“You’re A Useless Man!” – When Men Fall Victim to Domestic Abuse
Picture this: You’re walking along a busy pedestrian walkway and hear a couple quarrelling. But this doesn’t look like your typical lover’s tiff. The one hurling insults and getting physically aggressive is a woman. As the conflict escalates, she repeatedly smacks her male partner’s chest and even grabs his neck while harshly dismissing him as “pathetic”.
How would you react to a scene like this? For passers-by caught in this social experiment conducted in London, there were expressions of disbelief, half-suppressed sniggers and even outright laughter.
The male actor’s perceived cowardice may have been met with laughter, but spousal or intimate partner violence is no laughing matter. Unfortunately, such derisive attitudes reflect societal attitudes at large and exacerbate the woes of male victims, making it harder for them to seek help.
While it is true that victims of family violence are disproportionately women, men are not exempt. In the UK, a 2018 government survey indicated that 9% of men had experienced some form of partner abuse. In Singapore, male victims of domestic abuse are likewise not uncommon, as observed by Fei Yue’s counsellors and social workers.
Greater likelihood of emotional and verbal abuse
More often than not, female abusers employ emotional and verbal tactics such as name-calling, constant criticism and humiliation. Foo Wei Ping, senior social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre (Choa Chu Kang) explains, “Women have less strength, so they may employ tactics such as shouting and threats, like threatening divorce, or her husband’s assets.”
But physical violence is not uncommon as well. Katrina Goh, senior counsellor at Fei Yue Family Service Centre (Yew Tee), recalls a case in which a couple quarreled over finances. “The wife was very hurt and felt she could not get across her point to her husband verbally. So she hit him.”
Sometimes, the violence can also be mutual. Katrina shares, “It could be a case of “you shout at me, I punch you back”. In many instances, the parties involved have issues with emotion management and cannot control their anger.”
“Face” stands in the way of seeking help
Despite the severity of abuse, men are less likely to seek help due to the pressure to live up to masculine ideals, such as strength, dominance and stoicism. Wei Ping had once encountered a case where a male victim was reluctant to divorce from his abusive wife because he prided himself as a family man and could not accept the shame of “losing face”.
Rather than seeking help, abused men may counter with violence, retreat in silence or even resort to self-harm. Shirley Lim, senior social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre (Choa Chu Kang) remembers a verbally abused male victim who coped with his abuse by burying himself in work twelve hours a day. “We wanted him to seek help because he had developed suicidal thoughts. A sense of support was needed to awaken him to the idea that (verbal abuse) is not acceptable.”
Sometimes, cases involving female abusers come to light only because violence had started to affect the whole family, and victims are fathers. Very few, if any, male victims go to the extent of filing for divorce or applying for a Personal Protection Order from the courts.
But the wounds that male victims carry are no less painful, and they deserve the same amount of support as their female counterparts. Katrina says, “I would appeal to male victims to get help for themselves for the sake of their mental well-being. If a male victim wishes to stay in the relationship, he will need to learn how to differentiate his spouse’s opinions from his strengths and sense of self.”
Wei Ping’s has some final advice for male victims: “First and foremost, there is a need to recognize that you are in an abusive relationship. If you choose to seek help from a Family Service Centre, we can figure things out together, and journey with you.”
Written by: Lim Zhan Ting
Whitley, R. (2019, Nov) Domestic Violence Against Men: No Laughing Matter, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/talking-about-men/201911/domestic-violence-against-men-no-laughing-matter