When we hear stories about domestic violence arrests, we commonly assume that a woman is the victim—and indeed, with more than 1 in 3 women experiencing intimate partner violence at some point in their lives, it’s a reasonable assumption. The truth, however, is that domestic violence is not gender-specific. In fact, a rather shocking percentage of men (1 in 4) will also experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. These men are sometimes assaulted by spouses, partners, exes, or even other family members. And yet, one report indicates that only 26 percent of all DV incidents reported to police involve male victims, even though the actual number is likely much higher. Let’s talk about the ramifications of men as the victims of domestic violence, how it happens, and why these incidents might be underreported.
A Recent High-Profile Case
This issue of male-victim domestic violence was recently thrust into the public dialogue with a news story concerning a high-profile NFL player. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has filed a civil suit alleging that an ex-girlfriend (a military sergeant named Gracelyn Trimble) entered Cook’s residence, assaulted him, sprayed mace on him and two houseguests, and held them at gunpoint. When she allegedly attempted another assault on a guest, Cook’s attorney says he intervened physically. Trimble has filed her own suit against Cook, also alleging assault, battery, and false imprisonment.
Ramifications of Male-Victim Domestic Violence
While no criminal charges have been filed in the Cook case, this story brings forward several important issues worth discussing because the dynamics of proving domestic violence appear to be much different when a male is the alleged victim. Let’s discuss some of these important ramifications.
Male-victim domestic violence is often more difficult to prove.
There are several interesting factors at work when a man alleges domestic violence versus a woman in the same situation–and unless the alleged perpetrator is also male, these factors often make it more challenging to obtain a conviction. Some reasons why:
- Men often show fewer physical signs of injury. If a woman is the perpetrator, the male victim is often able to withstand an assault without too many visible signs of harm. With female victims, the physical evidence may be more readily available.
- Women assailants may actually show signs of injury, as well–even to the point of implicating the male. If the male responds in self-defense, the assailant may actually sustain physical injury, which may even be used to paint the male victim as the accused. In the Cook case, the ex-girlfriend allegedly sustained physical injury, as well, and has used that fact as grounds to counter-sue Cook (another common development in male-victim cases–the parties accuse each other).
- Gender bias may play a role. Because women are widely considered the presumed victims in domestic violence incidents, male victims often find it more difficult to be taken seriously in their allegations–especially if there is no visible injury.
Male-victim domestic violence is underreported.
It is widely believed that many incidents of domestic violence against men never get reported to the police. (Even if you consider the Cook case to be an exception, the fact remains that no criminal charges were filed by either party.) Again there may be several factors at work here:
- Men may be too humiliated to come forward. Many men are embarrassed at the notion that they might be seen as a victim, whether the perpetrator was male or female. As a result, they simply don’t say anything.
- The men may be “blackmailed” by gender bias. There have been many cases where women have threatened false allegations of abuse to gain leverage in custody battles and divorce proceedings, even if the female is actually the abuser. The fact that the woman is more likely to be believed than the man often makes the man feel forced to stay in an abusive relationship because he doesn’t want his children hurt or taken away from him.
- Male victims don’t have the same support system that women do. There are a great many organizations that provide shelter, financial support, therapy, and other services for women seeking to escape abusive relationships. There are far fewer such organizations designed to help male victims (although some support organizations claim to be gender-neutral, helping victims of any gender). This, again, may lead to the male victim’s reluctance to report a situation of abuse.
The Law Is Gender Neutral—at Least in Theory
The issues brought to light by the Dalvin Cook case underscore that there are often discrepancies between how female victims of domestic violence are treated versus male victims. And yet, as far as the law goes, justice is still blind—even if judges, juries, and attorneys are not. California law does not discriminate in favor of male or female victims when it comes to domestic violence. The penalties are the same for both. However, it may take the help of an experienced attorney to help enforce that gender-neutrality when cases actually play out in court.
If you are accused of domestic violence, no matter your gender, it’s important to have compassionate, skilled legal counsel in your corner to help you through the court process and make sure your rights under the law are fully protected. Call our offices for a free consultation.