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Secondary Abuse: When victims speak up.

May 29, 2021

A recent paper asked men to share their experiences with IPV and subsequent help-seeking behaviors. Here are some of their answers:

This paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal:

This journal is a publication of APA Division 51 (Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities) https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/men

Like other scientific journals, APA journals utilize a peer review process to guide manuscript selection and publication decisions. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/resources/peer-review


The current study used qualitative methods to explore men’s experiences of female-perpetrated IPV in Australia, defined as “boundary crossings.” The sample comprised 258 men recruited using a snowball approach through social media platforms and via a monthly newsletter of an online men’s health support site. [...] The sample consisted of 258 men aged from 18 to 77 years (M 40.14, SD 13.90). Almost two thirds (60.9%) reported being in a current intimate relationship; a third (32.2%) had never been married, and a third 32.2% were married or in a current de facto relationship (living with a partner but not formally married). More than half (60.5%) of the sample had obtained a university degree qualification. Almost all the respondents (91.9%) were living in an Australian state or territory at the time of completing the survey (identified via postcode). The greatest number of respondents were from the more populous states in Australia (Victoria, 47.3%; New South Wales, 16.7%; Queensland, 10.9%; and Western Australia, 9.7%), and a small number of respondents (1.6%) identified as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (Australia’s indigenous peoples).

On "boundary crossings"

In sum, issues for researchers interested in the experiences of male victimization are hampered by the reluctance of men to identify as IPV victims and the limitations of quantitative approaches (such as violence scales) and qualitative methodological approaches (such as small sample sizes) that have been applied to previous research. This study aimed to explore men’s experience of IPV, help-seeking, and reporting behaviors, utilizing a novel approach within this area. First, the study aimed to better understand male experiences as victims of IPV while avoiding the commonly used IPV terminology, due to its strong gendered associations and potential impact on perceived masculinity, as has been discussed earlier. In taking this approach, we adopted the use of general questions, rather than questions framed with IPV terminology, such as is recommended by Kimberg (2008) in pilot guidelines for addressing IPV with male patients and in line with recent research in the United Kingdom by Bates (2019). Consultation with support workers of male IPV victims in Australia led to a decision by the research team to adopt the term “boundary crossings” instead of “intimate partner violence” because these support workers identified this as descriptive term that contained none of the gender associations of the common IPV terminology. The use of the term “boundary” evokes the marking of an area; therefore, the term is a useful heuristic to enable participants to identify times they experienced a transgression of personal autonomy. Although to the authors’ knowledge, this term has not been used before in either a research or clinical context, increasingly, boundary awareness and boundary renegotiation are considered to be important components in recovery from IPV experiences (Davis, 2002; Czerny, Lassiter, & Lim, 2018). In selecting the term “boundary crossing,” we did not intend to expand the definition of IPV, nor do we suggest we were interested in innocuous boundary violations. Instead, our intention was to test a nongendered synonym for IPV.

On misandristic expectations, legal and administrative abuse

Others’ perceptions of men as victims of IPV further affects reporting and help-seeking behaviors. The reactions of others are often imbued with societal assumptions about the likelihood of men being victims of female abuse and perceptions of masculinity that conflict with the inherent vulnerability of help-seeking (Tsui, Cheung, & Leung, 2012). Quasi-experimental studies have shown that IPV committed by women against male partners is considered less serious, with small-to-medium effect sizes for that finding (Taylor & Sorenson, 2005). Perceptions of injury severity varies according to gender of both the perceiver and the victim: in one study, both men and women judged male-on-female violence as significantly more severe than female-on-male violence, with effect sizes of small-to-medium for the female participants and large for the male observers (Allen & Bradley, 2018). Within this context, it is not surprising that men are less likely to report abuse to police or seek help, compared with women (Choi et al., 2015; McCarrick, Davis-McCabe, & Hirst-Winthrop, 2016). Evidence suggests male underreporting is related to a lack of trust in police (Tsui, 2014) and fear of losing their relationships with their children (Hines & Douglas, 2010). There is evidence that some female perpetrators capitalize on secondary abuse by threatening to report their victims as perpetrators of violence (Corbally, 2015; Machado, Santos, Graham-Kevan, & Matos, 2017; Morgan & Wells, 2016). This tactic relies on the inherent assumptions by many social service and justice workers that women are usually victims of violence and has been described as legal and administrative abuse (Tilbrook, Allan, & Dear, 2010). This type of abuse, in which legitimate services, such as family courts, are mobilized against the victim’s interests, was common enough in a small Australian study to be identified as a distinct category of abuse (Tilbrook et al., 2010). Subsequently, a study of 611 help-seeking male victims using a newly developed legal and administrative aggression scale found the experience of such aggression predicted mental health issues in victims, as well as the likelihood of symptoms of oppositional defiance disorder in their eldest offspring (Hines, Douglas, & Berger, 2015; Berger, Douglas, & Hines, 2016). Research on men’s experience of IPV victimization must consider the impact of these wider social contexts across research methodology, associated reporting barriers, and data analysis.


More than 1 in 2 participants experienced IPV.

Quotes given in the following list are obviously non-exhaustive and usually just give 1-3 examples to show how victims describe their experiences. This is not, by any means, a complete list - not of possible categories, nor of examples within them.

Primary abuse

Primary abuse refers to the perpetrator abusing the victim using actual or threatened physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence.

Theme Subtheme Quote Victim
Physical violence Threats She threatened to knife me. P23
Physical violence Threats [My] wife threatened to kill me and my family. P66
Physical violence Assaults [She] punched me in the face, kicked me [and] drove a car towards me. P99
Physical violence Assaults Had objects thrown at me, been kicked and punched. P87
Sexual violence Assaults Unwelcome grabbing at my groin and testicles. P45
Sexual violence Assaults [I] Had my genitals grabbed and told that they do not work. P61
Sexual violence Coercion My partner pressured me into having sex when I didn't want to by threatening to leave me if I didn't. P238
Sexual violence Coercion Demand for sex, causing a fight when I refused. P73
Controlling behavior Children She is currently not letting me see my children. I have not seen them since early 2014. P117
Controlling behavior Children My partner denied all access (custody and communication) with my son despite parenting orders. P86
Controlling behavior Children [She screamed at me] I’ll take the children and you will never see them again you piece of shit! P243
Controlling behavior Financial [She] controls spending of money. P15
Controlling behavior Financial I have little control over our income. P238
Controlling behavior Social isolation She didn’t want me to have contact with my family. She hated my parents. P207
Controlling behavior Social isolation She would severely limit my contact with friends to being only through phone or Facebook messaging. P126
Controlling behavior Interference [She] used to go through my phone, email and diary to see who I was talking to. I found this very controlling. P11
Controlling behavior Interference Moving my personal possessions around the house after I have on many, many occasions and with great emphasis stressed to her that I find it incredibly frustrating to the point where I feel heightened anxiety when I cannot locate my items (such as my keys or wallet). P126
Manipulation Verbal threats My wife demanded I change my place of employment under threat of ending the marriage. P253
Manipulation Verbal threats She told me she was going to take our children and I’d never see them again. P37
Manipulation Emotional blackmail She acts like the schoolyard bully. Either do as she says or I’ll pay for it. P50
Manipulation Emotional blackmail She emotionally manipulated me into feeling guilty all the time, especially if I didn’t do what she asked of me. P105
Manipulation Emotional blackmail She told me the abuse would stop if I not only said that she was the most beautiful woman ever, which I often had, but if I also said that I was the most hideous man ever. P144
Manipulation Emotional blackmail My ex-wife used emotional blackmail and withholding sex to ensure compliance. P231
Domination Passive aggression She used to ignore me completely except when she wanted something. P240
Domination Passive aggression She would play “no talkies” for four or five days at a time when she got the shits with me; and that was regular. P28
Domination Dismissive Makes me feel like my opinion does not matter. P211
Domination Dismissive [She] makes me feel inferior and useless. P77
Domination Obedience Shouting at me because I would not do as she wanted immediately. P208
Domination Obedience She regularly insists that I drop what I’m doing and follow her instructions immediately. P18
Verbal abuse Screaming Screaming at me in public. P14
Verbal abuse Screaming [Being] screamed [at for] more than 3 days every week for no good reason, wears you down into depression. P60
Verbal abuse Name calling She was yelling at me calling “arsehole,” “selfish fuckwit.” and “loser”. P11
Verbal abuse Name calling [She] called me a dirty old man whenever she was upset. P152
Verbal abuse Criticism and belittlement Strong criticism of simple decisions such as grocery items I bought for the family. P184
Verbal abuse Criticism and belittlement My ex-wife used to run me down and belittle me to the point I would hate myself. P192
Secondary abuse

Secondary abuse involved the perpetrator utilizing individuals (known or unknown to the victim) or law enforcement agencies to inflict explicit or implicit harm on the victim.

Theme Subtheme Quote Victim
Using children for personal gain Lying [She told] our children many untruths such as, dad is trying to keep you from me, don’t listen to dad he is an idiot, mummy loves you and dad is trying to hurt you. P43
Using children for personal gain Lying [She was] telling my children lies about me, making them fear me for no reason. P93
Using children for personal gain Demeaning the victim Undermining me by calling me a child in front of our kids. P56
Using children for personal gain Demeaning the victim My ex pushed me and belittled me by calling me names in front of our son. P80
Using children for personal gain Emotional abuse My children were emotionally harmed by their mother. P43
Using children for personal gain Emotional abuse If I do not toe the line then my sons are subjected to emotional abuse that affects me as well. P75
Social and legal manipulation False accusation [She made] false allegations of domestic violence in order to alienate me from children. P227
Social and legal manipulation False accusation Making false claims of domestic violence in order to cheat the family court process. P96
Social and legal manipulation False accusation My ex-partner would continually call the police to arrest me for things that I had not done. P117
Social and legal manipulation Public humiliation [She] criticized me constantly to family and friends. P246
Social and legal manipulation Public humiliation [She was] abusing me verbally in front of my 11-year-old son, his peers and other parents when collecting him from his school. P84
Social and legal manipulation Public humiliation She would make up lies and spread them through her family and the small town I live in. P117

Help-Seeking & further (secondary) abuse

About 9 out of 10 did disclose to friends and family.

Family and friends reactions
Theme Quote Victim
Shock/surprise/disbelief They were greatly surprised. She could appear to be very sweet. P143
Shock/surprise/disbelief [They were] shocked and horrified. My ex would always put up a facade that everything was fine. No one was aware of the extent of her rages and assaults toward me. P51
Minimizing They told me it was normal to be angry at each other every now and then as each couple has fights. P6
Minimizing Friends do not believe me that my ex-partner could behave as she does. P247
Minimizing [They] told me women have suffered abuse and violation a lot worse than [you] or any other man. P142
Reversing the issue [They said] “What did you do to make her do that” i.e. it was my fault. P94
Reversing the issue I was bashed over the head with an iron by a partner. My male friends laughed at me and the few women I told asked what I did to provoke such an action. P238
Supportive Some were supportive. For others it was too hard. In reality there is nothing they can do to stop it. P45
Supportive [They were] Surprised but were very understanding. P77
Supportive They said that’s incredible and that I should never have tolerated that. P206
Indifference [They had] little to no concern. P214
Indifference They were supportive initially but became tired of hearing about the ongoing drama. P14

Comment: Honestly, I do not feel like "you shouldn't have tolerated that" or "yeah some were supportive, some not and in the end they can't stop it anyway" are answers indicative of a positive support experience, nor do the described experiences sound very supportive to me. Seeing the aforementioned themes as the results of the experience in a sample where most did, in fact, speak up may hopefully provide more evidence that telling men to speak up without addressing societies deeply rooted hatred/misandry/sexism/discrimination will inevitably fail and might actually lead to further victimization that is in itself connected to negative health outcomes. At best, it is useless - at worst, it is harmful.

Reasons for not disclosing
Theme Quote Victim
Protecting the partner Because I didn’t want them to think badly of my partner. P191
Protecting the partner Because it would be detrimental to the image of [the children’s] mother. P175
Embarrassment It was something I needed to hide. I was embarrassed. P28
Embarrassment [I was] too embarrassed to discuss [this] with family. [I felt] shame, guilt [and was] scared of losing my children. P193
Failure to realize IPV I had been in this situation for many years and had not recognized it was a domestic violence situation. P222
Failure to realize IPV It took me many years to be able to speak up, partially because of not understanding the dynamics. P56
Fear of being disbelieved Not many people would believe or understand. P41
Fear of being disbelieved We live in a gynocentric society, where the world revolves around the needs and desires/demands of women only. So men have to tough it out in silence or be accused of being a wimp or a cry baby. P60

Reporting Behavior

About 1 in 2 victims chose to report.

Police reactions
Themes Quotes Victim
Doubt I had the impression I wasn’t believed. P212
Doubt [They] didn’t believe me, [and] mocked me. P13
Ridicule [They] ridiculed me. Said I must have done something wrong for her to take the children and disappear. P8
Ridicule They laughed [because] the courts do not take violence against men by women seriously and didn’t want to waste everyone’s time. P93
Ridicule [They] laughed, ridiculed [me] and told me to man up and deal with my own problems that they had more important things to deal with and left. P246
Indifference Basically they ignored it and asked me to move on. P65
Police gender stereotyping
Themes Quotes Victim
Prioritizing The police were not very interested when I told [them] it was from a female partner. No action was taken. P11
Prioritizing [The police said] we get a hundred cases of DV a week and they are mostly women, that’s our priority. P36
Reversal of the issue I reported several incidents in which my former partner assaulted me. The police arrested me. P204
Reversal of the issue I was not only not listened to, I was threatened with arrest if I continued to make these allegations, because women just do not do those sorts of things. P60
Reasons for not disclosing
Themes Quotes Victim
Not serious enough Because I don’t believe they have been serious enough for police to be involved. P6
Not serious enough I never felt there was a significant threat to my or anyone else’s safety during or after the incident. P213
Lack of witnesses I felt it was hearsay and nothing could be done. P2
Lack of witnesses [I] did not press charges for assault because there were no witnesses. P10
Lack of support I am a man, I will get no support. P76
Lack of support Didn’t think police would take it seriously that I was assaulted by a woman smaller than me. P88
Lack of support The police do not take male victims of domestic violence and abuse seriously. I’d likely wind up being the one in trouble. P243


Findings from the current study suggest that, when given an opportunity to disclose anonymously and with the use of language that is not associated with perceptions of male-against-female violence, men reveal extensive experiences of IPV, covering a range of physical, social, psychological, financial, and legal abuses. This is an important new finding that could be extended upon in future research. In addition, men report the experience of unintended secondary abuse by authorities, including police. Male victims in this study were reluctant to seek help from police mainly due to fears of ridicule, indifference, and being accused themselves. These fears, for some participants, were realized. Although disclosures of abuse made to family and friends were more frequent than reports to police, gendered stereotypes of IPV also seemed to affect family and friends’ attitudes toward victims. These results highlight the power of societal perceptions to affect individual experiences of IPV and to bias the attitudes and behaviors of support services. This study underscores the need to continue to equip social and justice services to identify IPV and in particular to dispel unconscious bias when considering accusations of violence. Specifically, we recommend that social and justice service employees be provided with education that recognizes the prevalence of female-perpetrated IPV to enable appropriate, unbiased response to male victims reporting IPV. In addition, we recommend that policy and funding of IPV at a societal level be nongendered to ensure that men have the same opportunity as women to access help and support. This is a difficult area, and there are no straightforward solutions; however, one thing is certain: Continued ignorance about the impact of IPV on male victims will lead to further perpetration of secondary abuse. It is important that policymakers explore methods of providing information and support to male victims, including through the use of language and training for police and other agencies, that avoids the assumption that IPV is largely inflicted by men against their female partners.

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[–]DownvoteMe2021 6 points7 points  (1 child) | Copy Link

This was a fantastic read. Thank you very much for sharing it.

[–]a-man-from-earthleft-wing male advocate[M] 6 points7 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

Thank you for the effort post!

You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea.

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