Male and racial minority disadvantages in intimate partner violence victimization

Research Topics > Male and racial minority disadvantages in intimate partner violence victimization

Survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) live with numerous negative consequences of IPV, such as physical and mental health problems. While some actively seek help to address problems stemming from IPV, others do not. Survivors use many different help sources, both formal (e.g., police, counselor, and health care) and informal (e.g., family, friends, and coworkers). Violence types encompass psychological (e.g., name calling and excessive controlling by the partner), physical (e.g., beating and using a weapon), sexual (e.g., rape and sexual assaults), and stalking. IPV consequences include problems with mental health (e.g., depression and suicidal thoughts), physical health (e.g., physical injuries and long-lasting pain), and social functioning issues (e.g., missed days of work or school). It is mostly agreed that female survivors are more likely to seek help than males and the nature of IPV affects survivors’ decisions about whether to seek help, and which help source to utilize.

However, there are not many studies about how gender interacts with the nature of IPV in the survivor’s help-seeking decision. For instance, male survivors of psychological violence, suffering depression afterwards, may not go to mental health professionals, nor talk about it with anybody else, while female survivors of similar violence with similar mental health problems may not only seek help from professionals but may also share it with their friends for support. The author worked with doctoral students in the School of Social Work and in the College of Education at MSU to address this issue. We used the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), a nationally representative telephone survey of adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. A total of 3,878 IPV survivors (869 male and 3,009 female) were included in this study. The study provides many interesting findings as follows.

Males and racial minorities disadvantaged in service use

Hyunkag Cho Figure 1 Formal Help-Seeking

Understandably, help-seeking is influenced by how much they are victimized and injured by violence. Survivors who experienced multiple types of violence (physical and psychological violence, etc.) and multiple types of consequences (physical injury and missing work days, etc.) are more likely to contact the police or health care providers. Those who suffered only psychological violence or mental health issues are more likely to talk only with friends or family, not going to professionals.

However, the survivor’s gender and race matter. Male, Black, or Hispanic survivors do not seek help as much as female or White survivors. When they do seek help, they are less likely to contact the police or health care providers and more likely to talk only with friends or family compared to female or White survivors. For men, this relationship holds true even when violence resulted in multiple consequences. Male survivors who suffered multiple consequences are more likely to talk only with friends or family, not going to the police or health care providers, compared to female survivors.

These findings suggest male disadvantages in victimization such as gender roles and expectations and lack of services for male survivors. Men may perceive the consequences of victimization as less serious than females, which might have them less likely to seek formal help, instead choosing to talk with friends and brush it off. They may have experienced barriers when seeking formal help because formal help sources such as police and shelters may be designed primarily for female survivors and are biased against men.

Hyunkag Cho Figure 2 Help-Seeking
Hyunkag Cho Figure 3 Formal Help-Seeking

The findings also suggest racial minority disadvantages in victimization. They may have faced barriers to social services, including stigma, cost, accessibility, and language barriers. They may have lived with cultural values that emphasize a strong willingness to solve any problem within family boundaries.

Recommendations for practitioners

Given that Black and Hispanic survivors do not seek help as much as Whites, service providers are encouraged to be aware of the importance of cultural competency and provide survivors from minority communities with proper services, equipped with effective and congruent cultural values (understanding survivors’ potential tendency to address problems by consulting with their own, not with outsiders, etc.), behaviors (reaching out to the survivors who do not seek help, accommodating their language preferences, etc.), and attitudes for survivors among racial ethnic minority groups (respect for their values, understanding their behaviors within their, not our own, cultural contexts, etc.).

The same can be said for men. More attention needs to be given to male survivors. While it is well established that IPV is predominantly violence against women, this does not mean that males are immune to it. Practitioners need to be better prepared to address the existence of male survivors and their potentially unique needs and have a good understanding of male masculinity and its negative effects on their expression of, and seeking help for, victimization experiences.

This article is based on a forthcoming research article: Cho, H., Seon, J., Han, J., Shamrova, D., & Kwon, I. (in press). Gender differences in the relationship between the nature of intimate partner violence and the survivors’ help-seeking. Violence Against Women.