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Let’s beat the urge to shame male victims of violence

Friday February 14 2020
By FAITH ONEYA

In a scene that seemed to have jumped straight out of Seth Gordon’s comedy "Horrible Bosses", a man was caught on video caning another man for allegedly reporting late to work.

The perpetrator, a Chinese national, has since been arrested alongside three others. It has also emerged that the man on the receiving end of the whips in the video, which has gone viral and sparked action from law enforcement agencies, was an employee at a Nairobi restaurant.

The master-slave relationship the two seemed to have did not escape the discerning minds of Kenyans online and offline.

Some have theorised that the employee seemed to be overloaded by a colonial mentality: that feeling of cultural inferiority that colonised people sometimes have.

The man’s meekness in the face of violence has also been linked to poverty and unemployment.

While Kenyans may not have agreed on the cultural inferiority of the victim or other aspects of the incident, there was certainly unity in the collective rage against the actions. The Chinese embassy in Kenya also condemned the act of violence.

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VICTIM SHAMING

Different scripts have since emerged to explain what really happened, but the truth or falsity of the accusations and explanations aside, two interesting questions raised by many Kenyans unfurled from the incident. One was, “How could he let this happen to him?”

This question reveals more than just the exasperation about the man’s inability to fight a fellow man back.

Though perfectly plausible, the idea that victims of violence (physical, sexual or verbal and any other form) somehow have the power to stop violence from happening to them is fallacious and quite disempowering for the victim.

Furthermore, it unfairly suggests that violence needs an invitation or permission to exist. And whether done consciously or unconsciously, this question constitutes victim shaming.

Victim shaming shifts responsibility for the actions of an offender to the victim, and this comment by one Facebook user illustrates this concept better: “The culprit is the man who agrees to the cane and actually gives the Chinese man his behind to cane it.”

STIGMA

Violence, especially the when it’s sexual or domestic, is often about power and control, which emanate from the perpetrator, not the victim’s ability to control what happens to them.

The second question that was raised was: “How could a man let a fellow man cane him?” And this indicates that there is an attitude towards violence, especially when a man is the victim, that sorely needs revising.

It is often the case that when violence is meted out against a man, especially domestic or sexual, there is a renewed call for him to man up.

It implies that as a man, he is not expected to cry out for help or complain about such an issue, as doing so would expose him to humiliation and stigmatisation.

That he should have stepped up. And if he did not, then it was okay for him to be stepped on. One would imagine that this is how toxic masculinity begins.

It is true that men don’t open up about issues as easily as women.

SAFE SPACE

Had the caning video not been circulated, the incident would probably have remained hidden in the dungeons of shame.

But this does not mean that men don’t need or deserve a safe space to talk, and stigmatising them when they open up only makes them retreat into their shells.

Inasmuch as statistics indicate that sexual and domestic violence affect more women than men, there are enough examples of men who have been on the receiving end for it to be a matter of concern.

The bigger concern, though, is victim shaming, as it knows no gender. And if you think about it, women and men just live variations of each other’s lives.

The next time we are tempted to ask how a victim of violence – whether male or female – could allow something to happen to them, let’s try empathy instead.

Ms Oneya comments on social and gender issues; [email protected]; Twitter: @FaithOneya

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