The issue of domestic violence is generally considered to be an act in which women are the victims. And while it is true women are much more likely to be injured or even killed by a partner or spouse, in recent decades there has been an increase in groups supporting men who are victims of abuse at home. Physical violence is estimated to occur in 4 to 6 million intimate relationships each year in the United States. According to a report by the Department of Justice, a survey of 16,000 Americans showed 7.4 percent of men reported being physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, co-habiting partner or date in their lifetime.
In this regard, studies have also found that on aggregate, men and women do not differ on rates of physical aggression, either as perpetrators or victims (e.g., Makepeace, 1986; White & Koss, 1991), although women are the primary victims of physical aggression in relationships (e.g., Follingstad et al., 1991; Stets & Pirog-Good, 1987). However because of the perceived stigma attached to being a victim of domestic violence, a great deal of incidents go unreported. But in the case of male domestic violence, 70 percent of cases were found to be perpetrated by women.
There have been increased efforts to secure recognition and support for men suffering domestic abuse. In 2008, the National Coalition for Men secured a change in the law in California when an appeals court in the state invalidated parts of the area's Health and Safety and penal codes, saying they were unconstitutional because they excluded abused men from programs and services supported by nearly $22 million in taxpayer money each year. Ron Foster from Men & Women Against Discrimination, said: "Everybody should be treated the same. If you're a victim, you're a victim."
A year later, a Kanawha County circuit judge voided West Virginia's regulations for domestic violence programs, saying they discriminated by denying abused men access to publicly-funded shelters and female abusers access to treatment. Judge James C. Stucky said Family Protection Services Board rules for licensing domestic violence shelters, certifying advocates and distributing state funding distorted lawmakers' intent and violated the West Virginia Men & Women Against Discrimination's right to free speech. The non-profit advocacy group had sued the state board, and Stucky said the state administered its programs on the premise that only men can be abusers and only women can be victims, by requiring public shelters to adopt and adhere to the principle of separate but equal treatment based on gender. He said: "The practical effect of this rule is to exclude adult and adolescent males from their statutory right to safety and security free from domestic violence for no reason other than their gender."
Journalist Phillip W. Cook, who penned Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, asserts victims of this kind of abuse are numerous and represent a major social problem that has in general been ignored, disbelieved, or dismissed. Abused men can also suffer from sexual violence at the hands of partners or strangers, as well as carry the trauma of being sexually abused as boys. In the United States, studies have shown that by age 16, up to one in six men have had unwanted direct sexual contact with an older person. If non-contact behavior, such as exposure, is included, the number jumps to one in four. Richard B. Gartner discussed this in his book Betrayed as Boys: Psychodynamic Treatment of Sexually Abused Men. He found the impact of abuse can affect men's emotional development, sexual identity, sexual orientation, and relationships. In the book, Gartner describes the different meanings society assigns to abuse of boys by women and by men, explaining how the former is often considered to be harmless sexual initiation while the latter is encoded as a shameful sign of homosexuality or feminization. In November 2011, Oprah Winfrey raised the issue of male sexual abuse on two of her shows. She hoped that by inviting 200 men to hold up pictures of themselves at the age when they were first abused and discuss the impact the trauma has had on their relationships and lives, it could "be an open door to freedom" for abused men.