The article is written by Ansruta Debnath, a law student of National Law University Odisha. This article is a comprehensive guide for anyone interested to know what domestic violence is, its types, effects, causes, influences, key affected groups and unique challenges of domestic violence. Further, this article also includes how to report domestic violence in India and the important helpline numbers. 

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Introduction – what is domestic violence

Any sort of violence or abuse that occurs within the house, such as in a marriage or cohabitation, is known as domestic violence (also known as domestic abuse or family violence). Domestic violence and intimate partner violence are often used interchangeably. Intimate partner violence happens when one spouse in an intimate relationship acts aggressively against the other. It can happen in heterosexual or same-sex relationships, as well as in relationships between former spouses or partners. Aggression towards children, parents, and the elderly are included in the definition of domestic violence in its broadest sense. Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic, religious, reproductive, or sexual assault. From subtle persuasion to marital rape and other forms of violent physical assault, it can take various forms. Stoning, bride burning, honour killing, and dowry death are all examples of domestic homicide.

For both men and women, domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes in the world. Domestic abuse awareness, perception, description, and documentation vary greatly from country to country. Many people do not see themselves as abusers or victims since their experiences are viewed as out-of-control family conflicts.

There may be a cycle of abuse in abusive relationships, with tensions rising and an act of violence being done, followed by a period of reconciliation and peace. Isolation, power, and control, traumatic bonding with the abuser, cultural acceptability, lack of financial means, fear, and shame, or protecting children may keep victims imprisoned in domestic violence situations. Physical limitations, dysregulated aggressiveness, chronic health problems, mental illness, restricted resources, and a poor ability to form good relationships are all possible outcomes of abuse. Victims may suffer from significant psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Types of domestic violence

According to a report by UN Women, verbal abuse is the most common kind (50 per cent), followed by sexual harassment (40 per cent), physical abuse (36 per cent), denial of basic necessities (35 per cent), and denial of communication (35 per cent), (30 per cent). Seven out of ten women polled felt that violence against women is frequent in their neighbourhood.

Source:https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/feature-story/2021/11/covid-19-and-violence-against-women-what-the-data-tells-us 

Physical abuse

Domestic violence through physical abuse is the most recognised form of domestic violence. It involves physical hurt being caused to the victim. It can also include physical contact that is done to cause fear of injury, harm etc, to the victim. Physical violence is all about showing and asserting control. Other abusive behaviours, such as threats, intimidation, and restrictions on victim self-determination through isolation, manipulation, and other limitations of personal freedom can lead to physical violence. Physical abuse can also include denial of medical care, sleep deprivation, and forced drug or alcohol usage. It can also include inflicting physical violence on other people, such as children or pets, in order to harm the victim emotionally. Common types of physical abuse include punching, choking or strangulation, hitting, slapping etc. Forceful restraint or throwing objects and smashing walls during arguments also come under physical abuse. Physical abuse during pregnancy can negatively impact the woman and the foetus and cause long-lasting consequences.

Emotional or psychological abuse

Abuse need not always be physical. Emotional and psychological kinds of abuse have very little recognition in society, especially since mental health is hardly given importance. Even in the 21st century, people do not consider mental well-being as a crucial part of the overall well-being of the human body. The psychological consequences of domestic violence can be huge from absolute deprecation to self-worth to even the belief that a person deserves the violence. Emotionally berating the victim, persistent insults and humiliation all fall under this category. Former or present intimate partners are the most common perpetrators of stalking, which is a common kind of psychological intimidation. Victims often believe their spouse has complete control over them, which has a significant impact on the power dynamic in a relationship, elevating the perpetrator while disempowering the victim. Victims frequently suffer from depression, which puts them at risk for eating disorders, suicide, and drug and alcohol misuse. Because there is no physical proof of this kind of abuse, people do not consider this type of domestic violence worthy of attention.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is any sexual act, effort to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or approaches, or acts to traffic, or otherwise aimed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion. Inspections for virginity and female genital mutilation are also a method of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse happens when a person is verbally forced into consenting when they are unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, when they are unable to deny participation, or when they are unable to articulate their refusal to engage in the sexual act. This could be owing to immaturity, illness, disability, or being under the influence of alcohol or other substances, or it could be due to intimidation or pressure. Another type of sexual abuse is reproductive coercion. Forcing the victim to abort a pregnancy and refusing to use contraceptives are examples of sexual abuse.

Forcibly having sexual intercourse with one’s spouse without their consent is marital rape. However, marital rape is not a criminal act almost throughout the world including India. This is because women are considered the husband’s property after marriage with no personal and sexual autonomy and dignity. Currently, the Supreme Court of India is hearing petitions to criminalize marital rape. However, the petitions have been publicly opposed by certain groups of people who have stated that criminalising marital rape would lead to the “breakdown of marriage in India”. Such statements showcase the state of marriages in India today and necessitate criminalizing marital rape even more.

Financial abuse

Economic abuse (or monetary abuse) is a form of abuse where one spouse manipulates the other partner to get access to the latter’s economic resources. Marital assets are used as a way of asserting control. Economic abuse can also include stopping a spouse from resource acquisition, limiting what the sufferer might also use, or otherwise exploiting the monetary assets of the victim. Economic abuse diminishes the victim’s capability to assist themselves, increasing dependence on the wrongdoer. Further, there is reduced access to education, employment, career advancement, and asset acquisition. Economic abuse includes forcing or persuading a family member to sign documents, sell items, or amend a will.  The victim can be put on an allowance, for close monitoring of how much money is spent, stopping spending without the abuser’s consent etc. In marriages where the victim is completely financially dependent on their spouse, the problem gets aggravated as the victim has no option but to suffer.

A study on types of domestic violence in the European Union showed the following results:

Source: https://www.womensaid.ie/assets/files/pdf/eurobarometer.pdf 

Reasons behind domestic violence in India

In a National Family Health Survey, it was recently reported that Telangana led the way with 83.8 per cent of women thinking it is acceptable for men to abuse their wives, while Himachal Pradesh had the lowest percentage at 14.8%. Karnataka leads among men, with 81.9 per cent thinking such behaviour is permissible, compared to 14.2 per cent in Himachal Pradesh. The most common reason that was given to justify domestic violence was disrespect to in-laws, neglecting the house and children. “Being suspected of being unfaithful” got the least number of justifications for beating. Only women (21%) in Mizoram choose it as the main reason for physical abuse over the other two options.

Intergenerational violence

One thing that almost all abusers have in common is that they were victims of abuse as children. Understanding and breaking intergenerational abuse patterns could help reduce domestic violence even further. According to research, the more physically punished children are as adults, the more likely they are to act aggressively toward family members. Spanking and smacking youngsters predict a lack of internalisation of values like empathy, generosity, and temptation resistance, as well as greater antisocial behaviour, such as dating violence.

Biological and psychological theories

Psychological theories focus on the personality traits and the mental characteristics of the offender. Correlation has been found between juvenile delinquency and domestic violence in adulthood. Some theories suggest that psychopathology is a factor and that abuse experienced as a child leads some people to be more violent as adults. Studies have found a high incidence of psychopathology among domestic abusers. An evolutionary psychological explanation of domestic violence is that it represents male attempts to control female reproduction. Domestic abusers display higher than average mate retention behaviours, which are attempts to maintain their relationship with the partner.

Social theories

Social theories, which include rational choice theories, look at external aspects in the offender’s environment such as family structure, stress, and social learning. According to social learning theory, people learn through seeing and modelling other people’s behaviour. The behaviour is maintained by positive reinforcement. When aggressive behaviour is observed, it is more likely to be imitated. If there are no negative consequences (e.g., the victim submits to the violence), the conduct is likely to persist.

In 1971, William Goode proposed the resource theory. Women who are financially most reliant on their husband (e.g., homemakers/housewives, women with disabilities, unemployed women) and who are the major caregivers for their children believe that if they leave their marriage, they will face a greater financial burden. They have fewer options and resources to cope with or change their spouse’s behaviour because they are dependent.

When a person lives in a family, stress levels may be higher. Poverty-stricken families and couples are more prone to encounter domestic violence. Internalized homophobia has been connected to violence in same-sex partnerships. Internalised homophobia appears to be a stumbling block for victims seeking assistance.

Non-subordination theory

The non-subordination theory is a branch of feminist legal thought that focuses on the male-female power dichotomy. It has been stated that it is better suited to issues that primarily impact women. It also provides a foundation for comprehending domestic violence and the reasons for its occurrence. Domestic violence, according to non-subordination theory, is a kind of subordination. Domestic violence victims are frequently mistreated in a variety of ways, including looking for and destroying valuable items, as well as striking her in places where she would be embarrassed to exhibit bruises.

This school of thought mainly counteracts the popular notion that domestic violence occurs in a fit of rage. Because domestic violence is so widespread, it seems unfathomable that rage is the only contributing factor to persisting domestic violence. This theory is also criticised because it fails to give a solution to rectifying and preventing domestic violence.

Substance abuse

Domestic violence is frequently associated with alcohol misuse. Two-thirds of domestic abuse victims say alcohol is a part of their abuse. Moderate drinkers are more likely than light drinkers and abstainers to engage in intimate violence; nevertheless, heavy or binge drinkers are more likely to engage in the most chronic and serious types of aggressiveness. Alcohol consumption increases the likelihood, frequency, and severity of physical attacks. As a result of behavioural marital alcoholism treatment, violence lessens.

Patriarchy

The fundamental aspect that can facilitate domestic violence and ancillary to all the reasons mentioned above, especially against women is domestic violence. In the survey mentioned at the beginning of this section, it is important to note that both men and women thought it was justified to beat wives if they disrespected the in-laws or ‘neglected’ the house and children. These reasons especially the latter showcase the highly ingrained gender roles across everyone to such an extent that it can justify crimes like assault and battery, even by the victim of the same. Patriarchy, that perpetuates these gender roles is thus the root cause and reason of domestic violence.

Social influences on domestic violence

Domestic violence against women affects around 25% of women worldwide at some point in their lives. This does not even take into account the other categories of people affected by domestic violence.  A deeper understanding of the elements that influence public perceptions of domestic violence would add to the body of information about the social environment that encourage or discourage it. Public perceptions of domestic abuse have a significant impact on the social milieu in which the victims live. In some cases, a social milieu that accepts or even enables domestic violence contributes to the development of a climate of tolerance. This makes it simpler for abusers to continue their aggressive conduct while also making it harder for women to report abuse. The following diagram shows the structural framework within which domestic violence functions:

Source: How does domestic abuse differ in other cultures? | Next Chapter 

Cultural view

A majority of the people in various countries believe that wife-beating is justified in some circumstances. It occurs most frequently in cases of actual or alleged adultery by wives, as well as their ‘disobedience’ to a husband or partner. Extreme acts such as honour killings are legal in many jurisdictions. Victim blaming is a common occurrence almost everywhere through which the victims are taught that they deserve the violence because of their fault. “Provocative behaviour of women,” has also been shown as an acceptable cause of domestic violence.

The problem is continuously perpetuated by cultural conventions. For example, the tradition of not intervening in private family problems has led to a reluctance on the part of the government, the criminal justice system, and other systems to respond to domestic abuse, even after it became illegal. Domestic violence homicides-suicides are still portrayed in music and the media as “lover’s quarrels” and “crimes of passion” by jilted men who believe, “If I can’t have her, no one else will.” Domestic violence can be “romanticised,” allowing it to be ignored or explained away in a way that no other sort of assault and battery can.

It’s critical to recognise and respect the cultural traditions that victims carry with them. These expectations shape how they encounter what discourages them from seeking assistance from ‘outsiders’ or metropolitan programmes. People of colour may follow a code created through historical experience that teaches them not to trust “white” society and the institutional help structures it provides (e.g., the criminal justice system, the social service system and domestic violence programs). Elderly persons may have been conditioned to avoid discussing “personal” matters with outsiders, making them hesitant to participate in “self-help” programmes that require them to divulge abusive experiences. When people in same-sex relationships disclose domestic violence, they risk being labelled “evil” by society and being targets of hate crimes.

Religion

Religion and faith play a massive role in influencing domestic violence. While people find solace in their religion, the same can propagate dangerous ideals that can propagate the social and individual acceptance of domestic violence. For example, almost all faiths recognise the sanctity of marriage and accordingly, find it unfathomable that anything can lead to its breakdown. Thus, victims of domestic violence in marriages are made to believe that they should suffer in silence rather than risk the “wrath of God” by choosing to leave that marriage.

Abusers may exploit religious texts and principles to cause harm to the victim. This can be accomplished by using religious scriptures selectively or interpreting religious ideals to assert masculine entitlement and privilege or otherwise justify the abuse. This dynamic frequently presents itself in the abuser informing the survivor that they are not living up to their religion’s ideas of what a spouse should look like. Abusers from faiths that emphasise marriage may utilise the victim’s respect for a religious union to pressurise her to stay in the relationship to maintain the religious community’s respect. An abuser may also put pressure on a victim by teaching them about dating, sexual relationships, gender norms, or reproductive choices.

Despite these complications, faith and religion can play an important role in the healing process. Spirituality or belief in God was “a source of strength or comfort” for the majority of domestic abuse survivors, according to one study. After experiencing abuse, nearly half of survivors sought religious or spiritual treatment, according to another study. Many survivors find strength in their religious practices and engagement in their religious groups to escape and heal from abuse. Furthermore, research shows that religious participation improves psychological well-being and increases a survivor’s sense of social support.

Relation to forced and child marriage

A forced marriage occurs when one or both partners are married without their permission or consent. In many cultures (especially in South Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa), marriages are prearranged, often as soon as a girl is born; the idea of a girl going against her family’s wishes and choosing her future husband is not socially acceptable; there is no need to use threats or violence to force the marriage; the future bride will submit. Domestic violence is commonly related to forced and child marriages. These weddings are associated with violence, both spousal violence within the marriage and violence associated with the customs and traditions of these marriages: violence and trafficking related to the payment of dowry and bride price, honour killings for refusing to marry.

Ability to leave

The cultural and religious factors together contribute to the inability to leave. The social stigma concerning divorces is somehow far more than domestic violence. It is considered a far greater sin to dissolve a marriage than commit atrocious crimes on one’s spouse. All these impeded the victim’s inability to leave an abusive relationship. The social stigma involved also makes the victim’s family pressure the victim to not leave the marriage. Further, the victim’s financial capabilities also stop them from leaving, especially for the sake of their children. When the victim is financially dependent on their spouse, the former chooses to rather suffer in silence. In cases of women, they also do not have anywhere to go as women are given ‘away’ during marriages and their parental home is hardly considered as their home after marriage. The social stigma attached to women returning to their parent’s house after marriage also makes them reluctant to accept the victim.

COVID-19 and its effect on domestic violence

COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown brought in new challenges which highlighted the increased cases of domestic violence. A report by UN Women, an organisation dedicated to gender equality gave the following data-

  1. Although the figures vary by country and population, the pandemic has increased women’s experiences of violence and damaged their emotions of safety.
  2. During the epidemic, violence against women has had a substantial influence on women’s mental health.
  3. Women’s experiences of violence are heavily influenced by socioeconomic variables.
  4. When it comes to violence against women, age is no barrier.
  5. Women, particularly in cases of domestic violence, rarely seek outside assistance.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown isolated and extracted a huge emotional and psychological toll from everyone. Instances of domestic violence further exacerbated the mental consequences of the pandemic. Many women lost their jobs during the pandemic, further making them dependent on their abusive spouses. The stress of jobs itself triggered instances of abusive behaviour. 

Key groups that are affected by domestic violence

The most widespread nature of marriages being heterosexual and the continuous projection of women being the weaker sex, the largest group affected by domestic violence is women. According to the United Nations Population Fund, violence against women and girls is one of the most common human rights abuses in the world, with “one in three women experiencing physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.” Domestic violence occurs everywhere and across all cultures but socio-economic factors play important roles as key stressors that can trigger instances of domestic violence.

Unique challenges

Men

Domestic violence against men is hardly ever considered, something that is reflected in the fact that there are absolutely no surveys on the same. Yet, it cannot be denied that men may also be victims of domestic violence. But laws on domestic violence are mainly gender-biassed and focused on women. Even social recognition of domestic violence against men if done threatens to rupture the carefully crafted notions of toxic masculinity by patriarchy and thus is vehemently opposed by large sections of the society.

The LGBTQ+ community

Same-sex couples already receive so much discrimination and stigma against them for being homosexual. So, they find it hard to come out further on issues of domestic violence. Giving legal recognition to same-sex relations can somewhat ease the problem. In India, previously the same was not done. But after the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2018, some positive changes did happen. However, social acceptance of homosexuality has a long way to go. Laws also do not recognize transgender people who might be sufferers of domestic violence.

Elderly

The older generations are much proportionally more imbibed with cultural and religious beliefs that might lead them to suffer in silence than talking about domestic violence. 

Effects of domestic violence

After surviving physical, mental, and emotional abuse, survivors of domestic violence may endure long-term and difficult consequences. It might take a long time for a survivor to adjust to living in a safe environment, especially if the perpetrator was extremely violent and/or committed the crimes over a long period.

Health Issues

Apart from physical injury, other physical effects of domestic violence include chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle tension, involuntary shaking, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, sexual dysfunction and menstrual cycle and fertility issues (in women). 

Mental effects of domestic violence include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD- which include nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts), depression including prolonged sadness, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and attempts, alcohol and drug abuse. 

Emotional effects

Common emotional and spiritual effects of domestic violence include hopelessness, feeling unworthy, apprehensive and discouraged about the future, inability to trust, lack of motivation etc.

Financial Issues

Because of the victim’s economic abuse and isolation, they usually have very little money and few people to turn to for aid. This has been found to be one of the most difficult challenges for domestic violence victims to overcome, as well as the most powerful element that can deter them from leaving their abusers.

Victims of domestic abuse and violence frequently lack the financial resources and specialised skills needed to find work. One of the leading causes of homelessness is domestic abuse. One in every three women is homeless as a result of leaving a domestic violence relationship.

Effects on children

Children also are negatively impacted by domestic violence either when they are the victim of it or when they witness it. Certain effects on them include anxiety, depression, academic problems and fearfulness. Another major effect of witnessing or suffering from domestic violence is that children, being as impressionable as they are, feel they have the right to perpetuate the same as they become adults. Learning from their parents or family triggers a cycle of violation and abuse that can go on for generations.

Combating domestic violence

Combating domestic violence should have a two-pronged approach. First, prevention and other cure. Prevention involves fundamentally altering the mindset of people. But that is easier said than done. Norms that validate domestic violence are strongly rooted in cultural and religious beliefs, something that cannot be changed easily. If the mindset cannot be changed, at least the victims should be empowered with the ability to leave. We saw before how even the victims, mainly the women can whole-heartedly justify the fact that they were beaten. Thus, educating them enough so they can distinguish between what is a harmless belief and what is not and have the financial ability to take care of themselves and their dependents might ease this plague of domestic violence.

Legislations

With respect to cure, legislation aids. Legislations that provide relief to victims of domestic violence are found throughout the world. In India, the primary law on domestic violence is the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005. An aggrieved woman can seek relief under this act. Some important features of this Act are:

Definition of domestic violence

This Act defines, in Section 3, domestic violence in an extensive manner and includes physical, verbal or emotional, sexual, and economic abuse. Consequently, it provides redress for all the various types of abuses and is cognizant of the fact that domestic violence is not always limited to physical violence.

Institution of Protection Officers

The 2005 Domestic Violence Act created a post of Protection Officers. Section 8 says that these officers may be appointed by the State Government and should, as far as possible, be women. Their duties range from guiding a victim of domestic violence through redressal mechanisms as well as aiding them in gaining access to shelters or medical facilities. A Protection Officer may also present an application of litigation to the Magistrate on the aggrieved’s behalf.

Measures for relief

The Act talks about the ways in which Courts might be approached and the measures of relief provided. Section 17 guarantees the right to residence in the shared household. The Act also provides for temporary custody of a child. Further, the Courts are allowed to appoint welfare experts (Section 15) and counsellors (Section 14) for the aggrieved parties.

A decision is supposed to be rendered within 60 days. In a single case, there can be multiple judgments. Even if other litigation between the parties is pending, cases under the PWDV Act can be initiated. Both the petitioner and the respondent also have the option of appealing.

While Indian laws do not punish the act of domestic violence in general, any crime committed through it is punished under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. For example, Section 498A is on cruelty while Section 340B punishes dowry death. Concerning dowry death, India also has a separate statute called the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 which aims to prevent giving or receiving dowry.

Redressal mechanisms 

How to report

Domestic violence may be reported in the following ways-

  1. Seeking support and help from NGOs who will be able to guide the victim in legal recourse as well.
  2. At the police station. One can dial 100 or the NCW helpline (011 2694 4805).  
  3. A Protection Officer (PO) in the victim’s area can also be approached.

Helpline Numbers

  • Police – 100
  • Women’s helpline number – 181 or 1091
  • Domestic violence helpline number by the National Commission For Women – +91 7217735372
  • Single emergency helpline number for immediate assistance to services such as the police and women’s helpline – 112
  • The emergency number for transgender and men who have sex with men (MSM) community – 1800-2000-113

Conclusion

Domestic violence is of four types- physical, emotional, financial and sexual. Domestic violence can be caused by intergenerational violence, socio-economic issues, biological and psychological issues, and other social issues. However, the fundamental reason for domestic violence that contributes to the above-mentioned reasons is patriarchy. While women are the biggest sufferers of domestic violence, there can be various unique challenges that can come up with regards to the elderly population, the LGBTQ+ community and men. Thus, steps must be taken not only to combat domestic violence against not only women but every sufferer of the same, regardless of their gender and sexuality. 

References

  1. Types of Domestic Violence
  2. Effects of Domestic Violence | Joyful Heart Foundation
  3. How does domestic abuse differ in other cultures? | Next Chapter
  4. https://www.womensaid.ie/assets/files/pdf/eurobarometer.pdf 
  5. Domestic Violence and Faith – NNEDV
  6. Domestic violence – Wikipedia
  7. Is the husband justified in beating the wife? The survey has telling responses | India News, The Indian Express
  8. Domestic Violence And What You Can Do About It | MissMalini
  9. SOCIAL WELFARE DEPT | PROTECTION OF WOMEN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT, 2005

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