Thoughts on male violence following the Pistorius trial
Pistorius’ sentencing is complete. I’m outraged. I’m angry. Sian Norris wrote a piece for The Independent last week that echoed my thoughts on how society values men’s lives over women’s, which is why when I checked my Twitter feed for an update at work today those feelings were not accompanied by surprise. I knew it was coming.
Following the sentence, The Independent tweeted a link to an article by Karen Ingala Smith entitled Remember Reeva Steenkamp, and the thousands of other women killed by men every year, another article that resonated strongly with my personal views. The replies to the tweet, however, did not. There were numerous comments labelling the article sexist, calling for recognition of female-perpetrated violence against men, and even comments dismissing the importance of gender entirely.
Let’s get one thing straight: male violence against women and girls is a global phenomenon. That does NOT mean that women aren’t violent or that men are never victims. Of course they are, and feminist writing on the topic does not suggest that, as much as people like to interpret otherwise. My first thought was that maybe the commenters hadn’t actually read the article, because how could they disagree when faced with such compelling evidence? Perhaps those particular tweeters didn’t bother to read the article, perhaps they were just internet trolls with nothing better to do. But still, I can’t stop wondering why there is such a reluctance to accept that male violence is a problem or, when it is acknowledged, a tendency to minimise it (#NotAllMen springs to mind).
The optimist in me wants to believe that discussion of the trial can be used as a platform to highlight the extent of male violence against women and girls and to expose the structures in our society that allow it to happen. Perhaps the media frenzy surrounding Reeva Steenkamp’s death due to Pistorius’s celebrity status make that difficult to achieve. But let’s look a little closer to home. So far in 2014, 118 women in the UK are known to have died through suspected male violence. 118. Unless you actively seek this information out, you’re not likely to know it. It’s not something that appears on the front pages of the newspapers. Generally, their deaths are only reported in local newspapers. Much like child deaths (around 50 children per year die at the hands of their caregivers in the UK), the mainstream media decides which deaths are worth reporting on and how many column inches they should be given.
As a student social worker in a child protection team, I don’t need to look to the media or elsewhere to appreciate the extent of male violence against women and girls. In social work, children witnessing domestic abuse are considered at risk of emotional harm. In the local authority I am placed in, emotional abuse is the highest category of child protection plans because of this. Nearly all of my cases involve domestic abuse. The number of women who have their children removed from their care because of a ‘failure to protect’ their children from male violence in a system that offers victims very little support and lacks strong legislation against domestic abuse makes me extremely uncomfortable and I hope it is something I never have to do.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there have been many high-profile news stories linked to male violence against women and girls during 2014 across the globe: the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal, Boko Haram’s abduction of 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, the NFL’s Ray Rice punching his fiancée Janay Palmer. None of these issues were given the coverage I would like and the gendered approach that is so needed is often missing, but they were pretty hard to miss. Male violence against women and girls is everywhere.