The Missing Equality between Men’s and Women’s Accusations of Domestic Violence

FRIDA FATIA | Gemasian 2020

“You? A man? As the victim?” That is probably the first thing that pops up in most people’s minds when they hear that a man is a victim of domestic violence, especially in male-female relationships. Whether they realize it or not, people tend to think twice, or, even more, before they take in the fact that a man is a victim of abuse. In fact, some people will not even bother believing it. The following is the explanation why such a mindset needs to be corrected.

Domestic violence, also referred to as “domestic abuse” or “intimate partner violence”, is a pattern of violence committed by the victim’s domestic circle. This scope includes partners and ex-partners, immediate and non-immediate family members, and family friends. The abusive behavior is typically used to gain or maintain control and power over the victim. Because of the power gap, the victim is usually dependent on the offender. Domestic violence can be physical, psychological, sexual, emotional, or financial. It can be expressed directly or in the form of threats of actions. So, broadly speaking, domestic abuse includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, frighten, terrorize, humiliate, blame, injure, or hurt the victim. Most victims of domestic violence are women. It is said, for the year ending March 2017 to the year ending March 2019, 77% of the victims of domestic homicide (killed by ex/partner or family member) were female and most of the suspects were male. However, domestic violence can happen to anyone of any gender, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, socioeconomic backgrounds, and education levels. 

Sadly, people often seem to forget about that violence-can-happen-to-anyone proposition, especially when it happens in male-female relationships. Records of domestic violence cases in male-female relationships heavily denote that men are the most probable perpetrator. Those documentations also seem to build a perception that men are naturally aggressive beings. Therefore, for the longest time, domestic violence is always viewed as a female victim–male aggressor problem in heterogender relationships. Consequently, the bar is higher for men to be believed in as a victim in these cases. It is as if it is impossible for them to be the submissive one in the relationship. While in fact, it is estimated by the National Domestic Violence Hotline that one in seven adult men has been the victim of domestic abuse. It also says that men are less likely to report the abuse than women. So, struggling to have people believe in them after they report the abuse is not the only issue, but to gather the courage to report the abuse alone is a start. 

One of the causes that hesitate male victims to bring their abuse to light is toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is a cultural pressure for boys and men to behave in a certain way that is defined as “manly”. Two of the traits are toughness and anti-femininity. Toughness involves the idea that men should be physically strong, behaviorally aggressive, and emotionally cold, while anti-femininity is the idea that men should eliminate anything that is considered to be feminine, such as showing emotion and asking for or accepting help. These perceptions that men should be a tough figure and may not ask for help can be damaging to their mental health and can have significant effects for society, which is why it is referred to as “toxic” in the first place. It is proven by the fact that toxic masculinity plays a role in restraining male victims of violence to speak up about their abuse as it is reported in the journal BMJ Open. Based on the journal, researchers of an 11-year study found that men avoid seeking help because they are afraid that people will not believe them or/and disrespect them for not being masculine. 

To look closer on this issue, there are a couple of domestic violence cases to be discussed where the men struggle to win the heart of justice and equality. The first case is the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Currently, the issue of domestic violence is widely spoken about because of the case of a globally well-known A-list Hollywood actor, Johnny Depp. Depp is undergoing a trial against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. The ongoing court case was originally started because Heard published an op-ed in December 2018 saying that she is a victim of domestic violence. Even though she did not blatantly name Depp, her then already-ex-husband, as her aggressor, people made an assumption that it was him and therefore canceled him immediately. The negative reactions from the media and the public resulted in Disney firing Depp from one of his biggest roles, Captain Jack Sparrow, in Pirates of the Caribbean 6. In one of his court testimonies, he admitted to feeling betrayed by Disney, “I did not understand how, after a long relationship and quite successful relationship certainly for Disney, suddenly I was guilty until proven innocent.”

Depp thought that Heard’s writing was the reason his whole career and reputation got flushed down the toilet. In March 2019, he finally filed a defamation lawsuit against her for implying that he was an abuser and accused her of being the true abuser in their relationship. Heard bounced back and countersued him in January 2021. As the trial is still in process today, neither of them has proven innocent. Interestingly, until now, Warner Bros. has not taken Heard out of her biggest role yet as Mera in Aquaman since she was first accused of domestic violence. Why was she not also guilty until proven innocent? Moreover, the accusation did not destroy Heard’s image in the public eye as it did severely to Depp’s. This clearly indicates that it is easier for people to accept Depp, a man, as a perpetrator rather than a victim, even though Heard did not mention Depp as her abuser at all in her op-ed. 

The second case is a case told by Dr. Debra Warner in her 2018 TEDx talk about male trauma survivors. Dr. Warner is a leading forensic psychologist, trauma expert, author, and speaker specializing in male trauma. In her TEDx talk, she told a story of one of her acquaintances who was a male domestic violence survivor, which she revealed at the end of her talk was her husband himself, Robert. Robert was perpetrated at three different points in his life by multiple perpetrators. He was perpetrated at age 4, at age 7, and at age 15 which was domestic violence executed by his own maternal aunt. At each point of abuse, Robert hid his pain deeper and deeper because he was taught to “suck it up, be a man!”. However, when Robert decided to finally speak up to his mother about what his aunt had done to him, his mother’s reaction was unfortunately underwhelming. Dr. Warner believed his mother would be at least furious if Robert were a girl who was being touched by her uncle. Instead, his mother only gave his aunt an advice that she cannot force a teenage boy to have sexual intercourse with her if the boy does not want to. The unjust reaction kept Robert silent until his adulthood where he finally opened up to his wife about his past traumas following a sudden rage attack he threw at a public place. 

Domestic violence is a serious problem that can happen to anyone. It can cause serious physical injuries to the victims, damage their mental health, and even cost them their lives. Women dominating the amount of victims of domestic violence does not mean that all of the victims are women. Men can absolutely be one too. Any domestic violence accusation from any victim should get the same amount of attention. Male victims should be taken seriously, female victims should be taken seriously, all victims of any gender should be taken seriously. Victims admitting the problem they are having and seeking help is not at all a sign of cowardice, it is actually very much the opposite. It takes a lot of thought and bravery for victims to come forward regarding their abuse, and every single one of them deserves the same amount of help and support for that. 


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