Domestic or intimate partner violence is more common than any of us would like to believe and involves physical, sexual and emotional abuse (neglect by the spouse). According to recent statistics from the National Family Health Survey-4, every 4th woman faces some kind of domestic violence with physical violence being the most common. If these numbers startle you, let me tell you a true story; these figures are not even close to reality because most of the cases go unreported or even unacknowledged, especially in case of emotional neglect or abuse. Below are some narrations from the women who have faced intimate partner violence:
“A woman waits silently, waiting for the dreaded bell to ring. He is home and she offers him food. Once he finishes, she is not sure whether she should pick up the plate or not, because either way, she is going to get hit.”
At another place and at another time, the man shouts at the woman that she is ‘good-for-nothing’ and he would be happier if she dies. He doesn’t talk to her or take her out anywhere. He expects her to just do the household chores or wants to get rid of her. He has never raised his hand at her but breaks her spirit every-day.
Across borders where marriages are arranged by parents, a third woman stands outside her door, in the middle of the night, without her slippers, because the man has thrown her out and refuses to let her in. The parents tell her to reconcile as “it’s better to be hit by one man only”.
No, these are not tales of some poor damsel in distress, who would eventually be rescued by prince charming. These are the true stories of everyday women facing domestic abuse by the men who were supposed to be their “Prince Charming”.
What is Intimate Partner Violence or Domestic Abuse
Domestic or intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women and involves physical, sexual, emotional abuse (neglect by the spouse), and controlling behaviors by an intimate partner.
One could argue that it only happens to individuals belonging to lower socioeconomic status or the wives of men who are dependent on alcohol or drugs. However, it is not as simple as it appears. Intimate partner violence occurs across cultures, caste, or economic status. It happens regardless of the educational or employment status of both partners and irrespective of the sobriety status of the husband.
Common-sense tells us that any woman faced with these situations, especially if she is educated and/or well-employed, should walk out of the situation. However, they don’t due to a multitude of reasons. Are they cowardly? Or are they brave? Are they rationalizing for the sake of their children? Or staying silent because of a lack of support system? Are they masochistic individuals, who like to be beaten up and abused?
Many psychological, social and cultural factors come into play when one tries to understand this issue. Various studies have linked the presence of intimate partner violence to the patriarchal culture. Specifically, in Asian societies, the girl’s family interferes little with how her in-laws treat her. IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) typically happens in a patriarchal society, where the monarch is the man and the women are always treated as subordinates, where the girl is a burden who needs to be either killed before she is born or raised up as a “responsibility” to be given away in marriage, where it is the in-laws prerogative to treat her nicely or not. The majority of the time, the girl’s matriarchal family would not want to intervene as they feel that “it is OK, as long as she is married and has a house to call home and family/husband who will protect her from outside demons”. Please understand that patriarchal society is a global phenomenon.
Why Do Women Stay in Abusive Relationships?
Learned Behavior from the Family
Family is the first school of any individual and many of these women come from broken families. If they have seen their fathers indulging in the same behavior with their mothers. They learn to regard that as the “accepted reality” and thus go on living their lives, passing the belief from one generation to another.
Dynamics of couples relationships
If one delves deeper into the dynamics of the couple’s relationship, it is evident that a husband is characteristically a narcissistic person, with an inflated sense of self-esteem, need for admiration by everyone around and a lack of empathy. On the other hand, the wife (who may be very successful professionally) often has a somewhat dependent personality, tendency to get anxious, and need to be dependent on others (in this case, the husband).
It plays out interestingly, wherein the husband belittles the wife, makes her feel inferior or helpless in front lof him, keeps emphasizing that he is her “savior”. It’s simply a power-play. And as she lies down on the ground hurt, sobbing and bereft of all dignity, he apologizes profusely, blabbers about how much he loves her, needs her and reiterates the fact that it was somehow her fault that he behaved like that, but it would never happen again. And the vicious cycle goes on and on. He gradually cuts her off from anyone and everyone.
“A woman narrated that he hated her talking to family, friends or neighbors. She and her children would stand in the balcony and scampered away like rats, the moment they saw him. She had no friends left and didn’t even know who lived next door.”
Lack of Financial Independence
Other reasons may include lack of financial independence, stigma, lack of social support from the woman’s family, and the effect of divorce on children. However, it is seen that not only the battered woman but also her children have poor emotional and physical health. The majority go on to develop personality issues, bouncing from one abusive relationship to another, indulging in drug use and other high-risk behaviors. While others withdraw and develop emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. Research from across the globe tells us that children who have witnessed intimate partner violence have a significantly higher chance of becoming the perpetrator or victim of intimate partner violence later on in their relationships.
It’s a double-edged sword for most women and a long road to cross. It is important to remember that such behaviors do not stop on their own or the perpetrator of violence will not change overnight. It is imperative to seek help to stop this behavior from escalating.
What to Do When Faced with Intimate Partner Violence
Don’t fall for Excuses or Apologies
There is no excuse for violence and none should be accepted. The excuses enable the perpetrator to never take responsibility and continue his actions.
Keeping quiet won’t change anything. Keeping violence hidden can actually empower the perpetrator more.
It may seem worse at first, but actually separating from the relationship can be empowering and will help in getting perspective. Also, it will be safer for the woman as well as children (if any).
Get Psychological Help
Abuse or violence in any form can destabilize an individual’s core. It is important to seek professional help to recover from the aftereffects of the abuse. There are online therapists who are skilled in domestic violence therapy and can help you.
Get Legal Help
Many NGOs, helplines, and legal counsels exist globally that help in ensuring safety and getting legal aid as required.