The Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many pre-existing social problems and brought them to the surface. One such issue is domestic violence — there has been a surge in reports since the world went into lockdown, and Singapore is no exception.
According to police figures, there was a 22 per cent increase in police reports filed for offences commonly associated with family violence after circuit breaker measures started in Singapore. From April 7 to May 6, there were 476 police reports filed for such cases, as compared to the monthly average of 389 cases before the circuit breaker period.
“Unfortunately, I think what we are seeing in terms of the numbers is consistent that whenever the numbers are reported with respect to family violence, domestic violence, spousal violence, there seem to be an increase across countries, so we see it in Singapore and we also see it abroad,” said Benny Bong, President of The Society Against Family Violence.
Bong pointed out that feeling trapped can trigger a lot of irritability and tension. “With the circuit breaker measures it stops people from movement. And in particular, in our local context, the limitation may be such that people are in their apartments, small one-room flats, three-room flats, sometimes even a condo can be a gilded cage.”
What comes to mind when you picture a victim of domestic violence?
Most likely, the image of a battered woman comes to mind. The face of domestic violence is largely female, and for good reason — women are disproportionately more often victimised.
However, it’s important to note that domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone. Domestic violence does not discriminate. It occurs across all genders, race and ethnic backgrounds, age ranges, and economic levels.
Our traditional notions of gender norms and stereotypes can be harmful in creating an environment where men are hesitant or even feel shame in seeking help. Last year, the American Psychological Association released new guidelines to recognize the unique problems men and boys face because of traditional masculinity norms. They draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression — is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.
“It has a very powerful effect,” Bong agreed. “Not just in relation to domestic abuse or domestic violence. It impacts men in terms of our mental health. On a broad level, it’s not just being stoic. Sometimes it’s negating one’s ability to say, ‘What’s happening inside of me?’ I don’t mull over it. I try to dismiss it. I don’t pay any attention because it might show more vulnerability.”
“So, that leaves men to sometimes be out of touch with their own emotions. And this can be dangerous because you might be pushing to an extreme and you may not even know it. So, in terms of their own mental health, that’s a problem. Not just being stoic but almost accepting that it’s the lot of men who tough it out, that’s what men are supposed to be for,” Bong added.
This assumption can act as a rationalisation for accepting abuse at home. “I think if there’s violence at home, and the man receives violence from his wife, then he may be thinking ‘Look, it’s okay because I’m supposed to be able to take this kind of treatment of punishment.”
In one instance, Bong recounted a case where a wife would lash out at her husband, verbally berating him and also physically attacking him by punching, hitting, and scratching him. When his friends noticed bruises on his body from the abuse and asked him about it, he kept quiet.
Bong also noted that the violence can also be mutual. “We often look at spousal abuse as good and bad, victim and perpetrator. But there’s another category of individuals where violence is mutual. I call it the double helix dynamic of a violent relationship. It’s like two snakes or two cobras —choking each other, and there are strong forces that pushes them apart. But yet, there’s also strong forces pushing them together. So, they can’t live with each other, they can’t live without each other. It’s a love, hate relationship throughout. It’s a co-dependency.”
Men are more likely to be embarrassed by their abuse, which prevents them from coming forward to seek help. “A whole set of difficulties present themselves [in his mind]. Who do I go to? Will I be hurt? Will I be believed? And not just that, even if I’m believed will it seem incredulous that I should come for help because my wife is hitting me and would it appear to be too shameful to admit that I can’t take it or I can’t handle it?” Bong said.
The reason why he didn’t leave was the same reason many female victims stay with their abusers: To keep the family together.
“When we first started this movement, one of the first groups of people we trained were the police. We thought that it was important that the law enforcement officers enforce the law. We found that the police were reluctant, and we were wondering why. The answer surprised us —they were reluctant because it’s not that they didn’t care about the law, their main concern was that [they] don’t want to break families up,” said Bong. “So, we had to in a way, help them view family violence as criminal, as something that law enforcement officers should be involved in.”
Speak to someone, and you may be surprised to know that there are people out there who want to help, who feel no — what you’re experiencing should not continue.
What can we do?
The first barrier that a victim of domestic violence will have to overcome is that it is too shameful for a man to speak up. “You’re never responsible for violence being directed at you, so don’t remain silent. Speak to someone, and you may be surprised to know that there are people out there who want to help, who feel no — what you’re experiencing should not continue. And I think that’s the first thing you do to break the silence,” Bong emphasised.
The Society Against Family Violence has a number of channels that men can get support from. They have recently set up a Men’s helplink, where men can ask questions via email or Facebook messenger. There is also a men’s listening circle, where men can find a safe space to share their experiences and hear from others to find mutual support, facilitated by counsellors or social workers.
|Learn more about Domestic Violence and Abuse this World Mental Health Day!|
The contributor is a Singaporean writer and journalist based in New York. Shane’s work has appeared in Esquire Singapore, Salon.com, Surface magazine, Yahoo! News, and Marie France Asia. Find Shane on Twitter at @itsShaneTan.