Who comes to your mind when we mention victims of domestic violence? Chances are, you picture a female. And while women make up the largest percentage of victims, domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender.
Is it time to change how we approach domestic violence awareness and support?
Abuse Isn’t a Gender Issue; It’s a Human Issue
While we often focus on female victims of domestic violence, abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere. Most known survivors are indeed women. But abuse happens to men and nonbinary people as well. In fact, one in seven men reports experiencing domestic violence. Some male victims experience violence in same-sex relationships, but many others are abused by a female perpetrator.
In short, abuse isn’t a gender issue. It’s a human issue.
The Focus on Female Victims
Anyone can experience domestic abuse, regardless of gender. But women are far more likely to become victims. Most often, domestic violence is a crime perpetrated by men against women.
Consider the following statistics from the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
- 1 in 4 American women aged 18 and older have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In contrast, 1 in 7 men reports the same.
- Women ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.
- Nearly 15% of women, compared to 4% of men, have been injured because of intimate partner violence, including rape, physical violence, or stalking by a partner.
- From 1994 to 2010, approximately 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female.
Based on these statistics, it’s no wonder most domestic violence shelters and resource centers focus on women.
Shifting the Focus
Yes, cisgender women (those assigned females at birth and still identify as women) are more likely to experience intimate partner violence than their male or nonbinary counterparts. However, we need to acknowledge that anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse – and provide non-female survivors with the education and resources they need to leave abusive relationships and thrive on their own.
Domestic violence awareness organizations are increasingly shifting their focus from a female-centered approach to a more inclusive message.
One story in Psychology Today highlighted several recent studies on domestic abuse against male victims. There’s increasing evidence that intimate partner violence against male victims might be a bigger problem than initially reported. Because of the shifting focus, the general public, the media, and healthcare providers are taking male-centered abuse more seriously.
Similarly, transgender and nonbinary people are in the spotlight more than ever before. As trans and nonbinary people become more visible and comfortable in society, they are more likely to report instances of abuse.
The statistics are staggering. Transgender and nonbinary people are at increased risk of harassment, violence, and other forms of abuse compared to their cisgender peers. However, they are often less likely to report the violence, fearing mistreatment by the authorities or being outed to family and friends.
As awareness increases, so do the services and resources available for male, transgender, and nonbinary survivors.
Cultural Norms and Male Victims
Male victims are often hesitant to report the abuse, in large part because of traditional cultural norms. Many men have been conditioned to be “strong” and “tough,” so admitting to being a victim can feel like a foreign concept to many American men.
Masculinity isn’t the only thing stopping male victims from reporting their abuse. Men often don’t admit to or report the abuse for many of the same reasons as their female counterparts:
- Belief that they somehow deserve the abuse, or that the abuse isn’t that bad
- Threats of physical violence from the perpetrator
- Desire to keep the family together, especially if there are children involved
- Economic hardship
- Lack of resources
- Cultural or religious beliefs
Recognizing Abuse Across Genders
Because domestic abuse impacts everyone, we need more effective ways to identify and serve survivors of all genders.
We can start by acknowledging that anyone can be a victim of abuse. Our society turns a blind eye to male, transgender, and nonbinary victims. But by raising awareness, we can empower victims to come forward and seek help, and we can better serve them when they do.
Abuse Is NEVER Okay
One thing is certain across gender lines: abuse is NEVER okay. Anyone experiencing abuse should have the opportunity to leave the abusive environment, whether male, female, or nonbinary. Currently, there are many more resources for abused women and children than for other populations, but anyone experiencing intimate partner violence or domestic abuse has the right to seek help.