A pathfinder nationwide study conducted by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) in Namibia shows that one in 10 victims of domestic violence is a man.
This shows that domestic violence affects both men and women, and that men are reaching out for help, putting paid to the fallacy that real men do not cry. Journalist Moses Magadza interviews Rachel Coomer , the Public Outreach Manager with the Gender Research and Advocacy Project of LAC about this study and the way forward.
Often reports of domestic violence conjure up images of men beating up women. One seldom thinks men can also be at the receiving end. Your study puts an entirely different complexion on the phenomenon. What is it about?
"The study is about domestic violence in general. It's not looking at particular sexes. We were just looking at everyone who applies to the court for a protection order and then from our information we broke it down to who is applying; how old they are they; what the relationship between them and the abuser is; and what region are they from. The study generated a wealth of data and when we looked at it closely, we were able to pull out data that shows that 1 in 10 victims is a man."
Did that strike you as remarkable?
"Yes. We know anecdotally that men are also victims of violence. The most important thing is that women are the majority victims of domestic violence and we must never lose sight of that. But it's extremely important that we know that males are also victims. It's incredibly positive that we saw 1 in 10 reported as a male victim. The fact that some men are also saying they need a court order of protection is positive because we hear a lot of people saying the law is gender-biased; all for women. The reality is that the law is here to help both men and women. This data actually shows us that people know that and that men are requesting help."
Why do you think that some men do not speak out about violence?
"Gender stereotypes are enforced from an early age. Take the example of career choice. Unlike the boy-child, the girl-child is often encouraged to be anything she wants in the world. Parents will tell a girl-child that she can become a construction worker or computer technician. When we look at a boy, parents are not so comfortable to tell him he can become a nurse or a primary school teacher. These stereotypes translate into adulthood. Sometimes the options for men are much restricted and that is one reason why we see that in domestic violence, some men think that their options are also restricted but hopefully, slowly people are beginning to get the help that they need."
How often do you conduct these studies on domestic violence and what other new insights are coming out?
"It's a huge undertaking. It has lifted data from 2004-2006 from 19 of the 31 magistrates' courts in Namibia. In all, 1122 applications for both men and women for protection orders were looked at. It's a huge data set. It's the first time a study has been done to focus on the operation of the Combating of Domestic Violence Act. We did a similar study on rape a few years ago and we haven't yet done a repeat. It is needed though but it takes a long time to carry out; you have to get to courts across the country, quantify the data and analyse it One way to have better access to data would be for the government to be more systematic about the release of data. The statistics come but it's quite difficult to get them and they are not always broken down in a way that is meaningful."
Having conducted this survey, what can you say about the incidence of domestic violence in Namibia?
"That is difficult to say because the laws that came into effect are still only just working, such as the Combating of Domestic Violence Act of 2003 and the Combating of Rape Act of 2000. It takes a few years before people get to know the law, to use it and for the service providers to better implement the law. Effectively, we will probably see the increase before the decrease. Victims and survivors are getting the courage to speak up and get help."
Is it easier for an abused woman to squeal than an abused man?
"I think it is easier for a woman to report abuse than a man."
What muzzles men?
"I think it is culture and lack of confidence to report abuse when one is supposed to be strong."
So what needs to be done going forward?
"We need to encourage men to report abuse but not to the detriment of women because the majority of victims are women. It's a very complicated dynamic because men have less confidence to speak out but perhaps have more options to make change - men are more often the higher wage earners so can have more options about what to do in a relationship that has become violent."
In light of what you have just said, could it be possible that there are more abused men than meet the eye?
"Yes. I think because men seldom speak out. They are told that men don't cry. Some people see reporting abuse as a shameful thing. We must emphasise that being a victim of violence is not shameful and violence is not gender-specific - anyone can speak out. Violence is unacceptable within relationships. Violence is not the answer. Whoever is perpetrating that violence should stop.
What causes gender-based violence in Namibia?
"That's a difficult question. One consideration is the influence of violence used from a young age; the use of corporal punishment in the home by parents. Namibia is at a point where you can see that violence is everywhere. Children grow up from the start seeing it. Children are sponges. They grow up with their parents and caregivers and just observe and learn. It's quite amazing how much a child copies and learns. Even if you don't realize it they are picking up things. That means that some children see violence and they learn that it is acceptable to use violence. Other children grow up being very frightened because they were beaten as a child so think they deserve to be beaten by their boyfriend. So violence becomes a quick answer. Linking that to corporal punishment, it's a lot quicker and easier to beat your kid than it is to explain to them and that is an issue. It takes a lot more maturity to deal with these things without violence but it is the right way. The real way is communication. Then there is the tolerance of society: we know what's going on, but we don't speak about it - we don't condemn it. We need to see men speaking to other men about domestic violence because it doesn't help if it's just women."
When you conduct research, with who do your share your findings?
"The report itself is for policymakers and service providers. It's not necessarily something that the community member would want to read. But the information from the report is relevant to community members and we will continue to make the results accessible to people. For example, another finding in the study was that 2 in 100 people who apply for a protection order as victims of domestic violence are pregnant. That is also heart-breaking. Not only is the woman at risk but the baby is also at risk. We want people to make change."
Namibia has no shortage of legislation around domestic or gender-based violence yet the phenomenon persists. Is legislation the answer?
"Legislation is the back-stop. You need it to get everything else in place. But legislation alone is insufficient as we need to see implementation of the law. We need to see mobilization, resources, awareness and reaction. We need zero tolerance and the application of penalties."
What role should the family, the church, the school and other agents of socialization play in halting and reversing the incidence of domestic and gender-based violence?
"I think the family should be supportive if someone is a victim or suffering from domestic violence. When one is a victim of domestic violence, it is very hard to speak out. We know from the study that people will be suffering from violence for a long time before they finally speak out. Schools play integral roles as they are access points for communities and social leaders. They provide the stability and entry points perhaps to get help. What we also saw was that for every victim of domestic violence there is at least six other people affected on average. Four of those are children. The schools can encourage and teach children how to get help if they need it. "