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Viewpoints > Battered men

Battered men, forgotten victims of domestic violence?

Just as we don't speak of " battered women " at SOS femmes Accueil, we also do not use the term "battered men" (except to cite other authors who use this term). This term is inappropriate because it is too restrictive: in fact, domestic violence is not only physical (which is the only reference of the term "battered"), it is psychological before becoming physical, it can also be economic and/or, at least in the case of women, sexual (forced sexual relations, non consensual). Read here.

As we say for women, we prefer to refer to male victims of domestic violence, ... even if it is longer to write or say. (If we used the term "battered men" as the title on this page, it was to use the cliché and to create the opportunity to discuss it ... CQFD.)

Does the male victim of domestic violence exist?

Sophie TORRENT, a Swiss social worker and graduate of the Department of Social Work and Political Science at the University of Freiberg, did research for her thesis (June 2000) titled "L'homme battu. Analyse du phénomène de la violence de la femme envers son conjoint, de sa gestion par l'homme et de son processus de dépassement" (" The Battered Man. Analysis of the phenomenon of violence by a woman on her spouse, of her management by man and of her process of overtaking.") This university work later became the basis of a book, published in January 2003 by Editions Option Santé: L'homme battu. Un tabou au coeur du tabou. (" Battered men. A taboo at the heart of taboos. ") ISBN N°: 2-922598-04-7.

L'homme battu

On the basis of laboriously gathered testimonials, Sophie Torrent shows that psychological violence is the favorite weapon of women. This violence expresses itself directly in the form of refusal, insults or unfounded accusations. An indirect and much more destructive manner is to blow up against the people or the things to which the man is sentimentally linked. The majority of men questioned also endured physical violence. Chairs broken in their face, scissors planted in their stomach or bites are some of the examples cited in the testimonials. In the same way as domestic violence against women, that of a woman against her spouse "targets the identity of the person". However the roles of men and women in society are different. Domestic violence against men certainly happens partly within the privacy of the family unit where the man is denigrated in his role as lover or father. But it systematically overflows from the private sphere into the public sphere, the ultimate masculine showcase setting. The woman attacks the man at his workplace and seeks to isolate him socially. As a consequence of this violence, the man's identity "is wounded from the inside by a progressive self-dispossession, and from outside by public humiliation."

Faced with this violence, the man feels powerless. He often prefers the known universe of his conflicting relationship to the idea of a new life: solitary and uncertain. If he is a father, he cannot imagine abandoning his children to a violent woman. Conscious of the social perception of masculinity, he hesitates to seek outside help. Rather than take radical measures to end his uncomfortable situation, the male victim of domestic violence develops management strategies for his stigma. "At the beginning, he denies the violence in the relationship to others as well as himself by emphasizing the positive elements of the relationship." He diminishes the importance of the violent acts or minimizes the responsibility of his wife. The man also puts adaptation strategies into place. He protects himself by anticipating danger. He over invests himself in his work. He develops a heightened aptitude for patience, compassion or forgiveness which gives him a feeling of personal valorization. Of course, the inevitable happens. Six out of seven assaulted men questioned ultimately happily separated from their persecutor. To get out of this spiral, "the man must first become aware that he is battered", says Sophie Torrent. "There must also be a catalytic incident for the man that makes it unacceptable for him to continue to accept his wife's behaviour." Violence against the children or intolerable harassment at work might be the occasion for the man to end the relationship, to see himself as a victim and, most importantly, to rebuild his own identity.

According to Sophie Torrent, one of the most insidious forms of psychological violence consists of manipulating the man by inciting him to be physically violent. If the man does retaliate, the law turns against him. The assaulted woman possesses a decisive advantage: society fundamentally believes she is the victim, whether she truly is or not. And she can, without too much ingenuity, make people around her believe that it is her husband who is violent.

Following these aggressions seeking to provoke violence, the man is fearful, more than anything else, of his own violence. If the man strikes out, the woman acquires the role of a battered woman all the while able to continuing to psychologically assault her spouse who, in his case, has no immediate legal weapons to be protected from this psychological violence. The presence of this potential violence puts the man in a stressful position on a daily basis. He knows that a single explosion on his part can have dire consequence. If he is stigmatized as a violent man, he knows that he will have no chance to obtain custody of his children, among other things. This mechanism is the most violent because it turns the male victim of his wife's violence into his own enemy. He starts to fear his own behavior and reactions and his means of defense inhibit him. "I'm the strongest, I must control myself".

Are women capable of violence?

In her much debated book Fausse Route (" Wrong Path ")(Editions Odile Jacob, 2003), Elisabeth Badinter cites numerous examples of violence perpetrated by women, from the active participation of female Nazis in the undertaking of the massive destruction of the death camps during the Holocaust to the mistreatment of their own for which certain women feel guilty, in complicity or not.

On this page of the site, for a long time, we have evoked feminine violence and feminine domestic violence, even if in this particular case it concerned homosexual couples. While very infrequent if one compares it to masculine violence, similar acts are regularly denounced by witnesses or requests for help at our email address...

Feminine domestic violence, what is the extent of this phenomenon?

Due to the absence of any statistics or detailed in-depth research on the extent of this phenomenon, it is difficult to make definitive statements.

However, it is reasonable to think - and this is not a way to deny the problem - that the phenomenon is statistically minimal. The reasons are essentially of a cultural nature: historical sharing of roles by sex, a culture of virility and of machismo, etc.

Subject to an inventory, complaints for assault and battery filed by women against male spouses and the cases of the death of male spouses caused by their wife are quite low. It is not possible to argue an under-declaration of deaths. Concerning the number of complaints, even if it is true that the system makes it quite difficult for a man to file a complaint against his wife, there is also a large under-declaration of complaints for female victims of domestic violence.

Do specific associations and support groups for men exist?

To our knowledge, no specific services exist to aid male victims of domestic violence. This is due to the fact that, on the one hand, the phenomenon remains buried and is little known, and on the other hand that, contrary to women (at least in France), men are never brought together by a support group, in any case, concerning this particular question, perhaps also because the number of victims is very low ...

Nevertheless, it is useful to specify that certain services are of course as much available to women as they are to men (for example, les associations et services d'aide aux victimes) and that certain others, targeting mostly women, are however completely open to men, beginning with the network of Centres d'Informations sur les Droits des Femmes which regularly welcomes men, whatever the reason.

August 2003

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