Men who are abused now have a sanctuary

2012-07-21 18:59

Every time she gets drunk, she attacks her husband – who has been a policeman for 20 years – with a knife.

Another woman regularly beats her husband with her fists and forces him to spend cold nights in his car.

These are just some of the cases that frequently come to Mashilo Mnisi’s door. “You see, even policemen know they can’t do anything because if they react, the law would be very quick to act against them.

“They also know if they go to the police station to report this, they will be ridiculed,” says Mnisi (41), who runs the Moshate Men’s Rights Organisation in Johannesburg, which offers counselling, advice and support to men who are victims of abuse by women.

They made headlines recently when they marched to the Hillbrow Police Station to highlight the issue. Mnisi says they are planning an even bigger march to the Union Buildings on International Men’s Day in November to highlight the plight of abused men.

Mnisi says one of his most pressing issues is the virtual non-existence of statistics on men abuse.

However, he reveals that after analysing a number of tragic cases in which men killed their families and spouses before committing suicide, they found a disturbing trend.

“There appears to be a pattern in which these men were victims of abuse by their spouses. But because men don’t know where to go with these problems, they bottle things up and when they eventually crack, they kill everyone,” he says.

He says men suffer emotional trauma when they are denied access to their children in the case of a separation, even though the law requires that they support them financially.

The former journalist says his work began when his now ex-wife hit him with a glass on the back of his head.

After that, he began asking friends if their wives had ever abused them.

“I heard shocking stories. That glass incident revealed to me a lot of stories. Guys would tell me they stayed up in pubs until they closed in the early hours of the morning because they wanted to get home when their wives were already asleep,” he says.

He resigned from his job and joined a rights NGO. He later resigned to establish Moshate.

“We receive hundreds of complaints, but we do not have the capacity to attend to all of them,” he says.

“Right now we are sitting with the case of a blind man from Limpopo who is being denied access to his child.”

Mnisi, who has established partnerships with social workers, prosecutors, counsellors and police stations, argues that current legislation discriminates against men in cases of divorce and child custody – areas in which he offers support services to men.

One of the biggest challenges his organisation faces is the perception that domestic abuse affects only women.

“When a man goes to report a case of abuse, the police tell him, ‘Hey, you are a man, you can solve your problems’.

They are ridiculed at police stations and in their communities,” he says.

Mnisi says physical abuse against men is more prevalent in low-income areas, while emotional abuse is rife among the middle classes.

“We come from a society where men were discouraged from crying because it’s supposedly a sign of weakness,” he says.

“But when they come to us with problems, we tell them to cry. There is nothing wrong with that.”

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