The many faces of domestic violence

The vulnerability and silence of our fellow sisters should be cause for concern.

Maria Kari June 23, 2013
The writer is a law student based in Canada and tweets at @mariakari1414

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report released this week, physical and sexual violence now affects a third of women worldwide. The consequences of this includes a myriad of health problems, including broken bones, bruises, pregnancy complications and depression, coupled with the harsh reality that many of these women may possibly spend their lifetimes in such relationships.

Last year, a host of high-profile rape cases in India helped shed the spotlight on the pandemic of sexual violence against women. Though we have a long way to go and much responsibility to bear, as a society, the immediate result has been incremental yet positive.

More recently, this week, the world was shocked by pictures of art collector husband Charles Saatchi publicly grabbing the throat of his celebrity wife, chef Nigella Lawson, in what he would shamelessly describe later on as a “playful tiff”.

Like everyone else who has seen these degrading photos, my first reaction was: where was everyone and why did no one intervene? After all, the couple was out in public, surrounded by many, as they lunched at their favourite restaurant where they have been photographed countless times.

Despite Lawson looking visibly upset in the presence of many onlookers, including customers, paparazzi and staff, who craned their necks and watched in shock, everyone seemed to be unable or unwilling to intervene or call for help.

Although Lawson has not yet filed a police report, once the pictures went viral, the police issued a caution to Saatchi (who accepted it because he did not want it “hanging” over them). The Community Safety Unit, which deals with hate crime and domestic violence in the UK, is also making inquiries.

While it is undeniably intimidating to intervene on an obviously private matter taking place between a powerful celebrity couple, the fear on her face and the tears in her eyes — as pictures also show — coupled with her silence since that day, are unsettling.

No doubt, stories of celebrity domestic abuse have been instructive in raising awareness and breaking societal taboos. In 2009, Rihanna’s assault by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown, which left her battered and bruised, brought the realities of dating violence to the forefront, making the songstress an unintentional example for many women worldwide.

But why is it that we, as a society, only really sit up in shock and are outraged when one of the following happens: a woman is treated excessively brutally and left for dead or when photos of a rich, famous and beautiful woman under assault are exposed?

As co-author of the WHO report, Claudi Garcia-Moreno, states (speaking in context of the brutal gang rape in New Delhi), “these kinds of cases raise awareness, which is important, [but] at the same time, we must remember there are hundreds of women every day, who are being raped on the streets and in their homes, but that doesn’t make the headlines”.

If the WHO report is anything to go by, then 25 per cent of women worldwide are currently trapped in abusive relationships. And unlike the Nigella Lawsons and the Rihannas of the world, many of these women wouldn’t have the financial means to support themselves, or the freedom to walk away should they decide to do so.

Regardless of whether it is an isolated incident or a repeated offence and regardless of the degree, amount and frequency of abuse being inflicted on the victim, the vulnerability and the silence of our fellow sisters should be enough cause for concern.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2013.

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Babar | 10 years ago | Reply

Guess what? If 25 % women are in abusive relationship then my guess is that percentage of men in abusive relationship should also be close to 25. Why no voice for them?

Manoj Joshi India | 10 years ago | Reply

With the advancement of civilisation and cultures; that are varied and diverse across the globe; there has evolved among humans a system of family and community living. Community living the smallest unit of which is the family that consists of parents and children; besides joint families that are still prevalent in South Asia; to society wherein different families coexist in harmony is what community living is all about. This is the gist of living together. Parents in the family consist of two persons who are accepted by society as man and wife and their progeny carry forward the family which continues to be an on going process. Women who during their life span play various roles beginning from the daughter of the family to a sister followed by the female spouse or wife, a mother, mother-in-law and finally a grandmother. This is the normal happening in life cycle of any human female. However the status of a woman has unfortunately never been perceived in parity with a man. No doubt biologically a female is weaker in strength when compared to a male of the same specie nevertheless in human society women remained secondary with regard to status within a family or for that matter even society. Although this is not a very pleasant fact but happens to be the bitter truth. Women are considered as physical objects more as objects for pleasure and physical enjoyment by the man of the family which despite the spread of education remains deeply ingrained in the human mind. A women who enjoys an almost equal status in any family is seen as female dominance and the man of the house is treated as a henpecked spouse. Within society women while passing through the various stages of life is expected to compromise more at every point which is many a times unjust but this compromise is what is perceived as a part of female virtue. Violence towards women has been an evil within society wherein modesty having been outraged of a woman is just one of them for there are cases of sexual harassment within the four walls of the house and at workplace that a woman faces and besides eve teasing of being groped at public places. These are forms of violence some of which are physical while other hurt the self esteem of a woman. The basic thought towards women by men unfortunately remains unchanged and they continue to treat women as products of use. Thus justification given by analysts and intellectuals is that man is a polygamous creature like any other male of the mammal species hence his approach towards women is bound to be more physical. This is what moots a point of debate as to how this problem can be resolved or solved amicable? Has monogamy been the cause? Should polygamy as had been the norm of society during the medieval times the remedy that can check rapes, sexual harassment and molestation of women? The answers are not as simple as they may seem for any debate in this regard has seldom proved to be conclusive. There is however a point that needs to be driven whether by enlightening the people or men else by coercive action of the law that women should be given the desired status within society that is at par with men. The biological constraints should not be the factors that should undermine the status of any woman in a family or society.

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