Problem

Anika has been married to Romesh for five years. They’re deeply in love – at least, that’s what Anika would say. They’re going to have their first baby in a few months. Everything is going great until Romesh loses his job. Then he starts to threaten Anika with violence. He’s never hurt her before, and Anika is sure he would never do it. But still, she’s uneasy. It feels silly to tell family and friends about a few unkind words Romesh says now and again, so she doesn’t. Yet she stays up all night, frightened of her husband lying next to her. She was excited when she first found out she was pregnant, but now she worries Romesh will hurt their child. 

Explanation

Romesh might not have hit Anika, and he might never, but the situation is still abusive. Domestic violence can take many forms, and it’s important to be able to identify them. The World Health Organization estimates that 30% of women worldwide have experienced some form of intimate partner violence. At its core, domestic violence occurs, and is allowed to occur, around the world because of gender-inequitable communities, structures, and institutions. 

Definition of Intimate Partner and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is any form of aggression performed by a family or household member to another. It usually includes intimate partner violence and can also include child or elder abuse in the home. Intimate partner violence refers to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, stalking, and controlling behaviors carried out by a current or former partner. Domestic abuse often elevates from threats and verbal and emotional abuse to physical and sexual violence, but all of these acts have serious consequences.

How It Works 

The most common instances of intimate partner violence involve women as victims and male partners as perpetrators. Domestic violence is widespread across the globe. It disproportionately affects those in poor and gender-inequitable communities. Domestic violence is often correlated with economic stress, low education level, and a history of perpetrating or experiencing violence.

Abuse has serious consequences. Sustained violence deteriorates a victim’s physical, emotional, and social health. An abuser’s aggressive, controlling behavior can destroy a victim’s ability to communicate, trust others, believe in themselves, and be independent. Children who grow up in families and households where domestic violence occurs are more likely to suffer mental health disorders and may be more likely to experience or perpetrate violence as adults. Constant belittlement, social isolation, and physical harm leave lasting scars on people.

While data on domestic violence, particularly against women, is more available now than it has been in the past, there is still a huge data gap. People don’t report for the same reasons they stay in these abusive situations. Few people are taught the signs of domestic abuse, so it’s hard to recognize when you’re suffering from it. Furthermore, acts of domestic violence often start small and escalate. By the time perpetrators commit more readily identifiable aggressions, victims have had plenty of practice excusing their actions.

Even if victims and survivors do know they’ve been abused, many don’t feel safe reporting – they fear making their situation worse. Their abusers could seek revenge, and the help they receive might be negligible. They might have grown financially or emotionally dependent on their abuser. Maybe they feel like no one will believe them or take the issue seriously. In essence, they feel trapped.

Why Care?

Over half of the world’s countries have laws against domestic violence, but few legal systems are effective in preventing and prosecuting domestic violence. Not all the laws are compliant with international standards, nor are they even regularly enforced. The civil and criminal legal systems therefore punish victims for seeking help and justice. These fields need significant reforms.

While the overarching goal must be stopping abuse and not placing a burden on victimized populations, empowering women and girls will help change the underlying systems that allow domestic violence to persist. Since a majority of victims are women, their rights need to be protected. This should include ensuring access to reproductive and sexual health services and information. Some legal approaches include strengthening women’s civil rights to property, child support, and child custody. Meanwhile, we need to prevent young boys and men from becoming abusers. Investing in poor communities and public education will make it less likely people experience the violence, economic stress, or drug and alcohol abuse that acts as a precursor to domestic violence. Additionally, we need to teach children about communication, feelings, and problem-solving methods. We need to attack the underlying causes of domestic violence while labeling any form of domestic violence as unacceptable.

The best way to help yourself and others who have experienced domestic violence is to learn about what it looks like and what resources in your community are available for support. Listen to and support survivors. Help advocate for them, maybe through organizations like the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, which supports survivors and holds perpetrators accountable for their actions. Abuse should never be commonplace, especially not in the home.

    Learn More

    1. Taub, Amanda. “A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 6 Apr. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html. 
    2. Goodmark, Leigh. “Stop Treating Domestic Violence Differently From Other Crimes.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 23 Jul. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/23/opinion/domestic-violence-criminal-justice-reform-too.html. 
    3. Snyder, Rachel Louise. “The Particular Cruelty of Domestic Violence.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 8 May 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/05/no-visible-bruises-domestic-violence/588631/. 
    4. Paul, Deanna. “U.N. finds the deadliest place for women is their home.” The Washington Post, The Washington Post Company, 26 Nov. 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/11/26/un-finds-deadliest-place-women-is-their-home/. 

    Think Further

    1. If you were compiling a report on how domestic violence limits economic and social productivity in a certain country, what measures or statistics would you try to find?
    2. Public health studies and research are very important in understanding the scope of a problem, allocating resources, and planning interventions. How might relevant studies and research be harder to perform here?
    3. Imagine you are planning a curriculum for students in a low-income country as part of an effort to prevent children from becoming victims and perpetrators of domestic violence in the future. What topics would you cover?

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