Here's something one doesn't hear too much about..
By Laura Dowrich
Today is International Men’s Day, an event conceptualised and first observed five years ago by Third World United, a local organisation, to address problems and challenges facing men. The theme for this year is Men and Health, and among the topics that will be addressed is the abuse of men by women.
While domestic abuse against women grabs the headlines almost daily and is the main focus of gender policies by organisations such as the Pan American Health Organisation, little or nothing is ever heard about battered men.
Just bring up the topic with another man or even a woman, and one is sure to be greeted with smirks and derisive comments. But, said Jerome Teelucksingh, head of Third World United, the issue is real and does exist, even in societies like ours, where machismo is celebrated. The problem is, unlike domestic abuse against women, abuse against men is under-reported. “The frequency and rate of reporting is slow,” said Anslym de Coteau, programme co-ordinator of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Society does not expect men to be victims of abuse and with the socialisation of males, we teach them not to cry. “Men internalise their feelings.” He said men will only speak out in two extreme cases: when they’ve reached a point they believe they will do something terrible, and when the abuse becomes so overwhelming that they feel trapped and hopeless. Even when they decide to make a report, most men do it in secrecy, he added.
De Coteau said he counsels men by telephone because most are ashamed to talk face to face. Those who do are afraid to do it in the Coalition’s building for fear they are seen, he said. De Coteau said most men do not reveal their identities on the phone. Victims contacted did not even want to be interviewed for fear someone recognised their situation. Local statistics for male abuse victims are unavailable. De Coteau estimated that for every 10 women who call the Coalition each month, only two to three men will call.
Kerwin Aigle, project execution assistant in the Domestic Affairs Unit of the Ministry of Community Development and Gender Affairs, said statistics from their hotlines, operational since 1996, had not yet been collated and analysed. The Central Statistical Office’s social indicators report only contains domestic violence information up to 1996 and does not differentiate between genders. From foreign statistics, the problem seems to be more prevalent than most people realise.
In an article entitled “Angry Women, Battered Men” in Essence magazine’s November issue, Michael Marriot wrote that a controversial study by a University of New Hampshire sociologist suggested that women were as likely as men to initiate violence against their partners. The study found that in the US, the rate of violence by women was 124 per 1,000 couples, compared with 122 per 1,000 for men.
As in the case of women, abuse against men can range from physical to emotional and even financial abuse. Teelucksingh said physical violence against men usually occurs when the woman is bigger in size, but that is not always the case. “There is no question that since men are, on average, bigger and stronger than women, they can do more damage in a fistfight,” he said. However, according to Profs R L McNeely and Coramae Richey Mann, ‘The average man’s size and strength are neutralised by guns and knives, boiling water, bricks, fireplace pokers and baseball bats,’” wrote Armion Brott in a Menweb.com essay entitled, Men: The Secret Victims of Domestic Abuse.
In the Essence article, one man said he was half asleep on the couch when his girlfriend got mad and flung a glass ashtray at him. It hit him in his eye. The man, speaking under the pseudonym Lucas, said there were nights he had to sleep in the bathroom to protect himself.
US actor Christian Slater received nine stitches last week after he was struck in the head by a glass thrown by his wife Ryan Haddon. She was arrested on a misdemeanour charge of domestic battery, but the star decided not to press charges. De Coteau said there are also cases where men are abused financially. He said this tends to happen to men over 50 whose property is swindled from them. Locally, the most prevalent abuse seems to be mental.
“Women have a history of their tongues being a weapon, and they have used it,” said Jaqueline Burgess, a feminist attached to the Caribbean Feminist Research Association. “Mostly it’s what women tell them, their words, their behaviour, it is directly psychological, and that could encourage the man to damage himself, drink, take his frustration out on other people, rob, do crime,” explained Donald Berment, secretary of Men Against Violence Against Women.
While some claim women abuse men because they were provoked, all interviewed agreed that the same argument can and is used against abused women. “To say it is provocation is offensive,” Burgess stressed. “Situations happen. It’s a matter of how you handle the situation, how you resolve it. You ought not to be resolving your problems with violence. We have to resist all violence.”
Nowhere to turn
There are no shelters for men in T&T. Abused men seeking refuge stay either at a relative’s or friend’s home or a women’s shelter. “It is not easy to get men to come in,” explained Aigle. “When they call the hotline we direct them to drop-in centres. Depending on the problem, we call shelters to see who will accept them. “If any agree, we call the police and they take them to the shelter, where they will be counselled.”
He said the counsellors are usually female, since there is a shortage of male counsellors. Aigle said a new programme called Restorative Justice which is being applied to ex-prisoners is also being used to help male victims. The programme involves getting them into shelters such as the Salvation Army and helping them to manage their money until their lives get back on track.
De Coteau is very critical of the national provisions for battered men. He said there is little sympathy and understanding for men in the social services, which are dominated by women. Even for the Ministry, men were an afterthought, he added. “The Ministry started off as the Ministry for Women’s Affairs. Even when they changed the name, it still functioned as women’s affairs. It’s only now they trying to recoup,” he said. With males under scrutiny these days for their under-performance in education and their predominant role in crime, there is a general concern about the welfare of men.
The battered man syndrome is yet another aspect to be addressed and some believe a male movement is necessary to do so. “The women’s movement has been successful in redefining femininity for women. Women have defined themselves as independent women, as leaders,” de Coteau said. “This is upsetting to men. Men still have the notion they are breadwinners, leaders. There is no social movement for men.”
In response to this, de Coteau said his organisation is applying for funding for a programme targeted at men. The aim is to educate and sensitise men so they won’t have to feel ashamed or less than a man when they are abused.
Taking it one step further, MAVAW’s Berment said a new group, the Association for Male Empowerment, is about to be formed to help men who are distressed.
The Ministry has also started a programme called Defining Male Excellence, aimed at helping men to deal with their issues.
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