A Closer Look at Men Who Sustain Intimate Terrorism by Women - Denise A. Hines, PhD and Emily M. Douglas, PhD - 2010
The present study is an in-depth, descriptive examination of 302 men who sustained severe IPV from their women partners within the previous year and sought help. We present information on their demographics, overall mental health, and the types and frequency of various forms of physical and psychological IPV they sustained. We also provide both quantitative and qualitative information about their last physical argument and their reasons for staying in the relationship. It is concluded that, contrary to many assumptions about these men, the IPV they sustain is quite severe and both mentally and physically damaging; their most frequent response to their partner's IPV is to get away from her; and they are often blocked in their efforts to leave, sometimes physically, but more often because of strong psychological and emotional ties to their partners and especially their children. These results are discussed in terms of their implications for policy and practice.
The summary surrounding the term intimate terrorism was quite good:
Although increasingly more researchers have been investigating women's use of intimate partner violence (IPV) (e.g., Carney, Buttell, & Dutton, 2007; Carney & Buttell, 2004; Dowd, Leisring, & Rosenbaum, 2005; Henning & Feder, 2004; Henning, Jones, & Holdford, 2003; Swan, Gambone, Caldwell, Sullivan, & Snow, 2008; Swan, Gambone, Fields, Sullivan, & Snow, 2005; Swan & Snow, 2006) and thus acknowledging that men can sustain IPV from their women partners, little systematic research has documented the experiences of men who sustain IPV from their women partners. What has been done has been limited primarily to case studies (Cook, 2009; Migliaccio, 2001), with only one larger-scale study of men seeking help because they sustained IPV (Hines, Brown, & Dunning, 2007). One reason for this lack of research has been attributed to the controversial nature of this topic (Hines & Douglas, 2009): Despite decades of research showing that women use IPV against their men partners (Catalano, 2007; Gelles, 1974; Straus & Gelles, 1988; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000) at rates and frequencies that often equal that of their men partners (Archer, 2000), there are some who argue that men do not sustain IPV from their women partners, unless it is because their partners are acting in self-defense or retaliation (Belknap & Melton, 2005; Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992; Loseke & Kurz, 2005; Saunders, 1988). These authors typically argue that, because IPV is an issue of men maintaining power and control over their women partners, it is not possible for women to be perpetrators of IPV.
Johnson (1995, 2006) attempted to resolve this controversy by theorizing that there are two distinct types of IPV: common couple violence (CCV) and intimate terrorism (IT). CCV, Johnson argued, was seen primarily in population-based and community surveys that showed that women and men used IPV equally. This type of IPV consists of conflicts that “get out of hand” and result in men and women using low levels of violence (e.g., pushing, shoving, or slapping) toward one another. The central feature of IT is that the violence is one tactic in a general pattern of control of the male partner over the female partner. The IPV occurs frequently and is severe, occurring at least monthly; it is not likely to be mutual, and it is likely to involve serious injury and emotional abuse of the female partner as well. Johnson argues that IT can be explained by patriarchal theory and is the sole domain of men. The primary shortcoming of Johnson's research is that he used only shelter samples of battered women, and men mandated into batterer treatment programs, to come to this conclusion.
In a previous article on the data set used in the current study (Hines & Douglas, in press), we established that, as a whole, the men in our sample were the victims of IT by their women partners and that the violence the men used against their women partners was characteristic of violent resistance. Violent resistance, as described by Johnson, is characterized by the victim sometimes reacting to the partner's IT with violence but not within a general pattern of trying to control the partner (Johnson & Ferraro, 2000). The purpose of the present article is to more closely examine the men who sustain IT and to evaluate some prevailing assumptions about who they are and what they experience. Specifically, we will provide data on their demographics, the nature of their relationships, what types of abuse they experience, and what prevents them from leaving.
What follows is some myth-bustering on some myths we always hear. Women are always acting in self defense
As mentioned, one well-noted assumption about women who use IPV against their men partners is that they are acting solely in self-defense or retaliation against their presumably violent men partners (Belknap & Melton, 2005; Dobash et al., 1992; Loseke & Kurz, 2005; Saunders, 1988). This assumption, held by a few researchers, has been refuted by studies assessing women's motives for IPV, which show that, although some women report self-defense or retaliation as a motive, most do not (see Hines & Malley-Morrison, 2001; Medeiros & Straus, 2006, for reviews). In a previous article (Hines & Douglas, in press), we provided evidence that refuted that assumption as well.
That violence against men is harmless
Another assumption concerning woman-to-man violence held by some researchers (e.g., Pagelow, 1985) focuses on the relative size difference between most men and women. Because, on average, men are physically bigger and stronger than their women partners, some authors have argued that men would strike back or restrain a woman partner who becomes violent and that men presumably also have the ability to leave the premises without being forcibly restrained by their women partners (Pagelow, 1985). Some researchers who forward this assumption conclude that, because men can easily fight back, restrain their partners, and/or leave the premises, women's violence against men is trivial, humorous, or annoying (Currie, 1998; Pagelow, 1985; Saunders, 1988), and violence by women toward men has no social or psychological effects on the men who sustain it (Mills, 1984). Several anecdotal accounts (Cook, 2009; Migliaccio, 2001) and one larger-scale study (Hines et al., 2007) of men who sustain IPV from women partners indicate that women's violence can induce fear in men partners and is not viewed as trivial, humorous, or annoying, but as distressing. Many men report that they cannot and will not hit back, both because of moral objections to hitting a woman and because of fear that, if he hits her back, he may set himself up to be arrested and/or lose custody of his children (Cook, 2009; Migliaccio, 2001). Men victims are injured less frequently than women victims, but, men do, nonetheless, sustain injuries, which are sometimes very severe (Hines & Douglas, in press; McNeely, Cook, & Torres, 2001), and suffer socially and psychologically from their partner's aggression (e.g., Cook, 2009; Hines, 2007; Stets & Straus, 1990).
That men can always leave
A related assumption is that men who sustain IPV from their women partners can leave their partners. Some researchers argue that men are not economically trapped in marriage or romantic relationships like women, because their incomes and occupational statuses tend to be higher (Saunders, 1988); they are not physically or economically constrained from leaving (Pagelow, 1985), nor are they as psychologically invested in the children or household (Loseke & Kurz, 2005). Researchers who support this line of reasoning focus on concrete resources that are often available to men such as physical strength, employment, and transportation. Nonetheless, case studies show that men who sustain IPV often focus on these and other barriers to leaving an abusive relationship, including a commitment to marriage, lack of financial resources, and concern for their children. In such circumstances, men often worry that their women partners will obtain custody of their children. They have substantial concerns about leaving their children with a violent parent; if they stay in the household, they at least feel that they can protect the children (e.g., Cook, 2009; Steinmetz, 1977–1978). In our previous research on the sample in the current study, we also found that men encounter serious barriers to obtaining help from the social service system and from police when they seek such support, such as not being believed, being laughed at, and/or being accused of (or being arrested for) being the “real abuser” in the relationship (Douglas & Hines, 2009). Such barriers to seeking help from a system that is designed to help IPV victims creates further barriers to leaving an abusive woman partner.
As for the study and the results, excerpts:
Almost 80% of men participants reported that they were injured by their women partners, with 77.5% stating they sustained a minor injury and 35.1% sustaining a severe injury in the previous year. Moreover, within just the men participants who did sustain injuries, the men participants reported that they were injured 11.68 times in the previous year (9.73 minor injuries and 4.64 severe injuries). [...] The most prevalent severe physical aggression items were punching/hitting him with something that could hurt, sustained by 84.4% of the sample at a rate of 6.08 acts in the previous year, and kicking, sustained by 56.3% of the sample at a rate of 3.08 acts in the previous year. Notably, 40.1% of the sample said they had been beaten up in the previous year, at an average of 2.68 times. This included 10 men (3.3%) who reported being beaten up 11 to 20 times in the previous year and 14 men (4.6%) who reported being beaten up more than 20 times in the previous year. In addition, 20.5% of men said their partners used a knife or gun on them in the previous year, which includes 9 men (3.0%) who said this happened 3 to 5 times, 2 men (0.7%) who said it happened 6 to 10 times, and 1 man (0.3%) who said this happened more than 20 times in the previous year. Almost 17% of the men reported being choked, which included 14 men (4.6%) who were choked 3 to 5 times, 2 men (0.7%) who were choked 6 to 10 times, and 3 men (1.0%) who were choked more than 20 times in the previous year.
The most common types of injury were having a sprain, bruise, or small cut, sustained by 69.5% of men on an average of 4.05 times in the previous year. Of the severe injuries, 29.1% of men said that they needed to see a doctor but did not in the previous year, and 14.2% actually did see a doctor. Over 5% of men reported sustaining a broken bone or passing out, with 15 men (5.0%) sustaining one broken bone, 1 man (0.3%) sustaining two broken bones, 2 men (0.7%) sustaining three to five broken bones, 10 men (3.3%) passing out once, 5 men (1.7%) passing out twice, 1 man (0.3%) passing out 3 to 5 times, and 1 man (0.3%) passing out 11 to 20 times in the previous year.
Finally, we asked the men about other behaviors that their women partners might have used that could be considered psychologically aggressive. Specifically, 67.2% reported that their partner falsely accused them of hitting or beating her; 38.7% reported that she filed a restraining order against him under false pretenses; 48.9% of the men with children reported that their partners falsely accused them of physically abusing the children, and 15.4% reported that they were falsely accused by their partners of sexually abusing the children. [...]
Of 189 men who reported that they had not left their partners yet, 178 (94.2%) reported that they have seriously considered leaving. The issues that prevent them from leaving are presented in Table 7. As shown, commitment to the children and marriage, for those men who have children and/or are married, are the primary reasons they remain in the relationship. The third most common reason is love, followed by a fear that they may never see their children again. Over half of the men also reported that they think that their partners will change, they do not have enough money to leave, they have no place to go, and that they are embarrassed that others will find out that their partner abuses them. Just under 50% reported that they did not want to take the children away from their partners (presumably the children's mothers), and around 25% stated that the partner threatened suicide if they left and that they feared she might kill them or someone they love if they leave. [...]
When the woman partner hit first, the most common reaction that the participants reported was to get away from the partner or go to another room; the least endorsed reaction was to hit/grab/shove/push back. Thus, the men do seem to be able to leave the argument and violence if they want. However, there is also evidence that some are blocked in their efforts to leave, either through further violence or having their access to transportation blocked. In addition, they do not strike back in large numbers: 12 of the 59 men (20.3%) who reported that they hit/grabbed/shoved/pushed back stated in their qualitative accounts that it was to restrain her or defend himself. Thus, at most, 16.7% of the men reported striking back in retaliation, which is congruent with previous qualitative research that shows that men victims of IPV are reluctant to hit back either because of moral objections to hitting a woman or because of fear that if he hits her back, he may set himself up to be arrested and/or lose custody of his children (Cook, 2009; Migliaccio, 2001).
Moreover, there is evidence that the harm to children who witness IPV by their mothers is as strong as the harm they experience when witnessing IPV by their fathers (Holden, Geffner, & Jouriles, 1998; Moretti, Obsuth, Odgers, & Reebye, 2006; Straus, 1991). [...]
Over 90% sustained severe physical aggression (aggression that had a high likelihood of causing an injury), and over 50% sustained very severe physical aggression (aggression that could be considered life-threatening), which included being beaten up, having a knife or gun used on him, and being choked. Finally, the IPV they sustained was not inconsequential: 78.5% sustained an injury in the past year and were injured, on average, about once a month; these injuries included broken bones and passing out from being hit on the head.
In addition to the IPV mentioned above, over half of the men reported that their women partners made false accusations against them, which included that he hit or beat her, that a restraining order was filed against him under false pretenses, or that he physically and/or sexually abused the children. These findings are congruent with a previous study that showed that approximately 50% of men victims of IPV stated that their partners gave false information to the court system in order to gain custody of the children or to obtain a restraining order (Hines et al., 2007). These findings are also consistent with a study of families undergoing custody disputes in the courts (Johnston, Lee, Olesen, & Walters, 2005), which showed that 21% of women made allegations of physical child abuse against their husbands, 23% of sexual child abuse, and 55% of IPV. Only 6%, 6%, and 41% of the accusations, respectively, were substantiated by the courts. (This study also showed similar rates of accusations and substantiations by men against their wives.) Such findings show that men who fear false accusations are justified in having such fears.
Moreover, it is possible that the mental health of the men in this sample may have suffered as a result of being involved in their relationship. Almost a quarter of the men had been diagnosed with a mental illness, and about 40% of these mental illnesses were diagnosed since being involved with their women partners. [...]
Our final analyses provided data on why the men chose to stay in their relationships. Some researchers have argued that, in comparison to battered women, it is not difficult for men to leave their relationships, because they have the financial and occupational resources to leave (Pagelow, 1985; Saunders, 1988), and they are not as psychologically invested in their family (Loseke & Kurz, 2005). However, our study casts doubt on these assumptions. The overwhelming reason they chose to stay in the relationships typically involved their commitment to the marriage and their children. They stated that, when they married, it was for life and that they are concerned about their children–results that are congruent with a previous qualitative study that showed that men's primary reason for not leaving was a strong objection to what they perceived as abdicating their responsibilities to their marriage and children (Cook, 2009) but not congruent with researchers who argue that men are not that psychologically invested in their families.
In addition, the vast majority (71%) of men indicated that they stayed in the relationship because of love. Most of the literature on battered women focuses on external barriers to leaving, such as economic and housing needs and fears that their partners will escalate his abuse if they leave, with a deemphasis on more internal constraints, such as strong emotional attachments to one's partner (see Griffing et al., 2002, for a discussion). However, studies of battered women that do consider love/emotional attachment as a possible constraint to leaving or returning to an abusive partner are consistent with our findings that the majority of victims cite this as a main reason for not leaving, with far fewer victims citing external constraints (e.g., Anderson et al., 2003; Griffing et al., 2002; Torres, 1987). Thus, love should not be overlooked or underemphasized as a real barrier for both men and women leaving abusive relationships, because by not acknowledging it, we may undermine our efforts to help women and men who may want to leave but feel emotionally tied to their abusers. Some researchers have discussed the bond that forms between battered women and their abusers as a form of traumatic bonding, in which the cycles of battering and reconciliation lead to a strong attachment that is difficult to break (Dutton & Painter, 1981; Walker, 2000). This bond seems to be strongest in the context of a relationship in which one partner is more powerful and when physical punishment and loving reconciliation are intermittently and alternately administered; this bond has been found in studies of prisoners and prison guards, captors and hostages, child abuse victims and parents, and battered women and their batterers (see Dutton & Painter, 1981, for a discussion). It is likely that many of the men in our study had this same type of bonding with their women partners. In addition, it provides further evidence that men's psychological investment in their families is a substantial barrier to leaving.
Also indicative of their psychological investment in their families are the fears that men indicated that they may never see their children again if they left, and they also discussed, in their qualitative accounts, their need to stay to protect their children. They expressed their fears that they will lose custody of their children, because women predominantly gain custody of children when families divorce or sep arate (Cancian & Meyer, 1998) and/or because of their women partners’ threats to make false accusations against them so that they would have no possibility of getting custody. Half of the men in our study reported that such accusations had already been made against them.
Additionally, more than half of the men indicated that they did not leave because they had no place to go and did not have enough money to leave, results that do not support the assertion that men have enough resources to leave if they wish (Pagelow, 1985; Saunders, 1988). Other men, in their qualitative accounts, discussed the possible negative financial and professional repercussions of leaving through such issues as having their private life made public and/or having their women partners make false accusations against them that could ruin them. Overall, the men in our sample report substantial barriers to leaving.