By Yvonne Akinyi
Dan Matakaya Shieshie, a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV) has not had it easy and was contemplating suicide in his hospital bed, were it not for a late patient’s words of hope at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
“I am a victim of physical assault. My ex-wife poured Sulphuric acid on my face and got me electrocuted after I fell on the water she had poured on the floor and connected to the water heater. I have had 16 correctional surgeries due to the burns and a blocked nostril, and I have been also rendered visually impaired,” says Matakaya.
IPV -abuse or aggression that occurs in a romantic relationship by a current or former spouse- comes in various forms including stalking, physical, emotional, and sexual violence.
In a 2012 report by Maendeleo ya Wanaume (Mawa), a gender-based watchdog advocating for men’s rights, Nairobi and Central Kenya lead with violence against men, with at least 460,000 men being battered by their spouses yearly.
To salvage men from IPV, the Dan Shieshie Foundation, established in September 2019 by Matakaya, together with four other directors seeks to help men undergoing this.
The Foundation offers free tele-counseling to victims and survivors of abuse through a toll-free number, 1198, and offers a safe place, away from the places where their physical and psychological wellbeing is threatened.
The foundation, which has a staff of ten professional and five voluntary-based counselors, receives calls from the victims and only offers to counsel, but follows up and guides the victims if need be for legal involvement.
The victim can call for counseling any day until one feels that he is in a better place, both psychologically and mentally, and depending on the victim’s case, the counselor will decide on whether to have a tele-counseling session or face-face counseling.
Ken*, a 31-year-old journalist who is a victim of physical and emotional abuse, heard about the Dan Shieshie Foundation during an interview on national television and decided to reach out to the foundation, after failed attempts to get justice from the police.
He was unknowingly going through coercive control in his relationship, a psychological form of abuse where one is subjected to do things without his or her knowledge. This eventually drained him. Little did he know that his partner would later try to burn him with hot water.
Reporting to the authorities, all he got was the feeling of embarrassment as they laugh at him, regarding him as a weakling, because he is a man.
According to Ken, the journey towards seeking justice and help has been tedious, considering the societal perception about masculinity.
“The authority itself does not take the issue seriously!” he says. “…till date, I have not found justice.”
This not only applies to Ken but also to George*, a victim of emotional abuse and whose attempts to report have been backed by ridicule and shame.
“I have been through emotional and psychological abuse inflicted by my wife, and I felt stigmatized and embarrassed because when I try to speak to my friends or close family, they laugh and I become a subject of ridicule,” says George.
For George, he feels that the Dan Shieshie foundation has helped him realize that men go through abuse too and that it is okay to feel overwhelmed or seek help. This has helped him gain the courage to speak up and encourage other men to seek guidance and help.
‘Men should no longer die in silence, or die of depression,” he adds.
Dr. Kizzie Shako, Police Surgery Head and Sex and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) & Child Abuse Consultant notes that men seldom report out of fear of being ridiculed by peers, colleagues, family, medical and police sectors. She states that societal norms expect males to be the stronger sex, and thus male victims of any form of violence are viewed as weak.
Like females, Dr. Shako adds that men experience shame, humiliation, depression, decreased productivity, and somatic symptoms where psychological issues manifest physically. This results in difficulty in functioning, difficulty at work, and lost stability.
Though financial constraints have made it hard to cope with traveling expenses as he had to go for physical counseling sessions, Ken states that the experience has led him into acceptance and forgiveness, which is key to healing, and that he is now able to notice the signs of abuse in a relationship.
According to Matakaya, inadequate funds have been a challenge for the Foundation making it difficult to accommodate the victims and provide for their basic needs.
Lack of a rescue center that should act as the victim’s safe space has forced the organization to look for alternative accommodation for them, to keep victims away from places their physical and mental well-being is threatened. Also, paying for the organization’s office space has been challenging as it is expensive.
He notes that they are planning to come up with a rescue center, to help men who may need more than counseling as well as train them on ways to provide for their families because the inability to provide is a major underlying issue in most cases.