Gender-based violence and abuse affect all in the country – and men are slowly beginning to speak out about the abuse they have faced. Shaheda Omar, Clinical Director of the Teddy Bear Clinic, says that men often call their organisation seeking information on support groups, but are very reluctant for face–to–face meetings.
“They are embarrassed and find it difficult to admit they are victims of abuse. They feel their masculinity is being eroded – ‘how can they allow themselves to be violated?”
She goes on to say that messaging about what masculinity starts with young boys, and the stigma of abuse silences their voices.
“Often young boys will not report abuse as they also fear the stigma. They don’t want to be seen as sissies,” she says.
Omar says that, while gender-based violence against women is far higher, abuse against men should not be overlooked.
“To break the cycle of abuse we need to engage with everyone. There is always the danger of a victim becoming the victimiser.”
‘I didn’t see anything wrong’
Speaking to Health-e News, Johannes Magudulela says he was in denial about being in an abusive relationship, until a friend confronted him about it. Magudulela moved in with his now ex-girlfriend a few months after they started dating. The abuse started a year later.
“But I denied the fact that I was being abused. I didn’t see anything wrong and every time she slapped me, insulted me and made fun of me in front of her friends I would bow down, and allow the situation to continue,” he says.
Magudulela says his girlfriend supported him financially, and that she let him drive her car.
However, the way she treated him was violent. Magudulela says that he “nearly lost an eye” when his ex-girlfriend threw a fork at him because he didn’t knock before entering their shared house.
“She would use anything next to her and hit me with it if we didn’t see eye to eye,” he says.
Magudulela says he had to face up to being abused when a friend of his ex-girlfriend questioned him about how he was being treated.
“Her friend saw that I was living in fear. One day she asked me if I want to get out of this relationship, and I agreed but I didn’t know where to go after quitting my job before moving in with her.”
Omar says this is not unusual, as abused men are often pushed out of their homes.
“Some are pushed out onto the streets and left destitute. They will not reach out to even their immediate family because they feel so ashamed,” she explains.
Magudulela was fortunate as he was able to get into a shelter.
“I couldn’t believe that there was such place, I felt home. I was welcomed and appreciated. What I liked the most is that all of us there we had different stories which we were sharing with each other.”
He was finally able to move out of the shelter when he got another job as a security guard. He now lives in his own bachelor apartment, and has chosen to remain single.
Queer men face victimisation
Men in same-sex relationships are not immune to abuse either, and Sthabiso Cele tells Health-e News about how the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown helped him get out of the abusive relationship he was in with his employer.
Cele says that his employer often beat him if he refused to engage in sexual activities with him. Although the beatings left him with visible injuries, he never reported the abuse to the police.
The Centre for African Justice Peace and Human Rights notes in a report on domestic violence in South African and Nigeria that men often don’t report their abuse, and “the South African government focuses on violence against women and children but sadly there are also men out there suffering abuse and not much is done about it.”
“I didn’t have courage to report him at the police station because of stigma and stereotype when it comes to gay individuals,” Cele says.
He also explains how left the relationship and went home when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country will go into lockdown. He returned to Durban where he is currently searching for work.
“I am not returning to Johannesburg because I’m afraid that I might bump in to him.”
National GBV plan
But, there is some hope in the realm of tackling abuse and gendered violence in the country. The newly released gender-based violence national strategic plan (NSP) will ensure reduced cases of crimes against women, children and LGBTIQ+ individuals, say activists involved in the drafting of the plan.
The 132-page document focuses on developing policies, strategies, solutions and funding to combat GBV and femicide over the next five years. The plan involves multiple sectors – from civil society and religious organisations, to the private sector, academic institutions and the government. This ensures accountability, as well as widening the scope of the government’s response. – Health-e News