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Domestic violence also referred to as domestic abuse is a form of gender-based violence. It occurs when one intimate partner or family member or ex-partner or spouse uses an abusive pattern of behaviour (physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, rule making and emotional, sexual and economic abuse) to gain and maintain power and control over the other person.
Domestic abuse can occur in a marital relationships or live-in relationship and in homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual relationships. It crosses cultural, religious, ethnic, socio-economic and national barriers.
Even though both men and women can be abused, studies have proved that women and children represent the majority of the victims. Violence occurs at any stage of a relationship. All women, irrespective of social class, ethnicity, age, nationality, religion, culture and education can experience domestic violence. Children are traumatised by the violence in their homes. While some are assaulted physically, all witness constant acts of violence which cause fear, anxiety and great distress. Post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome can last a lifetime!
Domestic violence mostly occurs behind closed doors and in the private sphere of the family, far from the gaze of others. Furthermore, there is no 'typical' abuser. Hence, it is difficult and sometimes even impossible to identify and correctly profile an abuser without victims-survivors providing statements. The most charming, lovely and charming partner in public can, in the home, be violent and abusive.
Women also can be violent, but their actions account for a small percentage of domestic violence. More often, women retaliate to defend and protect themselves.
Forms of domestic violence:
object or weapon, and murder
vegetables and other foreign objects into sexual parts of the victims anatomy
abuse or forcing out of the home, confinement to the home, 'spying', threats to take away children, isolation, ignoring the partner or lack of affection and care,
constant humiliation and acts of omission
controlling access to health care, employment and social services
the intention to keep the latter under their power. It includes deeds or words that demean, humiliate or shame the faith of a person, the use of intimidation
to subjugate someone to spiritual authority denying his/her right to disagree, unreasonable control of a person's basic right to make a choice on spiritual
matters and prevention from practicing spiritual ceremonies.
However, although violence against women has been categorised separately, the various forms of violence are not mutually exclusive and many women often, if not daily, endure various types of violence and in many cases all of the above.
Cycle of violence
Domestic violence is not an isolated incident or a one-time occurrence or a one-off incident; it is recurrent and thus implies continuity.
• As it progresses, it increases in frequency and severity. The cycle of violence lasts, on average, seven to nine years before the woman seeks help.
This cycle is ongoing and sometimes the violence continues even when the victim-survivor has left the violent relationship.
Domestic violence is not an isolated incident or a one-time occurrence or a one-off incident;
it is recurrent and thus implies continuity.
As it progresses, it increases in frequency and severity. The cycle of violence lasts,
on average, seven to nine years before the woman seeks help.
This cycle is ongoing and sometimes the violence continues even when the victim-survivor
has left the violent relationship.
Usually the cycle progresses through the following stages:
• The Tension Building Stage
• The Violent Episode Stage
• The 'Honey moon' Stage
• The Escalation of Violence
Source: Domestic Violence against women and girls, Innocenti digest, no.6, June 2000, UNICEF
Domestic violence maims and kills. It causes an array of health problems ranging from physical and sexual injuries to psychological and psychiatric disorders.
Furthermore victims-survivors have to cope with other social and economic problems resulting from such violence.
The World Health Organisation, in a study carried out in 1996 entitled 'Violence Against Women', identified the psychological and physical impact of domestic violence on the health of the victims-survivors. They came up with a categorisation of the health consequences of violence against women according to the degree of the outcome mostly whether the outcome was fatal or non fatal.
• Divorce and separation often bring about socio-economic problems such as homelessness because the victim-survivor has to flee her home with her children
• Loss of employment and earnings: The victim-survivor often either loses her job following frequent absenteeism because of injuries sustained or she has to
quit her job as a safety measure or because she has moved to a place of safety, far away from her employment
• Denial of basic human rights to physical, sexual and mental integrity and to safety and security
• Negative impact on parenting behaviours which effects on the development of children
When talking of domestic violence against women, often what comes to peoples' minds are: 'Why does she stay?' or 'why does she not leave?' it is easy to say, but in reality, it is not that easy to do, particularly for those living in such relationships. Those questions stem from a general misunderstanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and are an explicit example of how people tend to blame the victim-survivor instead of the abuser! The most important thing to keep in mind is that a woman does not remain in a violent relationship because 'she wants it' or because 'she wants to be abused' but because of economic, situational, personal and emotional barriers that restrain her from leaving. Indeed, the nature of domestic abuse, traps the victims-survivors in this cycle of violence. Some of these barriers are:
• Lack of financial means and affordable housing for women leaving alone
• Family or religious or immediate network pressures
• Fear of loneliness
• Fear of violent reprisal
• Denial: Sometimes the victim-survivor persuades herself that she is not living in an
abusive relationship and even may deny the impact of the abuse
• Minimisation: The victim-survivor minimises the very existence and nature of the abuse
• Belief that the relationship will improve
• Loyalty to the family
• Limited access to resources, training and education for women
• Gender-specific socialisation
• Blaming the victim syndrome'
• Fear of social stigma
• Low levels of literacy among women
Main cause of domestic violence
Domestic violence is about power and control when the abuser wants to gain and keep control over the victim-survivor. In abusive relationships, the abuser wants to dominate the other partner and uses violence to keep power over the latter.
The main cause of domestic violence against women is the unequal power relationship between men and women. The man wants to dominate the woman to gain and keep control and power over her. This abuse of power and control by man is rooted in the patriarchal premise of male privilege.
Hence, domestic violence against women can be seen as resulting from inequalities between men and women rooted in patriarchy that encourages men to believe they are entitled to power and control over women.
It is important to keep in mind that the main cause of domestic violence against women is abuse of power and control. All the other factors can be seen as aggravating ones such as:
Intervention of in-laws: In Mauritius there are not only nuclear and extended families but also a hybrid family type where husband, wife and children live in a family unit on the same plot of land as the in-laws. This proximity often exacerbates the competition between the mother in law and daughter in law and also encourages the intervention of in-laws in the couple's relationships
There are many common held beliefs, misconceptions and misinformation about domestic violence against women. These myths deeply influence how victims-survivors are perceived by society, peoples' reaction to instances of domestic violence and victims-survivors encounters with the general public. If we do not understand the reality of domestic violence, we will never be able to promote a zero-tolerance culture against domestic violence. Some of the common myths are:
• Are you afraid of your partner?
• Do you feel that your partner tries to control every aspects of your life by being authoritative?
• Does your partner often have mood swings and outbursts of anger?
• Is your partner excessively jealous and possessive?
• Does your partner harm you physically or emotionally or sexually or in any other way?
• Does your partner threaten or coerce you?
• Does your partner constantly criticise you?
• Does your partner constantly check on you?
• Does your partner threaten to commit suicide or to harm you or your children and relatives if you leave him?
• Do you often worry about how your partner will react?
• Do you feel that your partner manipulates you?
• Do you feel emotionally numb or helpless or that your life is in danger?
• Do you feel excessive guilt and shame each time there is a dispute?
• Do you feel bad about yourself, fearful, guilty, lowly or defensive?
When you have identified the signs that you are in an abusive relationship and once you have said 'stop! no more' and that you have made up your mind to end this relationship, here are some guides of what to do:
• Get help from a close friend whom you trust or from specialists or S.O.S Femmes.
• If you are in danger, call the police or S.O.S Femmes which has a 24/7 hotline service
• If you have decided to leave the home, plan where you shall go for your own protection and that of your children. It should be a safe place where you can
receive assistance. If possible, take with you things that are of prime importance for you and your children and also, if possible, some money and important
documents such as your national identity card, birth and educational certificates, credit cards and other bank documents
• It is important that you protect yourself from your abuser
• Go to the police and make a formal statement that you are leaving the matrimonial home because of violence. Inform them whether you are taking your
children or not. You can also inform them that you will seek legal remedy for your problems and children
• If you do not know where to go, ask the police for information on shelters for battered women
• File for a protection order and any other legal order so as to make sure that you are protected from any future abuse. Take the threats seriously. Any breach
of the court order should be immediately reported to the police.
• If you have injuries and feel that you need medical help, ask the police for a Police Form 58 and attend hospital for treatment
• Once you have left the abusive relation and sought assistance and support the healing process can start and you can reconstruct your life in a safe and secure
place. Take time to rest, to mend the wounds and to think about what actions you want take
Most important, do not keep the silence, break the silence. Seek advice and help. Once you have made up your mind to leave the abusive relationship do not
hold back as you deserve respect, happiness and a decent, safe and secure life.
DEFINITION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
WHO ARE THE VICTIMS AND ABUSERS
FORMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE
CONSEQUENCES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
BARRIERS RESTRAINING VICTIMS FROM LEAVING
DYNAMICS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
MYTHS AND REALITY
SIGNS AND WHAT TO DO?
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