On 19 July 2016, just five days after my brother, Ryan, and I had saved enough money to move our Mum, Claire, and our 19-year-old sister, Charlotte, away from our father, he shot and killed them both before killing himself.
Until this point, we had understood that our father was aggressive, disrespectful and controlling but never dangerous. He had never hit our family, so it seemed as if the murders had come out of nowhere.
Two days after the murders, Ryan and I were sat in the police station in our home town. We looked up behind us towards a poster detailing ‘coercive control’. The poster listed non-physical abuse such as isolation, economic abuse, emotional abuse and psychological abuse. ‘Coercive control’ had become a crime at the end of 2015, just six months before. This was the first time we’d heard this term and it described our father perfectly.
It was only in that moment, staring at the poster on ‘coercive control’, that we realised how dangerous controlling behaviours can be. Leaving an abuser is a very dangerous time: 75% of women murdered by a partner are killed after they leave, refusing to accede to their abuser’s control is the trigger for male violence. Every single week, two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner. These incidents might be geographically isolated, but they are ideologically connected.
Our father’s violence had seemed to come out of nowhere but his unyielding control over our lives was forever increasing. When we understood that murder was the abuser’s ultimate act of control, it became clear that killing Mum and Charlotte after we left was the next step in the story of our father’s relentless control of our lives. The danger had always been there, but we had not understood the danger of control-obsessed men like our father.
These men want control of the women and children in their lives. They may use violence in order to achieve their overall goal: control. But violence is only one means of gaining control, and the clumsiest. Up to this stage in our lives, our father had managed to manipulate and control us without needing violence. He had created limits on our lives by making our family poor through working as little as possible and isolating us by moving our family to the countryside, away from friends and family.
Since the murders, Ryan and I have been speaking out against male abuse and violence. Extreme violence is an almost entirely a male activity: 96% of global homicides are perpetrated by men. However, the primary victims of male violence are, in fact, also men – totalling 79% of victims. The #MeToo movement has been crucial in raising awareness of male sexual abuse of women, but we have been struck by the absence of a movement of men fed-up with male abuse and violence – why are we so scared of speaking up about it?
It is key to identify that men demand control because of the masculine belief system. A belief system that extols power, control and dominance. Masculinity is a key factor responsible for male violence: towards other men, women and children, and even the elevated male suicide rate. Even the perpetrators are miserable, as our father showed by killing himself. Men abuse and are violent to one another to fight for their position of dominance, and men abuse and are violent to women and children to remind them that they are dominated. Since male violence is rooted in our masculine beliefs, all men have a role in reducing male violence by joining the conversation to sculpt the masculine value system towards something more harmonious and fundamentally worthwhile.
It is key that we begin to articulate how male norms have harmed us and how other men have harmed us. Ryan and I have shared our story recounting the murders of Mum and Charlotte in our book, Operation Lighthouse, named after the police investigation. Mum and Charlotte taught us the values that we live by: we learned how to be good men from them. It is from them that we learned the flexibility of masculine values and from their strength how to apply ours to help others.
Since our book, platforms such as One Young World, and initiatives such as the young leaders against sexual violence group have helped to elevate our story, providing a voice that speaks to more people.
Redefining masculine ideals is a conversation that men would benefit from above anyone else. We do not necessarily need moral or altruistic motivations to change the terms of masculinity, we just need a basic recognition of how we suffer and the confidence to speak up about it. The existing silence around male violence towards men is so surprising due to the benefit to men from speaking up. Men choose masculine values and we can all choose to redefine these.
Let’s end the silence.
Luke Hart is an ambassador for One Young World, author and domestic abuse Campaigner