When many of us hear the words "domestic violence," we automatically assume the victim would be a female and the attacker would be a male. After all, men are traditionally viewed as the more aggressive of the two sexes, and the victims of most domestic abuse situations are indeed women. But a surprising number of domestic violence episodes do involve women as the aggressors, creating a new category of victim known as the battered husband. An abused husband suffers the same emotional, verbal and physical abuse as a battered wife, but is less likely to report these crimes to authorities.
The relationship between a battered husband and his abusive spouse can be very complex. The husband often employs the same defensive tactics as a battered wife, including denial, withdrawal and disconnection. The shame of owning up to a spouse's abusive behavior could cause a man to defend her around others. Some excuses may be that his own actions triggered her violent response, or she's only reacting to post-natal stress. Denial can be a powerful coping mechanism for men in this situation, especially if they dread the idea of having meaningful discussions with their abusive spouses.
Another characteristic of men in this situation is the tendency to disconnect from his own domestic problems. A battered husband will often spend more and more time at work, or take up a hobby outside of the home. In order to avoid potential conflicts, he may decide to sleep in the family car or spend his waking hours in a private den or office. A violent spouse may also be abusive towards children, either in the form of physical attacks or excessive punishments for minor infractions. A battered husband could remain in the abusive home strictly to protect his children from further abuse.
A battered husband may also find it difficult to pursue legal remedies against an abusive spouse. A number of states have domestic violence laws requiring law enforcement officers to arrest at least one of the combatants if physical injuries are visible. An abused husband may have been the victim of severe mental and emotional abuse for hours, but one defensive slap could tip the balance in the abusive spouse's favor. Enforcing a temporary restraining order against an abusive wife could also become problematic for a husband, especially if children are involved.
There are a number of support groups dedicated to sufferers of "battered husband syndrome." These groups also provide online information for men who may want to break away from a violent relationship but fear the aftermath. Some studies suggest that over 800,000 men become victims of domestic violence every year, but only a fraction ever report the abuse to authorities. Many men fear the social stigma of admitting they were powerless against a violent spouse, or the loss of meaningful time spent with their children following a divorce.