How To Stop Stigma Surrounding Domestic Violence

Edith Mecha

Victim blaming, shaming and stigma, where domestic violence is concerned, is dangerous.

Domestic violence is a global pandemic that continues to evoke devastating impact on survivors, their families and society at large. One in three women will go through it in their lifetime. The numbers could increase in times of crisis like the current COVID-19 . Data from the WHO shows that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Globally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner, while as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.

In most cases, the burden of responsibility is shelved on the victim with the most common questions and comments being “what did you do to make him angry, men will be men!, you asked for it, if they are abusing you, why don’t you just leave”.

Such questions tend to denote that the abuse “isn’t that serious”, “it’s a small thing”, and “it’s the victim’s fault that they are being abused”. They make the abuse and violence that the victim is enduring to appear as a simple thing while justifying the perpetrators’ actions and behavior.

Victim blaming, shaming and stigma, where domestic violence is concerned, is dangerous. Sometimes people blame victims out of lack of knowledge about abuse and so one presumes they are invulnerable. Sadly, this is what is happening in society. These attitudes make it difficult for victims to report the abuse and reach out for help. They also reinforce the abuser’s philosophy that it is the victim’s fault that the abuse is happening. By engaging in stigma and victim blaming, society gives power to perpetrators and weakens accountability and fair justice processes.

Domestic violence is about power and control. The control is always there from the honeymoon stage of the relationship, but most victims realize it later, especially when physical abuse checks in. The abuser makes use of a pattern of behaviors and tactics to control and maintain power over their partner. Some tactics involve physical abuse and others do not.

Cycle of Abuse: Jill Cory & Karen McAndless-Davis

Isolation is one of the powerful toolkits used by the abuser to gain control over the victim and the relationship. Abusers will often criticize family and friends to the point where the victim will self-isolate just to avoid unnecessary fights. As a result, they weaken the partner’s support network making it easier to escalate the abuse.

Physical intimidation is another method. It does not have to be directed to the victim but could include punching walls, destroying treasured objects in the house, or being cruel to the victim’s pets. It is used to intimidate and cause fear making the victim powerless.

Triangulation is another tactic where a partner brings someone else into the situation to gain an advantage. This third person could be a person the victim could have gone to for help. They manipulate this third party till they take their side. The aim of this tactic is to weaken the bond between the victim and the person that may be able to help them.

Another tactic is gaslighting, which Healthline defines as manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, judgement, sanity, memories, and the events occurring around them. This involves:

  • The abuser denying what they said or did;
  • Telling you that people are talking behind your back;
  • Trivializing how you feel;
  • Hiding objects from you; and then deny knowing anything about it.

Unfortunately, most victims of domestic violence don’t know they are going through abuse until it’s too late because they don’t always recognise the signs that aren’t there. According to them abuse is when there is physical hurt.

Domestic violence occurs in many forms with psychological abuse being the foundation of all other types of abuse. However, in all forms the underlying factor is to gain control over the other person. A perpetrator will use all means to mould and manipulate their partner into someone they can easily control-from what they wear, whom they associate with, to who they speak to.

A perpetrator will use all means to mould and manipulate their partner into someone they can easily control-from what they wear, whom they associate with, to who they speak to.

One fact about gender-based violence is that it knows no age, education, race, social or economic backgrounds.

It is, therefore, crucial for everyone to learn about gender-based violence: the cycle of abuse and the early warning signs. This is the best way to spot it, stop it and support others. In addition, it will help victims comprehend what is happening, know it is unhealthy and that they are not to blame or crazy, despite what their abuser might have told them.

The fight against violence against women and girls will also require a community-based, continuous approach, and sustained engagement with multiple stakeholders. For good results, initiatives should address underlying risk factors for violence, including gender inequalities and social norms regarding gender roles and the normalization of violence.

If you are experiencing violence at home, you can call the National hotline in your country for help. Check out more resources here.

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