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Gender-based assault has nothing to do with how you met

OPINION
By Kalangi Kiambati | May 6th 2021
Angry young African man screaming at woman [Courtesy]

There has been an increase in reports of assault meted out to women and men by people they went on ‘dates’ with.

Although a majority of victims of gender-based violence are females, there are many cases of violence perpetrated against men by their female partners.

Expectedly, there are accusations and counter-accusations on the reasons for the violence as well as who was on the wrong and why. One of the arguments is that assaulted women should have avoided going on dates with ‘strangers’ they had ‘met online’.

I recently wrote on my Facebook page that whether you meet on social media, in college or the church choir, going on a first date is inevitable. Even if the date is in an open playing field, perpetrators will most likely look for ways of exerting their power. The problem is not that one is going on a ‘date’ with a stranger, or that the strangers met online. In any case, many relationships – romantic or business - begin with the meeting of ‘strangers’. The world has evolved and so have the ways we meet and relate with others. Nowadays, many personal and professional relationships are initiated and nurtured online.

I think the problem is purely one of motive, which in turn dictates one’s interpretation of the ‘meeting’. When two adults meet and agree to go on a date, the assumption is that they have the same motive: To get to know each other well enough to inform their next move in the relationship. Meeting ‘strangers’ is not new. Long before the advent of social media, many people met strangers who later became friends and even lovers. Granted, social media has provided new avenues for people to create unauthentic personas with ill intentions.

However, narcissistic people initiate relationships for selfish reasons and, therefore, whether one meets them online or offline, their conduct and intention is always self-serving. They do not take ‘no’ for an answer and will happily manipulate their victim, even making them take the blame for the ill-treatment. We should not justify cruelty with arguments about the victim’s dress code or choice of meeting place. We should not say to offenders ‘women are your sisters, mothers, wives and daughters’, because one does not need to be our kin to deserve humane treatment. We should learn to take rejection or difference of opinion in stride and walk away when a relationship no longer serves our mutual interests.

Beyond ensuring that perpetrators of gender-based violence are dealt with in accordance with the law, our society should normalise breakups and even divorce as an inevitable part of life. Many men and women who are victims of physical and psychological gender-based violence may have stuck around for fear of the stigma that accompanies divorce or separation.

Dr Kalangi Kiambati is a communications consultant and trainer, Kenyatta University

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