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Mainstream, VOL LII No 11, March 8, 2014

Ramifications of Domestic Violence

Monday 10 March 2014


by Parul Jain

1. Introduction

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abusespousal abusebatteringfamily violence, and intimate partner violence (IPV), is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviours by one partner against another in an intimate relation-ship such as marriage, dating, family or cohabi-tation. Domestic violence, so defined, has many forms, including physical aggression or assault (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects, battery), or threats thereof; sexual abuse, emotional abuse, con-trolling or domineering, intimidation, stalking passive/covert abuse and economic deprivation.

Domestic Violence (as per The  Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005)—(1) For the purposes of this Act, any conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence if he (a) habitually assaults or makes the life of the aggrieved person miserable by cruelty of conduct even if such conduct does not amount to physical ill-treatment; or (b) forces the aggrieved person to lead an immoral life; or (c) otherwise injures or harms the aggrieved person. (2) Nothing contained in clause (c) of sub-section (1) shall amount to domestic violence if the pursuit of course of conduct by the respon-dent was reasonable for his own protection or for the protection of his or another’s property.

Domestic violence and abuse is not limited to obvious physical violence. Domestic violence can also mean endangerment, criminal coercion, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, tres-passing, harassment, and stalking.

The term “intimate partner violence” (IPV) is often used synonymously with domestic abuse/domestic violence. Family violence is a broader definition, often used to include child abuse, elder abuse, and other violent acts between family members. Wife abuse, wife beating, and battering are descriptive terms that have lost popularity recently for several reasons:

• There is acknowledgment that many victims are not actually married to the abuser, but rather cohabiting or in other arrangements

• Abuse can take other forms than physical abuse. Other forms of abuse may be constantly occurring, while physical abuse happens occasionally.

• Males as well as females may be victims of domestic violence.

These other forms of abuse have the potential to lead to mental illness, self-harm, and even attempts at suicide

2. Forms Of Domestic Violence

All forms of domestic abuse have one purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim. Abusers use many tactics to exert power over their spouse or partner:

a) Physical

Physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm.

Physical abuse includes hitting, slapping, punching, choking, pushing, burning and other types of contact that result in physical injury to the victim. Physical abuse can also include behaviours such as denying the victim of medical care when needed, depriving the victim of sleep or other functions necessary to live, or forcing the victim to engage in drug/alcohol use against his/her will. If a person is suffering from any physical harm then they are experiencing physical abuse.

b) Sexual

Sexual abuse is any situation in which force or threat is used to obtain participation in unwanted sexual activity. Coercing a person to engage in sexual activity against her will, even if that person is a spouse or intimate partner with whom consensual sex has occurred, is an act of aggression and violence

Categories of sexual abuse include

1. Use of physical force to compel a person to engage in a sexual act against his or her will, whether or not the act is completed;

2. Attempted or completed sex act involving a person who is unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, unable to decline participation, or unable to communicate unwillingness to engage in the sexual act, for example, because of underage immaturity, illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or because of intimidation or pressure.

c) Emotional

Emotional abuse (also called psychological abuse or mental abuse) can include humiliating the victim privately or publicly, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, implicitly blackmailing the victim by harming others when the victim expresses independence or happiness, or denying the victim access to money or other basic resources and necessities. Degradation in any form can be considered psychological abuse.

d) Verbal

Verbal abuse is a form of emotionally abusive behaviour involving the use of language.

Verbal abuse may include aggressive actions such as name-calling, blaming, ridicule, disrespect, and criticism, but there are also less obviously aggressive forms of verbal abuse. Statements that may seem benign on the surface can be thinly veiled attempts to humiliate; falsely accuse; or manipulate others to submit to undesirable behaviour, make others feel unwanted and unloved, threaten others economically, or isolate victims from support systems.

e) Economic

Economic abuse is a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s access to economic resources. Economic abuse may involve preventing a spouse from resource acquisition, limiting the amount of resources to use by the victim, or by exploiting economic resources of the victim.

3. Causes

There are many different theories as to the causes of domestic violence. These include psychological theories that consider personality traits and mental characteristics of the perpetrator, as well as social theories which consider external factors in the perpetrator’s environment, such as family structure, stress, social learning. As with many phenomena regarding human experience, no single approach appears to cover all cases.

1. Biological

These factors include genetics and brain dysfunction and are studied by neuroscience

2. Psychological 

Psychological theories focus on personality traits and mental characteristics of the offender. Personality traits include sudden bursts of anger, poor impulse control, and poor self-esteem. Various theories suggest that psychopathology and other personality disorders are factors, and that abuse experienced as a child leads some people to be more violent as adults

3. Marital Conflict Disorder

A series of new relational disorders which include Marital Conflict Disorder without Violence or Marital Abuse Disorder (Marital Conflict Disorder with Violence). Couples with marital disorders sometimes come to clinical attention because the couple recognises long-standing dissatisfaction with their marriage and come to the clinician on their own initiative or are referred by an astute health care professional. Secondly, there is serious violence in the marriage which is-”usually the husband battering the wife.

4. Jealousy

Many cases of domestic violence against women occur due to jealousy when one partner is either suspected of being unfaithful or is planning to leave the relationship

5. Social Stress

Stress may be increased when a person is living in a family situation, with increased pressures. Social stresses, due to inadequate finances or other such problems in a family may further increase tensions. Violence is not always caused by stress, but may be one way that some people respond to stress.

4. Effects

1. On children

A child who is exposed to domestic violence /abuse during their upbringing will suffer in their development and psychological welfare. Some emotional and behavioural problems can result such as aggressiveness, anxiety, changes in socialise action with friends, family and authorities. Problem of depression and self-esteem issues can also arise.

2. Physical

Bruises, broken bones, head injuries and internal bleeding are some of the acute effects of domestic violence.

3. Psychological

They may include high amount of stress, fear, anxiety, depression, panic, nightmares.

4. Financial

Due to economic abuse and isolation, the victim usually has very little money of their own and few people on whom they can rely when seeking help. This has been shown to be one of the greatest obstacles facing victims of DV, and the strongest factor that can discourage them from leaving their perpetrators. In addition to lacking financial resources, victims of DV often lack specialised skills, education, and training that are necessary to find gainful employment, and also may have several children to support.

5. Long-term

Domestic violence can trigger many different responses in victims, all of which are very relevant for any professional working with a victim. Major consequences of domestic violence victimization include psychological/mental health issues and chronic physical health problems. A victim’s overwhelming lack of resources can lead to homelessness and poverty.

Gender Aspect of Abuse

The relationship between gender and domestic violence is a controversial topic. There continues to be debate about the rates at which each gender is subjected to domestic violence and whether abused men should be provided the same resources and shelters that exist for female victims. In particular, some studies suggest that men are less likely to report being victims of domestic violence due to social stigmas. Other sources, however, argue that the rate of domestic violence against men is often inflated due to the practice of including self-defence as a form of domestic violence. Both men and women have been arrested and convicted of assaulting their partners.

Violence against Women

Although the exact rates are widely disputed, there is a large body of cross-cultural evidence that women are subjected to domestic violence significantly more often than men. In addition, there is a broad consensus that women are more often subjected to severe forms of abuse and are more likely to be injured by an abusive partner. Women are more likely than men to be murdered by an intimate partner. Of those killed by an intimate partner about three quarters are female and about a quarter are male. The veracity of some domestic violence has been called into question by a few domestic violence researchers, who argue that most of the studies coming to such a conclusion suffer from distortion and methodological flaws.

As reported in Hindustan Times, till February 27, 2013, 22 cases of domestic violence were reported in areas of Gurgaon. Further, Maha-rashtra ranks highest in 2010-11 with a figure of 2433, followed by Andhra Pradesh (1174), Karnataka (1013), Madhya Pradesh (882) and Kerala (631). (As reported in The Times of India, January 31,2012) Further, the figures of domestic violence as reported in The Indian Express (Friday, November 30, 2012) reveal that Tamil Nadu tops in DV (3983 cases), followed by Gujarat (3266 cases) and West Bengal (1661 cases).

Violence against Men

Determining how many instances of domestic violence actually involve male victims is difficult. Male domestic violence victims may be reluctant to get help for a number of reasons.

Studies have shown many police officers do not treat domestic violence against men as a serious crime, and often will view the male victim as a “pathetic figure”. It is for this reason, and also the view among many law enforcement officers that men are inherently “stronger” than women, that male victims are often less likely to report domestic violence than female victims. When and if they do, men are often treated as the aggressor in the situation, and often even placed under arrest

5. Ramifications

The response to domestic violence is typically a combined effort between law enforcement, social services and health care. The role of each evolved in domestic violence has been brought more into public view.

Law Enforcement 

Domestic violence is serious and pernicious. It ruins lives, breaks up families and has a lasting impact. Along with protecting the victim, law enforcement have to ensure that the alleged abuser’s rights are not violated. When an offence is committed in a domestic context, some steps may be undertaken.They are:

1. National Crime Law Victim Institute: The NCVLI fights for victims through legal advocacy, training and education, and public policy.

2. Victim Laws: The right to protection from intimidation and harm,

• The right to be informed concerning the criminal justice process.

• The right to reparations.

• The right to preservation of property and employment.

• The right to due process in criminal court proceedings.

• The right to be treated with dignity and compassion.

• The right to counsel.

3. National Victim’s Constitutional Amendment Project has started an online petition for everyone to register their support for a Federal Victim’s Right Amendment.

4. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 -

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 was brought into force by the Indian Government from October 26, 2006. The Act was passed by Parliament in August 2005 and assented to by the President on September 13, 2005. As of November 2007, it has been ratified by four of twenty-eight state governments in India; namely, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. Of about 8,000 criminal cases registered all over India under this Act, Rajasthan had 3440 cases; Kerala had 1028 cases, while Punjab had 172 cases registered.

1) For the purposes of this Act, any conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence if he (a) habitually assaults or makes the life of the aggrieved person miserable by cruelty of conduct even if such conduct does not amount to physical ill-treatment; or (b) forces the aggrieved person to lead an immoral life; or (c) otherwise injures or harms the aggrieved person. (2) Nothing contained in clause (c) of sub-section (1) shall amount to domestic violence if the pursuit of course of conduct by the respondent was reasonable for his own protection or for the protection of his or another’s property.

Medical Reponse 

Medical professionals can make a difference in the lives of those who experience abuse. Many cases of spousal abuse are handled solely by physicians and do not involve the police. Sometimes cases of domestic violence are brought into the emergency room while many other cases are handled by a family physician or other primary care provider. Sub-specialist physicians are also increasingly playing an important role. Medical professionals are in a position to empower people, give advice, and refer them to appropriate services. The health care professional has not always met this role, with uneven quality of care, and in some cases misunder-standings about domestic violence. Thus it may include:

• Remove the blame from the victim and they have made the offender accountable for the abuse.

• Criminal and civil justice systems have created policies to hold offenders accountable and keep the victims safe.

• Use the experiences and voices from battered women to improve and create policies.

• Court-ordered educational groups are available for the offenders.

• Constantly reviewing and discussing current cases and policies.

Counselling for Affected Person 

Due to the extent and prevalence of violence in relationships, counsellors and therapists should assess every client for domestic violence (both experienced and perpetrated). If the clinician is seeing a couple for couple’s coun-selling, this assessment should be conducted with each individual privately during the initial interview, in order to increase the victim’s sense of safety in disclosing DV in the relationship. Some of the important measures which may be undertaken in this regard are:

Firstly, it is essential that the therapist believe the victim’s story and validate their feelings. Secondly, the therapist should emphasize that the abuse they have experienced is not their fault, but should keep their feelings of ambivalence in mind and refrain from blaming their partner or telling them what to do.

Thirdly, it is unreasonable for the therapist to expect that a victim will leave their perpetrator solely because they disclosed the abuse, and the therapist should respect the victim’s autonomy and allow them to make their own decisions regarding termination of the relationship. Finally, the therapist must explore options with the client in order to uphold their obligation in order to protect the welfare of client.

 Further, lethality assessment is a tool that can assist in determining the best course of treatment for a client as well as helping the client to recognise dangerous behaviours and more subtle abuse in their relationship.

Another tool involves safety planning which allows the victim to plan for dangerous situations they may encounter, and is effective regardless of their decision on whether remain with their perpetrator. Safety planning begins with determining a course of action if another acute incident occurs in the home. Furthermore councelling for offenders and prevention and intervention also prove to be a useful method for handing a case of domestic violence.

6. Conclusion

From the foregoing analysis it is evident that domestic violence is not limited to physical violence. The basic objective behind all forms of domestic abuse is to gain and maintain control over the victim and abusers use many tactics to exhort power over their spouse or partner.

Domestic violence may be caused due to biological, psychological factors such as mental illness, mental conflict disorder, jealousy. Family structure, stress, social learning could be other causes. Financial dependence of women on men also results in tolerating domestic violence. Sometimes when a family passes through social stress violence may be caused.

Domestic violence has been on an increase throughout the world and has affected the upbringing of children who are exposed to domestic abuse during their upbringing and suffer in their developmental and psychological welfare. Many a time domestic violence results in high amount of stress, fear and anxiety which culminates into depression. Some of the major consequences of domestic violence include psychological/ mental health issues and chronic physical health problem.

Domestic violence has been viewed as a private family matter. However, the modern view is that domestic violence should be viewed as a public matter. Once the violence is reported, it should be taken seriously and all criminal authority should be involved. If domestic violence is to be minimised, it is necessary that there should be combined effort between law enforcement, social services and health care agencies. There is also need for counselling of the person affected, minimise the offender’s risk of future domestic violence and undertaking education and prevention programmes. A very important measure in this direction is the change in attitude towards the partner. One should treat one’s wife as one expects a man to treat his daughter. Man should show due care towards his partner and impress upon her that she deserves more. It should be clearly understood that violence is not the solution to the problem. Instead, it is only fair that due care should be shown towards her.                

Parul Jain is a Research Scholar, Department of Economics, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

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