February is the Domestic Violence Awareness Month Raising awareness of the long-term effects of emotional, psychological and physical abuse on individuals.
What is Domestic Violence
Domestic violence refers to any form of violence by an intimate partner or by other family members, regardless of the place where this violence takes place. Other terms that can be used are domestic abuse, spousal abuse, family violence and intimate partner violence (IPV), although they are not fully synonymous.
The terms domestic abuse and domestic violence are often considered to have the same meaning as intimate partner violence. Family violence is a broader term that may be used to include child abuse, elder abuse and other violent acts between family members. Domestic violence may take different forms, including physical or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and economic abuse. It should be noted that these separate categories often go hand in hand. Physical abuse may be slapping, beating, stabbing, strangling, burning, choking, threats with an object or weapon and even murder. According to UNICEF, some traditional practices harmful to women (such as female genital mutilation) are also to be considered physical abuse. Sexual abuse takes place when the victim is forced to unwanted sexual acts with the abuser or others through threats, intimidation or physical force.
Psychological abuse, or behavior that is aimed at intimidating and persecuting a person, is also considered to be a form of domestic violence when it takes place in the family. Psychological abuse may take various forms. For example, the perpetrator may threaten the victim with abuse, abandonment, taking away the custody of the children. This type of domestic violence also includes confinement to the home, surveillance, destruction of objects, isolation, verbal aggression and constant humiliation.
One lesser-known form of domestic violence is economic abuse, in which the abuser controls and intimidates the victim by denying those funds, food or other basic needs, or by controlling the victim’s access to health care, education, employment.
Although the victims of domestic violence are often women and children and the perpetrators are mostly men, there are also cases of abuse against men by women. Domestic violence may take place in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, between current and former spouses, in unmarried couples living together or in dating relationships.
Domestic violence may have serious physical or psychological effects on the victim. One psychological effect that is often mentioned is the battered person syndrome. This has also been associated with post-traumatic stress disorder as victims of domestic violence are exposed to severe trauma and they may sometimes feel they are in danger even if they are not.
Because women are the main victims of domestic violence, a concept of battered woman syndrome (BWS) was developed by Dr. Lenore E. Walker. This term is used to describe the emotional state of a battered woman, or a woman that has experienced at least two complete battering cycles.
The Battered Woman Syndrome
(1984) Walker lists four main characteristics of the syndrome: the woman has the feeling that she is to blame for the violence, she is unable to place the blame elsewhere, the woman feels fear for her life or the lives of her children, and the victim has an image of the abuser as omnipresent and omniscient.
BWS serves as a basis for the so-called battered woman defence used in court cases to defend women who have murdered their abusers after having been exposed to physical or psychological violence.
Domestic violence is considered to be a widespread problem but it is also one of the most under-reported crimes, which makes it difficult to give a realistic estimate of the number of incidents. This fact may be due to the victim’s fear of the abuser, of judgment by the society or of inadequate reaction by the police. For example, in the United States before the 1980s, many men supported the idea that the woman belonged to her husband and he had the right to do whatever he wanted with her. This viewpoint was also reflected in the work of the police, which often undermined the importance of calls made by women to report domestic violence. However, several lawsuits against inadequate police protection have helped change the law toward better understanding of the problem with domestic violence and more adequate intervention by the police.
It’s February, and that means its Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The month that is set aside to raise awareness of the long-term effects of emotional, psychological and physical abuse on individuals.
However, we rarely look at the possibility that a man could be a victim of an abusive woman, even though highly respected studies like the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey demonstrate that about 50 percent of domestic violence should be classified as “mutual aggressor,” meaning “they both started it.” That survey was conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services Centres for Disease Control so it’s hardly a partisan study out to push an agenda.
Sometimes men are abusers, and sometimes not. Sometimes they have been abused and done the “manly thing” and let it go; they’ve been chivalrous and just taken the emotional abuse or the physical hits, “because it wasn’t that bad.”
The problem with this thinking is that domestic violence, no matter who the victim is, is like climbing a spiral staircase with each round of abuse getting more dangerous, more damaging and harder to escape. In the beginning, ignoring an over the top burst of anger at a parking attendant may seem like a little thing, until that anger is directed at you.
The non-aggressor is being groomed by the burst of anger, so that when it is eventually turned on them, they are already resigned to the fact that they will be the target of the anger. As the angry outbursts progress from verbal to throwing things, then slapping or punching, the increase in lethality is happening. Sometimes it results in mutual combat that turns deadly,
The issue of male victims of domestic violence gets little publicity, but when I speak to both men and women, each acknowledges that it happens and it happens in greater numbers than is generally recognized. Men don’t want to admit they are being abused – it’s an affront to their masculinity – but it does happen.
There’s no excuse for domestic violence, but there are explanations for behaviour and if we’re going to actually break the cycle of violence, it’s important to not only understand those causes but also treat them.
The cycle of abuse continues until we speak up about it. It happens too often. It is men dominating women. It’s women dominating men. It’s a parent dominating a child in inappropriate ways.
Think about this, where does an abusive man who grew up in a single parent household, (that’s mostly moms these days) learn how to abuse? If dad wasn’t around to abuse mom, where did the lesson come from?
Men and boys are often the victims of emotional and physical abuse. We need to recognize this and deal with it because until we do, we’re ignoring a large population of victims who need our help.
Violence against children, are Gambian children at risk?
How would we explain the violence against children in the Gambia?
The recent WHO definition of violence against girls.
“All forms of abuse (physical, mental, emotional, direct, indirect etc.) against girls under 18, schooled, or of school age.
Abuse can occur both at home (housework, punishment, physical abuse, rape sexual mutilation (FGM) and other traditional harmful abuse to the girls) ,and school( punishment, discrimination, physical and verbal abuse as well as on the street.
Also considered are cases of teenage pregnancy, sexual exhibitionism, indecent assault, HIV- infection following rape, early forced marriage, forced abortion, forced sexual mutilation, forced prostitution, forced labor.
The Gambia is not an exception if it comes to violence against children as the very recent case of rape that posed of deeply shocking news in Daily observer only a few days ago.
The newspaper report said: that a 20-year-old man raped a 5-year-old girl at Bakau area not far from The Point office. Having lived in the The Gambia long enough, this incident has not been the very first case of violent against children and it will not be the last too.
Violence against women is a reality in The Gambia as proven by the large number of cases documented (89 cases) since the inception of Action Aid media survey. These cases are said to be the tip of the iceberg.
Indeed, most cases of abuses do lead to complaints and all complaints are not covered by the media coverage. In addition there are reports exclusively on cases of rape and infanticide. However, other forms of violence such as female circumcision and early or forced marriage should have a better coverage in so far as girls are hard-hit.
Media survey by Action Aid: Violence against girls in schools in the Gambia from January, February, march 2010.
Type of Abuse and Site
The cases were predominantly cases pf sexual abuse:
- Eight (8) rape of minors including one case with kidnapping and another one with serious physical after-effects;
- Two cases of infanticide
- One case of indecent assault, and one attempted rape.
These violence acts took place in the following areas:
- At Kololi in the KSMD region; Nema Kunku; at Sukuta in the district of Kombo; in the municipalityof Kanifing; at Bundung.
The registered victims were minors aged zero to eight. The average age was 10 – 12 years.
Ten of the victims were of school age while the other two victims were new-born.
Ten cases of sexual abuse and two analytical articles were published in the Daily observer.
Type of Abuse and Site
The reported cases of abuse were exclusively cases with one leading to the victim’s being pregnant. They occurred at Bundung in the Municipality; at the Children’s SOS Village in Bakoteh; at Lamin Darang; at Palma Beach in Kotu; at Fajara (KSMD); at Bundung; at Tobacco Road (Banjul); in the village of Sukutain Kombo North District, and in the village of Sanyang (Kombo District).
The perpetrators were unknown to the victims. However, three recorded cases were perpetrated by the victim’s foster mother (Children’s SOS Village) who used to force the 13-year-old girl to watch pornographic movies and had a sexual relationship with her.
Violence is found in school, institutions (such as orphanages and other residential care). On the streets, in the workplaces and in prisons. Children experience violence against children leads to death every year, but most often the violence does not leave visible marks. Yet it is one of the most serious problems affecting children today.
Children may not feel able to report acts of violence for fear of retribution from their abuser. Violence pervades the societies where children grow up. They see it in the media. It is part of the economic, cultural and societal norms that make up the child’s environment. It has its roots in issues such as the power relations associated with gender, exclusion, absence of a primary care giver and societal norms that are not protective or respectful of children. Other factors include drugs, availability of firearms, alcohol abuse, unemployment, crime, impunity and culture of silence.
Violence can have severe implications on children’s development. In the severe cases, it can lead to injuries and even death. However, it can also affect children’s health, their ability to learn or even the willingness to go to school at all.
It can lead children to run away from home, exposing them to further life threatening risks. Violence also destroys children’s self-confidence and can undermine their ability to good parents in the future. Children subjected to violence have a heightened risk of depression and suicide in later life.
The Child Protection Alliance (CPA) Representative in The Gambia, which supported by UNICEF emphasized in a workshop on sensitization on “violence against children in the Gambia” sharing the main finding and recommendations of the United Nations on this important issue in The Gambia on 20 March 2009.
According to the CPA the global study examines the nature, scope of violence against children in the home and families, schools and educational settings, care and justice institutions, places of work and in the communities.