Let’s talk about men abused by their partners

Friday February 21 2020

Stories of men staying late in bars, hoping to return home after their wives are asleep to avoid the shouting, or renting furnished apartments to go and rest after work made it yet another cautionary tale. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


First of all, happy Father’s Day. Strictly speaking, it’s not Father’s Day, but if the only protection you used over the Valentine’s weekend was the blood of the lamb, then in nine months you’ll be celebrating a three-year diaper subscription (with an optional three-year extension).

It’s been a pretty chill week. It’s been one of those weeks when I had a writer’s block and absolutely no inspiration to write.

In a search of inspiration, I went to watch one of my all-time favourite movies when I need to relax: Pirates of the Caribbean!

Johnny Depp always has a way of lifting my spirits! But after half an hour, I remembered what Depp had been going through in the past few years, which made me sad.

You see, a couple of years ago, Depp’s career went to the dogs. His now ex-wife, Amber, accused him of domestic assault, which saw him lose everything.

He lost his career, his friends and endorsements, and since defending him would have been a career-killing move, nobody dared speak up.



Meanwhile, his ex-wife became one of the prominent faces of the #MeToo movement and a heroine, as well as a human rights advocate for the UN and a women’s rights ambassador for the American Civil Liberties Union.

But there was one problem: she was actually the abuser. She had taken advantage of the #MeToo movement and conversations around women speaking out against assault and violence and portrayed herself as the victim.

Evidence revealed through medical records, witness testimonies and, most notably, a voice recording when they were undergoing therapy, painted a completely different picture.

She admitted to hitting him with pots, pans, soda cans and flower vases, and even slicing off his index finger with piece of glass from a bottle.

Her legal team had earlier claimed that Depp had inflicted the injury on himself in a fit of rage. Multiple witnesses also testified that they had seen her physically abusing him in public.


But even after the revelations, no brand has cut ties with her; she hasn’t suffered any financial or social consequences, and she’s being touted as an exception to the rule. She isn’t.

Doing an article on gender-based violence (GBV) last year, I came across some numbers that seemed odd at first.

It was a study on GBV in Kenya, and the number of men assaulted by their wives and partners seemed higher than I had imagined.

Domestic violence is primarily about men assaulting women, right? Wrong. The numbers seemed to indicate that abuse was two-way in many situations, and not one-sided as previously thought, and that women can be, and are, in many situations the instigators of violence.

The 2014 study indicated that 20.9 per cent of men had experienced GBV in their lifetimes, and of these, 48.6 per cent had experienced it in the previous 12 months.

So, to be fair, men were still the primary aggressors but it wasn’t a one-sided discussion as previously believed.


One of the few times GBV against men became a national topic of discussion was in 2015, after a number of cases of women in Nyeri County attacking their spouses, with one or two chopping off their husbands’ manhood.

Beyond the tongue-in-cheek headlines, the jokes and the women being excused by virtue of “the men in the Central region being drunkards”, that was the last time Kenyans took the matter even remotely seriously.

The more I questioned men’s experiences after this and the more directly I asked the questions, a muddier picture emerged and I started hearing and seeing the abuse through the jokes and anecdotes.

The jokes about how “she slapped him and caused a scene” started being less funny. The stories about her solely deciding where the children go to school and where they live — at his expense — weren't as entertaining.


Stories of men staying late in bars, hoping to return home after their wives are asleep to avoid the shouting, or renting furnished apartments to go and rest after work made it yet another cautionary tale.

I started realising that sometimes when men refer to their women as “crazy”, they aren’t being malicious but just using the wrong term.

The correct term is abuse. How many men are abused but can’t speak out because we would laugh at them?

How many men don’t talk about it because they know we wouldn’t believe them? Do you, as a man, look back at experiences you had in previous relationships and now realise it was abuse?

Something needs to be done, and quickly, and the first step is starting the conversation.

Many men are going through a life they wouldn’t even term as abuse and thus become invisible victims. We can do better.