There’s a strong argument to be made that domestic violence is absolutely 100% about power and control but we must be all too aware that this doesn’t necessarily manifest in physical violence. Emotional control can be just as devastating.
Men might be the first to argue this. Let’s take that argument first, they would contend that while a woman is less likely to use physical force to imprison a partner, they are still more than capable of doing it (by belittling, by cutting a man off from his friends and family, by degrading his interests and work).
Yet I maintain that we certainly need to be more astute about the perspective from a woman’s side. The reason why men need to be more aware of their actions is because we are generally more capable of inflicting physical damage.
And so, quite rightly, it is men who need to bear the majority of the weight of DV.
Women who flee an abusive relationship can be at greater risk of even more traumatic abuse, including death. Some women may be deciding to stay in an abusive relationship to ensure the safety and well being of their children. Some women may be staying because they believe they will be deported if they complain. And some women may be staying because they keep hoping the abuser will change. If we want abuse to stop we need a truly interdisciplinary and multi-level approach, rather than a piecemeal approach that relies on hoping abusers will obey the law.
In my experience writing on this subject and authoring a book about its genesis you don’t just get smacked one day out of the blue. These people (bullies) start first with the emotional abuse, wearing the victim down so when they move onto violence, the victims worth has already been eroded enough that they don’t leave. Also men/women who commit domestic violence can look like anybody, and be completely charming outwardly.
I think we need to teach young people to look out for much earlier signs, such as in trying to stop you seeing your friends/family and what emotional abuse is and how to recognize it. Sadly, by the time the violence starts the self-worth of the victim is already too low to leave and the shame of admitting what is happening makes it very hard to reach out, especially when the advice tends to be “just leave”.
The path to domestic violence is learned in the home as a child witnessing the interaction of parents and by a society dominated by the teachings of religions that emphasise the superiority of the male and his God given right to dominate the woman and for her to be subservient to him.
Indeed it is only in fairly recent times that the law has recognised rape in marriage and religions are still teaching that the woman is the source of ‘original sin’ and is ‘unclean’.
Undoing a few thousand years of religious ‘brain washing’ and accepted social behaviour is going to take a lot more than the threats of harsher penalties or several pages of newspaper articles sensationalising the ‘news’ under the guise of ‘raising concern’.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t be making a start, of course we should, but changing a patriarchal society into a gender neutral one is not going to be achieved by legislation.
As a man I am disgusted by the men who are responsible for the vast majority of domestic violence. They need to be called for what they are: despicable evil cowards. We need to protect women now through provision of shelters, and by jailing perpetrators on the first breach of domestic violence restraining orders. In the longer term, relationship education for kids may make a difference.
“Domestic violence” is really a far, far too simple and seemingly banal description of what is really ongoing psychological and physical terrorisation and torture easily comparable to what happens in wartime. But, those who live through war have others to share their experiences with. The partner living with “domestic” violence is often totally alone in it both due to the lack of understanding of it in the community and also their own confusion and shame which is a powerful barrier to admitting that “this terminology” applies to the woman in question.
This loneliness and shame that “this happened to me” and the lack of understanding of people around the person living in a “domestic” hell often make it too hard to escape and recover from the trauma.
Part of the picture of why women stay is that along with the control, violence, and possessiveness there are often dramatic expressions of great love and remorse and never again. It is a complex dynamic. And the woman may know what the man has been through, whether in childhood or later, and is inclined to forgive. The problem is the escalation, which many women may not know at the start is how it tends to progress. As for ‘stress’ not being a reasonable excuse – it is, at any rate, certainly a reason.
I don’t know if everyone would agree, but psychological and emotional abuse and trauma, even without physical violence, can be caused by controlling and belittling behaviours. And this emotional abuse can have similar impacts to physical intimidation and violence on a person’s psychology.
This is not about the survivors or the victims who were unlucky enough to not make it out alive. It is about the anachronistic attitude that some men have towards women, seeing them as property to be controlled for their own benefit. It is about the lack of funds directed towards spaces and services towards which these women can flee and seek support. It is about the children and their witness and victimization through domestic violence. White Ribbon Day is not enough. Governments need to direct funds towards this travesty of justice.
No woman or family should be denied refuge in this wealthy country.