With respect to the topic of domestic violence, is anyone hearing us men? I have decided on this excursion partly because within recent times the media have been highlighting a plethora of efforts designed to raise awareness and intensify programmes aimed at minimizing domestic violence meted out specifically to women. These initiatives are commendable and should be morally and materially supported by everyone striving for a better society and/or those who abhor the practice of man’s inhumanity to man. Let me state up front that I consider myself one such person and I do hope that readers bear this public declaration in mind as they read on.
I wish to refer to an article on page 8 of your June, 11 edition under the caption ‘Breakout launch sees women pledging to stand up against domestic violence,’ as my main point of reference. But before I address the question per se, I note it was reported that the “break the silence and say no to domestic violence” campaign documentary launch was supported by governmental representatives, advocacy groups (NGOs) and a presidential and a prime ministerial hopeful. This is heartening news for advocates, since one can confidently conclude there is political will, public-private partnership, and a guarantee for the continuity of a compassionate public policy for domestic violence response programmes beyond the 2011 elections.
Now, back to the question, domestic violence: is anyone hearing us men)? In the June 11 report, it states, “She revealed that a man turned up at the event very early and broke his silence immediately and when asked if he was willing to stand he did, but did not say anything.” Editor, such disinclination can be perfectly understandable. Many men suffer similar forms of domestic violence at the hands of women, except for the number of gruesome murders perpetrated by male spouses. To compound this, men are generally reluctant to officially report such experiences because they either cannot bear to see their spouse being incarcerated and facing public ridicule (men are softer creatures than is generally assumed), and/or they are afraid of society stigmatizing them as ‘sissy,’ living under a petticoat government, or other similarly demeaning labels. So under these circumstances, men are victims twice. Bishop TD Jakes in highlighting many of the serious emotional challenges of menfolk aptly sums up such a situation by asserting, “It’s hard to be a man.”
Editor, permit me to refer to a related aspect of the foregoing as reported in the said article: “But even though (name of person) is willing to talk about the mental and emotional abuse she, like so many women, was not willing to open up on the issue of sexual abuse…” I am not a sociologist or social psychologist but I wish to advance the argument that just as it is considered abusive when one partner coerces the other to perform sexual favours, often with long-term consequences, the withholding of or deliberately rationing a partner’s most pleasurable lovemaking by a spouse could also be domestically abusive, and male victims do suffer hurt, confusion and trauma from this experience.
Additionally, it could be argued that the decks are overwhelmingly stacked against men where the public perception of domestic abuse and violence is concerned. Many men accused of cheating on their partners or engaging in other forms of abuse face the media (sometimes with their spouses alongside) and tearfully express remorse. Yet it is often speculated that they face the music for extended periods afterwards while at home. Others suffer domestic violence in retaliation for such lapses, but are quick to keep it under wraps by referring to the battering as a private matter, and frequently end up losing their wives anyhow, sometimes accompanied by a huge financial payout. So men have to deal with a lot of issues which I believe should be objectively considered as part of any comprehensive response to the scourge of domestic violence.
I propose that in future, 1) public reference to initiatives aimed at supporting victims of domestic violence should refer to ‘persons’ instead of ‘women’ as the target group, once men could be included as beneficiaries of the programmes and interventions; and 2) menfolk should explore the possibility of starting a conversation aimed at complementing the noteworthy work which our sisters, religious organizations and other NGOs have intensified to minimize the prevalence of domestic violence.
In closing, let me say I am painfully aware that the views expressed are sensitive and emotions could run high in terms of responses. My humble request is for readers to approach their retort in the spirit of a dialogue instead of combative debate, thus enabling a wider cross-section of society to appreciate the broad range of issues surrounding domestic violence.
And by the way, as I am writing this it is announced that Mr Dominique Strauss-Kahn has just been released from house arrest… But that’s another story.