How many men beat up their wives

Domestic violence against men: ignored and taboo

At least one million men in Germany regularly suffer domestic violence by their partner. The reasons why they put up with this despite mostly physical superiority are complex.

Women who flog have problems with impulse regulation. Photo: dpa

A man who lets himself be beaten by a woman - this seems almost unthinkable. Because women are generally considered to be less aggressive and violent than men. In addition, most men are physically superior to women and could defend themselves accordingly. However, the domestic violence figures speak a different language: According to UK surveys, one in three victims of domestic violence is male. German experts assume that one to two fifths of the victims are men. At least one million men in Germany regularly suffer domestic violence by their partner. However, the number is likely to be much higher because most men do not talk about their partner's attacks or seek help.

That women are more peaceful than men is a persistent myth. Consultants and experts who look after victims of violence and have differentiated insights into couple relationships, on the other hand, assume that women are at least as aggressive as men - it just isn't as obvious to the outside world. Because the weapons of many women are not fists, but words.

Irregularity and anger

Women live out their aggressiveness by, for example, teasing, rushing, humiliating or spreading rumors. But the number of women fighting physically is also increasing. This may be related to the increasing self-reliance and independence and the current self-image of girls and women, but also to changing gender stereotypes and ideas of femininity. Among other things, they express themselves in a new type of woman, who is conveyed through movies, crime novels, comics and computer games and is characterized by defensive, battle-tested warriors who do not avoid a conflict, who can handle weapons just as much as men who Equal or even superior to men in combat and who attack and kill in cold blood. But certain personality deficits also play a role. Women who flog have problems with impulse regulation. They are prone to a lack of self-control and angry outbursts. They also lack empathy and skills to non-violently reduce negative emotions and resolve conflicts peacefully. Their own experiences of violence, role models that are violent, socialization that is not typical for girls and women, and the experience of being able to assert oneself with the help of physical violence and to exercise control and power also contribute to the fact that women strike.

"Domestic violence by women against men comes in three variants," say Portuguese psychologists working with Andreia Machado from the University of Minho (Braga, Portugal). The most common variant is psychological violence. These include, for example, insults, humiliation, teasing, controls, bans, threats and extortion. Many men do not defend themselves against it, but rather quietly endure it, especially since the female sex is often verbally superior to the male sex. When men fight back, it is more on the physical level by striking out and in extreme cases even killing their partner. The second most common variant is physical violence. Women hit with their hands or fists, they bite, scratch, pull their hair or kick their feet. But that happens relatively rarely. Much more often they use various objects that they use as weapons, such as needles, scissors, small pieces of furniture, kitchen utensils, shoes, knives, hammers and other tools. This is how they compensate for their physical inferiority. The third variant is sexual violence. Men are also sexually harassed, raped or forced into acts that they reject.

One question inevitably arises in this context: Why don't men strike back? Men could easily defend themselves physically against women. Instead, they let themselves be humiliated and hurt. There are various reasons for this. One reason is an innate or acquired inhibition. Boys and men are taught not to do anything to the physically inferior and the supposedly helpless and weak, such as women and children, because this is considered "dishonorable". It is therefore unthinkable for her to attack a woman or to defend herself against her. Another reason is that men often don't see women as equals. They underestimate the danger they can pose and do not make them feel seriously threatened. Your self-protection strategies are therefore not activated. Some men also do not hit back because they reject violence and because they love their partner and do not want to harm her.

Shy of separation

There are also men who shy away from the inevitable consequences, such as a breakup, a complaint, a police investigation, a lawsuit, couple therapy, or family breakup. In order to save the partnership or family, they allow themselves to be mistreated and see this as the price they would have to pay for it. Some men also believe that they are complicit in provoking the outbreak of violence, not behaving according to the woman's wishes or being unable to help her. In some cases, threats by the woman to kill herself, the children or the man if he leaves are also a massive reason. In addition, some men do not know where to go and see no alternative to where to stay. Possibly socialization can also be used as an explanation for some men. Quite a few affected men grew up in an environment in which women dominated and were possibly violent and in which a survival strategy was to tacitly tolerate and endure violence.

According to the British aid organization “ManKind Initiative”, affected men rarely talk about domestic violence. There are various reasons for this as well, such as:

  • Men find it difficult to see themselves as victims and to identify with the victim role.
  • In the male self-image, men are strong and defensive.
  • Men are ashamed to be victims of a supposedly weaker person.
  • Men do not want to be asked about the details of the violence and the reasons why they do not fight back.
  • Men are under pressure to pretend to the outside world that everything is fine.
  • Men do not want their problem to be made public among relatives, friends, colleagues or neighbors.
  • Men are afraid that they will not be believed and that they will be seen as perpetrators and arrested.
  • Men don't know where to turn with their problem.

Machado and colleagues found out from a survey of 89 male victims of domestic violence that affected men - if at all - only confide in a friend or relative. However, they rarely turn to advice centers and aid organizations. Most men do not believe in going to the lawyer, doctor, psychotherapist or police, among other things because they do not trust these institutions and supporters and because they do not feel taken seriously by the police and believe that they will not do anything. On average, it takes two and a half years before an affected man seeks outside help.

For men, experiencing domestic violence has many negative effects. Stress, fear, shame, anger and physical and emotional injuries lead to depression, anxiety disorders, symptoms of illness and trauma, reduced self-esteem, social isolation and suicidal intentions in many men. This often affects their children too, provided they witness the violent assault.

In many countries there is neither understanding nor offers of help for men who are affected by domestic violence. The situation is a little better in western countries. For example, in Germany there are some victim support organizations, violence protection outpatient clinics, self-help groups and therapy offers that specialize in counseling men. In addition, there are a few places of refuge (similar to women's shelters) that men can retreat to. Compared to the offers for women, however, offers for men are still extremely poor. Among other things, this is due to the fact that the subject of “violence against men” is taboo and filled with shame, that beaten men have no lobby and that there is hardly any reporting and consequently almost no public awareness of the problem. "However, many men want to talk about what is being done to them and want more support," says Dutch doctor Babette Drijber from the Municipal Public Health Service in Amsterdam. Men who experience domestic violence would therefore be helped with more low-threshold, anonymous offers of help and advice and with greater social awareness and recognition of their problem.

Dr. phil. Marion Sonnenmoser

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