By ‘Majirata Latela
- Man abused emotionally by in-laws
- Men are ashamed to report abuse by spouses
- NGO runs project to encourage reporting
After languishing in an emotionally abusive marriage for about 10 years, Tlali Moiloa* suffered severe depression which led to him losing his eyesight. As if that was not enough, he was at a later stage waylaid and gang raped, an ordeal that left him infected him with HIV.
Moiloa’s is one of many stories of men who are victims of gender-based violence, hidden traumas that are seldom known because of the toxic constructions of masculinity.
Experts suggest that a key attribute of toxic masculinity is the social expectation that boys and men should only engage in stereotypically masculine performances of gender. Among others, these rigid notions of what constitutes a ‘real’ man restrict emotions which men and boys are allowed to show publicly: in particular, men are expected to be dominant and to frequently express anger, while expression of vulnerable, so-called ‘feminine’, emotions such as fear, sadness, vulnerability and pain, is prohibited. Any male individual who expresses vulnerability is likely to be demeaned by dominant alpha males, and to have their personal masculinity questioned and belittled.
the Reporter randomly quizzed men if they could come forward and report abuse. Indeed, three out of five men said they wouldn’t dare for fear that other men, especially the police, would never believe their stories.
Not surprisingly, 50-year old Moiloa of Boleka in the Mafeteng district, never told anyone about his because he fears that, if he did, people will go out of their way to tell his potential lovers that not to associate with him because he was once raped, thereby jeopardise his prospects.
“I got married in 1990 and we have had four children with my wife. Her parents were always involved in every aspect of our marriage, including decision making. They would dictate where my family and I should live.
“At first I thought they were just being protective of their daughter. But as time went by I realised what they actually wanted was to control our lives. Every time my wife got pregnant they would express their dissatisfaction. I remember this one time they actually told me to my face that I would kill their daughter by impregnating her.
“That was when we were expecting our second child after our first-born had died shortly after birth. My in-laws would swear at me, for no apparent reason, at the drop of the hat. They would even come to our place just to observe our living conditions, and then throw tantrums, accusing me of making babies when I did not have a stable job. Since I regarded them as my parents, I never talked back, except to request them to stay out of our marriage,” he said in a quivery voice.
On their fourth pregnancy, his wife’s parents went ballistic with fury. The only course open to the couple under the circumstances was to abort the baby; they tried in vain, until their baby girl was born.
Then one day when the wife was a few weeks into her fifth pregnancy, she paid her parents a visit. She never returned, until one week later she came back escorted by her parents who once again had a field day hurling unprintable words at him. Only, this time they packed up her belongings and took her and their kids away with them.
To add insult to injury, they denied him access to see his children and the wife abruptly cut off all communication. To this day, he has never seen his fourth surviving child.
Stressed and depressed from being forcefully separated with his family, Moiloa went to South Africa in search of greener pasture, and he duly found a job in one of the farms in Welkom, Free State province.
“One day I felt dizzy and my vision got blurred. I have no idea what happened after that but the next thing I woke up to find myself in a hospital bed connected to some machine. My vision was still fuzzy and I was told that my eyes had been affected by the unbearable stress I was going through.
“Doctors did everything they could to help me regain my eyesight, but to no avail. I had become partially blind and my sight deteriorated by the day.
“It never rains but pours; while walking home from one of my regular medical check-ups I was attacked by these three main robbed me and took turns raping me. That excruciating pain is still etched in my mind,” he said, tears rolling down his cheeks and evidently embarrassed.
After the nightmare, a Good Samaritan took him to the nearest clinic, where he was subsequently transferred to the hospital he had been receiving treatment at. A few weeks later, he was diagnosed with HIV. A case of rape and attempted murder was opened but he has not been keeping track of the case because he is now back in Lesotho.
“I had to come back home. But my siblings did not welcome me with open arms. I kept to myself, as a result.
“I now stay with my sister’s husband, and I attend self-reliance classes at a rehabilitation and skills development centre in Maseru. Where I also receive counselling.”
According to experts, many male survivors of GBV are likely to invest strongly in concealment of their trauma: public disclosure, particularly of experiences of emotional and physical trauma or vulnerability, risks survivors being an object of derision for men who are heavily invested in policing toxic masculinity, and hence survivors’ immediate experience of trauma may be compounded by public disbelief that men and boys could be victims (as well as perpetrators) and painful experiences of shaming. The absence of an empathic response is reflected in the most common reactions of police and social support services across the world when men disclose that they have been victims of GBV: their complaints are not treated seriously, and male victims may find themselves being belittled.
Men who are victims of domestic violence where perpetrators are female may face social prejudice and humiliation when they report the traumatic event to police. Male victims of domestic violence are perceived as lacking machismo, and their gender identities may be perceive as fundamentally damaged. Cases of intimate-partner violence in which the perpetrator is female and the victim is male are rarely reported, and in some communities the traumatic act is not even recognised as inherently violent.
Unsurprisingly, records of GBV against males are not readily available.
Meanwhile, the executive director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (Wilsa), Libakiso Matlho emphasises that notwithstanding the name of the organisation, it does not discriminate against men.
“Abuse is abuse, whether the perpetrator is male or female; so we have to make sure that they are both protected and are able to report abuse.
“What I can say is that men mostly don’t come forward to report abuse; we have had instances in workshops or conferences where men generally talk vaguely about what happens in their homes but not expressly reporting that they are abused.
“In some instances, when women do come forward to lay complaints of abuse, we usually find that the men do what they do in self-defence from abusive wives but were for obvious reasons not in a position to come forward to report it.”
Matlho revealed that WILSA has a programme on gender-based violence, called ‘Male Champions’, which engages male activists to talk to men at gatherings to teach them about abuse and how they should report it, emphasising the importance of reporting violence in their families.
She said they also have another programme called ‘Men Engaged’, which they are operating in partnership with Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the ministry of gender, youth, sports and recreation; they use this programme to try and change the outlook and perspectives of men regarding abuse.
In another development, police public relations officer, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, has also confirmed that men are reluctant and ashamed to report abuse even though there are many platforms to do so, such as the Lesotho Mounted Police Service’s Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) which is best equipped to handle men when they come forward to report.
Mopeli says they always use public gatherings to call on men to be open about the abuse they may encounter, instead of bottling up the pain and wallowing in abusive marriages.