Angelina Jolie smashes a bottle over Brad Pitt’s head in Mr & Mrs Smith and Sucker Punch is touted as the first feminist film of its kind with women proving they can kick ass just as well as men folk. In Hollywood, a man being beaten up by a woman is something that is almost laughed at, proof even that equality has been achieved. But as the latest figures released in the GCC reveal, the rise in domestic violence against men is a trend that’s no laughing matter.
“Over the years I have dealt with increasing numbers of cases of domestic violence by women against men,” says Adriana MeBarr, a local relationship coach at Soul and Mind Coaching (soulandmindcoaching@gmail. com). “I think that as women become more independent and less scared, they begin to gain more power in their relationship and unfortunately they see it as physical power.”
According to the latest police figures in Dubai, seven cases of husband beating were reported in 2010 – up from two in 2009. Violent marital disputes also rose, with 95 in 2010 compared to 68 in 2009. In Qatar, the figures are even more shocking with husband-beating believing to account for almost every second domestic violence case, according to the Family Consultancy Centre in Qatar.
But, according to psychologist Dr Raymond Hamden, from Comprehensive Medical Centre in Dubai, the actual figures could be much higher as a lot of men are too scared or embarrassed to come forward and admit that they are suffering – a problem only reinforced by Hollywood movies. “It’s rare that men will report physical abuse because it’s not considered very macho,” says Dr Hamden. “However, it’s believed there are far more cases than the ones being reported.”
A global phenomenon
As shocking as it sounds, the rise in domestic violence among men isn’t just restricted to the Middle East as, according to studies carried out by the University of Pennsylvania, every American male has a 28 per cent chance of being struck by a woman at some point in his life (interestingly, the number of girls aged 10 to 17 arrested for aggravated assault in the US has doubled in the last 20 years). This worrying trend also holds true for the UK where the number of women convicted of perpetrating domestic abuse has quadrupled in the past six years, from 806 in 2004-2005 to 3,494 in 2009-2010.
While these figures are surprising, what makes the Middle East statistics even more unbelievable is that, traditionally, it is the man who is believed to hold all the power in a relationship. However, this is not the case, according to MeBarr. “Inside the family home, it’s very matriarchal,” she says. “The woman has the last word so she has a massive amount of control that makes it easy to manipulate the man.”
Dr Hamden agrees, adding that there are many forms of domestic abuse that don’t always end in violence but can be just as damaging to a relationship. “There are other kinds that are never reported. These include verbal, emotional, social and sometimes economic abuse as women often hold reign over the finances in the home and will control her husband that way.” He continues, “Sometimes the abuse will start by withholding credit cards, until he does what she asks. Other times, she will demand to know who he socialises with and it will progress from there.”
So what is making women in the region lash out in such an aggressive manner? Dr Hamden argues that while it could be due to Western influences, this isn’t the entire answer. “Although it can’t be backed up with figures, it’s been suggested that the more educated women in the region become, the bolder they get and the more vulnerable men become to it as they don’t know how to react,” he says. “However, you can’t just blame the West as we are influencing each other more and more and I’ve seen this trend across all cultures,” he adds.
MeBarr agrees, saying, “I’m not sure if it’s a change in the men, or if women are gaining a new place in the relationship, but there seems to be confusion about identity. They live in a Muslim society, but women are more aware of their rights than ever before and are unwilling to back down. Unfortunately, their independence is coming out the wrong way.”
Despite this, it’s easy to ask why these men don’t retaliate. They are stronger than most women and it’s this reasoning that stops the subject from ever really being taken seriously. But, as Marks Brooks, chairman of the UK charity ManKind (mankind.org.uk), points out, hitting back isn’t always as easy as it seems. “Domestic abuse is about control. Both female and male perpetrators want to control their partner, which means it’s likely their partner would’ve been verbally abused so their confidence is shattered, and they’re left feeling vulnerable.” Brooks adds, “It’s also worth pointing out that while serious physical abuse might not always be taking place, the damage it has on a man’s psyche can be far worse as he will often prefer to suffer in silence than admit the abuse to friends or family, especially when he risks ridicule rather than help.”
MeBarr also believes that domestic abuse cases against men are worse in the Middle East as it’s hard to finish a relationship here. “I ask all of the men that I’ve coached individually why they let themselves get beaten and they say they don’t know,” she says. “But I think it’s the same for both men and women and that is because of fear. It’s fear that keeps them in a bad relationship and fear of stepping out of it as divorce is very humiliating.”
Finding a compromise
While the figures of men suffering from domestic abuse is not yet comparable to women’s, it is on the rise and if we refuse to acknowledge it as the serious issue it is, men
will continue to suffer in silence. To highlight the level of under-reporting, it’s worth noting that in the UK, twice as many male victims (41 per cent) than women (19 per cent) do not tell anyone about the domestic abuse they’re suffering from. And, while there are no statistics available here in the UAE on this yet, it’s common knowledge that the fi gures are far higher than what’s being reported.
But even after a male or female comes forward and admits that physical abuse is happening, once the fi rst hand has struck, can a couple ever get over it? “Although it depends on the level of abuse, couples can move forward but they need clear and direct communication,” says MeBarr. “If a partner feels they’re not getting everything they need in the relationship, they must communicate that to their partner as anger stems from dissatisfaction and this is when problems start.”
The family is often seen as the main unit in society in the Middle East, which is why it is more important than ever that we face this growing trend head on, rather than keep it a secret behind closed doors. If we don’t, the whole of society will suffer the consequences.
INFO: If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, call the Dubai Police on (04) 609 9999.