The Universal Nature of Male Violence
I grew up in England. When I cried in the night as a baby, my father snatched me out of the cot and hit me. So I was told. Much later in life, I had insights that he sexually abused me too. He was a Polish war veteran, - a conscripted Nazi, I learnt when he was in his eighties, though I never spoke to him about it. He was certainly a tortured soul, angry and violent, turning his warrior energy on me throughout my childhood, especially after the untimely death of my mother when I was ten. I spent a lot of my childhood dodging his leathery hands, running up the stairs or up the street out of his way. I was a bit of a wild child, but I wasn’t bad, certainly not bad enough to be threatened with the meat knife (“I’ll cut your damn gizzard out!”) or to be held against the wall with his hands around my throat. (“I’ll damn strangle you!”) Then there was the constant admonition that I would never have anything, that I would come to naught, even though I did well at school.
As a flat-chested 13 year old, I had the sexual attentions of a 25 year old man. I was flattered, unaware at the time, that he could have been arrested as a pedophile. At 14, after being plied with drinks, I lost my virginity in the back of a van to another 25 year old who I never saw again. Only in hindsight did I realize it was statutory rape. Then as a 16 year old, I was ‘nutted’ and repeatedly harassed by a jealous boyfriend. Ironically, it was my father that chased him off. I eventually escaped to university and continued to travel and live further away. When I look back over my life, I realize I have been a victim of male violence several times. I understand that when girls have been victims of child abuse, they tend to get involved in violent relationships. In my case there were two.
When I was 23, living abroad in Europe, I was attacked and brutalized by my African lover, B, – a ‘punishment’ for supposedly lying to him. In my own bedroom, he beat me up, bit my nose, locked me in and buggered me. He threatened me with a razor blade and a screwdriver, “Do you like your face?” I was sure I was going to die and thought the crime would be splashed over the front page of the local tabloid. After 4 hours of physical and psychological hell, I managed to get the attention of my next door neighbour and escape with my life. After more hours of psychodrama, my ‘lover’ finally left and we called the police. Six male officers arrived. I told them about the violence, but feeling embarrassed, did not mention the enforced sex. I didn’t realize till later that I’d been raped. As he was registered as living at my flat, they saw it as a ‘domestic’ and advised me to go and spend the night at a friend’s house!
Some days later, my ‘lover’ returned to finish me off. He sat waiting outside on the steps until I opened the door to leave. Then he busted through my door, pushed me back into my bedroom and made an earnest attempt to strangle me. I fought like a banshee all through the flat and ran down the five flights of stairs and into a shop to call the police. When I was taken to the police station to make a statement, this time I mentioned the rape.
B was arrested and jailed. I took a long holiday in Crete to recover. When the trial date was announced, and I couldn’t find a flight, a friendly older Greek man offered to assist me to get a ticket out of Athens, but it soon became apparent I was supposed to sleep with him in return. He turned suddenly nasty and I almost got trapped and raped again.
The trial lasted 6 weeks and I was in the witness box for most of it, accused of everything from lying to fantasizing to being a drug addict to being a forceps birth! Finally the judge curtailed the prosecutor and released me. B was convicted of 11 crimes against me and sent down for 4 years. I don’t know if he served the full sentence as I left the country soon after. It took me years to fully recover. But one of the first things I did when I moved to London, was take up a martial art.
Another move to the US where issues with my father resurfaced and I spent years processing my relationship with him to try to understand and finally forgive him. I suffered from long bouts of depression and angry outbursts in my adulthood and was perhaps not always the best mother to my son. I rarely hit my child, but shouted a lot.
When I was 49, back in England, while attending an anti-Iraq war event, I fell for an ex-soldier, P. He had served in the Gulf War and though ostensibly now a pacifist, it turned out he had serious problems with alcohol. Perhaps significantly, he got on really well with my father, who passed on while I was in this relationship (bless his soul). A secret drinker, pathological liar and skilled actor, P fooled me for some months with his charm. But after drinking heavily, he turned into a real Mr Hyde. There were several ugly incidents, when he threatened me physically, smashed up my house, damaged my car and wrote foul words over my fireplace with a permanent marker. A friend called the police and he was arrested, but stalked me for weeks. He disappeared out of my life suddenly, having quickly hooked up with another unsuspecting woman. I subsequently found out he had a long history of violence with women.
I was not deserving of any of these acts of violence. No woman is. My experiences of violence transcended countries and cultures, from a small girl into mature womanhood. It seems that their superior physical strength gives them the right to do with us as they will. But there is nothing manly about using brawn to overpower someone smaller or weaker. All of these male violators are of woman born. Wherein lies this hatred, this will to dominate and abuse those who give them life? It echoes the destruction being wrought upon the Earth that sustains us.
I am now 57 years old, a contented, active, independent, multi-faceted woman living in Africa. I am helping organize for Eve Ensler’s ONE BILLION RISING* in February, a global campaign to end violence against women, out of compassion and outrage for my sisters, and perhaps as antidote to my own violations of the past. We are planning flash mobs, music and dance, an art exhibition, forums, radio talk shows, a magazine issue, readings and performances of women’s writing, as well as the “Vagina Monologues” and “A Memoir, A Monologue, A Rant & A Prayer.” What will it take to change men’s behaviour? I don’t know, but hopefully this global campaign will go some way to awareness-raising about the prevalence of gender-based violence and its many forms, as well as wake women (and men) up to their power, beauty and worth.