Virtually every book and article that has ever been written on the subject of domestic abuse declares that the full extent of violence against women cannot really be known because women who are victims of domestic abuse are significantly less likely to report the crime than any other category of crime victims is. There is some reason to believe that this may have been true at one time in history, but recent research suggests that it is no longer true today.
It has been estimated that overall, only about one-third of all crimes of any kind are reported to police. 1 Yet, it has also been found that the majority of women who are victims of domestic abuse report the incident to police. 2 What this means is that women claiming to be victims of domestic abuse are not only "just as likely" to report it as other crime victims are, but they are actually significantly more likely to report it to the authorities than victims of other kinds of crime are.
In 1993, about one-half of the female victims of domestic violence reported the incident to police, and female willingness to report has been increasing ever since. In 1997, 58% of female victims reported the incident to police, and in 1998, 59% of the alleged incidents of domestic abuse against a woman were reported to police. And this has all been happening at a time when the actual incidence of domestic violence against women has been declining.
Although studies of domestic abuse against men are sparse, what data there is suggests that the rate at which male victims of abuse report the incident to police is not only lower than the rate at which female abuse victims report the crime to police, but that it is even lower than the overall rate at which crimes of any kind against either gender are reported to police. This low level of male reporting has remained fairly constant over the years. 3
That female victims are substantially more likely than male victims to report that they have been victims of domestic abuse is well known. 4 In fact, male victims of abuse are at least four times as likely to decline to report domestic abuse to police out of a desire to protect the abuser from having to face the consequences of his/her actions as female victims are. 5 Male victims are also substantially more likely than female victims to regard domestic abuse as a "private" problem of no legitimate concern to anyone but themselves. A majority of the male victims who don't report an incident in which they have been abused cite this as one of their principal reasons for not reporting the incident. 6
Some indication of the disparity between men and women concerning their relative likelihood of reporting violent victimizations can be gleaned from medical emergency room records. For example, in 1994, the majority (61%) of hospital emergency room patients treated for intimate-violence-related injuries were men, while nearly half as many (39%) were women. 7 Yet, the vast majority (more than 90%, according to some authorities) of the reports to authorities of violent victimizations by intimates were made by women.
If, as all the reliable data suggests (see above), males are at least as likely to be victims of domestic abuse as females are, yet only 10% of those who choose to report the incident to authorities are male, then we must conclude not only that women are more willing than men to report the incident to authorities when they are abused, but that women are about 9 times more likely than men to report when they have been victims of abuse. The survey research tends to corroborate the hypothesis that women are indeed 9 times more likely than men to report it to police when they have been assaulted by their spouses. 8
What evidence there is suggests that most men have to be very severely injured before they will even consider reporting an incident or threat of domestic abuse to the authorities. And even then, it is doubtful that they will. Unlike most women, it would not even cross most men's minds to report their partners to authorities or take any other kind of legal action because they have been pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or had their hair pulled. And unlike most women, most men do not choose to make a report even after they have been so severely wounded that they have to be transported to the hospital in an ambulance — or indeed, even after they have had their penises lopped off. 9
Seventy-eight reasons for under reporting domestic violence against men
That incidents of domestic abuse against men are vastly underreported as compared to incidents of domestic abuse against women is clear. What has not been studied in any depth is why. Despite the paucity of scholarly research on this topic, a number of reasons why it would make sense for a male victim to keep it to himself can be identified.
1. Socialization for self-reliance. There is a grain of truth in the old stereotype that men won't stop and ask for directions when they are lost. Most American men are trained to fend for themselves, never to ask or rely on others for help with their problems. The idea of seeking law enforcement or judicial protection would never even cross most men's minds as a way of dealing with violence or a threat of violence to their own person.
2. Courage (a.k.a. fear of being regarded as a wimp.) Think about it. If you were to hear some guy complaining to police or a judge that his girlfriend grabbed him or slapped him or pulled his hair, would you hail him as a hero or think of him as a wimp? Though some men are working hard to change their attitudes, even liberated men have confessed that "wimp" would still be the first word that pops into their heads upon hearing of such a guy. I suspect there are also a lot of women who, though they may fight hard to suppress it, would nevertheless have this kind of reaction to such a guy, as well. In our society, complaining about being picked on by a woman is just not considered a manly thing to do. 10
3. Low self-esteem. Many men define themselves in terms of their wives or female partners. That is to say, they measure their value in terms of how well they can provide for a woman and/or children. They may not show it, but inside they do not believe that they have any inherent value or worth in and of themselves. If, as is often the case, the abuser is inflicting verbal abuse along with physical abuse, the victim's self-esteem is lowered even further. He may come to believe that due to his low income, small physical endowment, advanced age, poor physique, looks, weight, personality or whatever, the woman he is with is the best he will ever be able to get.
4. Self-blame. If a woman becomes agitated enough at a man to strike him, it is generally inferred that the man must have done something really bad to deserve it. Although our society has done a good job of training both women and men to understand that no woman "deserves" to be abused, nobody has made any effort to deliver the message that men don't deserve to be abused, either. To the contrary, many marriage counselors and domestic abuse treatment providers teach that men are responsible for all violence in a relationship — both their own and their partner's. As a result, male victims, and those who deal with them, are much more likely to believe that they are somehow responsible for provoking or causing their partners to become violent — that they somehow "deserve" to be punished — even if they can't articulate why. Unfortunately, many people who occupy positions of power and influence in our society are only too eager to reinforce that belief. To many people in our society, the oft-repeated credo that "No one deserves to be abused" is really means "A person deserves to be abused if and only if that person is male."
5. Feelings of powerlessness. It may seem strange to think of men as powerless, but there are many reasons why a man may feel this way. 11 In fact, a Canadian study found that 100% of abused men expressed feelings of powerlessness. 12
6. No advocate. In our grandparents' day, battered women had no one to encourage them, no one to speak for them, no one to intervene on their behalf. As a result, few people knew about the problem, and therefore nothing much was done about it. The situation now is dramatically different. Today, women's advocates abound. Thousands of people across the country work as women's advocates, and many of them work exclusively for battered women. Seen many battered men's advocates lately?
7. Emotional dependence. Abusive women, like abusive men, can be very loving and affectionate between bouts of violence. Men who are starved for affection or social acceptance may consider an occasional hug or "high-five" from a woman a sufficient benefit to justify the cost of being abused.
8. Economic dependence. It is generally believed that the principal reason that women do not leave abusive relationships is that they are financially dependent on the abusive partner for their survival. 13 It is true that in our parents' generation, women were often dependent on men for their financial support. This was due to the fact that the normative family model was for the woman to stay at home and raise children while the man earned wages in the workplace for his family. All of that has changed. As a result of equal opportunity and affirmative action programs, women today comprise a larger share of the workforce than men do. That being the case, it is entirely possible — indeed, it is probable — that a substantial number of men are financially dependent on women now. 14 Some men today may have the same economic disincentive to report their abusive partners to authorities as women thirty years ago had.
It should also be noted that even an employed man who is not financially dependent on his wife may nevertheless be economically dependent on the marriage. When a man leaves a relationship with a woman, he has a continuing obligation to support the woman and any children they may have had. Although many states have gender-neutralized their alimony and child support laws, it is still primarily men whom the courts order to pay these things. Even a man who is able to maintain a household for himself independently if he leaves the marriage may reasonably fear that he may not have the resources to maintain two households. 15
9. Sex addiction. A man may enjoy — and need — sex with his partner so much that he is willing to tolerate abuse in order to get it.
10. Comparative lack of influence. Wealthy or influential abusers can sometimes pressure decision-makers to show them leniency, but sometimes simply being of the female gender can carry a lot of clout, too. A woman can often accomplish more with a smile, or by shedding a few tears, than a man who has enough money to buy the most expensive lawyer in town.
11. Threats. Threats can come in many different shapes and sizes. They may be directed at the victim, the victim's children, or even the perpetrator herself. It is not uncommon for abusers to threaten to harm or kill themselves if the victim calls the police or leaves the relationship.
Threats do not always need to be expressly stated. In fact, an implied threat can often be a better deterrent than an express one. For example, since it is common knowledge that women nearly always are awarded custody of the children in a divorce, a reasonable man could interpret the statement, "Go ahead and call the police, but if you do I'm going to file for divorce" as a threat to separate him from his children if he doesn't keep his mouth shut.
12. Protection of children. Many men believe it is better for a man to put up with being abused than to permit a child to come from a broken home. In addition, a man may reasonably believe that if he leaves (as he will almost certainly have to do if he reports his wife to the police for abusing him), the woman may use the children as the outlet for her anger. He may believe that without his presence in the home, no one will be there to intervene and protect the children from their mother's violence.
13. Pressure from children. "You aren't going to make mommy go to jail, are you, daddy?"
14. Cultural diversity. In the United States, it is culturally acceptable for women to hit, slap, push, shove and berate their husbands, and many men today are being trained to be tolerant of such "cultural diversity."
15. Denial. A victim who doesn't know what to do about it, and can't find out what to do about it, may be inclined to simply deny that it ever happened.
16. Minimizing. "It's just a flesh wound."
17. Disability. Disabled persons have their own reasons for dependence on others. They may also have more difficulty accessing resources for help.
18. Belief in the abuser's excuses. Premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression, stress of balancing family and career, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, rough day, etc., etc.
19. Belief in the sanctity of marriage and the marriage vow. Some men genuinely believe that marriage is a sacrament until death, and therefore are unwilling to leave the relationship even if they are being abused. A husband might fear that if he reports his wife to the authorities, she will retaliate by divorcing him.
20. Pressure from family, friends and relatives. Even if a man does not himself have a strong belief in the sanctity of the marriage vow, he may be inclined to succumb to pressure from his parents, siblings, other relatives, and his friends, to refrain from reporting to the police that he has been beaten up by a woman. In addition, family, friends and relatives are often duped or charmed by the abuser into denying the existence of abuse or minimizing its severity. Family, friends and relatives typically have a variety of reasons for pressuring a man to stay in an abusive relationship. Misguided though it may be, this kind of pressure is often very effective in deterring a victim from reporting abuse to police.
21. Fear of retaliation. A woman doesn't need to make a threat in order for a reasonable man to fear retaliation. She doesn't even need to engage in conduct that implies a threat. An abused man can reasonably fear that if he reports it to the authorities, she will tell them (and/or other people) that he was the one who abused or threatened her and that she was only acting in self-defense. Therefore, he may reasonably fear that if he reports the incident to police, he will be the one who is arrested, taken to jail, and stigmatized for being an abuser. Even if she hasn't said as much, he can also reasonably fear that if he reports her to authorities, she may retaliate by filing for divorce and "taking him to the cleaners."
22. Gratitude. Not for the abuse, but for something else she may have done for him at some time.
23. Bigger problems to worry about. A person who is focused on basic survival needs for himself and his children, for example, may not have the luxury of figuring out what to do about being slapped around.
24. Too many problems to worry about. A person who has a lot of other major issues to deal with may not have time to worry about the problem of being abused.
25. Belief that the abuse will eventually subside on its own, without outside intervention. Sometimes abuse does subside on its own, without outside intervention. Without intervention, however, it almost always gets worse, not better. Unfortunately, the men who adhere most tenaciously to the hope that things will get better without outside intervention tend to be the ones who end up being dismembered, permanently disfigured or killed. 16
26. Isolation. An abuser may try — and often succeeds — to cut "her man" off from his friends, which makes it much less likely that he will seek help or see his situation from other points of view besides the abuser's.
27. Illiteracy. Like lack of financial resources, illiteracy can force a person to be dependent on his partner for everyday survival. It can also prevent him from learning about domestic abuse and what resources, options and help, if any, may be available.
28. Criminal record. A man with a criminal record knows he will have no credibility at all if he claims to be a victim. He also knows that he will only get jeers, not help, from police. Having a criminal record causes everyone involved in the legal system — prosecutors, advocates, judges, court clerks, and so on — to perceive one as a perpetrator rather than as a victim. Moreover, the general feeling is that people who have committed a crime more or less "deserve" to have bad things happen to them for the rest of their lives. Thus, a prosecutor will be likely to assign such cases low priority, or will simply exercise his prosecutorial discretion not to file charges against the abuser at all. Likewise, a judge may be unwilling to grant a protection order to this kind of victim, may refuse to find the abuser guilty of any crime, or may impose a lighter sentence on the abuser than he would if the victim did not himself have a criminal record. Court clerks may show indifference to a victim with a criminal record, may decline to provide information or offer assistance with forms, and may erect arbitrary and capricious procedural obstacles in the victim's way if he is a male with a criminal record.
29. Abuser is a judge, prosecutor, police officer, probation officer or women's advocate. Police will be reluctant to arrest a fellow police officer; a prosecutor will be reluctant to prosecute a fellow prosecutor; and so on.
30. Victim is bisexual or gay, or has had such an experience. A gay or bisexual man may be afraid of being "outed" if he reports an incident. Also, a heterosexual man who has confided to his wife or girlfriend that he has had such an experience may fear that she will retaliate against him by disclosing this information to other people.
31. Love. Love can make a person blind to many things. It includes an element of loyalty, under the influence of which a person is inclined to come to the defense of the person loved rather than to report to other people that she has done something wrong. A person who is being abused often applies a perverse interpretation of acts of violence — "she must really love me to treat me this way." 17
32. Counseling or mediation. If the couple is going through marriage or couples counseling, or mediation, the victim may fear that reporting an incident of abuse will only cause the abuser to become less cooperative or less willing to compromise.
33. Hope for reconciliation. If the parties are separated or divorced, the victim may harbor a secret (or maybe not so secret) hope for reconciliation, and may believe that reporting an incident of abuse will only drive the couple further apart.
34. Mental illness. Mental illness can cloud a victim's judgment and cause him not to report something that a rational person would. In addition, a person with a history of mental illness may fear that because he is "insane" nobody will believe him even if he does report it, particularly since everyone "knows" that domestic abuse is entirely "a male phenomenon."
35. Low intelligence, mental retardation or developmental delay. These characteristics can make a person dependent on others for his survival. They can also make the victim susceptible to verbal manipulation. And they may also result in a lack of knowledge about what abuse is and how to report it, even if the victim were otherwise inclined to do so.
36. Victim is in the military service. A man who is in the military is being trained to be a "fighting machine." Since joining the military means that he is assuming the role of protector, it would be irrational to expect him to seek help and protection from someone other than himself. If he did, he would be the subject of immediate ridicule, hazing and harassment. Most service members are smart enough to figure out that if they make such a report to their commanding officer they will most likely be met with hostility and anger, and will be considered an embarrassment and disgrace to the service.
37. Victim is a police officer or security guard. For the same reason, a law enforcement officer or security guard who is a victim of violence at the hands of a woman is not likely to seek help and protection from others for the problem. Men are not likely to report abuse if it might hurt their careers.
38. Victim is in one of the helping professions. People in the helping professions (doctors, therapists, etc.) are often trained to think only of other people's problems and needs, and to ignore their own.
39. Fear of damage to professional reputation. A marriage counselor, therapist, mediator or similar professional may rationally fear damage to his professional reputation if it becomes known that he is having severe marital or relationship problems. He may fear that clients will doubt his ability to help them with their problems if he can't even handle his own.
40. Victim is a minister, pastor or other religious leader. Because religious leaders are expected to set an example for others, they generally prefer to avoid the risk of having their personal or relationship issues aired in public. In addition, the qualities of self-sacrifice, compassion and forgiveness that are central to virtually every religion may make a clergyman appear hypocritical if, instead of forgiving his wife, he presses criminal charges against her.
41. Religious or spiritual beliefs. One of the principal teachings of Jesus Christ is to "turn the other cheek." Even while nailed to the cross, he begged forgiveness for the people who were persecuting him. His example inspires many people to adopt a spirit of forgiveness toward those who trespass against them, even when the trespass is severe. 18
42. No place to go. Battered women's shelters sometimes turn a woman away, but a woman can usually find a sympathetic friend or relative to take her in. A man who says he wants to move in because he's afraid of his wife or girlfriend is not likely to get much sympathy. And unless you're counting alleys, bus depots, cardboard boxes and jails, there are few battered men's shelters in this country. 19
43. Assumption that no options or resources are available for abused men. In many areas, this assumption would be valid.
44. No knowledge of options and resources, even if they exist. To my knowledge, no public education campaign has been initiated to educate battered men about their resources and options, and it does not seem likely that any such program is likely to come out of the federal government's Violence Against Women Office anytime soon.
45. Victim has himself been accused of abuse. A person who has been accused of abuse before may reasonably assume that he will not be believed if he now reports that he is a victim of abuse. A previous accusation that he has been abusive — even if completely untrue — can so damage a man's credibility that he may reasonably believe that reporting that he has been or is being abused would be futile, at best; and at worst, may cause him to be arrested again.
It is not uncommon for a perpetrator of abuse — whether male or female — to attempt to blame the victim. The difference is that when a male perpetrator attempts to blame the victim, he is rarely believed. Because of the enormous propaganda campaign to convince everybody that domestic violence is exclusively a "guy" thing, a female perpetrator who attempts to deflect attention from herself by blaming her victim will generally succeed, particularly when her audience consists of law enforcement officers who have arrived with either the intention or a strong predisposition to arrest a man rather than a woman. 20
46. Victim has been abused before. A second incident of abuse against the same victim reinforces the victim's (and others') belief that he is somehow causing, or provoking, other people to be violent toward him.
47. Negative court experiences. A man who has been convicted despite his innocence, or who has experienced anti-male prejudice in family or criminal court, may reasonably believe that the legal system will not accord him any safety or protection at all.
48. Feelings of guilt. Men in the United States are socialized to feel guilty for things they haven't done. White males are educated, trained and socialized to feel guilty for the wrongs done by other white males to women and minorities in general, for the wrongs done by dead white males to women and minorities in the past, and even for the wrongs against women that are committed in countries other than the United States. In short, men are socialized to accept responsibility for everyone else's wrongs. Even if he is completely without personal blame, a man may not be inclined to report somebody else's wrongs if he feels that he himself does not have "clean hands."
49. Socialization for tolerance and forgiveness of women. Even men without religious backgrounds are usually socialized to adopt a forgiving and understanding attitude toward women.
50. Abuser's promises to change. The classic flowers-apologies-and-more-abuse pattern, a.k.a. the cycle of violence.
51. Lack of transportation or access to services. This factor may be of particular importance in the case of victims who live in rural or remote geographical areas.
52. Embarrassment; shame. There are many reasons why a male might feel embarrassed about being the victim of abuse.
Sexual abuse — such as penetration of the anus with a physical object — would be extremely embarrassing to a male, as would the torture or mutilation of his genitalia. Embarrassment is probably the principal reason that verbal and emotional abuse are not reported, either. In order to report these forms of abuse, the victim would have to repeat the very things the abuser said about him, things which have likely been said with the specific intent of making the victim feel ashamed and bad about himself.
Physical abuse may be embarrassing to a male victim because it tends to indicate that he is incapable of defending himself, something a man is expected to be able to do. Indeed, the very definition of masculinity in our culture includes the ability to defend oneself and protect others.
53. Fear of escalating the abuser's level of anger. Reporting a person to the police may make her even madder than she was before.
54. Fear of losing partner's trust/expectation of confidentiality. Marriage is a confidential relationship. Husbands and wives say many things to each other that they don't expect to be repeated to others. The law generally respects this confidentiality because it is believed that without the ability to speak freely and openly with each other a marriage will fail. A person who "tells tales out of school" about the things his spouse has said or done to him may reasonably fear that his spouse will become reluctant to openly and honestly "speak her mind" or show her true feelings in the future.
55. Fear of violating a code of honor. Unwritten codes of honor exist in many different settings. For example, there is an unwritten code of honor in nearly every school pursuant to which it is considered disgraceful for one student to "rat out" or "tell on" another. This code is most noticeable in elementary school settings, but it is also present in secondary and postsecondary school settings. Even when such a code isn't in place, or is only weakly enforced, a student may have other motivations for not wanting to report another student's misconduct. For example, a person may not want to report a student's abusive and/or criminal conduct for fear that it may affect the abusive student's academic career.
56. The Stockholm Syndrome. Named for an incident in which hostages came to sympathize with and support their captor's cause, the Stockholm Syndrome is another possible reason why an abuse victim might not want to report the abuse. A feminist male, for example, might sympathize with and support a woman's act of violence against him because he has been taught to perceive violence against men as an act of empowerment for womankind. There have been plenty of media examples since Thelma and Louise that could reinforce the belief that acts of violence against men by women are righteous because they symbolize the empowerment of women.
57. Fear of arrest. A male who is being abused may reasonably fear that he himself will be arrested if he reports the incident to police. The fear may be based on the victim's involvement in some criminal enterprise of his own (e.g., fear that if the police are called they might discover the stash of marijuana in his dresser drawer), or it may be based on the knowledge that when police are called to the scene of a domestic disturbance, they have been trained to arrive with the intention of taking a man to jail. Many police have been trained to believe that when men commit domestic abuse, they do it for control or because of "male privilege," but that when women perpetrate domestic abuse it is in self-defense. Since it is believed that women only become violent in self-defense, it is inferred that any man who reports that he has been abused by a woman must have "started it" by abusing or threatening to abuse her first. By the time the police arrive, then, the victim has already been tried and convicted, in their minds; the only thing remaining to do is to execute the sentence, i.e., take the man to jail. Although the actual frequency with which this occurs is not known, the law enforcement practice of arresting male victims who report abuse to police is sufficiently well-known to deter male victims from expecting help from them. 21
Usually, a man who is a victim will try to report it only once. He calls...and they say, "What did you do to provoke her?" 22 — Mel Feit, executive director, National Center for Men
58. Alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs can affect reporting in a number of ways. It can directly affect it by diminishing the victim's mental capacity to make a report. It can affect reporting in less direct ways, too, as where the victim is under the influence of an illegal drug and fears that he will be arrested for that offense if he reports the abuse incident to police. If he is under the influence of alcohol or a medication (whether legal or illegal), he may fear that a police report containing that information may cause him to lose custody or the right to have unrestricted visitation with his children. If he was in a public place at the time of the incident, he may fear that he will be arrested and prosecuted for public intoxication, disorderly conduct or a related offense. If he had been driving shortly before the incident occurred, he may fear being arrested for driving while intoxicated. If it was his wife or girlfriend that was intoxicated, he may fear that the arrest of the wife will result in removal of the children from the home. If he is a juvenile, he may fear that he or his girlfriend will be charged with underage consumption or possession of alcohol, and/or that his parents will find out that he has been drinking. Even if he has no reason to fear any of these things, he may nevertheless fear that his state of intoxication will cause him to lose his credibility — an asset that he probably knows is already in short supply simply by virtue of the fact that he is a male claiming to be a victim of a violent female.
59. Lack of awareness that domestic abuse laws now protect men, too. Until recently, domestic abuse was a gender-specific crime. Many jurisdictions had laws specifically prohibiting wife-beating and providing protections for female victims of male violence, while not prohibiting husband-beating and not providing any equivalent protections for male victims of female violence. Although many states have now gender-neutralized their domestic abuse laws, terms that used to be utilized in these laws — such as "wife-beating" and "battered women" — are still commonly used interchangeably with "domestic violence" in our society. This, along with the repeated pronouncements by government officials that domestic abuse is exclusively a "male phenomenon," helps reinforce the belief that domestic abuse is a gender-specific crime; that is to say, the belief that it is illegal for a man to beat his wife but not illegal for a woman to beat her husband.
60. Fear of deportation. An alien may fear (rationally or not so rationally) that he might be deported (and/or that his partner might be deported) if he reports an incident of abuse to police.
61. Police and domestic abuse service agency personnel refusal to take reports from male victims seriously, or refusal to believe them. Battered men who call domestic abuse hotlines or the police to report the crime are often told to get off the line in case a "real victim" (codeword for woman) might be calling for assistance — even before they have had a chance to describe how they have been victimized.
62. Personal reluctance to acknowledge that females are capable of committing criminal or violent acts. This is similar to, but not the same thing as denial. Denial is a mental process that may occur when a person does not have the present ability or wherewithal to deal with a certain fact, so he simply behaves as if the fact does not exist. Reluctance to acknowledge something, on the other hand, may or may not involve denial. To some extent, we have all been socialized to resist the notion that women are as capable of violence or wrong-doing as men are. To some extent, we all want to believe that "women are made of sugar and spice and everything nice."
A person who is reluctant to acknowledge that females are capable of committing criminal or violent acts may deal with a female's perpetration of a criminal or violent act not by denying that it happened, but by coming up with some way of explaining it so as to make it appear aberrational. He may do this by male-blame ("women are only violent in self-defense, or when they are provoked"), by minimizing ("they were able to reattach my penis, so what's the big deal?"), by finding an excuse for her (job stress, PMS, abused as a child, etc.), or in some other way.
63. Societal reluctance to acknowledge that females are capable of committing criminal or violent acts. It has been noted that "even professionals may be reluctant to report female disclosure of [crimes they have committed]" because of this general societal desire to believe that females are incapable of doing any wrong. 23
64. Cultural view of males as property. Cultural and legal norms in our country permit the use of physical violence (spanking, corporal punishment) by parents (and their designated hitters) to control the behavior of their children. These norms were developed at a time when children were regarded in law as the chattel (property) of their parents. 24 There may be a parallel cultural norm pursuant to which it is considered permissible for women, as the "owners" of their male "property," to use physical violence to control the behavior of what they regard as their chattel.
65. Victim's inability to distinguish discipline from abuse. The line between abuse and permissible corporal punishment may be difficult to draw in particular cases. For example, it is clear that our cultural norms are such that while a man who slaps a woman on the face would clearly be guilty of abuse, it may be considered an appropriate method of behavior modification for a woman to do this to a man. But what if she uses a piece of cardboard instead of her hand? What about a stick or a ruler? How hard or sharp would the stick have to be? Figuring out where along the continuum of physical assaults to draw the line between acceptable corporal punishment and abuse can be an exceedingly complex and difficult task even for a professional to perform, much less a layman.
66. Age. Children and the elderly have a wide range of impediments to reporting: immaturity; senility; no knowledge of how to report or of the resources and help available; inability to distinguish between "discipline" and "abuse;" dependence on adults for nurturing; faith in parents/belief that parents know best; dependence on adults for protection; low self-esteem; love; loyalty to family; fear of getting parent into trouble; perceived unavailability of services (e.g., for sexually abused adolescent males); distrust of authorities; rebelliousness; embarrassment; fear of publicity; peer pressure; intimidation, threats or fear of retaliation; shame, guilt, self-blame ("I must have screwed up really bad for her to hit me like that"); no advocate; absence of moral, emotional, social or institutional support. 25 Due to these factors, abuse of children and the elderly is almost certain to go unreported unless detected and reported by someone else (such as a doctor.) Yet, mandated reporters have their own reasons for failing to report, such as: lack of training; fear of liability if wrong; fear of losing client, or damaging doctor-patient relationship if wrong; cultural acceptance of the use of physical force to control male behavior; perceived or believed unavailability of services for abused children; lack of faith in the child protection system; inability to distinguish "abuse" from "discipline;" view that children (especially male adolescents) are responsible for their own problems because they are trouble-makers or have behavioral problems; sympathy, empathy or desire to protect parent for some other reason; belief that women are not capable of violence; disbelief of child's or male's statements; belief in abuser's lies and excuses; refusal to acknowledge that a male child (especially an adolescent male) can be a victim of abuse; belief that male adolescents are big and strong enough to take care of themselves. 26 In addition, a male child who has been sexually molested by a male adult generally will not voluntarily report it, particularly if he is an adolescent, due to the fear of being perceived as homosexual. 27 These factors, combined with the general male tendency to avoid seeking medical treatment for their injuries, make reporting of abuse of male children highly unlikely. 28
67. Report is ignored and/or victim believes it will be ignored. Several years ago, when domestic abuse laws were first gender-neutralized in order to provide legal protection to men as well as women, I advised a male client who was being severely abused by his wife that he could report it to the police and obtain a protection order. Nevertheless, he was afraid of being arrested if he showed up at the police department alone, so I agreed to accompany him. The police officer who interviewed him jotted down the man's name and address and listened politely while the man told his story. When the interview was over, I inquired about getting a copy of the report, but was told that there would be no report because it was a "civil" matter. I provided citations to the statutes defining the wife's conduct as criminal, and pointed out that the laws had recently been gender-neutralized. Reluctantly, the officer finally agreed to file a report, but said that a copy of it would not be available until the next day. I checked back the next day and the report wasn't ready yet. I checked back a few days later and was told they had no record of any such report. The officer had never filed one. Since then, I have heard and read about other men who have had similar experiences. In one case, the only police response to a man's report that his wife had attacked him with a knife was to tell the man to buy plastic knives. 29 I have no idea how often this kind of thing happens. I would like to believe that it happens less frequently now than it did ten years ago, but I have no way of knowing that. What I do know, based on comments I hear from my male clients, is that a great number of male victims of abuse believe their reports will be ignored. Why bother reporting something to someone if you believe you are just going to be ignored?
68. Belief that men are and/or should be big and strong enough to handle these problems themselves. This may be a belief that has been internalized by the victim, or a societal belief of which the victim is aware. 30 Whether the belief is a societal one or one that has been internalized by the victim, in either case it is a barrier to reporting. 31
69. Chivalry. Men are socially conditioned to protect women, including women's reputations. The conditioning is so strong that many men would rather endure abuse than subject a woman to the shame and embarrassment of a criminal record or the public exposure of her aberrant behavior. 32 This is why it is that in joint criminal enterprises it is usually the man, rather than the woman, who agrees to "takes the rap" for the couple's crimes.
Some say chivalry is dead, but it really isn't. True, many men no longer demonstrate the traditional outwards signs of servitude to women that were once the hallmarks of chivalry. Most men today would probably not be willing to engage in a duel with pistols just to "defend the sacred honor" of a woman, and some men today no longer engage in the etiquette of servitude, either (opening doors, etc.) The reason that many men no longer display the outward signs of servitude that used to be associated with the notion of chivalry is not because men are becoming more callous, but because women objected to them, complaining loudly and bitterly that such behavior is demeaning and patronizing to women. The fact that men stopped doing these things almost immediately upon learning that women no longer wanted them to is pretty good evidence in itself that the male desire to serve women is still very much alive and well in this country.
70. Battered men's syndrome.
71. Absence of screening. "Screening" in this context means the process of being alert to signs that an injury may have been the result of abuse. Health care professionals are trained to screen injured female patients for evidence of abuse, but are not often trained to screen male patients for it. Yet, since male victims are not likely to voluntarily divulge the fact that they have been assaulted by a female, the role of professionals in screening for it is critical. If the victim doesn't report it, and it is not detected by health care professionals, it will simply continue to go unnoticed and, therefore, unreported.
72. Fear of change. Reporting a woman for abuse will change a man's life forever. Most of these changes (incarceration, loss of job, social stigmatization, etc.) will be negative. Even in the absence of such considerations, however, many people simply have a fear of the unknown. It is not uncommon for people to prefer to deal with a known variable than an unknown one, even when the known variable is not a very good one.
73. Fear of failure. Our culture defines a man as a person who is a good provider for his wife and family. Traditionally, this meant being a good financial provider. Today, it means being both a good financial provider and a good emotional provider ("nurturer.") A man who believes a woman is dependent on him may fear that the woman will be unable to support herself if he leaves her. Even if he has no reason to believe this, however, an abused man may nevertheless be reluctant to leave an abusive home because by doing so he will be "running out" on his family, shirking his paternal responsibility, becoming yet another one of those "absent fathers" and "deadbeat dads" who, we are told, are responsible for all the major social problems in our country today. 33
74. Lack of knowledge. Women receive a considerable amount of education — both formal and informal — about domestic violence. It is a favorite topic in women's studies courses, and women's magazines are constantly running articles about it (what it is, how to recognize the signs, what to do about it, etc.) Agencies at every level of the government publish numerous books, magazines, brochures, pamphlets, videotapes and so on, for the purpose of educating women about domestic abuse. Meanwhile, there has been absolutely no effort to educate male victims at all. As a result, most men know very little about it. What they do know is usually second-hand information they have gotten from a woman. Almost all of my male clients who were abused by their female partners told me they had done nothing about it because their partner had told them that "it's not abuse if a woman hits a man." Many men today simply do not know that it is abuse if a woman hits a man. Given the lack of outreach and education for male victims, how could a man be expected to know that the law protects male as well as female victims, especially when laws have titles like "The Violence Against Women Act"?
Erin Pizzey describes a male client she encountered in her practice whose wife had been verbally insulting him on a daily basis for thirteen years and had made a death threat when he tried to get a divorce from her. She relates that the client thought this was simply the kind of treatment that every man should expect from a wife; that it's how all wives treat their husbands. He did not know that his wife's behavior was abusive because no one had ever bothered to educate him as to what domestic abuse is. 34
75. Fear of ridicule. In France, battered husbands were once made to wear ridiculous costumes and ride backwards around town on a donkey. 35 Although this practice has been discontinued, there is still a very strong social stigma that attaches to being a male victim of domestic abuse, a stigma which appears to be international in scope. Even in the United States, where nearly every citizen will tell you that domestic abuse is not a laughing matter, domestic violence against men is considered uproariously funny. 36 While battered men may no longer be literally paraded around town backwards on an ass, the same effect is achieved in other ways. 37
76. Fear of stigmatization. There are actually two ways in which men are stigmatized when they disclose that they have been victims of domestic abuse. The first one, relating to "letting" a woman beat up on him, has already been discussed elsewhere. Because of the widely held belief that "violence is a male phenomenon," however, male victims can also reasonably expect to be stigmatized for all the same reasons that men who batter women are stigmatized. Since as a society we believe that all domestic abuse involves a man beating up a woman, it is reasonable to expect that people will insist on categorizing a claim of victim status coming from the mouth of a male as something else. To explain it, people usually suspect that the man must simply be trying to cover up his own misdeeds by shifting the blame to the female (who, of course, must be the real victim, since that is supposedly how all domestic abuse works.) Consequently, he is viewed not only with the disdain that is owed to any man who beats up on women, but with additional disfavor for trying to "blame the victim" for his own supposed violence.
Note that this factor, in tandem with the stigma of "letting" a woman beat one up, effectively ensures that a male victim will be stigmatized no matter what. In most cases, the man will not be believed, and therefore he will suffer the dual stigma of being both a woman-beater and a man who tries to blame a poor, defenseless woman for his own wrongs. On the other hand, if he is believed, then he will be subjected to the ridicule and stigma of having "let" himself get beaten up by a woman. 38
77. Absence of any moral, emotional, societal or institutional support for male persons alleging they are victims. Philip Cook has noted that the "exceptional isolation of the abused male may be the characteristic that distinguishes him most from his abused female counterpart." 39 It has also been observed that "[m]ale...aggression [is] regarded as normative behavior in many contexts, thus further diminishing supportive responses for victims." 40 As a result, a male victim is more likely to hear something like, "Oh no, not another category of people claiming to be victims!" than he is to receive help.
78. Fear of loss or damage to relationship with children. Most men know that if a couple splits up, the courts are almost always going to award custody of the children to the mother, and the father will almost always be relegated to the status of every-other-weekend "visitor" to their children. All too often, the custody award is simply the first step in a process that eventually culminates in phasing the father out of his children's lives completely. Many men are willing to put up with an inordinate amount of abuse simply to keep this from happening. 41
In view of the foregoing, I have no doubt that the estimate that women who have been victimized by abuse are 9 times more likely to report it than male victims are is accurate. Or, as Suzanne Steinmetz has put it: "The most unreported crime is not wife beating...it's husband beating." 42 The next most unreported crime, of course, is the abuse of male children. It is estimated that at least 72% of violent victimizations of children, most of whom are male, are not reported to police. 43
For complete list of references see Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren't Supposed To Know pages167-279.
1 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Report to the Nation on Crime and Justice, supra, at p. 62.
2 Greenfeld, et. al., Violence by Intimates, supra, at p. 19.
3 See, e.g., Rennison and Welchans, supra, at p. 7.In the year 2000, the overall rate at which men were willing to report that they had been a victim of any crime (property, etc.) was 42.9%, as compared to 54.5% of women. Rennison, Criminal Victimization 2000, Changes 1999-2000 with Trends 1993-2000, supra, at p. 10. White males are the least likely of all demographic categories to report to police the crimes that have been committed against them. Ibid. The fact that the numbers are much further apart than this when the crime involved is domestic abuse suggests that there must be additional reasons why male victims are reluctant to report when they have been victims of domestic violence, over and beyond the general white male inhibition against reporting that they have been victims.
4 Ibid., at p. 6; U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Report to the Nation on Crime and Justice, supra, at p. 34 (majority of women who are victims of violence report the incident to police, but the majority of men who are victims do not); U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1994, supra (female victims 142% more likely to report assault committed by someone they know than male victims are); Ernst, et. al., supra (19% of female victims seeking emergency medical treatment were willing to acknowledge that they had been victims of past abuse, while only 6% of male victims were willing to voluntarily report that); see also Langhinrichsen-Rohling and Vivian (1994), supra (even among couples in marriage counseling, husbands are substantially more likely to under-report their partner's aggression than wives are; at the same time, substantially more wives than husbands over-reported aggression on their partner's part); and Nelson, Wyman, About Spouse Abuse, South Deerfield, Mass.: Channing L. Bete Co. (1986)
5 Rennison and Welchans, supra, at p. 7.
7 Greenfeld, et. al., Violence by Intimates, supra.
8 Stets and Straus (1990), supra. Women are also 5 times more likely than men to tell their friends about it. Ibid.
9 Compare Tjaden and Thoennes (1998), supra; and Rennison and Welchans, supra, at p. 6.
10 Phillip Cook notes that he observed the fear of this kind of reaction (being called or thought of as a wimp) to be present in nearly every male victim of domestic abuse that he interviewed. Cook, supra, at p. 52.
11 See Warren Farrell's The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex, New York: Simon & Schuster (1993).
12 Gregorash, Lesley, "Family Violence: An Exploratory Study of Men Who Have Been Abused By Their Wives" (unpublished study, University of Calgary, 1993), p. 92.
13 Recent studies cause serious doubt on the validity of this assumption. For example, it has been found that low-income women are actually more likely than affluent women to leave an abusive relationship. McNeely and Robinson-Simpson, supra, p. 487
14 Another fraud perpetrated on the American public in recent times is the "pay inequity" statistic according to which women supposedly are paid only 75% of what men earn. The figure is misleading because it is based on a simplistic analysis that fails to control for non-gender-discriminatory factors. Specifically, it does not take into account the things that really do determine wage levels — length of employment; education; occupation; and number of hours worked. Because men are more prone to be held responsible — both legally and socially — for the support of their families (women are only rarely expected or ordered to support men; women are only rarely expected or ordered to pay alimony and child support to men; and although many states are adopting "male responsibility" laws, no states are adopting "female responsibility" laws), men tend to work longer hours and to have longer work histories than women. This isn't true of every member of the work force — some women work longer hours and have longer work histories than some men — but given our legal and societal expectations, it would be reasonable to expect it to be true in most cases. When non-discriminatory variables such as length of employment and number of hours worked are correctly factored in, the supposed "pay equity gap" virtually disappears. Furchtgott-Roth, Diana and Christine Stolba, Women's Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America, Washington, D.C.: Independent Women's Forum and the American Enterprise Institute (2000)
15 Economic concerns and religious beliefs are often cited by abused men as their reasons for not leaving a relationship. Hammond-Saslow, C., Domestic violence and levels of depression, self-esteem and assertiveness in battered men, unpublished doctoral dissertation, San Diego, Calif.: United States International University (1997); see also Steinmetz, Suzanne, "The Battered Husband Syndrome," Victimology 2 (1977): 499.
16 Television star Phil Hartman believed that all he had to do was leave the house until his wife cooled down. That belief cost him his life.
17 A study of college men and women revealed that the same proportion of men as women were inclined to interpret an act of domestic violence as a sign of "love," at least when the violent act in question is committed by a woman against a man. Matthews, W. J., "Violence in college couples," College Student Journal, 18, 150-158 (1984)
18 Abused men often cited religious beliefs as one of their principal reasons for not leaving an abusive relationship. Hammond-Saslow, supra.
19 Some battered women's shelters claim that they provide shelter services to men, but there is no evidence that many of them really do. Why would they call themselves shelters for battered women if their services are intended for battered men, too? Regardless of what shelters claim in their statements to the media, the truth is that nearly all male victims who call battered women's shelters are turned away, and a large number are treated with hostility and contempt, to boot. Beaupre, "No place to run for male victims of domestic abuse," supra.
20 For some real-life examples of this phenomenon in operation, see Cook, supra, at pp. 79-81.
21 For some examples of cases in which abused men have been arrested and/or told to leave the house as a result of calling the police for help, see Cook, supra, at pp. 79-81.
22 quoted in Beaupre, "No place to run for male victims of domestic abuse," supra.
23 Righthand, Sue and Carlann Welch, Juveniles Who Have Sexually Offended: A Review of the Professional Literature, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2001); see also Charles, G. and M. McDonald, "Adolescent sexual offenders," Journal of Child and Youth Care 11(1): 15-25 (1997); and Travin, S., K. Cullen and B. Protter, "Female sex offenders: Severe victims and victimizers," Journal of Forensic Sciences 35(1): 140-150 (1990.)
24 The conception of children as their parents' "chattel" is why the first organized movement to raise consciousness about child abuse came from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, rather than a human rights organization.
25 Hutchinson and Langlykke, supra, at p. 10.
26 Ibid, at p. 8, citing American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs, "Adolescents as Victims of Family Violence," Journal of the American Medical Association 270(15): 1850-1856 (1993).
27 Hutchinson and Langlykke, supra, at p. 11; see also Finkelhor, D., "The Victimization of Children: A Developmental Perspective," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 63(2): 177-193 (April, 1995).
28 Men who abuse female children are substantially more likely to be reported than are women who abuse female children, women who abuse male children, and men who abuse male children. Even so, confirmed reports of child maltreatment perpetrated by women against male children still outnumber every other form of child maltreatment. This is remarkable, in light of the fact that nearly every publication I've seen on the subject of child abuse reporting treats it as if it were "a male phenomenon." This is especially true of publications directed at children; these kinds of publications invariably devote considerable time and attention to the task of encouraging children to report unwanted sexual contact from a father, stepfather or male relative (which, of course, is a good thing to encourage children to do), but they fail to let children know that mothers, stepmothers and female relatives can also be guilty of abuse. None of these publications lets children know that it is just as "okay" to report mothers as it is to report fathers and stepfathers. A few publications I've seen do mention, parenthetically or in a footnote, that it is possible for women to commit child abuse, but they always attempt to make it seem as if it is highly unlikely that this would ever actually happen in real life.
29 Easton, Abuse of Men in Families and the Interacting Legacy of Abuse in the Justice System, supra.
30 Unfortunately, many people, including law enforcement officers, subscribe to the notion that a "real man" should be able to keep a woman under control. Often, the same people who declare that "A man is never justified in using or threatening to use physical force of any kind against a woman, under any circumstances" also say that "real men" can't be victims because they should be able to control their women, inasmuch as men are physically bigger and stronger than women are. If it is wrong for men to use their superior physical size and strength against women, then telling men that they should be able to control women by using their superior physical size and strength would seem to be sending men a conflicting — and dangerous — message. Unfortunately, this issue never really gets addressed. Since the net result is to make every woman — even those who are abusing men — "victims" while denying men the equal protection of the law, women's advocates have no reason to object to it. Men don't object because domestic violence has been defined by our society as a "women's issue," inasmuch as violence is supposedly "a male phenomenon." Since men so far have been denied a voice, and since women have no motivation to object on their behalf, the dual directive to men — use force and don't use force — goes unchallenged and unabated. To many people in our society, it goes unnoticed, too.
31 This is a kind of stigma that is unique to men, originating, as it does, from the societal assumption that men are physically stronger than women, and are therefore more capable of overcoming their partner's will by force than women are. From this frame of mind, the notion that a woman "let" a man beat her isn't even a possibility. As a result, it is considered "unmanly" for a man to "let" a woman beat him up, but it is not considered "unwomanly" for a woman to acknowledge that she has been beaten up by a man.
32 "Men also are often kept in their relationships, which can only be likened to 'personal concentration camps,' by the fact that they feel a genuine feeling of 'chivalry' towards their partner." Pizzey (1997), supra.
33 See, e.g., any of the various "Male Responsibility" laws that recently have been enacted by state and federal governments, and the corresponding legislative history for them. Patricia Overberg, executive director of the Valley Oasis Emergency Shelter Programs in Lancaster, California, maintains that it is more difficult for a man to seek help and/or leave an abusive relationship because men are socialized to be the providers and protectors of the family. Most men perceive being beaten up by a woman as something that is inconsistent with having sufficient strength to provide and protect, and as a result a man can be expected to be extremely reluctant to let anyone know about it if it does happen. As she puts it:
"[I]t takes a lot to convince [men] they should...do the same things for themselves that the female victim does. It is much more difficult to get a man to make that change. They have been brought up to see their role as being defined as protector of the home. When you get married it's your responsibility to provide, to make sure there is food on the table, clothes. Regardless of the fact that women are going out and working these days, men are still taught that it is their responsibility to provide. So, if you leave, you are abdicating your responsibility, and you are less than a man." Overberg, Patricia, quoted in Cook, pp. 60-61.
34 Pizzey (1997), supra.
35 Steinmetz, Suzanne K. and Joseph S. Lucca, "Husband Battering" in Van Hasselt, Vincent B., et al., eds., Handbook of Family Violence, New York: Plenum Press (1988), pp. 233-246.
36 In 1963, it was observed that three-fourths of the depictions of domestic violence in American comic strips involved a male being battered by a female. Saenger, G., "Male and female relation in the American comic strips," in White, M. and R.H. Abel, eds., The Funnies: An American Idiom, Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press (1963), pp. 219-223. This was before the successful campaign to educate Americans to take violence against women seriously. Today, it is a cultural taboo in America to depict violence against women in anything but a dead serious manner and context. As a result, approximately 100% of the humorous depictions of domestic violence in America today now involve male victims.
Steven Easton, who founded a support group for battered men in Canada and has counseled thousands of battered men, reports that "Many men who have come to our agency looking for support, have endured laughter and scorn from their families, the police and family violence prevention agencies which are ostensibly set up to deal with victims of abuse." Easton, Abuse of Men in Families and the Interacting Legacy of Abuse in the Justice System, supra. Patricia Overberg has observed that "[o]ne of the things that men have to deal with, that women don't have to, is...ridicule. I can tell you that from experience, both from working with these men, and from making speaking engagements. When I mention that we are a shelter that provides shelter to battered men, they all laugh, the men and the women. They think it's funny that a man would be battered. They laugh when I tell them that a man can be raped. Of course,...I know that there are a lot of battered men out there, but part of the reason they don't seek help is this fear of ridicule...[which] is indeed a big factor." Overberg, P., quoted in Cook, p. 54. Sylvia Ashton, an inspector for the domestic violence police unit in England, says that when she tells people about a man who was stabbed by his wife for bleeding on the carpet as a result of a stab wound she had inflicted on him earlier, the universal reaction is laughter. Ashton, S., quoted in Cook, p. 54.
37 "If there is one defining characteristic of most abused men it is that they are extremely embarrassed by their predicament. Most abused men have attempted to reach out for help and have been laughed at or scorned.....Many men that have been abused know how they are portrayed by society so they minimize their situations out of fear of being ridiculed further or blamed for their victimization." Easton, Steven, Who Are Male Victims of Spousal Abuse?, web document (2001.)
38 Intuitively, it strikes me as highly likely that this double bind, because it guarantees stigmatization for all male victims regardless of how they respond to it, is probably at or near the top of the list of male victims' reasons for not reporting.
39 Cook, supra, at p. 85.
40 Hutchinson and Langlykke, supra, at p. 10.
41 Gregorash, supra, p. 89. Patricia Overberg ranks fear of loss of relationship with children as one of the top three reasons that men choose not to leave abusive relationships. (The other two top reasons she cites are: fear of ridicule; and the sense of responsibility to provide and protect.) Cook, supra, p. 78.
42 Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, supra; cf. Langley, Roger and Richard C. Levy, Wife Beating: The Silent Crisis, New York: Pocket Books (1977)
43 U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Children as Victims, supra, pp. 7 and 14; and U.S. Office for Victims of Crime, Responding to Child Victims and Witnesses: Innovative Practices for Prosecutors, Washington DC.: U.S. Department of Justice