said British researcher Anna Randle, PsyD, lead author of a paper summarizing two decades of research into domestic violence effects on men.

Approximately 8 percent of men and 25 percent of women reported being sexually or physically assaulted by a current or former partner, according to the National Violence against Women Survey, which polled 8,000 men and 8,000 women and was published by the National Institute of Justice in 1998. While this survey did not indicate the sex of the perpetrator, it provided the most up-to-date comprehensive interpersonal violence statistics at the time of the study, according to the researchers. One analysis of the survey’s results showed that male victims were just as likely to suffer from PTSD as female victims of domestic abuse. In addition, psychological abuse was just as strongly associated with PTSD as was physical violence in these male victims. “This raises questions and concerns for male victims of domestic violence, given findings that women are more likely to perpetrate psychological than physical aggression toward male partners,” wrote Randle.

Randle noted one study showing that abuse rates among same-sex couples are similar to those of heterosexual couples. However, the depth of research on male same-sex couples is limited when compared to studies of heterosexual couples, she said.

In the second study, led by Denise Hines, PhD, from Clark University, researchers looked at two independent sample groups totaling 822 men between the ages of 18 and 59. The first sample was composed of 302 men who had sought professional help after being violently abused by their female partners. The authors called this “intimate terrorism,” characterized by much violence and controlling behavior.

The second sample was composed of 520 men randomly recruited to participate in a national phone survey in which they were asked questions about their relationship. Of this general community, 16 percent said they had sustained minor acts of violent and psychological abuse during arguments with their female partners. This type of abuse was referred to in the research as “common couple violence,” in which both partners lashed out physically at each other.

The researchers found that in both groups of men, there were associations between abuse and post-traumatic stress symptoms. However, the “intimate terror victims” who had sought professional help were at a much greater risk of developing PTSD than the men from the general community group who said they had engaged in more minor acts of violence with their partners, according to the researchers.

“This is the first study to show that PTSD is a major concern among men who sustain partner violence and seek help,” said Hines.

Research has shown severe underreporting of spousal or partner abuse of men, according to Randle. For example, men are not as likely to report serious injuries due to abuse, and psychological or less violent abuse is more likely to go unreported to authorities. In addition, police are less likely to arrest female suspects accused of violence than male suspects, according to another study cited by Randle.

The lack of reliable data has led to some confusion in the literature on domestic violence effects on men, the researchers said. They suggest more rigorous research focusing specifically on male victims.

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