Just as violence towards women is hugely under-reported, violence inflicted on men is also an often untold story. Men sometimes feel as if they can’t talk about it when it happens and they can feel helpless to do anything because it might not be believed. However, an increasing number of New Zealand males – some represented by an increasingly vocal network of men’s groups, are recognising this issue within their lives. The Domestic Violence Act 1995 gives men the same protection that it does women.
Men, too, are able to obtain a protection order against a violent partner, whether the partner is male or female. Abuse within any relationship is often controlling. It may cause physical, sexual or psychological damage or cause victims to live in continual fear.
What is violence?
Physical and sexual violence are the most obvious forms of assault. Pushing, biting, hitting, punching, and using a weapon are all forms of violence. Forcing someone to participate in sex is violence. Threats are a form of violence. Other forms of violence include:
- unsafe driving
- destroying possessions
- insulting or humiliating them in public
- making victims think they are crazy or stupid
- controlling the money
- isolation from friends or family
- hurting children or pets
- treating them like a servant
- threatening murder or suicide
- drugging them
- threatening to betray confidences in front of employers or family
- creating a sense of impending punishment
Victims of family violence often say these are the most insidious forms of violence and abuse because they are difficult to explain and are often regarded as “ordinary relationship problems”. If you have been in a violent relationship you might have some of the following feelings:
- afraid to tell anyone, depressed or humiliated
- afraid you have failed as a lover
- furious that they could do or say what they did
- confused because sometimes they are loving and kind
- guilty about leaving them or scared of coping alone
- frustrated and sad because you tried everything
- afraid of continued violence if you leave
- panicked that you might lose your identity outside of the relationship
- worried about your financial security
- made to believe that you deserved it
It might be helpful to look at some of the ways you’ve coped until now:
- you have been careful about what you say, when you say things, and how you say them
- you have tried to talk to your partner about their stress, drug use or moods
- you have given up doing anything likely to upset them
- you adapt your behaviour to what they say they want
- you tried to make agreements or set boundaries
Men should never think their partner’s violence is their fault. The violent partner is the one making a choice to be violent against them, and maybe the children in the relationship. They choose whether they will slap a man’s face because he said something they didn’t like. They choose whether to lash out and scream at the family because they’re feeling unwell. If violence against women is unacceptable and without excuse, shouldn’t violence against men also be?
All violence has damaging consequences. A man’s belief in his worth and his sense of having rights and choices becomes eroded by constant abuse. There are many common beliefs about why people choose to be violent: “they had a sad or traumatic childhood”, “they drink or use drugs”, “they have trouble expressing their feelings”, “they can’t control their anger”, “something about you drives them to violence”. These are excuses.
We all experience stress, trauma, anger and fear, but a violent partner chooses to use violence to control and get their own way. “I never believed they’d abuse me.”
Many men don’t realise that a partner’s violent behaviour to them is domestic violence. They might not have believed until recently that the above behaviour could be called violent. If a man feels scared and unsafe in his partner’s presence something is wrong.
He is the best judge of how safe he is. Some men simply don’t want to admit that they are afraid of their partner – somehow it doesn’t seem “manly” for a Kiwi bloke to admit that he lives with someone who is violent to him. Police officers acknowledge that men probably don’t report violence when they otherwise could. Victims should never think their partner’s violence is their fault.
How to help
People can help by:
- supporting the right of all couples to live safely
- becoming informed about violence within relationships
- passing comment if you witness behaviour you believe is abusive or violent
- listening to, believing, and supporting a man who confides in you
- ask “how can I help?” or “what can you do to make yourself safer?”