Domestic violence has been a problem — and will probably continue to be one — for many years. Each year, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. With 85 percent of domestic violence victims being women, it’s easy to overlook the fact that many men are also victimized. But an oft-overlooked group, men who have sex with men (MSM) — a term that comprises homosexual, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual men who have sex with men — may be the worst affected by their partner’s abusive behavior. A new study finds that these victims are prone to a whole range of harmful outcomes.

Domestic violence in any case is uncalled for. In the short-term, it causes physical harm to the victim, sometimes incapacitating them to the point where they’re unable to step outside without someone questioning what happened. But deeper physical problems may also emerge, such as arthritis, hypertension, and heart disease — all from being battered. But long-term effects may even be worse, as psychological problems begin to take shape. Though depression is the most common effect, victims may also develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and sometimes suicidal thoughts.

For MSM, these outcomes may be worse. The LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community is already facing years' worth of discrimination and fear of violence. In the workplace, for example, 21 percent of homosexual employees reported being discriminated against in hiring, promotions, and pay. That number jumped to 47 percent among transgendered people.

Domestic Violence Among MSM

For their meta-analysis, published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers looked at a collection of 19 studies on the various effects domestic violence has on MSM. Forty-eight percent of the MSM who were reviewed had been exposed to domestic violence, the researchers found. These men reported rampant alcohol and drug abuse, depressive symptoms; they were more likely to be HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) positive, while also being likely to engage in unprotected sex.

Although many victims of abuse tend to develop these problems. The problem may be exacerbated for MSM, considering that they are not only more likely to contract HIV (63 percent of new infections were among MSM in 2010), but also because the rates of infection are rising among the group — 22 percent among young MSM and 12 percent overall between 2008 and 2010. In all, about 489,121 people living with HIV at the end of 2010 were either MSM or MSM and injection drug users, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And risky sexual behavior — the kind that doesn’t involve wearing protection — is a major contributor to the problem.

The researchers, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and King’s College London, noted that some factors limited conclusiveness, including a small number of studies, variability among them, and self-reported effects of violence. “Our results highlight the need for research into effective interventions to prevent IPV (intimate partner violence) in MSM, as well as the importance of providing health care professionals with training in how to address issues of IPV among MSM, and the need to raise awareness of local and national support services,” they concluded.

Source: Buller A, Devries K, Howard L, et al. Associations between Intimate Partner Violence and Health among Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2014.