Sunday, October 16, 2005

Debunk this...

The anti-MRA camp frequently fall back on claiming that the men's rights position is based on debunked claims. What they never seem to do is provide any evidence that a claim has been debunked. One of the favorites is to poo-poo the idea that men can be abused. Shortly after reading one such article (no link, I won't give him the time of day), I discovered an academic paper addressing precisely this issue.

"Psychological Effects of Partner Abuse Against Men: A Neglected Research Area" appeared in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity, a quarterly which began in 2000 and is still going. The article is written by Denise A. Hines and Kathleen Malley-Morrison, click on their names to find summaries of their credentials. It is perhaps worth noting that both authors are women, this shouldn't matter but it seems to be a truism that greater credibility is to be had by women studying men than men studying men although when it comes to studying women, the inverse is apparently not the case.

I offer a summary and some commentary:

The last paragraph of the introduction begins: "Although at times throughout this article we consider the relative effects of abuse against men versus abuse against women, we are not arguing that the two forms of abuse can be equated." And the same paragraph ends: "However, evidence that women are injured more seriously and more often does not mean that the male victims of intimate violence should be ignored. It is our view that because many men are being victimized in their intimate relationships, the effects of this victimization are worth exploring." 'Seems entirely reasonable to me...

Next, they present a number of surveys demonstrating that men can indeed be victims of domestic violence and note that "Crime surveys, however, are assumed to provide low estimates of intimate violence against both men and women because many people are unwilling to label the physical violence they receive at the hands of an intimate partner a crime." This works both ways.

They address a few criticisms of the data - e.g. that women are more easily & severely injured by their batterers than are men, to which I paraphrase their response as "yes, and...?".

Then an interesting line: "Although we acknowledge that most battered women use violence in self-defense, the bulk of the research on motivations for violence in intimate relationships has shown that self-defense is not the motivation for women’s violence in the majority of cases." and they cite references showing that such violence is more often to show anger, retaliate for emotional hurt, express feelings they can't verbalize, and, importantly, to gain control over the abused.

There is also the comment here that "critics have argued that many times abused women will initiate their own violence to control the timing and place of violence by men". Although I can see the point, I feel the need to point out that although this might be a true observation, it should not be used to arrive at the conclusion that it is acceptable to provoke violence.

Then, a common complaint of men's rights activists: "when studying responses of police officers in their study, Stacey et al. reported that the police would arrest the man as the batterer if the woman were the abuser because there was no counseling program for violent women available." Now, I don't have Stacey et al. to read and verify this, but it is a classic method of forcibly assigning blame to the man even if he's the victim.

Citations and summaries are given of studies that show female-on-male DV may be increasing. The summary of available studies to indicate that women do abuse men is finished with the statement "Many women report themselves to be capable of perpetrating violence against their partners, and the ramifications of this violence are worth exploring."

The authors go on to discuss the rates of physical injury to men, first noting that "The majority of studies that have assessed the victimization of men in marriages have compared these men to abused women.", and go on to consider only the rates of physical injury among men while accepting that abused women are at higher risk of this than are abused men. Nevertheless, they note that husbands and wives are nearly equally likely to be murdered, one by the other.

Next comes the psychological effects of abuse. Again, they observe that the bulk of the research is comparitive between men and women and, again, they observe that men certainly do experience negative psychological consequences of abuse, among them "emotional hurt, fear, helplessness, anger, revenge seeking, sadness, shame and humiliation, depression, stress, psychological distress, and psychosomatic symptoms". Moreover, they note that the available studies have a number of weakness with regard to understanding the consequences to men, such as the incidence of alcoholism, PTSD, suicide, self-destructiveness, self-mutilation and assaultive behaviors. I find these interesting because I am used to a world in which such behavior in women is often excused because she's been abused, but in the unrecognized abused man would be considered intrinsic defects in his personality rather than reactions to an intolerable living situation. The authors note "To gain a clearer picture of the consequences of abuse toward men, researchers need to study both the externalizing [alcoholism etc] and internalizing [depression etc.] behaviors of abused men compared with those of nonabused men."

They also emphasize "men who are the sole victims of violence in their intimate relationships should be assessed separate1y from men involved in mutually abusive relationships because the psychological ramifications could be quite different."

The next section is titled "Why do they stay?" and notes some qualitative studies of men hanging around an abusive wife. The usual reasons are given: commitment to the marriage, fear of embarrassment, and then they observe "If they were to leave their wives, they most likely would have to move out of their homes, support their (ex)wives, and pay for their own living expenses as well", "it is difficult for abused men to use this defense in court to obtain custody of their children" and "Therefore, many abused men refuse to leave for fear of leaving their children with abusive women.". This section finishes up by declaring the obvious need for quantitative research in this area.

Emotional abuse enters the discussion in terms of the difficulty in defining it. Nevertheless, "Even though emotional abuse tends to coexist with or predate physical abuse, emotional abuse can occur without physical abuse, and its effects are still devastating to those victimized by it.". References are cited demonstrating the existence of emotional abuse by women against men.

As for the effects of emotional abuse, the authors are able to find only one case study in the literature of a man who had been systematically emotionally abused. The case given is fairly extreme, but given the prevalence of the henpecked-husband stereotype, I would have thought there should be more than this one. The authors emphasize one particular aspect of this study, that "this man suffered from traumatic bonding, in which the abuser alternates abusive behavior with kindness, creating a bond that involves intermittent positive reinforcement" and is classically abusive.

Then "the more emotional abuse these men experienced in their relationships, the higher their symptom counts for PTSD and alcoholism". But again, the available research is pitifully sparse.

I am tempted to quote the conclusion in its entirity, but instead recommend that you follow the link and read it there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link - informative article and commentary.

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