Lead author Robert J. Reid, MD, PhD, an associate investigator at the Group Health Center for Health Studies, said that even men experience domestic violence, though their trauma is often hidden and understudied.
His findings confirm some common beliefs but also debunk five myths about abuse of men. The study is published in the June American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Myth 1 – Few men experience domestic violence.
The study, which involved phone interviews with over 400 randomly sampled adult males, came up with some surprising findings. As many as five percent of the men had experienced domestic violence in the past year, 10 percent in the past five year and 29 percent over their lifetimes.
Myth 2 – Abuse of men has no serious effects.
The researchers found domestic violence is linked to serious, long-term effects on men’s mental health. Dr. Reid said that women are more likely than men to experience more severe physical abuse. “But even nonphysical abuse–can do lasting damage,” he added.
He found that depressive symptoms were nearly three times as common in older men who had experienced abuse than in those who hadn’t, with much more severe depression in the men who had been abused physically.
Myth 3 – Abused men don’t stay, because they’re free to leave.
The researchers found that men stay for years with their abusive partners.
“We know that many women may have trouble leaving abusive relationships, especially if they’re caring for young children and not working outside the home. We were surprised to find that most men in abusive relationships also stay, through multiple episodes, for years,” said Dr. Reid.
Myth 4: Domestic violence affects only poor people.
The study actually showed it to be an equal-opportunity scourge. “As we found in our previous research with women experiencing domestic violence, this is a common problem affecting people in all walks of life,” Dr. Reid said.
Myth 5 – Ignoring it will make it go away. Not so.
“We doctors hardly ever ask our male patients about being abused-and they seldom tell us. Many abused men feel ashamed because of societal expectations for men to be tough and in control,” Dr. Reid said.
The researchers found that younger men were twice as likely as men age 55 or older to report recent abuse. “That may be because older men are even more reluctant to talk about it,” he added.
Dr. Reid said more research is required to determine the best ways for doctors to ask men if they have experienced domestic violence-and how best to help them into couples counseling, leaving their partners, or getting protection orders.