By Tamara Mathias

(Reuters Health) – Men who experience domestic violence and abuse often don’t seek help until the problem becomes a crisis, researchers say.

Men tend to worry they would not be believed, or that they would be perceived as less masculine if they reported abuse, their analysis found.

Alyson Huntley and colleagues at the University of Bristol reviewed 12 previous studies of male victims of domestic abuse or violence. The studies, conducted between 2006 and 2017, used data gathered mostly from interviews.

In a report in the journal BMJ Open, Huntley’s team outlined universal themes that describe why these men don’t readily seek help.

Fear of disclosure was a central theme.

“The issue of masculinity is a societal one – men are not expected to be the weak ones. It is a hard stereotype to work against,” Huntley told Reuters Health via email.

Along with fearing they wouldn’t be believed or would be seen as weak, men often stayed in abusive relationships because they felt committed to or concerned about their partners. In other cases, they were too depressed, despondent or traumatized to gather the strength to leave.

Furthermore, victims were often unaware that services for them existed. And when they did know about interventions, they didn’t believe the interventions were likely to be helpful. Some of the findings suggest that separate services are needed for men. Portraying domestic violence services as a space for women survivors can be a barrier to help-seeking by men, the authors point out.

Mark Brooks, chairman of the ManKind Initiative, a British charity for male victims of domestic abuse, said that when men do reach out for help, they tend to be looking for validation, or someone to confirm that they are actually victims. They also want practical advice on how to deal with their situation, he added.

ManKind Initiative has been running a helpline for nearly 20 years and receives calls from men who, on average, have been in an abusive relationship for at least three years before reaching out for assistance.

“Women are very much taught that domestic abuse is something that happens to women and therefore they need to be on their guard . . . men aren’t really taught or brought up in the same way,” Brooks, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Reuters Health on a phone interview.

The study also found differences in the way heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals received support after seeking help for domestic abuse. Researchers say services directed at victims of domestic abuse and violence need to be more inclusive to cater to diverse clients.

They also noted that offering continuous ongoing support and wide advertising would benefit men seeking help.

“Findings from my previous research with male survivors and domestic abuse professionals are similar to the themes in the study,” Sarah Wallace, a senior research fellow at the University of South Wales, told Reuters Health.

“Support should focus on helping men understand and recognize abusive behaviors and the seriousness of the abuse,” said Wallace, who was not involved in the new research.

When men are unable to see themselves as victims, it increases their reluctance to seek help, she added.

Brooks agrees.

“Over half of the men who call our helpline have said that they would not have called us if the helpline was not anonymous,” he said.

SOURCE: BMJ Open, online June 11, 2019.