Ending the Pandemic of Male Gender Violence

If we can fight COVID-19, we must end the violence virus as well.

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Photo credit: iStockPhoto

By Steve Garrett

It’s hard to find any silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic which is affecting so many people here in the U.K. and the rest of the world, but one glimmer might be that it’s shaking up our ’normal’ view of the world — pulling back the cover on some things that we’d prefer not to think about and bringing home the reality that we live in a very fragile and interdependent world.

I find that the end of ‘normal’ — however temporary it might be — is causing me to re-evaluate my own life, and to see in a clearer light some of the negative habits that have crept up on me. And that is leading to me make some big changes. I can imagine that many people no longer going to work, or even going out to enjoy the pleasurable habits which can so easily become ruts, are experiencing the same kind of reflection on what is really important in our lives. A small example for me is that I’ve lost interest in alcohol. Never a big drinker, but quite a regular one, I’m more motivated now to keep myself as healthy as possible than to open a bottle!

I’ve also found myself, even with the relatively limited derivations I’ve experienced so far, more easily able to empathise with the many people in the world who have struggled, and are struggling, to live in very difficult circumstances — whether it’s because of war, natural disasters or disease. I realize how well insulated I’ve been from these painful realities in my comfortable bubble of life in the West, and am determined not to let myself slip back into such an unaware state, and to do whatever I can for the rest of my life to make life better for those who are suffering most

I’m also hoping the current strangeness will encourage more men to open their eyes to other ‘disasters’ in the world that most of us have been able to avoid or have preferred not to think about — one of the biggest and most pervasive of which, in my view, is the ongoing but largely hidden epidemic of male gender violence.

To put it in perspective: as of yesterday, the Coronavirus had killed 4,313 people in the UK, and there had been 47,806 confirmed cases. Not good. And it will get worse. Maybe much worse. And then it will get better. But according to the Office of National Statistics about 7.9% of women suffered domestic abuse in England and Wales during 2018. This equates to about 1,300,000 women Last year, 173 people were killed in domestic violence-related homicides- an increase of 32 deaths on 2017 Around one-third of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.

It is, and always has been, utterly unacceptable and inexcusable that so many women are threatened, intimidated and assaulted by men. We pride ourselves in being a relatively civilized country where human rights are respected and everyone is should be entitled to a life that’s free from immediate danger.

Yet by and large we turn a blind eye to the horrendous scale and tragic cost of the ‘violence virus’ that seems to have infected too many men; and although the majority men are not abusive or violent, the statistics of the continuing levels of violence and abuse suffered by women clearly show the scale of the problem.

When you look at the huge costs in terms of the women whose lives are damaged, of the men who are incarcerated, and the unnecessary burden on the NHS, the police, and social services to name but a few, it’s impossible to understand why more resources are not invested into understanding and reducing this scourge.

We know now it’s not just a shortage of money because we can see how much has suddenly been made available in the fight against COVID-19. So it must be because women’s safety, and men’s mental health, are not seen as a priority. The approach by the government seems to be that if they ignore the problem it will go away.

Maybe a partial explanation is a fact that the majority of our leaders and decision-makers are men, and if they are anything like I was until I was forced to learn more about the problem — after marrying a woman who had been in an abusive relationship and learning about the terrible cost to her and her family — they find the whole issue shameful and painful to think about and so, as I did for so long, prefer to look away.

But I see now that this is a failure of courage and of responsibility, and in the post-Me-too age, there is even less reason or excuse for not facing the full scale of the problem and committing the resources necessary to finally doing something to change it — to create a world where all women and girls, as well as men and boys, can feel safe and supported in all aspects of their lives.

My take on ending male gender violence is that, along with measures such as with severe and properly enforced penalties for perpetrators and the provision of safe refuges for women and children who need them, it will also require two other important elements:
1. More non-violent men being made aware of the scale of this ‘violence virus’ so they can do what they can to end it, e.g. by joining White Ribbon and similar campaigns, and making a pledge not to tolerate, excuse or ignore violence against women wherever they encounter it; 2, more help being available for men who may themselves be perpetrators, and are caught in a cycle of violent behaviour that they don’t know how to change, by providing better therapeutic support and anger management training of some kind.

Male violence remains the number one threat to women’s health worldwide; a threat that with the right resources is completely preventable. Just like with COVID-19, there needs to be urgent and adequate investment in research needed to better understand the roots and causes of this horrifically prevalent ‘infection’, so that an antidote can be found which will dissuade and discourage any men who may be tempted to harm a woman, and provide support to help them find a constructive and less damaging way of handling whatever feelings they have that cause them to act out that way.

We have shown ourselves determined not to allow a virus to cause large scale harm; how can we justify not investing everything that’s needed into ending the much more damaging effects of male gender violence as well?

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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