Men who experience domestic violence and abuse face significant barriers to getting help and access to specialist support services, our latest study shows.
Although the amount, severity and impact of domestic violence and abuse experienced by women is much higher than that experienced by men, men can also suffer significantly as a result of abuse from a partner, ex-partner or an adult family member.
An earlier study of 1,368 male patients in GP clinic waiting rooms in the UK found that more than one in four had experienced abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner. They were also between two and three times more likely to have symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The experiences of many men who are survivors of domestic violence and abuse are similar to those of women. Like female survivors, they find it hard to identify coercion and control as abuse, and to disclose to healthcare professionals that the person who is supposed to love and protect them is harming them. Although they want the abuse to stop and to protect their children from the impact of abuse, they might not necessarily want to end the relationship.
Despite these similarities, the needs of male survivors have been comparatively neglected. Although men also need specialist support, they often face scepticism from healthcare professionals when they disclose this information.
We undertook a review of qualitative studies exploring the barriers to seeking help and the experiences of male victims of domestic violence and abuse in accessing services. Our paper, published in BMJ Open, not only brings together findings not previously reviewed and synthesised, but also provides evidence for developing services to support men who have suffered domestic violence and abuse.
Our findings confirm what has been found in previous studies about barriers men face in seeking help. It has also given us new insights into what hinders and helps professionals and services to provide effective support.
Steven’s story (not his real name) illustrates how difficult it can be for men to seek help and the challenges for health professionals to respond effectively.
Reasons for not seeking help
The main reason men don’t seek help is a fear of not being believed, embarrassment at talking about the abuse, and the feeling of being “less of a man”. Men also worried about the welfare of their partner, damaging their relationship or losing contact with their children if they opened up to someone outside their personal network of family and friends. Others lacked the confidence to seek help as a result of the abuse.
The study also found that men were often not aware of specialist support services or felt they were not appropriate for male survivors of abuse. When men did seek help, they did so usually when their situation had reached a crisis point. While both men and women are reluctant to seek professional help for their abuse, there is an added barrier for men: many fear being falsely accused of being the perpetrator.
Confidentiality was very important to those seeking help from services, as were trust and a non-judgemental attitude. Male survivors raised the importance of the continuity and quality of relationships with professionals to whom they disclose the details. Even if they did not report abuse at the time of a crisis, a positive interaction with a professional influenced their decision to disclose the violence and abuse they experienced at a later date.
There were mixed views about how easy it was to open up to doctors and many men said they preferred to get help from a female professional.
We recommend that services should be more inclusive and tailored more effectively to address the needs of diverse male survivor groups, including those in same-sex relationships. Services should offer ongoing support and be widely advertised. Images and wording of publicity materials for services should represent different types of masculinity and sexuality. Also, health professionals need specialised training to address the specific needs of men and to foster greater levels of trust.