Men and Violence: Risk Factors Vary

Article Date

25 January 2011

Article Author

By Gillian Gaynair

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

An analysis of new findings from the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) affirms that an integrated approach – one that experts say should aim to prevent violence by addressing men’s risk factors – is key to reducing men’s use of violence against women.

Initial findings from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) – to be released today – illustrate the varied experiences that lead some men to physically or sexually abuse an intimate female partner. The three-year study consisted of nearly 12,000 interviews with men and women ages 18 to 59 in Brazil, Chile, Croatia, India, Mexico and Rwanda about their health practices, parenting, relationship dynamics, sexual behavior and use of violence.

Researchers crafted the questions about violence based on existing data on the correlation between men’s use of violence, their experiences with it during childhood and social norms that dictate how they should act. While there have been numerous studies on men and violence, IMAGES provides a deeper look at factors associated with why some men are violent against women. Researchers asked men detailed questions about their experiences with violence as an observer and perpetrator. Women were interviewed on the matter, too.

“There are numerous social and cultural factors that contribute to men’s use of violence,” said ICRW’s Gary Barker, lead researcher on IMAGES. “Our methodology on IMAGES allowed us to explore a broad range of these with men and compare men’s responses with women’s from the same settings. This gave us a more accurate assessment of the factors and extent of violence.”

Experts say programs and policies that work to end violence against women could be more effective by understanding how some men view violence and the sometimes invisible social factors that drive their behavior.

“To truly reduce violence, program designers and policy makers should consider how to create more comprehensive interventions that take into account such things as men’s attitudes about gender, their childhood experiences of violence, their work-related stress and their use of alcohol,” said Barker, who in February will become international director of Instituto Promundo, a Brazilian nongovernmental organization that coordinates the Men and Gender Equality Policy Project with ICRW. IMAGES is a component of this project.

Contributing factors

To measure men’s use of violence against a partner, IMAGES applied a slightly modified version of the approach used in a pioneering 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) study on domestic violence. The 10-country study yielded some of the first comprehensive, multi-site data on the various forms of violence women experience at the hands of a male partner and its consequences. Ten to 70 percent of women surveyed said they had been physically abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.

For IMAGES, researchers asked men about specific types of violence, such as slapping, against their female partners. Women also were asked about their experiences with the same forms of violence. Between 25 to nearly 40 percent of the men surveyed said they had been violent with an intimate partner. Meanwhile, 27 to 41 percent of women said they had been abused by a man at least once in their lives, suggesting that in most cases, men’s reports of the violence they used were fairly accurate.

IMAGES results across all countries also showed that men who generally view themselves as superior to women are more likely to report physical and sexual violence against an intimate partner. The same was true for men who abused alcohol, witnessed violence in their childhood home and, except for Mexicans surveyed, those who felt stressed about work or income. Rwandan men were not asked about work stress.

“The IMAGES findings make an important contribution to existing knowledge about gender-based violence by bringing in men’s perspectives about their experiences of violence in diverse settings, as well as their attitudes about women’s rights and roles within the household,” said ICRW’s Mary Ellsberg, vice president of research and programs and co-author of the WHO domestic violence study. “We hope to do additional analysis of the data in the future, to compare the experiences and attitudes of both men and women around these issues.”

Laws about violence

Many governments worldwide are increasingly adopting legislation to combat violence against women. It’s the policy issue that has received the most attention in efforts, including by ICRW, to involve men in creating more equitable societies. And, IMAGES found it’s the issue most men have heard about, either through an advertisement or campaign.

Between 88 and 96 percent of men surveyed said they knew about laws related to violence against women in their countries, however this does not correlate with a decrease in their use of violence against their wives or girlfriends. IMAGES also shows the contradictory attitudes men have about existing laws related to violence: Despite their knowledge of the laws, the vast majority of men also thinks the laws make it too easy to bring charges against them.

“Given the relatively small number of men actually charged under those laws in all the countries, this opinion is a misperception,” Barker said. He added that IMAGES results suggest that some men don’t understand anti-violence policies and may see the laws as being against them. “We may need more long-term, nuanced public education targeting men about the laws.”

Far fewer men surveyed for IMAGES reported hearing messages about other themes that might interest them, or that they might perceive as positive, such as promoting that men participate in care giving and be more involved fathers.

“While we can’t let men off the hook in terms of violence, we also need to consider the source of men’s violence,” Barker said. “Our policies need to understand these factors and design prevention strategies accordingly.”

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW’s writer/editor.