Pretoria – “Warrior Ric” (Ricardo Gressel) has spoken out about the power and strength of the “gentle-man” in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa.

He was a guest of the Pretoria News in a Facebook live chat last week on GBV and made the call for boys and men to strive to “be true gentlemen” in their relationships with women and girls.

Warrior Ric, a motivational speaker, said he shared the pain of the victims of GBV and their families in a society in which sexual abuse, rape and murder are so prevalent.

He said there had to be more conversations around the perpetrators and deep-rooted causes of GBV, such as emotional and psychological abuse, which often began in the home.

He said while perhaps not specifically qualified to speak on the topic, he had personal experience and, by being vulnerable, hoped to contribute to the process to better understand some of the causes.

“It’s often left in the courtrooms and the big stories, but what is your story?” he asked, telling an online audience about how he realised that as a boy child, he had experienced it, and while he was not in a position to do anything about it at the time, his silence meant he was complicit.

“In my experience of the abuse against my mother, I didn’t know if that was normal or abnormal because no one spoke out against it and I was too young to even consider speaking out against my father, because that’s not my place,” he said.

He said that the home was where GBV was often perpetuated, and while the long-term effect on boys was a subject for the experts, what he did know was that he had to “unlearn” behaviours that misbehaving men around him had when he was growing up.

In his case, he said, it played out in his early relationships with women.

As a young man, he said he was celebrated by other young men by his success in “chasing girls”, but while he was chivalrous, kind and loving, what was the conversation around having multiple girlfriends? “Are there not lies, cheating and deceit?” he asked.

Dating is important, and one must recognise the danger of young men being celebrated for “hunting down” women. In that dating there is GBV because the psychological and emotional abuse can be the beginning and it can lead, ultimately, to the loss of a life like Tshegofatso Pule’s, he said.

Another element of the conversation of how we raise boys and young men is about how we speak to women, he said. “You hear GBV and think of the physical manifestation, but there is this passive aggressive behaviour that also wreaks havoc on women.

“Who are we in our relationships?” he asked of men, saying it was time to learn – and to unlearn – certain behaviours to be proactive in the fight against GBV.

He spoke about the role of absent fatherhood, saying he had left a daughter in the US when he made the decision to move to South Africa in 1994. While today he is a proud father and grandfather who works to help other men be better fathers, he has experienced the pain of not having the relationship with his daughter he would want, and he did not want her to believe that “all men are trash” because of his failings.

Speaking of economic abuse, he expressed concern about the impact of Covid-19 on women in particular, as those often left holding down the job and family, and of the impact of lockdown on women in terms of economic as well as other types of GBV.

He urged men not to be complicit in GBV, but to strive to protect victims and teach boys and young men to practise the qualities of being gentlemen.