A recently published study conducted at the Centre for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte) sheds light on the dynamics of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) against men and the specific barriers and facilitators to seeking help.
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Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) – a subset of domestic violence in which the perpetrator is the intimate partner of the target of violent behavior – is commonly associated with violence against women. However, the World Health Organization states that it “occurs in all settings and among all socioeconomic, religious and cultural groups.” (WHO, 2012). Eduardo Reis, a student from the Doctoral Program in Psychology at Iscte and the first author of this study, explains that
“Men, regardless of their sexual orientation, can be targets of various forms of violence, including physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence. These forms of violence can have significant and long-lasting health consequences for them, including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and serious physical injuries.”
Carla Moleiro, a researcher at CIS-Iscte and one of Eduardo’s PhD supervisors, adds, “gay and bisexual men can experience different minority stressors that may play a role in their experiences of IPV, such as internalized stigma about being LGBTI+ and expectations of discrimination. Thus, despite experiencing some similar core dynamics of violence as men in different-sex relationships, men in same-sex relationships can face specific challenges.”
In this study, Portuguese men of different sexual orientations who had been targets of IPV were interviewed about formal and informal help-seeking processes and dynamics. This research also explored the potential Gender Role Conflict of men who have suffered from IPV. Gender Role Conflict occurs when rigid, sexist, or restrictive gender roles cause restriction, devaluation, or violation of others or the self.
The results showed that the most experienced type of violence was psychological, such as being criticized and humiliated or the target of coercive control and stalking, followed by physical violence, including incidents such as being punched or strangled. Additionally, a wide array of negative psychological outcomes resulting from their experiences of violence were mentioned during the interviews. Most participants in this study did not feel informed about violence directed at men when they experienced it. They also considered that violence against men is not discussed in society as much as it should be. Eduardo Reis states, “Likely because of this, when participants experienced violence, they reported that violence directed at men is considered less serious than violence directed at women.”
According to Patrícia Arriaga, the third author of this study and Eduardo’s supervisor, “Some participants expressed discomfort and voiced not identifying with the label of “victim” since the term seems to imply attributes of passivity and weakness. They felt that this term carries a negative connotation, potentially undermining their self-perception”.
Notably, the research team also found that some participants did not resort to formal sources of help, such as health centers or therapists, or filing a criminal complaint. “Several reasons were pointed out for this, including lack of awareness about who to contact and how the process would be.”, Eduardo explains. Lastly, being a man (and in some cases being LGBTI+) increased expectations of mistreatment by police forces, although experience with this process varied among the participants.
In conclusion, this qualitative study informs about the complexity of experiences of violence directed at men in different-sex and same-sex relationships, highlighting the potential contribution of gender role conflict in help-seeking behaviors. The authors suggest training and adequate awareness raising about IPV directed at men and existing resources as key to increasing help-seeking in men targets of violence. They add that actively deconstructing traditional gender roles is also fundamental to unlocking the potential and maximizing the well-being of all people. The team concludes, “Our study suggests there is a pressing need to raise awareness about the violence that is omitted among intimate partners, especially against men, to ensure the use of available help resources and effective community responses in dealing with these serious problems.”.