A recent study from the Université de Sherbrooke suggests that the prevalence of domestic violence in Quebec has reached alarming levels since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the rise in violence against women has been well documented, this study suggests that as many as one in five Quebec men who are in relationships are also victims of forms of violence.
In an echo of a similar study done with women, the results of which were released last month, male respondents were asked whether they had faced physical or verbal abuse, insults or threats from their partner, and whether they feared their partner. The study did not contain questions about sexual or financial abuse, and did not ask the gender of the respondent’s partner.
Philippe Roy is a researcher in the school of social work at the Université de Sherbrooke and a member of the Collectif estrien pour la santé et le bien- être des hommes. He collaborated with Dr. Mélissa Généreux of the school of public health on the study.
Roy is quick to say he and his colleagues “have no intention of minimizing” the scale of violence faced by women and trans and gender diverse people.
“Women are more likely to deal with extreme violence from an intimate partner – there is no equivalent of the [spike in] feminicides among men,” Roy said, referencing the 26 Quebec women killed by partners, former partners or family members’ former partners in 2021. “However, this study found that more men than women were experiencing some form of physical violence in their relationships. The data challenges a lot of our preconceived beliefs.”
Roy said the study showed that men who were subjected to intimate partner violence suffered from depression and suicidal ideation at three times the rate of men in nonviolent relationships. He also noted that young men were more likely to experience violence than their older counterparts.
He said the data shows the importance of talking openly about domestic violence faced by men. “Men, particularly men in gay relationships, are subjected to ridicule when they talk about violence,” he said. “There’s this whole idea of, ‘You weigh 250 pounds, why didn’t you defend yourself?’ But you can’t defend yourself against 200 [threatening] text messages.”
Augustin David is a counselor at Momenthom, a Sherbrooke-based nonprofit that helps men navigate difficult situations, including financial and relationship distress. He said the data collected by Roy and his team “isn’t necessarily surprising.”
He said men experiencing violence go through “a lot of fear of shame and judgment” when talking about their experiences. There is also a dearth of specialized services for male victims.
For fathers with children leaving violent or unstable homes, a province wide network of shelters, Les Maisons Oxygène, has existed since 2010 to provide temporary housing and support services, according to spokesperson Audrey Cloutier, who said demand for emergency housing and counselling has shot up over the course of the pandemic. However, single, working-age men leaving violent relationships have few options, apart from homeless shelters, last- resort financial assistance or sleeping on friends’ couches, David observed.
David encourages men who think they may be in a toxic relationship to seek help, by talking to a friend, calling a helpline such as InfoSocial or contacting an organization like his. “So many people are in violent relationships, but a relationship should be comforting and encouraging,” he said.