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Stakeholder perceptions of the experiences of male victims of violence

One of the aims of this project was to gain a better understanding of the experiences of male victims of violence, particularly when they participate in court processes. While this key research question is best answered by talking to and engaging directly with male victims of violence, stakeholders who participated in interviews and focus groups conducted as part of this project were also asked for their views and observations. This section provides an overview of stakeholder views in relation to the experiences of male victims of violence, which are drawn from their first-hand experience interacting with male victims in a range of capacities, most commonly as victim support workers.

It is important to acknowledge from the outset that the majority of stakeholders who were consulted as part of this research said it was difficult and potentially unhelpful to make generalisations about a ‘typical’ male victim response to violent offences. Many of the stakeholders emphasised that victimisation is a personal experience and an individual’s response to these traumatic events are influenced by a range of factors (eg prior experiences of victimisation and the relationship between the victim and perpetrator), not just their gender.

Male victim experiences

While many stakeholders emphasised that victim responses were not only influenced by gender but by a range of factors, some were able to draw upon their experiences working with male victims of violence to identify a series of ‘common’ male responses to victimisation. These included:

  • feeling angry;
  • feeling anxious and nervous;
  • being afraid (of re-victimisation and the court process);
  • increased consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs;
  • becoming non-responsive and withdrawn;
  • becoming agitated and impatient;
  • feeling ashamed and ‘useless’; and
  • isolating themselves from friends and family.

Importantly, these issues were similarly identified in the literature as common responses to victimisation, albeit regardless of the victim’s gender.

Feelings of shame were seen as being particularly acute among male victims of violence. Some service providers observed that male clients often felt they had let their families down and failed in their perceived roles of protecting and providing for their loved ones. It was also observed that men from specific cultural and social backgrounds (particularly Indigenous men and men from Middle Eastern backgrounds) may be more likely to experience feelings of shame. Stakeholders attributed this trend in part to strong social interpretations of masculinity within some cultural groups.

The [Indigenous] man is supposed to protect his woman and kids and when they can’t do that and they’re hurt, they can be really messed up from that (Service provider personal communication September 2012).
If you’ve been a victim of assault…I guess that’s a challenge to his masculinity. There’s a lot of pride at stake for some of these blokes. They might lose standing in the community. They might be more inclined to say it happened in football match. It would be so hard to get them to own up to it (Service provider personal communication October 2012).

A small number of stakeholders suggested that when compared with women, male victims of violence were more likely to believe their victimisation was ‘normal’ or unproblematic. It was suggested that some men (particularly young men) normalise certain types of violence (eg violence between friends, violence committed during a sporting event and violence where alcohol is a contributing factor). These men may not see themselves as victims, or even that the incident was out of the ordinary or concerning. One service provider even suggested that some men may perceive certain violent acts as a ‘rite of passage’ and therefore as a positive event. This feedback appears to be supported by Clare and Morgan’s (2009) study, which found evidence that some men are less likely than women to believe that assaults committed in certain locations and under certain circumstances are criminal offences.

Further, some stakeholders suggested that emotional distress may manifest or ‘present’ in men and women in different ways. In particular, a small number of service providers observed that female victims were more likely to be nervous, emotional and ‘weepy’ while men may be angry, aggressive and confrontational. As one stakeholder commented—‘A lot of [masculine] emotional distress presents as anger’ (Service provider personal communication September 2012). Similarly, while both male and female victims may become defensive and combative when they are on the witness stand (particularly when being cross-examined), some stakeholders observed that it appeared to be more common among men. This feedback is supported by research that suggests that, generally speaking, men ‘exernalise’ feelings of anxiety, fear and distress, whereas women are more likely to internalise their emotions (Good, Thomson & Brathwaite 2005).

Vulnerable groups

The stakeholder interviews and focus groups suggested that some men may be more likely to respond to their experiences of victimisation and/or attendance at court in a negative way than other groups. Groups of men who were identified by stakeholders included:

  • homosexual men;
  • young men;
  • Indigenous men;
  • men from CALD communities;
  • men with a mental illness and/or an ABI;
  • drug-affected men;
  • refugees; and
  • victim/offenders.

These groups were described as being vulnerable to negative consequences as a result of their victimisation for at least one of two reasons:

  • they were less likely to engage with victim support services and therefore were not receiving the support and assistance they might need to recover and progress; and/or
  • they had a pre-existing condition, which meant they were more likely to find it difficult to cope with their victimisation and/or the court process.

Fear or suspicion of authority (eg the police) and/or social and cultural constraints on seeking assistance may make some Indigenous men and men from particular CALD or refugee backgrounds reluctant to engage with support services. Similarly, some service providers indicated that they had experienced difficultly building rapport with young men and therefore engaging them in support services.

Further, male victims suffering from a mental health disorder and/or ABI often experienced significant negative consequences as a result of their victimisation and were particularly vulnerable to mental health issues such as PTSD, substance misuse and anxiety. Consequently, these men often required higher levels of support and assistance, particularly when they were attending court. For example, in one situation described to the research team, a male victim of violence who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome required the support of two service providers when he attended court because of his high levels of emotional distress and anxiety issues, which were exacerbated by regular adjournments to the trial.