Picture an image of a man sitting on an outdoor stairwell with a cupped hand wrapped around the chin.
If you get it well, this is the everyday posture many foreign men in the UK adopt under pressure from their partners and spouses.
Domestic violence against men is rampant in the United Kingdom, where the laws tilt towards women, leaving men more like victims.
While women suffer abuse in their relationships as is often highlighted, it looks like men have been suffering in silence. Figures suggest that as many as one in three Zimbabwean victims of domestic violence in the UK are male.
However, men are often reluctant to report abuse because they feel embarrassed, fearing they won’t be believed, or are scared that their partner will take revenge.
Maxwell Mutungwazi is a Zimbabwean man who joined his wife in the UK. He narrates his story with tears running down his cheeks.
“I was a manager in one of the factories in Harare,” he says. “Life was not that bad. I was managing. I had stayed for two years with my minor children after my wife had gone to the UK. She would call me every day and we would talk, all was well.
“She got a job as a nurse and she would send some money back home. So, we applied for our visas, that is me and my children. The kids were excited to see their mother after two years. The thought of flying for the first time, the dreams of being in the arms of my wife once again made me glow with expectations.
“We were on top of the clouds as we flew into the UK. Our first month was perfect, a scene cut out of a romantic movie.”
Maxwell paused for a minute, the tears on his cheeks had dried, leaving two bold white lines which ran from the eyes down.
He said: “My life has been turned upside down. My wife started not coming home saying she had long days and nights at work. She had developed ways of answering her phone away from me.
“When she was on a voice call, she locked herself in the car. She would say they were private calls from her workplace. If I demanded to view the number which called her, she became abusive and would hit, kick, bite, punch, spit, throw things, or destroy my possessions.
“She would tell me that “border ndi maenzanise”, meaning we were now equal after entering the UK. If I tried to stand up to her, she would call the police. She would attack me while I was asleep or otherwise catch me by surprise.
“She started using weapons such as pots and knives or strike me with an object, or threaten our children. She would tell me that if I tried to retaliate, she would take me off her visa.” Maxwell paused again, now his tears starting to flow again.
He continued with a shaky voice. “I left my job, I sold my property,” he said. “We even sold the house back in Zimbabwe. There is nothing to go back home for. Now I am trapped in this country. My wife does what she wants. The little time she is home she is on WhatsApp.”
Of course, domestic abuse is not limited to violence. Emotional and verbal abuse can be just as damaging. As a male, your spouse or partner may verbally abuse you, belittle you, or humiliate you in front of friends, colleagues, or family, or on social media.
Maxwell explained how his wife could call her relatives dissing him. “When I was on the phone with my shift manager, my wife became possessive,” he said. “She harassed me with accusations of being unfaithful. One day she took away my car keys and told me that she bought it.
“She tried to control where I went and who I saw, despite the fact that she was never at home. The little times I saw her it was always horror and disaster. She tried to control how I spent the little money I earned or deliberately defaulted on joint financial obligations.
“She would make false allegations about me to my friends, employer, or the police, or find other ways to manipulate and isolate me. She threatened to leave me and prevent me from seeing my kids if I was to report the abuse.” Maxwell continued, this time visibly dejected.
“As an abused man, I faced a shortage of resources, a lack of understanding from friends and family, and legal obstacles, especially if trying to gain custody of my children from an abusive mother,” he said.
“All this gave me a very dip anger, so one day I left the house. I took my kids with me. That’s when the police came and charged me with abduction.”
Maxwell started crying, sobbing. “I had lived with my kids alone all these years until this woman called the police on me,” said Maxwell. “They took my kids from me, I don’t even know where my kids are. The police took me under the Mental Health Act. I was then forcefully kept at a home for the mentally disturbed.
I have no access to my children, I can not work and I am not insane. The more I tried to reason, the more I was sedated. My wife, being a nurse, convinced the police that I was insane.
I was only released back to an assisted living accommodation.” This is one of the sad stories Zimbabwean men are facing in the UK.
Many men have gained courage in their circumstances, they seek to overcome these challenges and escape violence and abuse. But the Zimbabwean men rarely leave the abusive relationships.
Regardless of gender, ending a relationship, even an abusive one, is not easy. It becomes even harder if you’ve been isolated from friends and family, threatened, manipulated, and controlled, or physically and emotionally abused.
You may feel that you have to stay in the relationship. John Masaka, a social worker, said one the reasons for not leaving the relationship is that the abused my feel ashamed to do so.
Many men feel great shame that they’ve been abused, been unable to stand up for themselves, or somehow failed in their role as a husband or father. Some suffer in silence because they are afraid to be embarrassed at church.
Their religious beliefs dictate that they stay or their self-worth is so low that they feel this abusive relationship is all they deserve.
Many men worry that they will have difficulties being believed by the authorities. Some hope their abuse will be minimized because they are male, or find there are few resources to specifically help abused men.
The tragedy to this is that many men are in denial of being abused. Just as with female domestic violence victims, denying that there is a problem in the relationship will only prolong the abuse.
They may still love their partner and believe that they will change. In all these abused situations, it is the children who suffer the most.
On the other hand, the abused men worry that if they leave, their spouse will harm their children or prevent them from having access to them.
Obtaining custody of children is always challenging for fathers, but even if they are confident that they can do so, they may still feel overwhelmed at the prospect of raising them alone. As a result, many men live in perpetual bondage. Herald