Lack of Research on the Male Mental Health and the Incidence and Prevalence of Male Victimization by their Partners

Male psychology, compared to female psychology, has been largely overlooked leading to lower scholarly literature on the topic. Traditionally, men have been underrepresented in mental health settings and only seek help in times of desperation (Brooks, 2010). With respect to intimate partner victimization, such underrepresentation of men arise from the greater importance placed on female victims (Hines & Douglas, 2010a). The interest in female victims particularly took root in the 1970s with the second wave of feminist movements resulting into studies that argued that women were more likely to be killed either while leaving a violent relationship or after having left a violent relationship than men (studies cited in Warner, Baro & Egenberg, 2004, p. 24). However, recent studies such as one conducted by Steinmetz, Straus and Gelles (2008) found the number of men who experience IPV perpetrated by women was also significant. A different study that conducted a longitudinal assessment over a thirty-year period revealed that in North America, England, New Zealand and Australia, men and women were equally abusive toward one another and in some cases women were more abusive towards the men (Farrell, Svoboda & Sterba, 2008, p.34). In the study, women admitted to being more likely to be violent and to be the instigators of violence compared to men. They were more likely to engage in “severe violence that was not reciprocated” (Farrell, Svoboda &Sterba, 2008, p. 34).  Anderson (2002), using national surveys and clinical data, supports such findings arguing that wives under a tremendous amount of stress, suffering from depression or substance abuse, were likely to perpetrate IPV.

Hines and Douglas (2010a) reinforce the occurrence of IPV perpetrated against male victims. The study used two samples one comprising a helpseeking group i.e. men who sought help for their victimization by partners in a clinical setting and a community sample. They used McNemar’s test statistic to compare the prevalence of all types of IPV that men experienced and perpetrated. The study results indicated that men in both groups had experienced higher levels of violence than those they meted to their partners in most of the forms of violence assessed (Table 4, p. 46). The study considered IPV to include not only physical abuse but also psychological and emotional abuse perpetrated by intimate partners against one another. In a different study, Hines and Douglas (2010b) reinforce the prevalence of male victimization finding that, in contrast to the prevailing assumptions, men also experienced severe forms of victimization frequently, victimization that resulted into adverse psychological and physical outcomes. In this study the authors used a sample of helpseeking men. The study also found out that men experiencing such victimization exhibited a desire to leave but were prevented from leaving due to physical deterrents by their partners or psychological attachment to the family.

The findings in the two studies by Hines and Douglas (2010a, 2010b), were however limited by use of self-reported victimization. Some studies (e.g. Archer, 1999 as cited in Hines & Douglas, 2010, p.53) have shown that such self-reports contain bias where men could underestimate their use of violence against their partners or underestimate the extent of injury they inflict on such partners. A second limitation resulted from the use of a male-only sample, which arose from a need to preserve the identity of males in helpseeking group to avoid retaliation by their partners. Such a sample meant that the study did not have external validation of experiences of violence recorded by the group studied. However, the fact that such participants had to overcome societal stereotypes to seek help for their cases indicates that their reports could be an accurate representation of the types of IPV that they experienced.

A study on female aggression preceding the studies conducted by Hines and Douglas provided more profile regarding the female perpetrator of IPV. In this study by Dowd, Leisring and Rosenbaum (2005), the authors indicated the motivation to have been the paucity of research on the subject of male victimization by female partners leading to little information on treatment approaches for male victims of IPV. Dowd, Leisring and Rosenbaum (2005), collected data from 107 domestically violent, heterosexual women who were mandated by the courts to participate in anger management programs. Their study revealed women who perpetrated IPV were likely to have low education, suffered from attachment disruptions during childhood, presented with mental health problems, engaged in substance abuse and experienced victimization. Additionally, the findings indicated that such women engaged in severe forms of physical abuse thus reinforcing the findings by Hines and Douglas (2010b) that the men victimization by intimate female partners was not only restricted to subtle forms.

A study by Flink and Paavilainen (2011) provided more evidence of the underrepresentation of male victims of IPV in mental illness settings. The study assessed how women perceive their violent behavior in the context of a heterosexual relationship. The authors state that intimate partner violence (IPV) is a “culture-specific phenomenon, and conceptualization of violence varies culturally” thus making it difficult for men whose culture considers them to be the stronger gender, to expose victimization by their partners (Flinck & Paavilainen, 2011, p.306). Given the sensitivity of the topic, the authors used a small sample size of 24 Caucasian women of Finnish origin recruited through agencies that serve to help women in violent situations and through the researchers’ contacts. The sample compriosed of women aged between 19 years and 58 years. A convenience sampling approach was thus employed.

In assessing women’s perceptions of IPV, the authors first utilized existential phenomenology following the traditions of Husserlian descriptive phenomenology (Flinck and Paavilainen, 2011).  Husserlian descriptive phenomenology focuses on the individual’s perspective of a situation. Phenomenological analysis seeks to ascertain the meaning of a phenomenon rather than explaining or unearthing the causes of such a phenomenon (Flinck and Paavilainen, 2011). Therefore, in this first approach, the study evaluated IPV with regard to how women perceived the issue of female-perpetrated IPV. Secondly, the study evaluated the participants from the Merleau-Ponty’s existential perspective that focuses on the lived experience (Flinck&Paavilainen, 2011).   Existentialism focuses on the human being existing within its unique world.  It contends that the individual is a living, eating, thinking, feeling creature that becomes more “authentic” in by being more spiritual, mental and physical (Sartre, 1946). According to existentialist philosophy, the human conscience, free will and choice determine the actions they will carry out (Sartre, 1946).

The data collection tool was an open-ended questionnaire that allowed broad responses from the participants concerning their perceptions of IPV. The procedure included two interviews conducted using an open-ended questionnaire. The study received ethical approval from an ethical committee in Finland with participants providing informed consent for their participation. From the responses obtained, the authors transcribed data to evaluate the meanings that arose with regard to female-perpetrated IPV. The findings indicated that female perception of female-perpetrated violence was influenced by their ethical and religious beliefs. For instance, females who opposed violence due to their consideration of violence to be unethical, did not label their perpetration of IPV to constitute violent behavior. However, those who appreciated their behavior to be violent, tended to minimize or justify such behaviors. Such findings reinforce society’s lack of interest in male victimization resulting into disregard of behaviors that would otherwise constitute violence if the female were the victim.

Studies conducted with undergraduate students have also reinforced the increasing incidence of female-perpetrated IPV. For instance, Forke, Myers, Catallozzi and Schwarz (2008) explored the role of relationship violence prior to and post college admission. They used a random list of participants obtained using online course rosters from each college. Instructors in the selected classes were contacted via an e-mail requesting permission to administer the tests to the students attending calls on the day of the mass survey. The used chi-square, Fisher exact test and t-test to compare the victimizations rates for each type of violence.

The study’s findings indicated that many of the people in violent relationships suffered from emotional abuse before admission to college. Although more females admitted to have experienced victimization than males, male victimization was also common. The authors found that partners committed both physical and emotional violence with sexual violence being the least form of violence experienced by the participants (Forke et al., 2011, p.635). The analysis of victimization before and during college revealed 12.1% of women to have been perpetrators before college and 7.3% during college compared to 4.9% and 1.8 % for men respectively.

Orcutt, Garci and Pickett (2005) also studied female college students by examining the frequency, severity and reciprocity of female-perpetrated IPV. They also evaluated the effects and consequences of violence perpetrated by the female on her male partner. The test subjects were categorized into four groups: nonviolent, perpetrator-only, victim-only and bi-directionally violent. Results of the study indicated a higher rate of female perpetrators in bi-directionally violent relationships. Such females were the dominant aggressors at times carrying out physical acts of violence on their male partners. The authors also found out that carried out females with the highest rates of perpetration had extremely elevated attachment anxiety and low attachment avoidance. This subset of females was also more likely to report perpetrating the violence than females high in both attachment styles.

Weiss (2010) examined the occurrence of sexual victimization on males. The study used American sample using data collected through the National Crime Victimization Survey. The motivation of the study resulted from the neglect of male victims of sexual crime as evident from reseach and anecdotal evidence. Weiss (2010) argued that female survivors of sexual victimization have historically received more attention compared to male victims due to society’s perception of the female to be the more vulnerable gender. Out of such low concern for male victims, Weiss contends that the safety and emotional well-being of male victims is not addressed adequately.

The study examined a broad range of male sexual victimization experiences starting with a comparison of men and women’s sexual victimization incidents. Accounts of victimization were obtained from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which has been collecting data on personal and household victimizations since 1973 (NACJD, 2010). Victimization incidents recorded included rape, attempted rape and other sexual assaults (Weiss, 2010, p. 278). The research findings indicated that men’s account of rape was equivalent to women’s experiences. However, according to the author, since men have historically been deemed to be the initiators of sexual activity and women the recipients of such initiation, men’s accounts of rape or sexual victimization are seldom taken seriously.

The research reviewed in the preceding section highlights the lack of research on the male psychology with respect to IPV even with increasing incidence and prevalence of male victimization. Reviewed studies indicate that male partners face almost equivalent levels of victimization as female partners with some forms of victimization being severe. The forms of victimizations that male partners face include physical abuse, psychological abuse, and emotional and sexual abuse. Despite such occurrences, males are less likely to seek treatment due to society perception of the male gender to be the stronger gender in terms of physical, emotional and psychological aspects. Due to such societal perceptions, the male victim receives less attention thus resulting into limited literature addressing treatment approaches for the male victim. go to part three here.

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