According to the United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, the definition of domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence often occurs when the abuser believes that abuse is an entitlement, acceptable, justified, or unlikely to be reported. It may produce an intergenerational cycle of abuse in children and other family members, who may feel that such violence is acceptable or condoned.
Many people do not recognize themselves as abusers or victims because they may consider their experiences as family conflicts that got out of control. Awareness, perception, definition and documentation of domestic violence differs widely from country to country.
Types of Abuses recognised:
Many types of abuse are included in the definition of domestic violence:
- Physical abuse -Can include hitting, biting, slapping, battering, shoving, punching, pulling hair, burning, cutting, pinching, etc. (any type of violent behaviour inflicted on the victim). Physical abuse also includes denying someone medical treatment and forcing drug/alcohol use on someone.
- Sexual abuse– occurs when the abuser coerces or attempts to coerce the victim into having sexual contact or sexual behaviour without the victim’s consent. This often takes the form of marital rape, attacking sexual body parts, physical violence that is followed by forcing sex, sexually demeaning the victim, or even telling sexual jokes at the victim’s expense.
- Emotional abuse– Involves invalidating or deflating the victim’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. Emotional abuse often takes the form of constant criticism, name-calling, injuring the victim’s relationship with his/her children, or interfering with the victim’s abilities.
- Economic abuse-Takes place when the abuser makes or tries to make the victim financially reliant. Economic abusers often seek to maintain total control over financial resources, withhold the victims access to funds, or prohibit the victim from going to school or work.
- Psychological abuse– Involves the abuser invoking fear through intimidation; threatening to physically hurt himself/herself, the victim, children, the victim’s family or friends, or the pets; destruction of property; injuring the pets; isolating the victim from loved ones; and prohibiting the victim from going to school or work.
- Threats– To hit, injure, or use a weapon are a form of psychological abuse.
- Stalking– Can include following the victim, spying, watching, harassing, showing up at the victim’s home or work, sending gifts, collecting information, making phone calls, leaving written messages, or appearing at a person’s home or workplace. These acts individually are typically legal, but any of these behaviours done continuously results in a stalking crime.
- Cyberstalking– Refers to online action or repeated emailing that inflicts substantial emotional distress in the recipient.
Covid 19 : Not a lockdown for Domestic Violence
Incidents of domestic violence appear to be rising in the country during the COVID-19 lockdown, in line with reports suggesting that such cases have increased exponentially across the globe, in countries like China, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In India, the first signs of the problem were appeared in data provided by the National Commission of Women (NCW) in mid-April, which suggested an almost 100% increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.
In 25 days between March 23 and April 16, the NCW received 239 complaints, mainly through email and a dedicated WhatsApp number. This is almost double the number of complaints (123) received during the previous 25 days, from February 27 to March 22.
Activists believe that the statistics may not reveal the real extent of the problem, as women need space and time to reach out to helplines or authorities. They also point to the fact that the complaints received by NCW are through emails and WhatsApp to which a majority of Indian women who face trouble do not have easy access. Also, the NCW has not received any complaint through post during the lockdown.
The complaints the commission has got are from a certain section of society, who are “literate and upper class” and have access to technology, say activists. They highlight that it could be just a tip of the iceberg, as women from the underprivileged communities have no means to reach out.
Fuelled by mandatory stay-at-home rules, physical distancing, economic uncertainties, and anxieties caused by the pandemic, domestic violence has increased globally. Across the world, countries including China, United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, Tunisia, France, Australia, and others have reported cases of increased domestic violence and intimate partner violence. India, infamous for gender-based violence (and ranked the fourth worst country for gender equality, according to public perception), is showing similar trends.
Being trapped in a space with violent or manipulative individuals could lead to increased rates and intensity of threats, physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, humiliation, intimidation, and controlling behaviour. The ability to isolate a person from family and friends, monitor their movements, and restrict access to financial resources, employment opportunities, education, or medical care is heightened by a lockdown. These behaviors often have lasting effects on people, and can significantly affect mental health and well-being.
What could have been done, and what can we do going forward?
When governments start putting together plans to respond to crises such as COVID-19, addressing domestic violence must be prioritised. In India, the government seems to have overlooked the need to formally integrate domestic violence and mental health repercussions into the public health preparedness and emergency response plans against the pandemic.
We need an aggressive nationwide campaign to promote awareness about domestic violence, and highlight the various modes through which complaints can be filed. National news channels, radio channels, and social media platforms must be strategically used, similar to the way in which the government has deployed campaigns advocating for physical distancing and hand washing to combat COVID-19.
Citizens must be sensitised towards the increased risks of domestic violence, and bystanders and neighbours should be urged to intervene if they suspect abuse, using tactics such as the banging on the door or ringing the bell. They should also be provided the benefit of anonymity if they choose to report a case.
When people are unable to file complaints through messages, post, or calls, essential services such as hospitals, grocery stores, and medical stores must be urged to help people get necessary support and send their messages to the authorities if needed.
It is high time that we all start increasing awareness about such issues. It is very imperative that we hep the victims of such violence to come out and report it and increase the efficiency as well as the efficacy of the services of those authorities which have been formed and framed for the same reason as well as the purpose. Increasing awareness and helping to raise a voice against such issues will ultimately help India to become liberal and democratic in its true sense.
This article is edited by Rupreet Kaur Dhariwal.