Can Men Be Victims of Domestic Violence?

Savvy Psychologist's recent episode on the 6 Surprising Myths About Domestic Violence caused quite a stir. Several listeners wrote in asking about one other myth that often goes unmentioned: Only women can be victims of domestic violence.  Read on for the truth about spousal abuse.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
3-minute read

Last week we covered 6 Surprising Myths About Domestic Violence, to which several listeners wrote in and asked me to add Myth #7: Only women get abused.

Now, before we bust the myth (and it is indeed a myth) I do feel compelled to say that last week’s episode deliberately addressed myths about abusive men. To quote myself, the episode was “specifically for women in relationships with the Ray Rices of the world.”  Like most of the nation, I was appalled by the events in the NFL and I felt the need to speak out to women in similar situations.  

Men Experience Domestic Abuse Too

That said, there are many men out there who get physically, emotionally, and even sexually abused by female partners. One of these was a male Savvy Psychologist listener who wrote in and described his current struggle to get out of a physically abusive marriage and protect his children in the process.  

Men like our listener aren’t alone.  A national report released just last month by the CDC found that violence by an intimate partner, including being beaten, kicked, hit with an object, or deliberately burned, had been experienced at least once by 22% of women and 14% of men.  

2 Types of Domestic Abuse

And, it gets more complicated.  There are two types of domestic violence.  One is called intimate terrorism.  Intimate terrorism is about controlling the other person through violence and fear and is perpetuated in 97% of cases by men, 3% of the time by women.  Victims of intimate terrorism are more likely to get injured, get hit frequently, have symptoms of PTSD, and to miss days of work.

The other type is called situational couple violence.  This is essentially when an argument gets out of control and leads to shoves, slaps, and thrown plates.  It’s more about loss of temper than ownership and control.  This type of domestic violence is much more equal-opportunity, with roughly equal initiation across gender.  According to a 1989 book based on results of the landmark National Family Violence Survey, situational couple violence is initiated 27% of the time by men, 24% of the time by women, and in 49% of cases, both parties simultaneously.  Here, women are just as likely as men to be violent, though women are more likely to be injured.

It’s also important to note that men in chronically abusive relationships - physical or emotional - are vulnerable because police often automatically arrest the man, child custody often goes to the woman, issues of embarrassment, shame, and masculinity are at stake, and there’s a lack of expert help to which to turn.  For example, the only existing hotline specifically for male victims of domestic violence recently went offline due to lack of funding.

Indeed, sometimes - oftentimes - these men are not even believed.  Male or female, nothing adds insult to the injury of abuse like having your story dismissed.

So, even if men are in the minority when it comes to being the victims of abuse, what a dangerous world we would live in if minority views were silenced or disregarded!  Bottom line: no one deserves to be abused.  

Thanks to savvy listener Dave in Tokyo for sending me one of the study references, all of which you can find below.

If the Savvy Psychologist is useful to you, please show your appreciation by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, liking it on Facebook, adding me to your Google + circles, or emailing a link to someone important in your life. 


Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Basile, K.C., Walters, M.L., Chen, J. & Merrick, M.T. (2014).  Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(SS08), 1-18.

Straus, M. & Gelles, R.J.  (1989).  Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families. Transaction Publishers: Livingston, NJ.

Johnson, M.P.  (2006).  Conflict and control: gender symmetry and asymmetry in domestic violence.  Violence Against Women, 12, 1003-18.

Johnson, M.P. & Leone, J.M.  (2005).  The Differential Effects of Intimate Terrorism and Situational Couple Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey.  Journal of Family Issues, 26, 322-349.;

Stop abuse graphic courtesy of Shutterstock.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. 

You May Also Like...