The topic of domestic violence against men is one which is largely unspoken, especially in Nigeria. In most cases of domestic abuse, our first instinct is to assume that a man is the perpetrator, while the woman is the victim. Even though this could be true, as is the case in many instances, the issue of violence against men is more rampant than we know.
Domestic violence otherwise known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, family violence, or intimate partner violence, is a type of behaviour which involves the abuse of one partner by the other. It could be verbal, sexual, or psychological in nature and usually occurs in various forms ranging from threat to harm, physical aggression or assault, emotional abuse, and oppression amongst other acts. It also extends to any other type of controlling behavior which could potentially harm the health, safety, and wellbeing of its victim.
Although the subject of domestic violence against men is gaining increasing popularity, it is still treated with less importance, especially in comparison to violence against women. This could be attributed to a number of reasons; one of which is underreporting. Underreporting of incidents where men are abused by their partners is a major problem. The norm, particularly in Nigeria, is that most men hardly report such cases because they fear that they may be perceived as being less masculine. The recent research by the BMJ OpenJournal revealed the “fear of disclosure” as a problem caused by the society which has placed a burden on men not to act weak. In most cases, the male sufferer chooses not to tell anyone because he may feel he has not lived up to the societal notion of manliness or rather, the dictates of manly ideals.
While some men stay back in abusive relationships because they are fully committed to their partners, others may be hanging on because they do not want to lose custody of their children to abusive spouses. For some, they may persevere to a point where they are too emotionally distressed to leave. Another class of men are those who took steps to seek for help, but encountered negative experiences and then gave up fighting back. They may have stepped out hoping that someone will believe them, but that is not always the case. For the last group, things would have degenerated to a point where the male sufferer doesn’t even see himself as a victim, which makes it difficult to help him. With all these barriers and more, we are left to wonder: how many more men are silent sufferers of domestic abuse from their spouses?
In most cases, the issue of violence against men is largely overlooked due to the immense pressure on them to act like all is well, even when it is not. This makes more men reluctant to draw attention to their domestic abuse situation. The sad fact remains that as at today, husband punching, kicking, slapping, sex deprivation and killing are realities that occur in Nigeria on a regular basis. Social media has further beamed the spotlight on male domestic abuse cases by providing quick access to proof through the circulation of pictures and videos of maltreatment of men by their spouses, albeit for different reasons.
It would appear that recounting domestic violence from the male victim’s perspective is quite uncommon as most people are quick to assume that men are not usually known to be at the receiving end of physical aggression. In a largely patriarchal society like Nigeria where the male folk are expected to be more dominant due to their physical strength, it can be considered shameful to hear that a man was threatened or beaten by his partner.
In comparison to women who are usually encouraged to speak freely when they are trapped in abusive relationships or marriages, men are not known to easily voice out their grievances, not even to close friends and relations. Public ridicule and harsh criticisms are other factors withholding men from speaking out. Asides this, there is also the possibility that on reporting to appropriate authorities, tables could turn and the victim ends up being labelled as the aggressor. Male sufferers of domestic violence typically require a higher burden of proof or a more convincing story to justify their claims.
Domestic abuse of men is just as important as any other gender based violence issue and in addressing it, there are various ways in which the male sufferer could seek for help. The first is to speak up as soon as possible. The victim could start by talking to a friend, relative, health care provider or any other close contact. Also, awareness made through social programs can also help by reminding male victims that that they too can get justice. A good example is the mankind initiative which reassures male victims through its motto: “remember that you are not to blame, you are not weak and you are not alone”.
In Nigeria, domestic violence against men was a rarely discussed subject, until in recent years when more men began to speak against it. Sadly, some cases have seen the brutal end of victims who died from it. While we ponder over this, we must cautiously note that domestic abuse is not about gender, size or physical strength.
There is also the need to view domestic abuse from a psychological perspective, rather than basing it on socio-cultural expectations and existing stereotypical norms. In fact, a total cultural paradigm shift is necessary to change public perception to a point where everyone should know that men and women could both be aggressors of domestic violence and it is not related to only one gender. It is also important to squash the lopsided view that it is only weak men that experience domestic abuse. A total reformation of this mentality could also be encouraged by recommending anti-battery values to school curriculums all over Nigeria, as this would inculcate early recognition of the existence of domestic violence against men and ways to curb it.
Male sufferers of domestic abuse should be allowed to speak their truth without being victimised. Since it is an open secret that men too suffer from it, they should also be allowed to talk about it. Likewise, all aspects of the Nigerian criminal justice system, particularly the police system and other agencies, should also be taught to handle domestic violence complaints from men with some form of neutrality and open mindedness.
Recent years have seen the trial and conviction of Nigerian women who battered and murdered their husbands. More sanction measures should be put in public domain in order to serve as a deterrent to other women who are exhibiting such tendencies. It is hoped that shedding light on the present realities of domestic abuse of men would balance the scale of gender based violence discussions, especially in Nigeria.
Although there are national laws against domestic violence,there is also a greater need for precise regional and international laws which specifically protect the rights of men. For instance, the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women and the Maputo Protocol exist to protect the rights of women. Who says men don’t need one too?
Nigeria has the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015 which was enacted to eliminate various types of violent acts. It covers offences like spousal battery, emotional and psychological abuse, and intimidation amongst others. Lagos state particularly has its own prohibition of violence law alongside the Lagos State Domestic and Violence Team which responds to the needs of domestic violence survivors.
Many do not understand that domestic violence is a human rights issue which curtails other rights such as the rights to liberty and freedom of expression. Its effects can be very overwhelming, the impact of which could lead to serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, inferiority complex, post-traumatic stress disorder and in worse cases, suicide of its victim. No amount of excuse would give reasonableness to the domestic abuse of a spouse by the other. Abuse should be addressed across board and irrespective of gender, because violence against men or women is an injustice to all.
Yewande is a lawyer who specializes in international human rights law. She hates injustice and believes in fair play and equal opportunities. She is also passionate about the rights of the vulnerable. She can be reached via email: [email protected]gmail.com or on Instagram @insidesparkles