When violence escalates in families, men are usually the perpetrators. Overcrowded women’s shelters and the cases that come to the attention of the police are evidence of this. In the case of intimate partner violence, 78.3 percent of suspects nationwide in 2022 were men. However, they can also become victims of relationship violence, as a new study by the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN) shows.

In an online questionnaire, more than half – namely 54 percent – of the 18 to 69-year-old men surveyed said that they had already experienced violence in a relationship. Almost 40 percent reported psychological violence, 39 percent reported controlling behavior on the part of their partner and almost 30 percent reported physical violence. 5.4 percent said they had experienced sexual violence and 6.5 percent had already been affected by digital violence.

No clear perpetrator-victim constellations

In the project, almost 12,000 men between the ages of 18 and 69 were contacted in an online survey, and 1,209 of them took part. According to co-author Laura-Romina Goede, a central finding is that in most cases there are no clear perpetrator-victim constellations. Almost 75 percent of those surveyed said they had been both a perpetrator and a victim.

“Violence in relationships is complex, there is a dynamic,” says the criminologist. It often begins with aggressive behavior, devaluation and blame or even isolation from the social environment. “At some point the boundaries were pushed so far that physical violence also occurred,” describes co-author Philipp Müller.

The scientists found that the men were predominantly affected by less severe forms of physical violence, such as being pushed away. The psychological violence often involved shouting, name-calling and insults.

According to the study, only 7.9 percent of those surveyed contacted the police or counseling centers after experiencing violence. 59 percent of those who did not seek contact with the authorities or advice gave the reason that they felt the violence was “not that bad”.

Psychological consequences

However, seemingly milder forms of violence often also have serious health consequences. 66 percent of those affected felt psychologically stressed; more than 40 percent reported stress, tension and feelings of powerlessness and humiliation. Almost one in five people affected suffered from sleep disorders and nightmares.

“We therefore advocate a broader understanding of violence that goes beyond criminally relevant behavior,” emphasizes Goede. Constant devaluation and belittlement over the course of years can have massive psychological consequences.

When men experience violence, they often face different problems than women. This was also illustrated by 16 interviews that the researchers conducted with those affected. Because violence against men is a social taboo, many people misjudged their situation for a long time or blamed themselves, explains Müller. “An interviewee told me: ‘If I don’t see myself as a victim of violence, I won’t call the police.'”

According to Müller, many of the men interviewed stayed in the family despite the experience of violence because they feared that in the event of a separation, the children would stay with their mother. Basically, emotional dependencies play a big role, reports the criminologist, especially if you moved in together early in a relationship and had children.

More help required

“We don’t want to relativize the issue of violence against women with our study,” emphasizes Müller. What is necessary, however, is greater awareness in society that men can also become victims. In addition, special offers of help would have to be expanded.

The Federal Office for the Protection of Men from Violence is also committed to this. So far there are only 48 places for men in protective facilities nationwide, criticizes Jana Peters from the coordination office. Only in Saxony is there a funding guideline for these institutions; in a handful of other federal states they have project status. In the majority of countries there are currently no protective facilities specifically for men.

Peters advocates creating facilities in which men can also stay with their children. 60 percent of those affected had children, and they often did not dare to take the children with them if they fled a violent relationship. “It’s really important for the children to get out of the violent environment,” says Peters.