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Male survivors of intimate partner violence often suffer in secret

Online event 'Responding More Effectively to Men's Experiences of Victimization' is on May 19.
For those seeking more insight on this topic, on May 19, the public, three-hour online conference: "Responding More Effectively to Men's Experiences of Victimization," is being hosted by the Victimology Research Centre.

Two things can be true at the same time. 

Women and gender-diverse folks are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. 

This we know. 

And men can also be victims and survivors of intimate partner violence. 

Violence at home is an issue for many, and no one should suffer it: that is the message from those who study and support survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). 

Experts acknowledge that discussing men in the context of IPV — which was commonly known for decades as 'domestic violence' — is tricky because of the either/or framing of the issue. 

By addressing or even speaking of male survivors, there is a fear of diminishing the experience of women and gender-diverse survivors, in other words. 

But the research is clear — some men are abused in their partner relationships. 

In fact, though widely recognized as under-reported, even the stats that exist show the number of abused men is significant. 

The facts

One in five cases of intimate partner violence reported to the police in Canada involves a male victim, according to the findings of the 2020 "Male Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence in Canada" report. 

In 2018, that means 20,600 Canadian men endured such violence. 

There is debate around how many men are abused as some academics say using reports to police severely under-represents the reality, given the stigma males face and the tendency of some law enforcement and service providers to treat male victims as perpetrators. 

Don Dutton, a psychology professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia (UBC), has researched and written extensively about intimate partner violence. 

Dutton says the way to get more accurate numbers of male victims is to do random sample surveys or emergency room questionnaires.  

Dutton points to the U.S. where he says superior studies are done. 

Benjamin Roebuck, professor of victimology at Algonquin College and research chair with the Victimology Research Centre has led research on this topic and led the study that resulted in the Male Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence in Canada report. 

That report was prepared for the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Roebuck agrees the number of male survivors is undoubtedly higher than in police reports. 

"Definitely it's under-reported in police reporting data. We see higher numbers in victimization surveys when folks get to say directly that they've experienced victimization," he said.

Radio silence

Roebuck said there are several reasons this issue of male partner victimization isn't widely discussed or even studied much. 

One reason is likely that violence against women is so significant it overshadows what men experience. 

According to government stats for 2019, of the 107,810  people who experienced intimate partner violence, 79% were women. That's more than 3.5 times higher than for men.

"It's often that we compare the two and this is where the problem is, I think," said Roebuck. "We look at partner violence, and we say all women experience much higher rates of partner violence, and then we don't come back to talk about men. The reality is, it's a large number of men. If we're only comparing them, then we miss part of the story."

He added that the long fight to have violence against women recognized can mean that mention of what male victims experience can be seen to threaten that hard-fought work. 

"In a society with gender inequality, a lot of women have had to fight to be heard and fight to be believed. It almost seems to press up against some of that work," he said. 

Why men don't tell

Roebuck said that the research shows men don't report in part for reasons around cultural versions of masculinity. 

There's this normalization of violence directed towards men, particularly in media.

"We get this double standard of like, if he insults you, you can slap him. There's almost this celebration of pushing back against the patriarchy. That's a common theme, like burning his belongings after a breakup. If a man did that, it seems like a really violent thing — to destroy property, right? It's one of the indicators of partner violence. But it's something that is celebrated like, 'You go, girl!' It's like girl power. And so we have these constructions that actually shape the way that people think about it and then live within those realities."

Partner violence is constructed in society and within the media as a women's issue, Roebuck noted, and so it is hard for men to see themselves as experiencing it. 

He recounted a situation where a man said his partner had hit him with a baseball bat, but he wasn't sure that would be considered partner violence. 

A 2019 U.S. study by the University of Colorado that looked at homicides that result from IPV  found that alcohol and preceding arguments were a factor in a higher proportion of male victims of IPV and women were more likely than men to use a stabbing instrument during abuse. 

Fellow expert Dutton said that there isn't really a typical profile of a man who is abused or a specific type of woman who is a perpetrator. 

"There isn't any one profile, but I mean. If you want to talk about a modal profile [of an abuser], it would be a person who has this emotional volatility, especially around relationship issues, who gets jealous without cause about their partner or tends to blame their partner for everything; goes through cyclical emotional buildups and blows it all out and then it comes out," he said.


Roebuck said there are socialized differences across genders in how victims of partner violence are impacted. "Women might be more likely to identify with depression or anxiety," he said. 

"For men, [it might be] more substances, risk-taking behaviours that are actually the indicator of mental health that indicates trauma."

Dutton said with both the male and female survivors of abuse he has worked with, the impact was similar. 

"They go through a dramatic assault on their self-esteem. They feel they're sort of trapped with this person that was out of control and doing nasty things to them, and they don't feel they can do anything about it. You know, it's not that different working with battered women and working with men. I mean, it's the same thing as you're trying to give them enough sort of self-esteem to step out and protect themselves. And you work on a lot of the same issues around self-concept and self-esteem."


Something that would help is for male survivors to have shelters and programs that are specific to them. 

"Women need safe spaces to heal," Roebuck said.  

"And men need safe spaces to heal. And so, it's not always better to say every program is inclusive of all genders. Sometimes we need specialized programs that are responsive to the needs of different gender identities."

More inclusive definitions of intimate partner violence are also needed, say the researchers. 

As a culture, we need to address our ideas of masculinity, too.

 "There's actually importance in exploring masculinities as part of the recovery process because so many of the messages about abuse, and so [much] of the actual emotional abuse is about masculinity, right? Like, 'You're not a man,' 'You won't be believed because you're a man.' So, much of it is actually gender-based for men... Understanding that from a trauma-informed perspective is part of creating safe spaces for men to heal," he said. 

Other recommendations in Roebuck's report include raising awareness and prevention that includes people of all genders and sexual orientations.  

For the justice system, the recommendations are: to "ensure risk assessment tools are responsive to violence experienced by all genders. IPV curriculum for police colleges can be redeveloped to include diverse examples of IPV and training on recognizing violence and coercive control. Police can request feedback from male survivors of IPV to better respond to their needs."

In terms of government, creating affordable housing is key, the report states. 

"All levels of government in Canada should provide leadership to alleviate the current housing crisis in recognition that access to safe and affordable housing is critical to personal safety."

Government money for gender-based violence

Stéphanie Cormier, executive director of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, told The Squamish Chief that the Roebuck’s report has been considered at the government level.
“The office works to ensure that policy makers and other criminal justice personnel are aware of victims' needs and concerns and to identify important issues and trends that may negatively impact victims.  Where appropriate, the ombudsman makes recommendations to the federal government on how to enhance its policies or laws to better meet the needs of victims. We promoted this report, in our submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee regarding coercive control,” she said, adding that addressing gender-based violence is a priority for the Government of Canada as a whole. 

The federal budget released in April 2022 provides $539.3 million over five years to combat gender-based violence, she noted. 

Cormier also pointed to the government’s Gender-Based Violence Knowledge Centre and the Gender-Based Violence Strategy, which aims to fill gaps “in supports for diverse populations, including women and girls; Indigenous women and girls; LGBTQ2 (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-Spirit) and gender-diverse individuals; women living in Northern, rural, and remote communities; women and girls with disabilities; immigrant and refugee women; children and youth; and senior women.”

Department of Justice affirms its commitment to helping all victims of crime

“The Government of Canada is committed to enhancing access to justice for all victims of crime and giving them a more effective voice in the criminal justice system, including male survivors of intimate partner violence,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Justice in a written statement. “The Federal Victims Strategy is a horizontal federal initiative that was established in 2000, and works to increase awareness about victims’ issues, build partnerships and capacity to better meet the needs of victims, increase access to responsive victim services, and improve the criminal justice system responses to victims and survivors.” 

The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR), which came into force on July 23, 2015, established statutory rights in four areas at the federal level for all victims of crime, including male survivors of intimate partner violence, the spokesperson noted.

“Victims have the right to information, protection, participation, and to seek restitution. They can also make a complaint if they believe their rights have been infringed or denied.”

The spokesperson added that the report “Male Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence in Canada,” along with other available information, will be taken into consideration in the ongoing development of federal policies related to victims of crime.

Learn more

For those seeking more insight on this topic, on May 19, the public, three-hour online conference: "Responding More Effectively to Men's Experiences of Victimization," is being hosted by the  Victimology Research Centre. 

The conference runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. PDT.

A panel will explore "diverse perspectives on men, masculinities, and victimization, identifying needs that arise for men because of violence as well as helpful interventions," according to the event's webpage.

Where to turn

In the Sea to Sky Corridor, survivors of any gender can seek help from the Howe Sound Women's Centre

"HSWC will always try to help out an individual who reaches out for support, but it is true that I am not aware of any dedicated shelters for cis-gendered men fleeing intimate partner violence," said Ashley Oakes, executive director of the centre. 

"HSWC has not yet begun to look at how we house cis-men fleeing violence; however, our transitional housing and emergency housing programs are accessible to trans-men and non-binary folks who face a disproportionately higher rate of IPV than cis-men. If a cis-male survivor fleeing violence were to contact HSWC, we would offer options in community or out of community that would support their needs, including possibly offering supports to stay in hotel accommodations for a short period of time," she said. 

"It's a gap in service for sure, and we will be examining our role to play." The Howe Sound Women's Centre crisis line is: 1-877-890-5711.

If Sea to Sky men need a safe place just to talk and bond with other men, they can also contact the local Samurai Brotherhood (recently re-branded to Arka Brotherhood).

**Please note: this story was updated after it was first posted to include statements from the Department of Justice, which came in after press deadline. 

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