Aspects of Domestic Violence by Angela Caldin
I woke in the night not long ago and was listening half-asleep to the radio. Suddenly, I jolted wide awake when I heard the following frightening statistics: two women per week are killed by current or ex-partners, and one in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence of some degree in their lifetime. It is estimated that less than half of all incidents are reported to the police, but they still receive one domestic violence call every minute in the UK. There is no doubt that it is a huge problem in our society and that women and children suffer greatly because of it. I was horrified and puzzled by the statistics, wondering how what no doubt started as a loving relationship could develop and degrade into violence and abuse.
The charity Women’s Aid says that male abusers choose to behave violently to get what they want and gain control. It adds that this behaviour often originates from a sense of entitlement derived from male privilege which operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children. Domestic violence by men against women can therefore be seen as a consequence of historical inequalities between men and women which encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners. But I think there may be other factors: I once had a job in a magistrates’ court where I helped women victims of domestic violence write their statements in support of their application for non-molestation orders. Very often, in answer to the question about when the violence started, they would reply that it started during their first pregnancy or when the first child was born, indicating that some men could not cope with the threat to their unique place in the affections of the women. They reacted with immaturity and jealousy as if they were still little boys. The loss of their unique position led on to suspicion, distrust, extreme possessiveness and the need to control.
However, while doing some reading for this post, I found to my astonishment that many more men than I would have thought are victims of domestic violence and many are abused by women. The statistics show that 1 in 6 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and that every third victim of domestic violence is a man. 1 man dies every 3 weeks as a result of domestic violence and 9% of all reported violent crimes are domestic violence cases involving male victims. Because of factors such as shame and embarrassment, many men will not seek help to get out of the abusive relationship. Campaigners claim that men are often treated as ‘second-class victims’ and are not taken seriously by police. The media, official reports and government policy concentrate on the plight of women which is reflected in the provision of refuge places: 7,500 for females in England and Wales, but only 60 for men. It’s thought that official figures underestimate the true number of male victims because many men find it difficult to bring these incidents to the attention of the authorities; they are reluctant to say that they’ve been abused by female or by male partners, because it’s seen as unmanly and weak.
Why Don’t Women Leave
Women’s reasons for inaction are diverse. Whilst the risks involved in staying may be high, summoning up the courage to leave the relationship does not guarantee that the violence will stop. In fact, the period during which a woman is planning or making her exit, is often the most dangerous time for her and her children. Many women are frightened of the abuser, and rightly so. It’s common for perpetrators to threaten to harm or even kill their partners or children if the woman leaves, and many murders occur once a woman has found the courage to leave. Sometimes a woman may stay because she still cares for her partner and clings to the hope that he will change. Often she may have been convinced by him that what has happened is her fault. She may be scared of the future, not knowing where to go, worrying about money, and how she will support herself and the children. Sometimes she may feel too exhausted or unsure to make any decisions, suffering from low self-esteem. She may be isolated from family or friends or be prevented from leaving the home or reaching out for help. Frequently she may believe that it is better to stay for the sake of the children.
Causes of Domestic Violence
Again I ask myself where does the violence that leads to these intolerable situations come from? What impels a man or a woman to hurt the very person they are supposed to love and care for? There are many different theories as to the causes of domestic violence. These include psychological theories which take account of personality traits and mental characteristics of the perpetrator, as well as social theories which take account of external factors in the perpetrator’s environment, such as family structure and social learning. As with many occurrences in human experience, no single theory provides a satisfactory explanation.
There is growing concern about apparent intergenerational cycles of domestic violence. Research into the effects on children suggests that experiences throughout life influence an individual’s propensity to engage in family violence (either as a victim or as a perpetrator). People who observe their parents abusing each other, or who were themselves abused may incorporate abuse into their behaviour within relationships that they establish as adults.
Attitudes among Young People
Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, has warned that teenage girls between 16 and 19 are now the group most at risk of domestic violence, closely followed by girls aged 20-24, all victims of a new generation of abusers who are themselves in their teens and early twenties. Leading agencies in the domestic violence field, senior police officers and prosecutors believe the verbal intimidation, abuse and misogyny apparently treated as the norm in many school playgrounds are at the beginning of a spectrum of abuse suffered by girls and young women. ‘You have to look at that whole spectrum to try to tackle this,’ says Susie McDonald, director of Tender UK which works in schools. ‘At one end there is this kind of behaviour and at the other end you have the horror of two women being killed a week by a partner or ex-partner in this country.’
Starmer raised the question of whether violent male attitudes in music and film were part of the problem. It seems that young girls find it difficult to identify controlling, intimidating behaviour by a teenage boyfriend as abusive until it turns violent and then only a minority are able to find help. There are fears that many young people are falling through a gap in provision of domestic violence services, which are traditionally set up for adults. It appears that sexist attitudes where men treat women with contempt are worryingly prevalent in spite of the women’s movement and the push for equality. A new young generation are growing up in a climate of abuse which could well lead to violence as they move towards partnership and marriage.