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How to recognise and help male victims of domestic abuse

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 29 Mar 2021

Domestic abuse cases have risen over the course of lockdown. Male victims are three times less likely to confess they are suffering from domestic abuse than a female victim, making it harder to spot.

In recent years, a greater spotlight has been shone on domestic abuse. There is a wider understanding of the forms that domestic abuse can take, the debilitating and damaging effects it can have on victims and the need to take it seriously whether it’s emotional abuse and gaslighting or physical assaults. But there are still many blindspots that employers have when it comes to managing these issues. One, which gets discussed less often, are male victims of domestic abuse. 

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics , 757,000 men were victims of domestic abuse in 2019/20. This is about half the number of female victims (1.6m), but still significant. Male victims are nearly three times less likely to tell anyone that they are a victim of domestic abuse than a female victim, and are more likely to consider taking their own lives. 

As female victims are more common and more likely to die at the hands of their abusers, more resources are available for them. The ManKind Initiative provides resources for male victims and their friends and family who need help to deal with the fall out of domestic abuse. 

“It's always important to think about domestic abuse and partner abuse as being very much something that affects men and women in heterosexual and same sex relationships,” says Mark Brooks, chairman of the ManKind Initiative. “Part of the work that we've been doing is to set up a national helpline that takes around 2,500 calls a year and a very successful website that has about 100,000 visitors a year. That's been increasing during lockdown.” 

While domestic abuse cases have progressively decreased over the past few decades, they have increased across the board during lockdown. Brooks says that his organisation has seen a 25-33% increase in calls since lockdown began. The organisation has been working with domestic abuse services, charities, police forces and the NHS to ensure that victims that need it get help. 

“We're seeing a big demand and an increase in awareness from employers wanting to make sure that they are supporting any victims of domestic abuse among their employees, female or male.”

Gender stereotypes are just as damaging for men as they are as women, albeit in different ways. Men are less likely to speak up about any abuse they are suffering at the hands of their partners or other family members because they are more likely to feel ashamed or fear humiliation. 

“They fear that they won't be believed and don’t always recognise that they are a domestic abuse victim,” says Brooks. “It is hard to explain at a very surface level if you're a six foot two guy, and your partner is five foot six. Trying to actually understand and compute that as a man, that you're a victim of physical and psychological violence, it is really hard for a man to come to terms with, because it undermines the whole sense of what it means to be a ‘man’.”

From an organisational perspective, the ManKind Initiative recommends that employers take the ‘four R’s approach: recognise, respond, refer and record. From a manager/team member perspective, this translates into being able to spot the signs that someone might be experiencing domestic abuse, and asking them questions about why their behaviour might be changing. A subtle approach is often best, says Brooks. 

“The best thing to do, especially for men, is to start planting the seeds, not necessarily being direct, but giving them an opening to talk. Ask them if everything is alright at home, tell them you’re happy to chat, offer to take them for a drink. 

“You may end up talking about trivial things for 55 minutes and five minutes about what’s actually going on, but as long as you respond positively to that – that you believe them, and can help – that can be extremely powerful.”

It is also important for employers to remember that victims never fully recover. Men, typically, will try to block out the experience. “Even when a man or woman has escaped from that abusive relationship, that residual experience will be with them for some time. So never think, as an employer that once the individual has left that relationship, everything will go back to normal. They might even have a new partner and still might be affected. It will never be cut and dried once they’ve left that relationship. You need to take that into account, especially if there have been issues with their performance or their time keeping.”

Warning signs of domestic abuse

The ManKind Initiative lists the common red flags to look out for if you suspect someone is a victim of domestic abuse. Here are some of the signs to look out for (a full list can be found here).

  • Check in often with their partner to report where they are and what they’re doing
  • Receive frequent, harassing phone calls from their partner
  • Talk about their partner’s temper, jealousy, or possessiveness
  • Have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident
  • Show major personality changes (an outgoing person becomes withdrawn)
  • Not taking their appearance seriously (being unkempt, unhygienic)
  • Looking unwell (including lack of sleep/insomnia)
  • Work productivity and timekeeping is negatively affected
  • Frequently miss work or social occasions, without explanation
  • Dress in clothing designed to hide bruises or scars (wearing long sleeves in the summer or sunglasses indoors)
  • Have limited access to money, credit cards, or the car
  • Never or rarely goes out in public without their partner
  • Has no (or no longer has) access to social media 

For more information for how to deal with domestic abuse as an employer, see the BITC domestic abuse toolkit. If you or someone you know might be a male victim of domestic abuse or would like a presentation at your workplace, visit mankind.org.uk/.

Further reading