In Turning point (2008-2011), the Norwegian Government’s action plan to combat domestic violence, NKVTS was given the commission to carry out a study of violence against men in close relations and their need for help. The results of the study should provide a basis for further development of methods and measures.
The report consists of two parts
NKVTS has carried out a study consisting of two main parts. The first part is a summary of existing knowledge in the field of violence against men in close relations based on a review of foreign and Norwegian research literature. This knowledge status deals firstly with theoretical and methodological challenges one faces in this research field and secondly with consequences of the violence and what kind of help the exposed men need.
The review of Norwegian and international research indicates that men are exposed to a significant part of the violence taking place in couples and between ex-partners. We also know that men to a large degree are exposed to violence from others they have confidence in. What qualitatively characterizes this violence, however, we know little about.
In a German pilot study of men’s experiences with violence one of the main findings was that not all acts of violence were understood as violence by the men or they were not talked about (Jungnitz, Lenz, et al. 2004). Some types of violence were understood as an integral part of the male normality and were not seen as or remembered as violence, but more as quarrels and fighting between friends. On the other side, there were types of violence understood as unmanly or shameful that they became tabooed and impossible to talk about. What was seen as violence and could be talked about were types of violence between these two extremes, outside what the men called “normal borders” for interaction, but which was not considered “unmanly”.
The other part of the study is a pilot study based on interviews of representatives from different authorities and service providers and a review of a smaller number of cases from The Norwegian Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (Kontoret for voldsoffererstatning). In this part we have gathered information about the ways different services register and identify cases regarding violence against men in close relations. We have also tried to find out how men are exposed to violence in close relations and what kind of help they express that they need when contacting different services.
Conclusions and further recommendations
Our study cannot tell how many men are exposed to violence in close relations, and this has not been the purpose of the study. What the study says something about is whether and to what degree services are in contact with cases of violence against men in close relations and how they deal with them.
The cases the services reported are about violence both from partner and other persons the men have confidence in. They comprise everything from serious to milder violence. They are about both physical and mental violence, and they are about both extensive physical injuries and reduced mental health.
Through interviews with selected services we have tried to present routines and points of view concerning work with men exposed to violence. Furthermore, we have asked for comments on experiences that the different services have had with this group of men.
Few services, if any, have focused directly on the theme. Our report indicates that “goodwill” is there, but little is concretely done to reach this exposed group. Just a few services actively inform about their offer to men exposed to violence.
Many services experience that men have problems telling about their exposure to violence and the threshold to report is higher for men than for women. The lack of suitable offers for men may also be a reason why so few men ask for help and report exposure to violence in close relations.
After reviewing the material from The Norwegian Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority it is our view that “close relations” in connection with violence against men should be defined and delimited in another way than what has been the case for violence against women. Regarding violence against women “close relations” have been understood as synonymous with partner. In the material we reviewed from The Norwegian Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority we found a great number of cases where the violence had not been perpetrated by a partner, but by others he had a close relation to, including friends, other family, neighbors, colleagues and other acquaintances. We are therefore of the opinion that one should include violence from a wider range of persons, in addition to violence from partner or ex-partner.
Much of the violence men are exposed to is psychological and emotional. Harassment and threats, degrading and humiliating treatment are sides of this psychological and emotional violence. We also find, however, that men are exposed to extremely serious physical violence in close relations. This serious violence is especially pronounced in the cases from The Norwegian Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. This includes both violence from former partner, present partner, friends, family members, neighbors and other acquaintances.
Many men exposed to violence in couples with common children are worried about what will happen to their relation with their children if the couple breaks up and how negotiations regarding arrangement for visitation will turn out.
Many men exposed to violence from partner also fear they will be the one blamed if the violence is disclosed.
It is our impression that men exposed to violence in close relations toil with similar consequences as women. An additional problem is, however, that the violence does not only represent an attack on the man as a person, but It is also an attack on his masculinity, his gender identity and thereby his self-assessment. Being exposed to violence is a taboo theme regardless of gender, but it may seem as masculinity, how it is understood and constructed by men themselves, represents an obstruction to unmask the violence and its consequences and to recognize their needs for help.
Particularly the cases from The Norwegian Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority bear witness to the fact that men’s bodies must tolerate much. There is much body present in the documentation of the violence, but the body is still not visible in the men’s testimonials or personal stories. The masculine physical body is receiver of punches and kicks with and without weapons. The violence especially affects men’s eyes and teeth, and many men suffer from the consequences in their daily life. Mental consequences are less visible, but documentation indicates that men also seek help for psychosocial problems.
Several services describe men seeking safety and who wish for the violence to stop, a safe place to be, a place to move to or someone to talk to. Many are unsure where to address themselves, and several men contacting crisis centers are in need of a place to stay temporarily.
What help the men look for may also indicate what help they expect to get. Lack of offers and interventions specifically directed against men exposed to violence in close relations and the absence of active information also including men may have contributed to the fact that few men seek help.
In many ways violence against men in close relations today is in the same position as violence against women was at the end of the 70s. When the first shelter for women, Camilla shelter in Oslo, started in 1978, there was little knowledge of violence against women; prevalence, consequences and needs for help had not been mapped. With the offer of help the need emerged more clearly and more women sought help.
The first crisis centers and the focus on violence against women met much opposition, but gradually attention and understanding have increased. Active efforts from central authorities through action plans, stress on knowledge development and competence-building in public services have contributed to reduction of the taboo and shame.
When it comes to violence against men in close relations, there may be reason to believe that active efforts to create adjusted programs and services and an active policy to counteract taboos and stereotypes will imply that the needs become more visible and that more men will seek help.
Need of further research
This report is a start of developing knowledge about the violence that men are exposed to in close relations. To get a deeper understanding of how this violence is experienced and what significance it has for the health and quality of life for the men exposed, further information directly from the victims is needed. NKVTS will therefore continue research on this form of violence, of the qualities of the violence, the consequences and the strategies men choose when trying to deal with their situation.