Whenever one talks about domestic violence, what comes to mind?… The picture of a man beating his wife flashes across our eyes. Doesn’t it?… I’m not saying that it’s the most imprecise picture to have, but what if we fail to realise that domestic violence is not just limited to that picture. The array of domestic violence is much broader than that.
Have you ever heard of an elderly person being mistreated by a younger member of the family? Have you ever heard of children being abused at home? Have you ever heard of a spouse being harassed by their partners’ family? All these are instances of domestic violence. Usually, when discussed, the conversations are mostly around intimate partner violence i.e., between husband / wife, live-in partners, romantic partners etc but it’s not restricted to violence by partners, it extends to any member of the family, be it mothers, fathers, children abusing their parents or in-laws, siblings of the partner etc.
While physical form is the most visible form of domestic violence, there are others. One being sexual abuse. It can happen between partners where one is forcing themselves on the other which is also called marital rape. This was not even recognised as rape till 1990 in India. But sexual abuse can also be unwelcome touching or such inappropriate advances by other members of the family. It can also mean coercion into unprotected sex or abortion. This is also call reproductive coercion.
It’s quite disheartening that most other forms of domestic violence go unidentified especially where the effects are not physically visible to others, like financial abuse. This mostly occurs where one partner is dependent on the other for their financial needs. This may happen by way of withholding one’s financial independence either by limiting money for food, clothing or other basic needs or by not letting the dependent partner step out to get a job. If the victim is working, the abuser creates situations due to which the victim loses their job. Even if they’re ‘allowed’ to work, usually, the victim is made to turn in their paycheck.
Another form that is rarely recognised is the emotional abuse where the abused loses their sense of self-worth, their confidence. This involves consistent manipulation, humiliation, criticism, degradation of the abused by their abuser. Be it by neglecting, ignoring or disregarding the needs of the abused, by threatening to harm to oneself or the victim, by distorting reality wherein there may be confusion and insecurity about facts or reality or making them believe that they are delusional about the abuse. Emotional abuse can also arise in combination with other forms of domestic violence.
Psychological form is another form of abuse that is overlooked. In this, prolonged manipulating and threatening behaviour exhibited by the abuser leads to the abused being constantly insecure and vulnerable wherein the fear lingers even in the absence of the abuser. It makes the victim feel that they’re incapable of surviving without their abuser. This can prevent the victim from stepping out of the house or talking to others with permission, doing or saying anything that their abuser will not agree with.
Looking at all these forms makes me think about the root cause of the abuse. What leads one person to dominate another in this way. In all the instances that I’ve come across, it all comes down to control. Having control over ones’ environment, be it things or people, anyway, plays a big role in bringing about violence in any situation. Then why would a domestic setting be any different? The need to control ones’ partner, children, parents or other family members is the sole force driving people to resort to violence.
Why violence? Maybe because that’s what the perpetrator knows. That’s what they’ve learnt growing up. That’s what they’ve seen their elders and counter parts doing. Even though I believe that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence but it’s statistically true that women undergo domestic abuse more than any other gender. Especially because of the orthodox social norms, where people grow up with a patriarchal idea of power which gives men the right to exercise control and dominance over women in various ways. The women, most of the time, are also conditioned to accepting this, maybe, with a pinch of salt. It breaks my heart when women say things like, ‘If my husband doesn’t beat me, who will. It’s his right’ or ‘It must be my fault that my husband had to resort to violence’. This being accepted in our society at all levels, it’s prevalent not only amongst the uneducated population, but a lot of the educated, well-established families see this as a way of life.
Going by statistics, World Health Organisation (WHO) records, 1 in 3 women faces violence at the hands of their intimate partner. In India, a woman is subjected to domestic violence every 4.4 minutes. It was the top crime faced by women in India in 2019. the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) during 2019, recorded a total of 4.05 lakh crimes against women out of which 1.26 lakh (over 30%) were that of domestic violence.
These are only the statistics of the reported cases of abuse. What about the ones that are not voiced? There are reasons to believe that a lot of such incidents go unreported. Patriarchy being one major reason for this, there are others. The stigma that’s placed by society on the survivors of abuse where the survivor is criticised, judged and even victimised. They become the outcast. They’re not looked at as an equal member of the society. So even if one tries to get out of a toxic relationship or a family environment, it becomes difficult for them to lead a normal life or to get a fresh start. Their past follows them everywhere.
Lack of support from the in-laws and even their own families leave the victims helpless. No emotional support, that may give the victims the strength to take a stand, forces them to a life of doom. There is also the fear of revenge by the partner for reporting the abuse or being harassed by the family if the abuser ends up behind bars. Along with this, limited or no resources i.e. access to phones, internet or other modes of communication to the outer world also disarms the abused from being able to raise alarm against domestic violence.
Trauma bonding is another reason why a victim would not report against their perpetrator. In such instances, abuse is mistaken for love. It develops out of a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement. When someone experiences abuse from a partner who also expresses love, they learn to associate love with abuse. They justify or minimize the abuse and blame themselves. I’ve heard women say, ‘It was my mistake, he was under stress that’s why he raised his hand otherwise he’s a gentle soul’. A lot of times, the abuser shows remorse for the abuse, promises are made for a positive change, there is a stage where everything seems to be getting better, the abuser is kind and loving. This display of affection overshadows the fear of further abuse until the abuse is repeated. The victim finds themselves being drawn to their abuser because there is always hope for change but in reality, it’s just a vicious cycle and breaking out of it can be very difficult.
Even though the statistics are unnerving and it’s daunting to know that people everywhere, especially women, are faced with domestic violence on a daily basis, it also helps to see conversations around these truths. After all, if there are conversations, there are people untying their blindfold towards these harsh realities and taking steps towards positive resolve, that will lead to supporting victims out of such state of despair and helping survivors cope with their circumstances.
– Pallavi Poswal, Psychologist & Associate, POSH at Work
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