I accompanied 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.
Palesa Lebitse is a liberal feminist who regularly writes for the M&G