(The writer is a Counselling Psychologist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Can a lady of 35 years of age, well educated, pursuing a successful career of her choice and financially independent suffer from depression and experience low self-esteem and worthlessness? She did. She said, "Something must be wrong with me, or else why would he and his family be so unhappy with me?"
A male doctor, whose colleagues and friends used to long for his company, who could make his patients smile and relax in the blink of an eye, within just a year of his marriage turned into a person who was mostly irritable and depressed. He said, "I don't feel respected and loved in the relationship. I am tired of her belittling me and comparing me with her father."
Yes, domestic violence is ubiquitous. It prevails throughout the world irrespective of age, gender, religion, culture, socio-economic status and even education and employment. Domestic violence (also named domestic abuse or family violence) is violence in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. According to the National Family Health Survey (2015-16), 30% of women suffer from domestic violence. Out of which 30% is physical violence, 30% spousal (husband) violence, 8% sexual violence and only 14% sought help to stop it. It's high time we also etched it in our minds that males also suffer from domestic violence. Among many, a study was published in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine which was a community-based, cross-sectional study on 1,000 married men in the age group of 21–49 years from the rural areas of Haryana. The study revealed, 52.4% of men experienced gender-based violence. Out of 1,000 males 51.5% experienced violence at the hands of their wives/intimate partner at least once in their lifetime and 10.5% in the last 12 months. The most common form of spousal violence was emotional (51.6%), followed by physical violence (6%).
'Domestic violence means that in a relationship or marriage, one or both of the partners uses physical, sexual or psychological violence to try to get power or control over the other.'
Domestic violence is not just physical abuse. It can take place in many forms like
• Sexual abuse: It is forcing sex on another person or using it in an exploitative way. Sexual abuse may involve both physical and verbal behaviour.
• Verbal abuse: Also called verbal attack or verbal assault, is the act of forcefully criticizing or denouncing another person. It is intended to harm the self-concept of the other person and produce negative emotions. In this form, there is the use of abusive language to threaten, denigrate and embarrass the victim.
• Emotional abuse: This includes any behaviour that exploits another person's vulnerability, insecurity and character. Such behaviour may include continuous controlling, manipulation, degradation etc.
• Economic abuse: Also called financial abuse, is a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner's access to economic resources. It may involve preventing a spouse from resource acquisition, limiting and controlling what the victim may use, or by otherwise exploiting economic resources of the victim.
One important phenomenon of this psychosocial issue is the 'Domestic violence cycle (DV cycle)'. The DV cycle starts with the perpetrator playing the victim card and gaining the attention and sympathy of the partner. This phase is followed by the 'Honeymoon phase' where the perpetrator charms and seduces the victim, who starts believing of the former as an amazing partner. Then comes the phase of 'Isolation', where the victim is isolated from other social contacts and then the abuse starts in the form of exercising control over the victim and the abuse can take place in one or many forms of domestic violence. Once the victim is abused the perpetrator starts reconciling and at the same time making the victim feel responsible for the former's abusive behaviour. Then again they enter into the 'Honeymoon phase' and the cycle continues. People tolerate domestic violence because of one or more of the following reasons - not aware of being trapped in Domestic Violence (DV) cycle, denial, family and societal pressure, children's future or threat, economic reasons, death threat by the abuser and most commonly hoping for change. Crisis situations often precipitate greater domestic violence. A spike in domestic violence complaints was recorded during the Ebola crisis in Africa and when Hurricane Katrina struck the US. And unfortunately, the current pandemic is no different. Domestic violence has become a parallel pandemic throughout the world. Some reasons for the surge could be – stress, frustration, unemployment, uncertainty, spending more time together and reduced access to basic resources.
Irrespective of the presence or absence of signs of physical injury the psychological impact of domestic violence can be tremendous. There can be stress, fear, anxiety, disorder, depression, increased risk of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also create significant dents on a person's self-esteem to such an extent that sadly, they start believing that they deserve to be treated wrong and misbehaved with. As human beings love and a sense of belongingness are also our needs. Hence, extramarital relationships are often seen as a consequence of domestic violence which can, in turn, be a trigger for further abuse. People may also fallback on self-destructive and risk-taking behaviours like addiction.
What can be done about it?
Since economic consequences are often anticipated by victims, facilitating their decision of not breaking the silence, unemployment pension and free legal aid can be expected to yield fruitful results. Rehabilitation of victims is to be ensured for enduring effects. In addition to that prosecuting perpetrators and enforcing zero domestic violence policies are also important. At the societal level, we need to stop stigma and refrain from discriminating the victim. Before encouraging them to speak up we need to prepare ourselves as a society that is patient and accepting enough to really listen. Needless to say that reprimanding the abuser and supporting the victim should be ensured. As long term interventions educating female children and promoting gender sensitization to all male children can be considered. But the pivotal role has to be played by the victim by breaking the silence and actively seeking help. Violence strives only in silence, so breaking it is the first and probably the most important step against domestic violence.
The impact of domestic violence is much beyond black eyes, bleeding lips and battered bodies. It can create deep-seated scars, countless invisible wounds and have a crippling intergenerational impact. Let's battle this together and bring back to life the ones who are sadly nothing more than just being 'alive'.