Do­mes­tic abuse isn’t only by men

Women also abuse men, sib­lings abuse sib­lings, par­ents abuse chil­dren and it’s all bad

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Palesa Lebitse

Iac­com­pa­nied my friend to one of his weekly church cell meet­ings in our area. He had been nag­ging me to at­tend at least one church ser­vice with him, se­cretly hop­ing I’d con­vert to Chris­tian­ity. I agreed to visit the home cell in­stead, which turned out to be very in­ter­est­ing. There was no ser­mon, which pleased me. The group in­stead shared per­sonal anec­dotes and life lessons. The theme that day was so­ci­etal myths about men. I was in­trigued.

My friend’s pas­tor, Rev­erend An­drew, was the first to speak: “For many years, I was a vic­tim of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence … at the hands of my for­mer wife.”

The group re­acted in shock and dis­be­lief, but this did not sur­prise him. He smiled and as­sured ev­ery­one that he was no longer ashamed and that, in­deed, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence can go both ways. Not all vi­o­lent spouses are men.

He re­called how, one day, when he had fi­nally had enough, he made an emer­gency call to the po­lice to re­port his wife for as­sault. “I was bleed­ing, bat­tered and bruised,” he said. “The po­lice of­fi­cer re­sponded by ask­ing why I didn’t just hit her back.”

An­drew high­lighted that a ma­jor is­sue about this type of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is that men are far less likely to talk about it and that this feeds the prob­lem.

The rev­erend’s story about liv­ing as an abused man made me con­sider the ef­fect that myths about men have on our so­ci­ety and on per­cep­tions about do­mes­tic abuse. On fur­ther re­search into the sub­ject, I learned that, al­though do­mes­tic abuse re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant global pub­lic health is­sue, there are no sta­tis­tics on abuse against men. Yet Pro­fes­sor Mur­ray Straus said, in his pa­per Women’s Vi­o­lence to­wards Men Is a Se­ri­ous So­cial Prob­lem, that “women ini­ti­ate and carry out phys­i­cal as­saults on their part­ners as of­ten as do men”.

He also, in­ter­est­ingly, found that the abuse of men may be “one of the many causes of vi­o­lence against women, just as vi­o­lence by men is preva­lent and is one of the many causes of vi­o­lence by women. There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween ex­pla­na­tion and blame.”

There is lit­tle ef­fort made to en­cour­age men to re­port phys­i­cal abuse to the po­lice. Re­search shows that com­mon rea­sons men are wary of re­port­ing such vi­o­lence is they be­lieve that it is a pri­vate fam­ily mat­ter or that such vi­o­lence is too in­signif­i­cant to be re­ported. Men are also too ashamed to seek help and they usu­ally do not be­lieve the po­lice can help.

I also found, re­gret­tably, that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence not only oc­curs within in­ti­mate sex­ual re­la­tion­ships, but also be­tween sib­lings. For ex­am­ple, when a brother vi­o­lently at­tacks his sis­ter or brother re­peat­edly from a young age into adult­hood. Al­though sib­ling vi­o­lence is com­mon in our so­ci­ety and is a form of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, it re­mains con­tro­ver­sial and un­der-re­searched.

Sue Ed­wards, co-di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Multi-Cul­tural Stud­ies in Law at the Univer­sity of Buck­ing­ham, United King­dom, la­belled this form of abuse as a “deep, dark se­cret”.

She said there are many abu­sive broth­ers and sis­ters, but fam­i­lies tend to min­imise the sig­nif­i­cance of such abuse, not recog­nis­ing it as do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, par­tic­u­larly when sib­lings are younger. It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that so­ci­ety does not know about it.

Does the ef­fect of abuse in peo­ple’s homes dif­fer based on who the per­pe­tra­tor is? The an­swer is no. The ef­fects of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in fam­i­lies and in so­ci­ety, whether at the hands of a man or a woman, brother or sis­ter, are the same. Cer­tainly, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is most of­ten per­pe­trated against women and chil­dren, but any type of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is in­ex­cus­able.

We of­ten preach that men should be bet­ter men, so that our boys can be bet­ter too, but women equally have the same re­spon­si­bil­ity to be role mod­els to their chil­dren.

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