This column first appeared in Malta Today
Men and women seriously need to stop arguing about domestic violence and instead focus on the roots of why it keeps happening. The importance of empathising and communicating on such sensitive topics is as crucial at the level of society as it is within interpersonal relationships. In both instances, diametrically different perspectives, past hurts and wounded feelings often get in the way.
We have had another tragic, brutal murder of a woman at the hands of her estranged partner which should, rationally, only draw condemnation, and yet the knee jerk reaction by (some) men is to become very defensive about the issue. “Men are abused too!” is the rallying cry.
Now, rather than try and lash back at men who reason like this, I think that as women we need to try and understand where these men are coming from. What seems to have especially triggered this reaction is the long, heartbreaking list compiled by Yosanne Vella and myself in September 2018, after Lourdes Agius was found dead at the hands of her partner, which was re-published this week by Lovin’ Malta and (unfortunately) updated with even more names. In 2019, Joseph Bonnici killed his mother Marija Lourdes and sister Angele Bonnici and this week Chantelle Chetcuti was stabbed to death.
The list still has the ability to shock me, both because of the frequency with which women are being killed as well as the often macabre methods being used. In the last two entries the victims were bludgeoned to death with a mallet and stabbed repeatedly in the head, respectively. There is a viciousness and a rage there which is unspeakably chilling.
“But what about the men who have been killed by women?” demanded some men. OK, let us see. I have attempted to draw up a comparable list but so far I have not succeeded because the men who have been murdered in this country were not at the hands of their spouse, partner or any ex-wife or girlfriend. If anyone can direct me to such cases I will immediately publish this list as well.
The point is, would it make things any better if women were going round murdering their husbands/boyfriends as well? Would anyone really feel a sense of vindication to say, you see, women are capable of murder too? I sincerely hope not. All we would have would be more senseless deaths and more children without parents. The fact remains that one cannot argue with global statistics: it has been shown that more women than men end up killed when domestic violence escalates.
Obviously, this is not to say that women are incapable of abuse. If we look at the changing trends in the UK, between 2009 and 2018, the number of DV cases reported by men to police grew from 27,762 to 92,408, according to The Sunday Telegraph. Locally, it is still difficult for men to report domestic abuse, because they fear being ridiculed.
I have never disputed that there are all forms of emotional and physical abuse perpetuated by women which can drive a man (or anyone) around the bend. Bullying, emotional blackmail, snideness, relentless criticism, humiliation in front of others and constant badgering when done on a daily basis can add up over the years and act like a whistling pressure cooker which eventually can push anyone over the tipping point. Obviously, this does not mean that if the man snaps he is justified in killing her…after all, he can just walk away from a toxic woman if he cannot take it any more. However, men and women are wired differently. When the marriage breaks down, the women might destroy the man’s possessions, but she does not kill him. When she suspects him of having an affair, she may confront the other woman and create havoc, but she does not kill him (or her). When she wants to get back at him for leaving her, she will cruelly withhold access to their children, but she does not kill him.
If we can at least acknowledge and accept that there is a world of difference between psychological abuse and snuffing out someone’s life then perhaps we will get somewhere. Men who have been at the receiving end of really appalling, abusive women might turn to self-destruction in the form of alcohol and drugs; they might take it out on the next woman who comes along by being withdrawn and emotionally unavailable – but a woman who has been killed in an act of domestic violence is just that. She is dead. Nothing will bring her back. A man who has been in a string of unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships with women who are nightmares may become bitter and scarred for life, never trusting women again, but the fact remains that he is still alive. Battered and bruised emotionally yes, but still alive. A woman who has been murdered by a partner consumed by rage and jealousy is just that: murdered. Forever.
The problem, as I see it, is that too many men and women are walking around in a mentally screwed up state of mind: both sides still licking their wounds from bygone battles with the opposite sex and vowing never to let anyone pierce through their carefully built up armour again. If the comments I have seen online are anything to go by, both genders are hurting and it seems their only solution is to keep hurting each other, hurling constant insults and accusations. Some men see women as deceitful manipulators, while some women say they are done with men completely. But by making each other the enemy we will just keep misunderstanding the real problems we have in our society. It is useless just being hostile and aggressive every time the DV issue crops up, and it is useless tarring everyone with the same brush.
If we cannot mourn the death of a woman still in her prime who was callously murdered in the street, without resorting to finger-pointing and blame, or worse, attempts to justify her partner’s actions, then we need to take stock and understand what it is about domestic violence which pushes our buttons so much.