Sometimes it’s mum who dishes out the beatings. Instances of men being physically abused by their partners are far more widespread than previously thought, confirms Yvon Dallaire, a psychologist from Quebec and the author of ‘Violence towards men, an unthinkable and complex reality’ (published 2002).
What are the characteristics of this so-called ‘minor’ phenomenon of battered men?
For most people, the idea of battered men seems unbelievable. Nevertheless the reality is that men, too, are victims of domestic violence. The subject has been more widely tackled in the USA than in Europe, because over there male movements are better organised and more geared towards social themes. The topic also receives more media coverage. In a 2002 study lead by Denis Laroche for the Quebec National Statistics Institute, 62,700 women and 39, 500 men admitted to being victims of domestic violence (all types of violence).
These figures go against correct political discourse, which systematically names men as brutes and women as victims. Further prejudice states that men use physical violence, whilst women use psychological tactics - and yet, many men sometimes use psychological abuse: notably, by giving the ‘silent treatment’. Furthermore, 80% women will resort to using objects such as crockery and knives. In terms of psychological abuse, a woman will generally belittle her partner’s sexuality and virility, whereas a violent man merely wants to be proved right.
Why is female violence such a taboo subject?
In every relationship, there is a moment when a power struggle emerges in which the couple will use role play with violent elements. Nevertheless, these days we are seeing a development in female violence: she who defends herself or fights back will be seen as a strong woman. This attitude contradicts the traditional image which has been created by society, expecting women to be gentle and maternal.
It is important to know that violence is twice as likely to occur in lesbian relationships than in heterosexual ones. Also, in cases of infanticide, the mother is responsible for more than 56% of deaths. This contradicts the origin of feminist discourse which aims to show the male as the devil and the female as the angel. In Quebec, women are becoming more violent towards men, not the other way round.
What will become of battered men?
Men who suffer physical abuse risk not being believed or will often become the subject of ridicule. The feminist lobby, which is very powerful in North America, has only wanted to view domestic violence from one side. A battered woman is readily given a voice and is able to join a number of support groups or associations. These have been set up to help them escape the hell of domestic abuse, explains Sophie Torrent, a Swiss researcher who devoted her 2000 thesis to the subject, calling it ‘Battered men, a taboo subject’.
A male who admits to being abused feels enormous guilt and loses his status as a man, all whilst remaining isolated through a lack of support groups, and so on. In their denial of this phenomenon of battered men, feminists are starting to ostracise whole groups of women who are suffering, who continue their personal battle against violent behaviour and remain in need of help.