Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett: Men As Victims And Perpetrators Of Violence


Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett


Violence is pervasive - especially so when we encourage it.

We often talk about violence against women, but we never talk about the causes of violence. We gloss over that as if it were a bad-tasting tonic.

We never talk about why men get killed, nor do we talk about the fact that we are losing most of our young men to serious violence. Violence is especially troubling when it occurs for no apparent reason, when it seems random or unplanned, but it is actually very organised and very reasoned.

A great deal of violence occurs because of inequalities and the consequent frustration and anger. We, as a people, have lost the ability to think about our neighbours; we have become too inward gazing.

At the same time, notwithstanding the politicians’ claims that we are a Christian, peace-loving nation, New Providence has become an immensely violent place. We shoot, we chase, we stab, we beat, we rape. We talk about The Bahamas, but the reality is that because most of the population inhabits this one island, this 21 by seven space is violent. It is also violent because we push far too many people into the margins of society. The majority of assaults occur here.

Recently, a young student was stabbed on the campus of the College of The Bahamas (COB), apparently, for no good reason. It’s just the way we have become. Often, people say they are not a part of the violence, yet they do nothing to attempt to turn the tides. Government is unable to simply do as they wish without jeopardising international relationships. They will tell us that we have a bunch of young, angry men who need alternative programmes to deal with and diffuse their anger.

Why do we create very angry people? The system creates angry young people, especially angry young men because we treat people worse than we treat animals.

First, we tell them that because they were born in the ‘ghetto’, they will never amount to anything. Second, we arrange things so that they cannot easily amount to anything. Schools deliver substandard education because of flawed and outdated mechanisms and infrastructure. Then we corral them all in together and tell them that they cannot be Bahamian despite this being the only home they have ever known or probably will ever know. Simultaneously, we create social rules that make it impossible for men to express their emotions through any other avenue than anger. Men can’t laugh too hard, they can’t cry, they can’t be sad, they can’t be upset, but they can be angry. They can slap, punch, stab, kick, rape, but they simply cannot cry.

In studies done by faculty at COB, the impact of violence becomes clear. While most kids who become offenders experienced violence in their homes, young men are overwhelmingly the victims of violence. Using data from the Latin American Public Opinion Project housed at Vanderbilt University one graph shows that between 20 and 25 per cent of young men aged between 18 and 19 will be the victims of an assault. This compares to approximately 16 per cent of girls. The difference is significant.

The same trend continues through the next age group and only becomes more or less equal as people enter their 40s. However, the disparity widens again in those in their 50s. Men are far more at risk for being the victims of violence; poor or working class, black men are even more at risk of being victims of crime and violence, as the levels of poverty and inequality have increased so much, violence has worsened. Our society is becoming one of the more unequal in the region.

What must be underscored though is the huge threat of violence young men experience. While the 20-29 age group also experienced a great deal of assaults, just over 15 per cent of men and approximately 12 per cent of women would have been victims of assaults, the difference is shocking. Not only do we fail men in school so fewer enter tertiary education, we also lose an alarming number of men in their teens. This should make us stop and think, and then act to curtail the level of violence in our society.

Young men are angry and frustrated for a reason. They act out on their anger for a reason; they do not just become angry young men who are aggressors and victims. We have penned them into a very unfriendly area, and given the number of children we have socially excluded through our immigration policy, that if challenged in court, could possible be ultra vires the constitution, we should not be surprised by their reactions.

We create young men who cannot read, write, reason their way out of conflicts without violence, and then we tell them that they are dogs. What else can we expect? When they go to court, we tell them that they need to spend their lives in Fox Hill, one of the worst places on earth, but for some of them, it is less awful than being in society.

We talk about violence against women, which is a serious social ill, but violence against young men is an alarming social reality. We are not going to improve the situation of violence against women unless we deal with violence in general. We must resolve some of the hatred and anger in our society and attempt to stop socially excluding young black males, and then work to build a more robust education system and programmes that work in the 21st century reality.

According to studies from the United Nations, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and others, our track record is poor, our performance in human development abysmal and our social and economic inequality dreadful. As a society, we have become far too discriminatory and unequal, both are measure of social dysfunction. We tell far too many people that they do not belong among us, and this is especially true of young men.

Have we stopped to think how much this costs us?


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