Domestic violence against men: Know the signs
Medically reviewed on March 1, 2017
Women aren't the only victims of domestic violence. Understand the signs of domestic violence against men, and know how to get help.
Recognize domestic violence against men
Domestic violence — also known as intimate partner violence — occurs between people in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence against men can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. It can happen in heterosexual or same-sex relationships.
Abusive relationships always involve an imbalance of power and control. An abuser uses intimidating, hurtful words and behaviors to control his or her partner.
It might not be easy to recognize domestic violence against men. Early in the relationship, your partner might seem attentive, generous and protective in ways that later turn out to be controlling and frightening. Initially, the abuse might appear as isolated incidents. Your partner might apologize and promise not to abuse you again.
You might be experiencing domestic violence if your partner:
- Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
- Prevents you from going to work or school
- Stops you from seeing family members or friends
- Tries to control how you spend money, where you go or what you wear
- Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
- Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Threatens you with violence or a weapon
- Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
- Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
- Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
If you're gay, bisexual or transgender, you might also be experiencing domestic violence if you're in a relationship with someone who:
- Threatens to tell friends, family, colleagues or community members your sexual orientation or gender identity
- Tells you that authorities won't help a gay, bisexual or transgender person
- Tells you that leaving the relationship means you're admitting that gay, bisexual or transgender relationships are deviant
- Justifies abuse by telling you that you're not "really" gay, bisexual or transgender
- Says that men are naturally violent
Don't take the blame
You may not be sure whether you're the victim or the abuser. It's common for survivors of domestic violence to act out verbally or physically against the abuser, yelling, pushing or hitting him or her during conflicts. The abuser may use such incidents to manipulate you, describing them as proof that you are the abusive partner.
You may have developed unhealthy behaviors. Many survivors do. That doesn't mean you are at fault for the abuse.
If you're having trouble identifying what's happening, take a step back and look at larger patterns in your relationship. Then, review the signs of domestic violence. In an abusive relationship, the person who routinely uses these behaviors is the abuser. The person on the receiving end is being abused.
Even if you're still not sure, seek help. Intimate partner violence causes physical and emotional damage — no matter who is at fault.
Children and abuse
Domestic violence affects children, even if they're just witnesses. If you have children, remember that exposure to domestic violence puts them at risk of developmental problems, psychiatric disorders, problems at school, aggressive behavior and low self-esteem. You might worry that seeking help could further endanger you and your children, or that it might break up your family. Fathers might fear that abusive partners will try to take their children away from them. However, getting help is the best way to protect your children — and yourself.
Break the cycle
If you're in an abusive situation, you might recognize this pattern:
- Your abuser threatens violence.
- Your abuser strikes you.
- Your abuser apologizes, promises to change and offers gifts.
- The cycle repeats itself.
Typically the violence becomes more frequent and severe over time.
Domestic violence can leave you depressed, anxious and at increased risk of problems with alcohol or drugs. Because men are traditionally thought to be physically stronger than women, you might be less likely to report domestic violence in your heterosexual relationship due to embarrassment. You might also worry that the significance of the abuse will be minimized because you're a man. Similarly, a man being abused by another man might be reluctant to talk about the problem because of how it reflects on his masculinity or because it exposes his sexual orientation.
If you seek help, you also might confront a shortage of resources for male victims of domestic violence. Health care providers and other contacts might not think to ask if your injuries were caused by domestic violence, making it harder to open up about abuse. You might fear that if you talk to someone about the abuse, you'll be accused of wrongdoing yourself. Remember, though, if you're being abused, you aren't to blame — and help is available.
Start by telling someone about the abuse, whether it's a friend, relative, health care provider or other close contact. At first, you might find it hard to talk about the abuse. However, you'll also likely feel relief and receive much-needed support.
Create a safety plan
Leaving an abuser can be dangerous. Consider taking these precautions:
- Call a domestic violence hotline for advice. Make the call at a safe time — when the abuser isn't around — or from a friend's house or other safe location.
- Pack an emergency bag that includes items you'll need when you leave, such as extra clothes and keys. Leave the bag in a safe place. Keep important personal papers, money and prescription medications handy so that you can take them with you on short notice.
- Know exactly where you'll go and how you'll get there.
Protect your communication and location
An abuser can use technology to monitor your telephone and online communication and to track your physical location. If you're concerned for your safety, seek help. To maintain your privacy:
- Use phones cautiously. Your abuser might intercept calls and listen to your conversations. He or she might use caller ID, check your cellphone or search your phone billing records to see your complete call and texting history.
- Use your home computer cautiously. Your abuser might use spyware to monitor your emails and the websites you visit. Consider using a computer at work, at the library or at a friend's house to seek help.
- Remove GPS devices from your vehicle. Your abuser might use a GPS device to pinpoint your location.
- Frequently change your email password. Choose passwords that would be impossible for your abuser to guess.
- Clear your viewing history. Follow your browser's instructions to clear any record of websites or graphics you've viewed.
Where to seek help
In an emergency, call 911 — or your local emergency number or law enforcement agency. The following resources also can help:
- Someone you trust. Turn to a friend, relative, neighbor, co-worker, or religious or spiritual adviser for support.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233). The hotline provides crisis intervention and referrals to resources.
- Your health care provider. Doctors and nurses will treat injuries and can refer you to other local resources.
- A counseling or mental health center. Counseling and support groups for people in abusive relationships are available in most communities.
- A local court. Your district court can help you obtain a restraining order that legally mandates the abuser to stay away from you or face arrest. Local advocates may be available to help guide you through the process.
Domestic violence against men can have devastating effects. Although you may not be able to stop your partner's abusive behavior, you can seek help. Remember, no one deserves to be abused.