There is not much research on violence against men in close relationships since the majority of the exposed is women, although Claes Ekenstam is careful to point out that women should not be neglected.
”It’s about human decency. Whether it is children, women, or men who are exposed to violence in close relationships, they should all be offered the help they need”, he says.
New research was called for
On request of Barne, ungdoms- og familiedirektoratet, which is a subdivision of Norway’s Ministry of Health and Social Affairs department, Claes Ekenstam and fellow researchers Jørgen Lorentzen and Marianne I. Lien, have mapped men in Norway who are exposed to violence in close relationships.
A selection of results from the report, “Male pain – men’s experiences of violence in close relationships” (translated title):
The literature review shows that women more often than men become exposed to severe physical abuse in close relationships. In cases of milder violence, the gender difference is smaller. It is just as common for men and women to be exposed to psychological abuse, which is the most common form of violence in close relationships.
The questionnaire shows that there is a lack of knowledge of help and support for men who have been exposed to violence in close relationships.
The interview study shows that most of the men who participated in the study had been exposed to severe and systematic violence for years. The men who were involved in long-term relationships with women would tell that the women had a psychological advantage over them. For example, they were afraid to lose custody of their children in case of a lawsuit.
This research project consists of three parts: One literature review of previous Nordic research in the field, one questionnaire to survey knowledge of help and support resources, and one interview study with men exposed to different types of violence in close relationships. The main focus of the project is on the interview study, which comprises a total of 28 in-depth interviews.
Besides being a researcher, Claes Ekenstam is a professional psychotherapist and well suited to interview male victims to sexual abuse. Strikingly many of the interviewees were sexually abused in pre-puberty, about 10-14 years of age, for shorter or longer periods of time. The perpetrators were both men and women.
Takes time to tell – especially for men
“Common for several of the men was that it took time before they searched for help. One man didn’t tell anyone for 35 years. His life completely changed the day he chose to break the silence”, Claes Ekenstam says and continues:
“There is an old conception in society that men don’t fall victims to this types of abuse. The men wouldn’t tell their stories because they were afraid that they wouldn’t fit into that belief and that no one would believe them. It’s important that we draw attention to nuances. Women are not the only victims, and reality is often more complex than the public discussion might seem.”
The interviewees would tell stories about severe abuse, resulting in depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and trauma-specific symptoms – in other words serious psychological conditions that need to be treated for a long time.
Violence in close relationships
Violence in close relationships is a major social problem and comprises legal, social, health, and care aspects. Violence is always a violation of a person’s human rights. Everyone who is exposed to violence in close relationships is entitled to support and protection from society. Violence mostly affects women and the perpetrators are often men. In spite of the principle of equal treatment, both the Swedish Social Services Act and society’s priorities are focussed on women. The purpose of highlighting women is to protect victims to gender-related violence.
Source: The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare
“One of the conclusions of our study is that knowledge about violence and its resulting effects needs to be strengthened in the “help chain”, i.e. the health care sector and police department. Regardless of age or gender, those who become exposed to psychological, physiological, or sexual violence have similar trauma reactions. That knowledge must be disseminated among those who care for, help, or support them.”
Your research was conducted in Norway. Can you draw parallels to Sweden?
“I don’t think the situation is different in Sweden. The two countries are similar, even though Norway has better developed crisis centres for both men and women. It would be amazing if we could do these types of studies here as well,” Claes Ekenstam says.
Read the report “Den mannlige smerte - menns erfaringer med vold i nære relasjoner” in full-text here (in Norwegian)
Claes Ekenstam, 0703-16 59 81 or firstname.lastname@example.org