Over several years I have written and spoken out about domestic abuse but I have focused almost exclusively on battered women, helping to perpetrate the misconception that this problem affects only women.
While it may be true that the majority of victims of domestic abuse are women, we help to propagate injustice when we continually address the problem from that perspective. As you read these lines, please bear in mind that there are men in this country who not only endure physical, emotional and mental abuse from the women in their lives, they also face ridicule, discrimination and isolation when they try to get help.
The domestic violence services in this country don’t appear to be available to male victims. The few shelters that exist are for women and their children and there is very little done in terms of raising awareness and offering support to men who suffer abuse.
I was made aware of this unfortunate situation a few days ago via a radio call-in programme, when men talked about the injustices they face - endless run-arounds, frustration and blatant gender discrimination - when they try to get help.
We actually don’t know much about domestic abuse and violence against men in this country. Most of our efforts have been concentrated on advocacy and support to encourage women to report domestic violence and very little has been done to encourage men to report abuse.
Men often suffer physical abuse in silence because they are afraid that no one will believe them or take them seriously. Also, many men are too embarrassed to admit that they are being abused by their wives or girlfriends. In our Caribbean society, where the concept of “macho” is deeply engrained, a “real man” is expected to be able to “control” his wife. Abused men may feel they are somehow less of a man for “allowing” themselves to be abused. It doesn’t help that women who batter men have a greater ability to manipulate the “system” to their advantage.
According to experts in psychology and counselling, there are distinct dimensions to the type of domestic abuse inflicted on men. Often, their female partners constantly accuse them of cheating, often without reason. Studies done abroad show that the majority of male domestic abuse victims report women hitting or assaulting them because of suspected cheating. Unfortunately, many men accept this as normal behaviour. If the man retaliates, his abuser may threaten to hurt him more or call the police. This is a sign she may also escalate the violence in the future.
Another sign is that she constantly calls him names or insults everything he does. Some men think it is normal for women to degrade or insult them—they attribute it to PMS or simply “being a woman”. Even if physical violence is not involved, emotional abuse is domestic abuse, and it can affect a man’s mental and emotional health.
As in the case of male abusers, the woman controls everything the man does. She may prevent him from seeing friends, family members or even leaving the house, threatening violence if he does not cooperate. Sometimes she may control how he eats or dresses. This is a sign of emotional abuse and its effects can be devastating. Men who experience domestic abuse, including emotional abuse, are three times more likely to develop depression, which can lead to suicide.
In many cases, the woman uses physical violence to solve arguments. She punches, kicks, slaps, chokes, shoves or hits the man with hard objects regularly to force him to comply with her demands. She may often have episodes where she assaults her intimate partner physically or emotionally—and then promises she won’t do it again. Abusers of both genders have a typical pattern - they threaten, they act on their aggressions, they apologise and then do it again. This cycle usually continues until the man seeks help, or is severely hurt or killed.
In many cases of domestic abuse of men, alcohol is a major trigger. Women who abuse men are frequently alcoholics.
Research indicates that psychological problems, primarily personality disorders, may be a factor in abuse of men by women. At least 50 percent of all domestic abuse and violence against men is associated with women who have a Borderline Personality disorder. The disorder is also associated with suicidal behaviour, severe mood swings, lying, sexual problems and alcohol abuse.
Abusive women blame men rather than admit their problems. They do not take responsibility for how they live their lives. Instead of helping themselves, they blame a man for how they feel and believe that a man should do something to make them feel better. When men can’t make them feel better, they become frustrated and assume that men are doing this on purpose.
Men often stay in abusive and violent relationships because they are afraid to leave their children alone with an abusive woman. They may also be afraid that if they leave they will never be allowed to see their children again.
Many abused men believe it is their fault or feel they deserve the treatment they receive. They feel responsible and have an unrealistic belief that they can and should do something that will make things better.
Every victim of abuse in this country needs help, regardless of gender. I know that structures already exist within the Gender Affairs Ministry for dealing with men’s issues. These need to be expanded to deal with abuse of man and support systems need to be introduced or strengthened so men can get help.