A 2019 systematic review of 12 qualitative studies explored help-seeking experiences and interactions with support services of men who experience IPAV.5 This review highlighted that ‘barriers to help-seeking are complex, but fear of disclosure is central, overlapping with the challenge to both men’s personal sense of and societal interpretations of masculinity and the importance of the relationship with the abuser’.5
Men were less likely to seek help due to commitment to intimate relationships and keeping the family intact.12 Furthermore, societal attitudes and perceptions of men as abusers were among barriers to help-seeking or leaving the abusive relationship.13 While some men who disclosed abuse received support from family and friends, other men reported secondary abusive experiences, with police and other support services responding with ridicule, doubt, indifference and victim/survivor arrest.6
The following barriers to help-seeking were identified:5,14
- social (traditional gender roles and norms, challenge to masculinity),
- personal (shame, identity impacts) and commitment to relationship
- practical (cost, fit) barriers to support service access
- further victimisation from services
- fear of disclosure and seeking help
- having nowhere to go (lack of services).
While most research studies about male help-seeking behaviour for IPAV have only used qualitative methodologies with a relatively small sample sizes, there are various resources available for men. For example, the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria provides information about services that may help men who experience IPAV.
Health professionals working with men who experience IPAV
There are recommendations15 for the need for health practitioners working with men who experience IPAV to recognise the significance of resistance to men’s help-seeking. Some of the key barriers to help-seeking or leaving the abusive relationship include inappropriate service responses, further victimisation from services, and inappropriate responses from friends and family members.13 A 2020 Australian study indicated that following disclosure, men who experience IPAV reported secondary abusive experiences, with police and other support services responding with ridicule, doubt, indifference and victim/survivor arrest.6 Another issue that arises with men who experience IPAV is the fact that many health practitioners are not trained to accept a referral with this gender of ‘victim/survivor’ due to lack of skill set or knowledge.16
The first step in dealing with this issue is to acknowledge that IPAV can happen to men and that they (as victim/ survivor) need to be asked, believed, validated, and their safety and that of their children explored.
Some men who use violence (perpetrators) will sometimes present themselves as ‘victims’. This is a strategy that may take time to sort through.
There is a need for more training in managing men who experience IPAV who present to primary health, and more research exploring how the health system can respond in a believing, supportive and healing manner.