Assault is rarely an isolated event

One assault is often followed by more. Studies at Linköping University show that many people who reported being beaten, raped or stalked have also often been subjected to other forms of violence, and have often been beaten by more than one assailant. This is true for both women and men.

“Day-to-day clinical practice often lacks good structures for taking care of victims of violence. Very many of them are asked nothing at all despite the fact that previous studies show a strong connection between exposure to violence and conditions such as depression and anxiety,” says Johanna Simmons (pictured), physician in specialist training and PhD student in gender and medicine.

Her doctoral thesis, which is now being submitted, is built on self-reported information from a total of 3,600 women and 4,700 men, with a response rate of between 50% and 80%.

Victim of various types of violence 

Of the women subjected to violence, almost one in two, 47-48%, reported that they had been subject to more than one type of violence. More than one in three had come up against more than one assailant. Among the male victims, one in three had been victim of various types of violence and one in four at the hands of more than one assailant.

Johanna Simmons defines three different types of violence:

  • physical violence, which can be anything from a punch to life-threatening violence
  • sexual violence, from sexual harassment and degradation to penetrative rape
  • emotional violence, which ranges from systematic humiliation to controlling behaviour, isolation and systematic threats

The assailants are also divided into three categories:

  • family: parents, step-parents, siblings
  • partner: current or past
  • acquaintance or a stranger

“Both research and the real world of clinical practice require a greater awareness of the relationship between different types of violence, such as violence from more than one assailant. At the same time, measuring violence is very difficult. Developing methodologies should be the next step,” Ms Simmons says.

Feelings of guilt and shame

The experiences of violence differ between the sexes. Women are more often victims of violence from their partners, while it is more common for men to be abused by acquaintances or strangers. However there are also cases where men are subjected to various types of violence by their partners. Prior research has shown that it is very often difficult for women to confide in their care providers about the violence they had been subjected to. This thesis shows that this can be the case for men too, especially if the perpetrator is a woman.

“You got hit by a girl? Haha, couldn’t you fight back?”

“We found that the men we interviewed often expressed feelings of guilt and shame and did not trust the confidentiality of the healthcare service. For them to talk about their experiences of being victims of violence, healthcare staff must give an empathetic, supportive reception,” Ms Simmons says.

Åke Hjelm 2015-03-30

Thesis: Toward an integrated approach in research on interpersonal violence.