Healthy relationship discussions must include male victims

Credit: Anna Boyle/ Credit: Anna Boyle/
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The week of Valentine’s Day, Greek organizations Alpha Chi Omega (AXO) and Kappa Sigma (Kap Sig) collaborated to create Healthy Relationships Week in the Jared L. Cohon University Center. Throughout the week, activities such as making cards and distributing bite-sized candies were made available for students and ultimately created a starting point for a much-needed conversation — one that addresses healthy relationships. By spreading awareness on campus of domestic violence and contributing to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, AXO and Kap Sig are doing tremendous work in helping victims of domestic abuse.

However, male-perpetrator/female-victim relationships are not the only types of domestic abuse that deserve our attention — in fact, we are only scratching the surface by speaking almost exclusively of these types of relationships.

Extending this conversation does not mean, by any means, that I wish to deter the focus away from female victims who are treated unfairly or abused by their boyfriends. The prevalence of a problem in society does not make one’s problems any more or less legitimate. Being abused or in an unhealthy relationship is detrimental to the victim’s mental, psychological, and physical well-being regardless of characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality, or religion.

Relationships exist on a spectrum — from healthy to abusive with unhealthy somewhere in the middle. On one far end we have healthy relationships where both (or in the case of polyamorous relationships, all) people are involved in a consensual connection based on mutual trust, respect, and honesty. This is not to say that healthy relationships are without imperfections, but in a healthy relationship, these conflicts can be resolved without violence of any kind.

Don’t be misled by the fact that unhealthy relationships, abusive relationships, and healthy relationships all have the word “relationship” in them; the commonalities between the three stop there. Unhealthy relationships involve “physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence,” which can often spill into the opposite end of the relationship spectrum: abusive relationships.

As misrepresented and warped domestic violence where the male dominates the female is portrayed in in pop culture and in advertisements, it is arguably even more appalling that there are instances of domestic violence that are ignored or, in some cases, even glorified.

When asked to imagine an unhealthy relationship, most imagine something along the lines of the following: a man beating his girlfriend, or perhaps a string of misogynistic remarks thrown at a woman. However, many of us fail to consider a woman slapping her boyfriend — in fact, a shocking number of people might see “girl power” or a “weak man” in such a scenario.

Even though male victims are hardly recognized, these types of relationships are not nearly as uncommon as you would think. Approximately one out of three women have or will be victims of some type of domestic violence in their lifetimes, but one out of four men have or will be victims in their lifetimes. True, there are more female victims than there are male victims, but these numbers may be skewed for various reasons — not being aware that they are in an abusive relationship, not knowing if they will be taken seriously, and not being cognizant of resources, to list a few.

Unfortunately, the barriers do not stop there.

The lines between healthy and unhealthy and abusive relationships can be muddy, and for men, this might be an even murkier line. A conversation that is already so stifled is further restrained due to additional stigmas attached to the matter. It’s human nature to want to not appear weak or vulnerable, and men are no exception. Thus, many times, men are found in situations where they are not aware that what they are going through are potential signs of unhealthy relationships. When the conversation is so focused on female victims and male perpetrators, it can be easy to forget that abuse that happens the other way around is just as worthy of attention.

Society does not do an adequate job of making resources known or accessible. Centers for domestic violence are often focused around women. Yes, this might make sense to some degree because the majority of victims happen to be of the female sex. However, there are still thousands of men who are in need of resources to escape domestic violence. Out of the handful of centers in this nation, a good fraction have the word “Women’s” in them, yet there is not one with the word “Men’s” in it. Even if these centers help men, the name might mislead non-female victims into thinking that the centers are not able to help them. Some shelters have noticed this; the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women has changed its name to the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women has changed its name to the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violenceto make it more inclusive.

Although each of us, as individuals, cannot eliminate this problem, we each have the power to help end the stigma and reach out to others. One of the most important steps is to open up dialogue to include all victims of domestic violence — not just women abused by men. It truly is remarkable that the conversation about domestic violence is being brought to the table at Carnegie Mellon University, but let us extend this conversation to include our brothers as well. Domestic violence does not discriminate against any demographic conceivable.

Another step to combat domestic violence is to be cognizant of what domestic violence looks like and resources for victims. There are various potential symptoms, ranging from psychological, such as anxiety and depression, to physical, such as bruises or concealed injuries. If these signs are noted, there is a range of resources for victims of domestic violence such as The National Domestic Violence Hotline or your nearest emergency room. There is nothing wrong or weak about seeking help —your safety is the top priority.

I would like to conclude with a few sentiments:

To my brothers who are victims, I hear you.

To those in the LGBTQ community who are victims, I hear you.

To anyone who is in an unhealthy relationship, regardless of whether your relationship fits the traditional image of an unhealthy relationship, I hear you.