Why Both Men and Women Could Become Victims of Gender-Based Violence

Why Both Men and Women Could Become Victims of Gender-Based Violence: A Legal Perspective in South Africa:

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a pervasive issue in South Africa, affecting individuals regardless of gender. While women are disproportionately affected, men can also be victims of such violence. This article explores the legal perspective on why both men and women could become victims of GBV and the protections available under South African law.

Understanding Gender-Based Violence

Understanding why both men and women could become victims of gender-based violence begins with recognizing that GBV refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. It encompasses a range of behaviors, including physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse. These acts are rooted in unequal power relations and societal norms that perpetuate gender inequality, making anyone a potential victim. For example, in 2022/2023, 67,358 women were reported as victims of contact crimes, with assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm being the most common. However, men and boys also suffer from GBV, often in silence and without adequate support.

Legal Framework Protecting Against GBV

South Africa’s legal framework aims to combat GBV, protecting both men and women from becoming victims. Key legislation includes:

  1. The Domestic Violence Act (DVA) No. 116 of 1998: This Act provides protection for victims of domestic violence, which can include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse. The DVA applies to all individuals in domestic relationships, regardless of gender, highlighting that both men and women can be victims.
  2. The Sexual Offences Act No. 32 of 2007: This Act criminalizes various forms of sexual violence, including rape and sexual assault. It emphasizes that both men and women can be victims, providing stringent penalties and ensuring the rights of all victims to receive adequate protection and support. Notably, South Africa recorded 10,516 rapes in the second quarter of 2023/2024, reflecting the ongoing challenge of addressing sexual violence.
  3. The Protection from Harassment Act No. 17 of 2011: This Act offers protection against harassment, which can include stalking and any behavior causing harm or distress. It applies to all individuals, regardless of gender, providing a mechanism for obtaining protection orders and acknowledging that both men and women can be victims.
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Why Both Men and Women Can Be Victims

Societal Norms and Stereotypes

Societal norms and stereotypes contribute to why both men and women can be victims of gender-based violence. Traditional gender roles can place both genders in vulnerable positions. Men may be expected to display dominance and control, leading to situations where they become perpetrators or victims of violence. Conversely, societal expectations of women as submissive can make them targets of abuse. However, when men fail to meet societal expectations of masculinity, they too can become victims, particularly in emotional or psychological abuse cases. This dynamic is evident in intimate partner violence (IPV), where between 25% and 40% of South African women have experienced physical or sexual IPV in their lifetime, while almost 50% have experienced emotional or economic abuse.

Underreporting and Lack of Recognition

The underreporting and lack of recognition of GBV against men highlight why both genders can be victims. GBV against men is often underreported due to stigma, shame, and the perception that authorities will not take their claims seriously. This underreporting obscures the true extent of GBV against men, perpetuating the misconception that it predominantly affects women. The legal framework, however, recognizes that both men and women can be victims and provides equal protection. Reports suggest that during the COVID-19 pandemic, GBV intensified as victims were unable to escape their attackers, further highlighting the vulnerability of all genders to GBV.

Legal Protections for All Genders

South African law explicitly recognizes that GBV can affect anyone, regardless of gender. The Domestic Violence Act and Sexual Offences Act ensure that legal protections are available to all victims. The recognition that both men and women can be victims necessitates a judicial and law enforcement system sensitized to the realities of male victimhood, ensuring all victims receive equal treatment. Unfortunately, a systematic literature review revealed that male victims of GBV are not given adequate support and that society does not accord the same attention to females who victimize and abuse men and boys.

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Impact and Consequences of GBV

Physical and Psychological Harm

The physical and psychological harm resulting from GBV underscores why both men and women can be victims. Victims may suffer from injuries, trauma, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These impacts are not gender-specific and can affect anyone subjected to such violence. The female homicide rate in South Africa, at roughly 24.6 per 100,000 people, is about six times the global average, illustrating the extreme consequences of GBV.

Economic Consequences

The economic consequences of GBV also highlight why both men and women can be victims. Victims may face medical expenses, loss of income due to an inability to work, and costs associated with legal proceedings. GBV can perpetuate cycles of poverty and economic dependency, affecting both genders and further entrenching gender inequality. During the global coronavirus outbreak, President Cyril Ramaphosa described GBV as a “second pandemic,” emphasizing its pervasive impact on all aspects of life.

Social and Relationship Impact

The social consequences of GBV demonstrate why both men and women can be victims. GBV affects not only the victims but also their families and communities. Relationships can be strained or destroyed, and children who witness GBV may experience long-term psychological effects. The social stigma associated with being a victim can lead to isolation and exclusion, affecting both men and women.

Preventative Measures and Support Systems

Awareness and Education

Raising awareness and educating the public about GBV is crucial in preventing violence and supporting victims, regardless of gender. Campaigns and programs that challenge harmful gender norms and stereotypes can help reduce the incidence of GBV and promote a culture of respect and equality, acknowledging that both men and women can be victims.

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Support Services

Support services, such as counseling, legal aid, and shelters, are essential for assisting all victims of GBV. These services should be accessible to everyone, regardless of gender, providing comprehensive support to help victims recover and rebuild their lives, recognizing that both men and women can be victims.

Legal Reforms

Ongoing legal reforms are necessary to strengthen protections against GBV and ensure that both men and women can be victims. Effective enforcement of laws and access to justice for all victims are critical in addressing GBV. Training law enforcement and judicial personnel to recognize and respond to GBV against all genders can improve the effectiveness of legal protections.

Gender-based violence in South Africa affects both men and women, though women are disproportionately impacted. The legal framework provides protections for all victims, but societal norms, underreporting, and lack of recognition can create barriers to justice for male victims. Addressing GBV requires a comprehensive approach that includes legal protections, support services, awareness campaigns, and societal change to ensure that all individuals, regardless of gender, are protected and supported. Understanding that both men and women can be victims is crucial in creating an inclusive and effective response to GBV.