Forgotten Victims: Men in Abusive Relationships


By Joe Solaro

I’ve been a victim of teen dating violence. That’s right: I, a 6’ 2’’, 170-pound male have been a victim at the hands of a considerably smaller female partner. This wasn’t physical abuse—but it was abuse. Here is what it looked like:

Psychologically and emotionally, I was manipulated into bending to her will. I hadn’t spent time with my friends in months; they stopped inviting me to things, because I was never not with her. Even if I wanted to hang out with my friends, she would find a way to bring me back under her control. Any form of resistance was met with anger and blame for whatever problem she was having that day.

She wanted me to change who I was fundamentally. I couldn’t be a careless 16-year-old anymore; I had to be more mature and not concern myself with childish things. She controlled what I wore, what I said, and even what music I listened to. My parents told me I looked sad when I was at home, and I said “No, I’m fine!” even though I wasn’t. I just wanted to please her—but no matter how hard I tried, nothing worked.

It wasn’t until we had been dating for a year and 4 months that I realized what I had really gotten into. It came over me like a huge wave over a beach. I finally saw how she had hurt me, how she had changed me for the worse. For most of our time together, I barely even knew what was happening, but once I realized that she was abusing me it made the experiences of the past immediately clear.

She never hit me, pushed me, or physically harmed me—but the emotional damage was done.  Thankfully, I had the support and ability to get out of that relationship, but not everybody gets the chance I did.

Non-physical violence is often overlooked as a form of violence—as are male victims. Too often, male victims are either explicitly or implicitly told they are supposed to “man up” and just deal with it. But it’s time for society to realize that men can be victims of abuse. It is a far more widespread problem than most people believe.

Indeed, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “1 in 7 men who ever experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.” But nonetheless, young men are rarely seen as victims of teen dating violence, because they don’t have the bruises to show for it—or are unwilling to admit they have been abused out of fear of being seen as weak in the eyes of others, particularly fellow men.

Men shouldn’t have to be afraid of being shamed by society for coming out against their abusers, it is simply apathetic to think otherwise. There are a lot of reasons why men won’t admit to being a victim, like being discouraged to talk about their emotions from an early age, or feeling like they may face social sanctions for not fitting into the cultural definition of “masculinity” by admitting they have feelings.

YouTube Video

Joe Ehrmann has an amazing TEDx Talk discrediting this idea of emotionless masculinity. 

I believe it is extremely helpful in trying to break through the stoic male stereotype.

Furthermore, our culture often imagines abuse in a particular way: a large man beating a smaller woman seems an indelible image. The power of this image can lead male victims to unable to recognize that they are victims at all. With a lack of recognition comes an inability to leave abusers.

This, in turn, creates long-lasting damage that can severely affect the well-being of young men even if they do eventually escape their abuser. Loveisrespect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, reports that “Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys.”

Young men aren’t immune to abuse in relationships and should never be treated as such. They cannot be overlooked anymore. The lasting effects are too serious for this problem to be kept in the dark. It is our responsibility as a society to reject the stereotype that men just need to endure pain and not let it affect them. We must all realize that male victims do exist. I can attest to that. And I can also attest that there is hope for all victims of abuse—we just need to be sure that no sufferers are left in the dark.

Joe Solaro is a Freshman at Saint Louis University. He is an ally and proponent of social justice in the “Leadership for Social Change” learning community at SLU.


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