Whenever mention is made of domestic violence or sexual harassment, the latter of which has been very much in the news recently following the passage of new legislation by Parliament, there is generally an immediate and automatic assumption of a woman as the victim and a male as the perpetrator. Hardly is there ever consideration that the scenario could be the exact opposite.
A video that was making the rounds on social media recently, proves the point. It showed the sharply contrasting responses of passers-by on a busy street in a foreign city to separately staged incidents of a man physically abusing a woman and woman doing the same to a man. While passers-by immediately rushed to the aid of the woman, they looked on in bewilderment at the man, sniggering in a few instances, but offering no help.
It is little wonder then that cases of domestic violence in which men are at the receiving end of abusive female partners are hardly ever brought to public attention. The decision to keep such abuse under wraps stems from societal attitudes, especially in macho societies such as those which exist in the Caribbean, where men who suffer physical abuse at the hands of women are often the butt of jokes and are seen as less than men.
After all, in society’s definition of masculinity, supposedly “real men” simply do not allow women to beat them up. Yet increasingly in public discourse, mention is made of achieving gender balance where equal treatment is accorded to the concerns and issues of men and women across the board. This being the case, especially here in Barbados where the spotlight of domestic abuse is almost entirely on women, it is perhaps time for abused men to break the silence and tell their stories to raise public awareness of the problem and their plight.
Indeed, this is already happening in a growing number of countries including the United States where October every year is observed as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Recently, in Dallas, in the state of Texas, a group called The Family Place opened what is believed to be only the second shelter in the US exclusively for men who are victims of domestic violence. The first shelter was opened two years ago in Batesville, Arkansas.
“We’re trying to help men understand that it’s OK to ask for help,” remarked a spokeswoman for The Family Place. “It’s OK to have emotions. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to be vulnerable.”
The opening of the shelter came against a backdrop of an increasing number of male victims calling the National Domestic Abuse Hotline for help. Last year, about 12,000 men called, double the about 5,800 male victim callers from 2010. While there are usually whispers, one is left to wonder what is the true picture in Barbados.
Meanwhile, closer to home in our own region, it was revealed in Jamaica just a few months ago that in the previous two years, over 80 men had been killed in incidents of domestic violence, twice the number of women who died under similar circumstances. The revelation, which caught many by surprise, was made by Minister of National Security Robert Montague who pointed out that there was a disturbing trend of men being abused by women.
He acknowledged that it was likely that even more men had died as a result of domestic violence, but the cases were not reported. Quoting police statistics, he said that in 2015 a total of 46 men had died as a result of domestic violence, while 15 women were killed. In the following year, 38 men were killed, while 25 women had lost their lives. Montague noted that while domestic abuse affected everyone, a lot of men were suffering in silence.
“The silence from our men is deafening because there is a disturbing trend of men being abused by their female partners and they remain silent because they don’t want to be called ‘maama man’, but they too are suffering and suffering silently,” Montague told a workshop on domestic violence.
Domestic violence of any kind is wrong and goes contrary to the goal of building a just society to which we have committed ourselves in Barbados. Perhaps the Men’s Educational Support Association (MESA) needs to become a bit more vocal to achieve greater public awareness and disapproval of domestic violence against men, in the same way that the National Organization of Women (NOW) and other groups have done in the case of female victims.