By: Stephanie Hormig MSE
“You can’t be a victim!”
For many years DEFY has worked with male survivors of Domestic Violence (DV) and Sexual Assault (SA). Hearing people say men can’t be victims of DV or SA, has become common. Sadly, our male survivors often say no one believes them, or they feel brushed aside when telling someone they have been abused. It is often viewed by a listener as a joke. The truth is NO, they are not joking, this is happening, and a lot more frequently than the American public realizes.
“835,000 men are assaulted by their partner each year” (domesticshelters.org) Which means that in the USA every 14.6 seconds a man is severely assaulted by their partner.
Often when men are being abused, they feel limited to action and resources. With numbers of 1 in 4 men surviving DV and 1 in 6 men surviving SA, the resources, and the access to feeling supported should not be overlooked as they typically are.
So, what makes the masses believe that men are somehow “unable” to be abused? There are many factors to this, but recently one has gotten a great deal of research and attention, toxic masculinity.
Men are socialized to keep feelings at bay. They are taught to have control and the power 100% of the time in a relationship. This is simply not true and exhausting for someone to try and do. With these types of expectations, a couple can only believe that their relationship will fail. One person making 100% of all decisions and having 100% power, does not a relationship make.
Our culture still clings to narrow definitions of gender (although there are signs that this is slowly shifting). Young boys are taught not to express their emotions, to “suck it up” and “be a man.” Tony Porter calls this the “man box” in his well-known TED talk. He discusses toxic masculinity and how our culture in the US has created a breeding ground for violence based on toxic masculinity, rape culture, and not taking responsibility for our actions. Tony believes that toxic masculinity is an education that allows men to feel as though they have no choice but to be a perpetrated. To keep power, to continue to be viewed as a man by other men, DV and violence are a necessity.
Because this is being molded and forced into the minds of the American youth, it is important for education on toxic masculinity, healthy relationships, what DV is and what SA is. Education is the best tool to forge a path where DV numbers can decline not just for women, but men as well.
It has been found that a male DV victim will reach out once, and only once for assistance. They may reach out by telling a friend, talking to the police, calling a hotline, or sharing with a family member. If they are met with comments of, “you’re the man of the house”, “come on you can take her”, “grow a pair”, or “that only happens to women”, it has been proven that men will then shut down. They will shut down and either never talk about it again or it will be decades before they discuss it. Those are years and decades of repressed trauma, anger, frustration, etc. just festering.
What does that tell us, the people wanting to end DV? Well that tells us that when a man decides to share with you that they are dealing with DV, you need to support and believe them. They chose you! Now you have a responsibility to all DV survivors to be the believer and helper. It also shows us that in that one moment we can make or break a trauma cycle. This is no small confession and needs to be treated with the respect and kindness each survivor of DV deserves, no matter gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, or religion.
What Can I Do?
Here are some things to do to help male survivors:
1) Believe them
2) Don’t assume
3) Create a safety plan (what they need to do to stay safe)
4) Know the resources around your area specifically for men
5) Know that police involvement in a DV incident will most likely not be
what a male survivor wants to do.
6) Be a listening ear without judgement
Breaking down the stereotypes and listening to any survivor is crucial to their healing. Trauma affects our brain function, emotions, physical abilities, & many other elements. These affects do not happen to just one gender, race, or sexuality; it affects everyone. Be a support system to men. They will reach out one time, let that one time be helpful and positive.