Though almost 40% of women around the globe suffer abuse in one form or another, Domestic Violence is the best kept secret in many homes. Abused women are mostly in the age group of 15- 45 years, though they can be older too. Abuse can begin early in marriage or much later, after years of happy married life. It may start with a slap, progress to grievous injury, and sometimes even death. Studies have shown that domestic violence causes more injury than road traffic accidents, rape or muggings.
Women suffer in silence for various reasons. They may be ashamed or embarrassed to let the world know that they are being violated. Wrong social attitudes especially in eastern countries are imbibed from childhood. In a survey conducted by the International Institute of Population Studies in India, 54% of women thought it was alright for women to be beaten by their husbands. 51% of men thought so too.
The Church recommends patience, prayer and tolerance, in the hope that submission will win over the tyrant; Psychiatrists advise women against unnecessary provocation of the violent partner, and generously prescribe tranquillizers to the victim; Friends say, ‘No marriage is perfect. There are good times and bad times’; And the Police hesitate to intrude in what they consider a private domestic matter. Inherent in all these attitudes is the surmise that the woman is basically at fault. This covert vindication of the abuser leads to complete isolation of the woman.
Fear, economic dependence on the husband, minor children, lack of education and lack of support systems may also prevent women from breaking the silence.
Wife beaters belong to all walks of life whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, religious or irreligious. They are usually men of low self esteem, with feelings of inadequacy well concealed from the public eye. They may be insecure in their jobs, unable to deal with competition, or unsure of their future prospects. They need something to boost their ego, so they exert their superiority at home. They equate physical strength with power, and use their wives as punching bags.
Abuse may be passed down from generation to generation. Many batterers may have been battered as children. They may come from homes where wife beating is a way of life. Women who grow up in such families have poor self esteem. They feel they might not have lived up to their husbands’ expectation, and so deserve to be punished.
As many wives today are economically independent, husbands tend to feel insecure. This leads to jealousy, over possessiveness, suspicions, and if not controlled, ends in abuse. There are instances of men being jealous of their pregnant wives. Kicks and blows are directed at the abdomen, with the hope that the intruder (foetus) may be aborted.
Alcohol and drugs can unmask psychopathic personalities. Violence is then blamed on the substance imbibed.
Research has shown that men in Military or Police forces are more prone to violence as compared to the general population. “Fight to vanquish’ is the creed of the Military. When a wife is perceived as a threat to one’s manhood, she must be subdued.
Women too are known to provoke their husbands either by being excessively subservient or boldly argumentative. Unfair comparisons or constant fault finding can be demoralizing. The husband feels that he can establish his authority only by violence.
Abuse is all about power and control. It can take many forms, physical, psychological, emotional, financial or sexual. It can be serious and life threatening. When there are young children, the atmosphere of violence can harm them psychologically.
As Lenore Warner described, the pattern of violence is cyclical. It begins with Tension Building by angry and threatening gestures, verbal abuse, monitoring phone calls, lying, cheating, blaming the woman for everything that goes wrong, enforcing isolation from friends and relatives, withholding food or money, or keeping weapons around to induce fear.
This is followed by Violence which may be physical, sexual or emotional. Slapping, punching, choking or biting can be very traumatic. Force or coercion may be used to obtain sex.
The final stage is of Remorse. The husband begs forgiveness and promises never to repeat such behaviour. He showers her with lavish gifts or even promises to see a counselor. The wife is taken in by his promises to change. She believes that there is hope for the marriage if only she can be patient. She gives him a second chance.
But there is no escape from this vicious cycle unless the victim takes matters into her own hands. Once she recognizes that she is in an abusive relationship, she must break the silence. Domestic violence is not a private affair. It is a social problem that reflects the ugly times we live in.
The Police must be informed as there are laws against domestic violence.
She must choose dependable female friends who will support her in her struggle to break free.
A Safety Plan should be put together in case one needs to leave the house at short notice.
This involves collecting certificates, relevant documents, cash, important telephone numbers of groups that help, addresses of safe houses for battered women and also personal requirements like clothes and toiletry.
Many Religious institutions extend support and guidance to women in distress. Receiving spiritual counseling can make a lot of difference to one’s peace of mind.
It is always good for a woman to be physically fit and take training in some form of self defence.
There are many ways in which friends or well wishers can help victims of abuse.
They must be non-judgmental and encourage the victim to verbalize her feelings and her problems. She must be assured that she is not alone, and that there are many women who are in the same predicament. She must also be given the assurance that she is not a bad person.
They should be good listeners. They should not impose their decisions on her but let her make her own decisions.
Support can be in the form of helping her to go to the police or finding a good lawyer, or a good counselor.
Information about domestic violence and legal protection, programmes for battered women and temporary shelters, should be made available.
Sometimes financial assistance may be needed to tide over a crisis.
Accompanying the victim to hospital if she has suffered severe injury, and being a source of moral support.
Every woman has the right to live with dignity. Unless people get involved, and provide protection to the battered woman and her children, her trauma will continue behind closed doors.