Men who experience domestic violence often suffer in silence


Photos By AZLINA ABDULLAH

Many men don’t come forward or speak up about such issues because of cultural and societal expectations: they aren’t taken seriously, feel embarrassed, and there is a lack of awareness that this is gender-based violence. (Picture posed by model)

Sam* watches action movies every day and the volume is always turned up to the fullest. That might not seem unusual but in Sam’s case, it’s to drown out all the shouting at home.

“I don’t want the neighbours to hear. It’s embarrassing and it’s been like this for many years,” says 41-year-old who has been married for six years.

“Whenever I come home from work, my wife will shout and swear (profanities) at me. She often gets angry for no reason and blames me for everything that goes wrong... even when it has nothing to do with me!”

Sam says he has stopped trying to reason with his wife when she’s angry because it only makes it worse.

“She just gets angrier and louder.”

“Although she has never hit me, she’s been violent to the point of throwing things at me and has damaged furniture in the process,” he says, adding that after each outburst, she would be sorry and “nice to him for a while”.

The couple have a five-year-old daughter.

Sam has never thought of leaving his wife because he’s concerned what will happen to their daughter.

“My wife is a good mother to our daughter, but with all the shouting and negativity at home, it’s not a healthy environment for a child to grow up in,” he says.

According to All Action Women’s Society (Awam) deputy president Dr May Ng, men are also survivors of sexual harassment and domestic violence, but culturally, many don’t recognise it as gender-based violence.

Most men who reach out for help, usually seek mental and emotional support, says Awam deputy president Dr May Ng. Photo: The Star/Art ChenMost men who reach out for help, usually seek mental and emotional support, says Awam deputy president Dr May Ng. Photo: The Star/Art Chen“When a women is verbally abused (eg shouted at) by their spouse, it is easily recognised as domestic violence. But for men, the awareness isn’t there yet and it takes time to develop this awareness. Even for women, it took such a long time. Feminism started in the 70s, it took 50 years to educate women on what gender-based violence is,” says Ng.

“Gradually, some men have stepped forward to share their experience of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other gender-based violence,” she says.

Mental and emotional support

About 10% of all the calls to Awam’s Telenita helpline are from men who have experienced gender-based violence.

“When a man or boy reaches out for assistance, we have to help them identify if anything criminal or illegal has happened, and whether they are in danger physically (such as a boy being locked up and held against his will by parents/guardians, or in a hostel by other boys).

“If there is, they can make a police report or we can make a report on their behalf with their consent,” says Ng.

But, she highlights that most men who reach out for help, usually seek mental and emotional support.

Men who encounter gender-based violence such as domestic abuse or sexual harassment often suffer in silence. Photo: FreepikMen who encounter gender-based violence such as domestic abuse or sexual harassment often suffer in silence. Photo: Freepik

“Unlike women, men who ask for legal protection aren't as common because if a man makes a report about domestic abuse or sexual harassment, they often aren’t taken seriously and might feel embarrassed. This is one of the reasons they call for support because on the phone, they’re anonymous,” says Ng.

“It takes time to persuade them to come to our centre for help, counselling or advice,” she adds.

“While it’s less common, some do enquire about legal advice.”

If it’s a woman or a child, we can bring them for a medical checkup and to the crisis centre, because their injuries are usually physically obvious, she says.

But for men, if it’s domestic abuse - whether it’s from the wife or in-laws - it’s often verbal abuse. There’s an avenue for a medical examination but it usually isn’t applicable because there aren’t any signs of physical injury on the men, she adds.

Sam admits that he has never really told anyone about his problem at home.

“When I tried to talk to my in-laws, they blamed me for ‘not taking care of her well’ and when I told my relatives, they made light of it and told me to ‘humour her because she’s just having a bad day’ or ‘she must have lot of pressure at work and needs to release steam’,” he shares.

According to Ng, many men don’t come forward or speak up about such issues because of cultural and societal expectations: they aren’t taken seriously, they feel embarrassed, and there is a lack of awareness that this is domestic abuse and a type of gender-based violence, since it’s verbal and not physical abuse.

Men are also survivors of sexual harassment and domestic violence, but culturally, many don’t recognise it as gender-based violence. Photo: The Star/Azlina Aziz (Picture posed by models)Men are also survivors of sexual harassment and domestic violence, but culturally, many don’t recognise it as gender-based violence. Photo: The Star/Azlina Aziz (Picture posed by models)

But why do men need to give the impression of being strong all the time, they are also human beings with feelings and needs too, she says.

“Toxic masculinity is the wrong perception that being a man means being dominant, homophobic, and aggressive – and having to behave in a certain way ie never crying nor showing emotions. These beliefs are implanted in men from young since they were boys. That’s why it becomes a stigma if they were to show themselves as being weak or a victim of abuse.”

“But this is just society’s expectation,” says Ng.

“For example, if you have a female colleague who is crying because she’s having a bad day, you’ll probably try to comfort her. But if it’s a male colleague who is crying because he’s having a bad day, you might be stunned or speechless, and you might tell him to ‘man up, be strong, and don’t cry.”

So, it’s important for men to speak out against gender-based violence. This is the first step in breaking stereotypical stigmas, concludes Ng.

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