Warning: This article contains details of domestic abuse.
Marilyn Manson, Shia LaBeouf, Octavian. In the last few weeks, these famous names have all been accused of domestic abuse by their previous partners. They join an ever-growing list of domestic abuse cases, which have spiked globally over the last year as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns.
Abuse can take a number of forms, but there are two overarching themes in many (but not all) of the reported cases: the abuser is often a man and the stories are broken by the women, the victims.
This needs to change. Men need to stand up and speak out against abuse, especially when they are aware of instances within their own circles. We need to start taking accountability and it needs to start now. We need to relearn our involvement in normalizing abuse and the situations that can lead to it. That change starts with a conversation, so here goes.
What is domestic abuse?
There are a number of behavioral traits and patterns that constitute abuse, and it's essential that we all learn what they are. Before we dig into that, it's important to mention that abuse doesn't always mean violence, it is not always physical (statistics don’t separate physical and non-physical abuse) and that while the majority of those who experience domestic violence are women, it can affect anyone.
When it comes to learning what domestic abuse is, the charity Refuge is a good place to start. The site outlines the following introduction to recognizing abuse:
"Violence against women and girls (also called ‘gender-based violence’) is rooted in inequality between the sexes; it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women. Domestic violence describes any violence or abuse that is used by someone to control or obtain power over their partner. It can include physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, emotional, and financial abuse. Non-physical forms of abuse can be as destructive and as undermining as physical violence."
Refuge also identifies sixteen potentially abusive situations, a checklist, of sorts, that outlines varied tactics. It reads as follows:
- Is your partner excessively jealous and possessive? - Is he charming one minute and abusive the next? Does he have sudden changes of mood? - Is he stopping you from seeing your family and friends? Do you feel isolated? - Is he constantly criticizing you and putting you down in public? - Does he embarrass you, often in front of family and friends, so that you are seen in a bad light? - Does your partner play mind games and make you unsure of your own judgment? - Does he tell you you’re useless and couldn’t cope without him? - Does he control your money? - Does he tell you what to wear, who to see, where to go, what to think? - Does he pressure you to have sex when you don’t want to? - Are you starting to walk on eggshells to avoid making him angry? - Does he monitor your movements? Or check up on you via your email, Facebook, Twitter, or by looking at your text messages? - Does he use anger and intimidation to frighten you and make you comply with his demands? - Has your partner ever threatened you, or intimidated you by using violent language or smashing up the furniture? - Are you forced to alter your behavior because you are frightened of your partner’s reaction? - Are you blamed for their behavior e.g. they say you were “asking for it” or deserved the abuse?
Several of these examples (excessive criticizing, embarrassing, intimidating, blame) can also be seen as gaslighting, a complex form of manipulation that makes the victim question their perception of reality and memory of the abuse. It’s a system of grinding people down emotionally while making you feel superior — a cruel facade used to shift blame and shame, to gain control, and avoid addressing our own triggers.
Silence makes you complicit.
With all of that in mind, it's now time to start reflecting on behavior — both on our own, and the behavior we see in our friends. Take a minute to mull over past incidents, things said and done on nights out, of moments that could have set off alarm bells but were shrugged off with excuses like "boys will be boys" and "he's just a bad drunk" and "I'm staying out of this, it's none of my business." How many times have you recognized troubling behavior and not said anything or stepped in? It's not a fun reality to face, but the fact is that when we don't call it out or intervene, we are complicit. We are choosing to allow the behavior to continue.
It's also important to understand the gender codes (again, "boys will be boys") that are embedded in culture and, for the most part, just serve as an easy excuse. Take violence, for example, which is often attributed to male hormones, as though using fists is a biological aspect of masculinity. At best, that mindset is extremely primitive. Studies suggest violence is actually a learned behavior — and anything that is learned can be unlearned, right?
Yes, but that unlearning needs to happen en masse. If this "learned behavior" is a result of men learning from other men, then men must work collectively to first unlearn and then re-code a new way of behaving. That involves guiding one another, teaching, and again, calling shady acts out when we see them and holding each other accountable.
Part of this un-and-re-learning will involve addressing the real (and very archaic) stigmas concerning men communicating emotions, on vocalizing vulnerability and anxiety. It's rare that we disclose feelings and trauma, and for some men, silence leads to bottling our shit up until it pours out of us, toxic. But only men can be blamed for toxic masculinity and all that comes with it, so it’s up to us to initiate the conversations to address it, however difficult or awkward they may be.
According to the National Statistics Violence Fact Sheet, in the US, over 10 million people are physically abused by their partner every year; one in four women experience abuse from a partner, from physical abuse to stalking, and are affected by PTSD; and, on a typical day, 20,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines. In England and Wales, one woman is killed by her current or former male partner every four days.
Remember: The awkward, difficult conversations you may have to have with others and with yourself will never be more difficult than what the victim is going through. These figures are preventable, changeable, and intervention could reduce the wider effects of abuse, too — homeless, suicide, PTSD, depression, and anxiety to name but a few.
But the change starts with taking responsibility, and it is not the job of women to do that. It's ours.
The pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home regulations have led to an increase in domestic violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (US) and National Domestic Abuse Helpline (UK) to find out how to get help. You are not alone.