Domestic violence is an issue, which affects millions of people worldwide. Despite the common misconceptions, any individual can become a victim of intimate partner abuse. No matter the age, gender, socio-economic status, or religion, each person is at risk of entering a relationship filled with mental, physical, economic, or verbal abuse. Despite that, there are numerous factors associated with domestic abuse as well as high risk groups, which include women, teenagers with mental health issues, people of color, and individuals with low-income backgrounds. Historically, domestic violence has been disregarded as a problem, which is either normal or not important enough to address.
With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain populations have become even more susceptible to abuse from their partners. This paper aims to examine the types, history, risk factors, and impact of domestic violence. Furthermore, the purpose of the work is to explore the most effective prevention and response strategies to address the crisis of intimate partner abuse in the modern environment.
Defining Domestic Violence
There are multiple definitions of domestic violence, which makes it harder to define whether someone is a victim of such actions. The United Nations refers to domestic violence as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner” (para. 1). This definition applies to such terms as domestic abuse and intimate partner violence as well. Such actions usually have physical, emotional, sexual, or mental consequences.
An abuser’s actions most often target their actions to frighten, shame, control, humiliate, and terrorize a victim. It is important to acknowledge that domestic violence is not an isolated phenomenon. It can and does happen to anyone no matter their age, sexual preference, gender identity, race, or faith. Despite the common misconceptions perpetuated by large media outlets and the Internet, people of different socio-economic classes and education levels become victims of abuse from an intimate partner. Furthermore, the stage of the relationship has little to do with the likelihood of encountering domestic violence.
Types of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse and implies numerous different types. The most common categories are physical, verbal, financial, and sexual abuse, with such behaviors as stalking and control often being differentiated from the rest (Dryden-Edwards para. 3). Controlling actions are the ones, which aim to maintain dominance over the victim through pervasive techniques. Examples would include monitoring calls and texts, choosing the clothes a partner is allowed to wear, or manipulating someone by threatening the well-being of their loved ones. Stalking implies the victim experiencing a course of conduct regularly, which causes them distress or fear of danger. This can refer to such unwanted actions as following, leaving items, waiting, or watching someone.
Physical, verbal, sexual, and financial types of abuse are all inter-connected and can often be seen happening simultaneously. Physical abuse is any kind of assault, including pushing, choking, shooting, or even murdering someone. Verbally abusive behaviors imply the use of words aimed at criticizing, belittling, or ridiculing. Dryden-Edwards defines sexual abuse as using “sex to control or demean the victim, like intimidating the victim into engaging in unsafe sex or sexual practices in which he or she does not want to participate” (para. 3). As for financial abuse, often referred to as economic as well, it implies an abuser’s deliberate restriction of a victim’s financial freedom.
Key Statistics and Facts
Unfortunately, domestic violence continues to be one of the most prominent issues in modern society. Some governments endorse abuse as they deny the proper legal protection to the vulnerable groups, including women, teens, and LGBT+ individuals. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 1 in 3 women “have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence or both” (para. 5). Based on the data gathered over the course of 18 years from 2000 to 2018, it is evident that 35% of the female population are, in fact, victims of violence (Yonfa et al. 13). In the United States, domestic violence directly affects almost 5% of the adult population, which accounts for 2 million women in the nation (Dryden-Edwards para. 4).
However, it would be wrong to assume that females are the only victims. Statistics demonstrate that 800,000 men are affected by domestic abuse as well (Dryden-Edwards para. 4). Research indicates that out of all the women nursery annually, 50% die as a result of intimate partner violence, with the number being 4-9% for men (Dryden-Edwards para. 4). Another key estimate crucial to acknowledge is that one fourth of the LGBT+ community members is victims of intimate partner violence (Dryden-Edwards para. 4). Thus, queer individuals are at the same risk of becoming a victim of domestic abuse as women.
Teenagers are another vulnerable group, which seems to be affected by the issue of intimate partner violence at a disproportionate rate. Physical and mental dating abuse is a part of the relationships of as many as 20% of students in grades 7 through 12 (Dryden-Edwards para. 5). As a result, youth becomes more susceptible to substance abuse and suicidal behaviors. In addition, becoming a victim of intimate partner violence as a child makes the likelihood of experiencing domestic abuse as an adult much higher.
History of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is not a recent phenomenon and seems to be as timeless as the human history itself. Sexual assault is by definition a means of demoralizing and demeaning a group of people, which has been used regularly during wars, occupations, and colonization. The prime examples are the horrific actions witnessed in Nazi concentration camps or on American slave plantations. In the 16th century, English common laws allowed husbands to beat their wives to make them behave or correct their mistakes (Orloff and Feldman para. 2). The 19th century saw some changes as Queen Elizabeth assumes the throne.
For example, it was no longer allowed to sell wives or daughters into prostitution (Orloff and Feldman para. 4). The first state to criminalize wife beating was Alabama in 1871 (Orloff and Feldman para. 5). Historically, the vast majority of civilization regarded women as inferior to men, which would explain the popularity of such procedures as feet binding and female genital mutilation.
Even in 2021, girls are attacked on their way to school as education is deemed unnecessary to females in certain regions. Some societies promote “honor” killings of women who have become victims of rape as they are regarded as no longer worthy of living (Warraich para. 4). Thus, while domestic violence certainly affects men as well, women have historically been the primary victims. The assumption that women are somehow second-class citizens only contributed to their mistreatment and abuse.
Factors Associated with Domestic Violence
Domestic violence does not exist as a separate phenomenon in modern society. Certain factors existing at individual, family, and community levels make the risk of intimate partner abuse either higher or lower. Some of these factors are related to an abuser, while some apply specifically to a victim. WHO reports that common risk factors include lower educational levels, harmful community norms, excessive alcohol use, substance abuse, as well as being a witness to family violence (para. 10). For instance, a recent Swedish study reveals that men suffering from alcoholism are six times more likely to abuse their partner (Yu et al. 7).
Furthermore, it is more likely for a person to experience domestic abuse if their spouse or partner has an antisocial personality disorder. If the society has a lower level of gender equity, which leads to sexism, domestic violence is more likely to occur as well.
The aforementioned factors fit the profile for both intimate partner and sexual violence. However, certain aspects are specific to domestic violence, in particular. For instance, marital dissatisfaction, issues in communication between spouses, as well as prior exposure to violent behaviors make the risk of domestic abuse much higher (WHO para. 11). It is crucial to differentiate sexual abuse from any other type of domestic violence. Even in terms of risk factors, there are some, which are specific to this category of abuse. They include “beliefs in family honour and sexual purity, ideologies of male sexual entitlement, and weak legal sanctions for sexual violence” (WHO para. 12). Therefore, it is apparent that the root cause of domestic abuse directed towards the most affected group, women, is the existing cultural norms, which perpetuate gender inequality.
When it comes to research, scientists emphasize that certain groups are more vulnerable than others. Apart from education levels and social-economic backgrounds, there are numerous details, which could potentially be used to predict the likelihood of a person becoming a victim or a perpetrator of domestic violence. Dryden-Edwards argues that women are more likely to report intimate partner abuse if the person they are in a relationship with his more conservative religious beliefs than theirs (para. 11). Research indicates that the same is true for women who grew up in families directly affected by domestic violence or substance abuse (Dryden-Edwards para. 11).
Teens suffering from mental conditions are also at a higher risk of entering an abusive relationship later in life (Dryden-Edwards para. 11). Thus, it is evident that it is crucial to recognize the prominence of certain societal and individual factors in the context of domestic violence. This could help to potentially identify the most vulnerable families and communities to integrate effective preventative solutions for the ones who truly need them.
Impact of Domestic Violence
It is crucial to recognize that domestic violence can have detrimental health consequences to victims’ mental, physical, and sexual well-being. These effects can them transfer to the children of victims as well. Intimate partner abuse can have a fatal outcome, either a homicide or a suicide. It can result in injuries, headaches, and restrictions in mobility. Domestic violence leads to unwanted abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortions.
Female victims are twice as likely to decide to conduct an abortion (WHO para. 14). Moreover, the 2013 WHO research demonstrated that “women who had been physically or sexually abused were 1.5 times more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection and, in some regions, HIV” (para. 14). The likelihood of miscarriages and birth complications is higher for intimate partner abuse as well. The aforementioned 2013 study revealed that female victims of domestic abuse were 16% more likely to experience a miscarriage and around 40% more likely to give birth prematurely (WHO para. 14). Thus, it is apparent that the impact of intimate partner abuse on victims’ physical and reproductive health is serious and complex.
In regards to mental health, the effects of domestic violence are well-recorded as well. Intimate partner abuse often results in depression, insomnia, anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress, and other mental conditions (WHO para. 14). It leads to suicidal thoughts and attempts as a consequence of emotional stress. A study found that “low-income postpartum women in Brazil who experienced IPV [intimate partner violence] are at a greater risk of presenting suicidal ideation” (Yonfa et al. 13). Another study in Nicaragua revealed that women were more likely to attempt taking their own life if they had been subjected to domestic abuse (Yonfa et al. 13).
Sexual violence, in particular, can be a cause for substance abuse, obsessive behaviors, addictions, and eating disorders (WHO para. 14). Therefore, there is a distinct correlation between intimate partner abuse and mental health problems. Domestic violence directly leads to the development of mental health disorders, which makes the prevention of and response to the problem much more urgent.
Growing up in an environment affected by domestic violence has an impact on a child. Children may suffer from mental disorders and emotional distress. This can lead to them experiencing abuse later in life. WHO reports that “intimate partner violence has also been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity” (para. 15). Witnessing domestic abuse as a child and becoming a victim of intimate partner violence are highly correlated, according to Yonfa et al. (12). Furthermore, research indicates that women experiencing physical or sexual abuse at an early age have a higher likelihood of becoming an intimate partner violence victim (Yonfa et al. 13). Therefore, it is apparent that exposing children to domestic violence can have a multitude of short- and long-term negative effects.
As for the impact of domestic violence in the economy, the ripples of intimate partner abuse can create significant ripples throughout society. Victims of domestic abuse face isolation and loss of any capabilities to adequately care for themselves or their children. Moreover, they often do not have the proper employment opportunities, which results in the loss of wages. Studies suggest that “between 25%-50% of homeless families have lost their homes as a result of intimate partner violence” (Dryden-Edwards para. 9). The health care burden and the loss of work productivity as a result of domestic abuse amount to almost $6 billion annually (Dryden-Edwards para. 9).
Victims of intimate partner violence are often less likely to receive property or health insurances, which is a definitive form of discrimination. It could be argued that the trouble those victimized have in raising their children leads to long-term economic and societal issues as well.
Prevention and Response
Apart from raising awareness about the issue of domestic violence, specific actions can be taken to prevent its occurrence in society. First, encouraging a strong support system is associated with lower risk of becoming either an abuser or a victim of intimate partner violence (Dryden-Edwards para. 21). Thus, people who have a sense of community are less likely to endure abuse from family. Dryden-Edwards argues that preventative measures for domestic violence include “providing economic opportunity, mentors, safety advocates (…); organized community programs (…) and a school environment that promotes prevention of abusiveness” (para. 21).
Any individual can find a way to contribute to solving the domestic violence crisis either by making a donation or dedicating time to an organization specializing in assisting victims or raising awareness. Parents can teach their kids about the horrors of abuse and the wonders of healthy relationship dynamics. Activism entails boycotting the books or movies that romanticize intimate partner abuse, creating social media campaigns, or supporting the appropriate legislation. In addition, domestic violence survivors can share their stories to reach out to those suffering and encourage them to report their abuser.
The most essential part of the prevention and response process is the legal system and federal law. Although the United States has numerous regulations regarding domestic abuse such as the Violence Against Women Act and the Federal Gun Control Act, the grey area is stalking (Dryden-Edwards para. 17). Stalking, and cyber-stalking in particular, is hard to define. This is why it is often not considered a substantial threat to press charges. Another crucial aspect is mandatory reporting by teachers, healthcare professionals, and social workers.
Survival Stories: Cases of Women during the COVID-19 Pandemic
For millions of women globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented two types of threats. First, there was the fear of getting infected with a deadly virus. Second, they were now confined in their homes with violent husbands or boyfriends. The Washington Post notes that “the closure of schools and day-care centers means that teachers and social workers have been unable to identify and report abuse” (Faiola and Herrero para. 8). Mandatory quarantine and social distancing measures led to the overall increase in the cases of domestic violence, according to the publication.
The stories of victims during the pandemic are truly horrifying. Sandly, a Venezuelan school principal, has thought that the beatings from her husbands were in the past as he had not struck her in five years. The road to change took a turn after Sandly got sick with COVID-19 and her husband had to take care of their granddaughter. As resentment from her partner grew, she started to endure verbal, and then, physical abuse, with threats to kill her (Faiola and Herrero). Zoila, a 24-year-old pregnant woman from El Salvador, shares that her boyfriend “grabbed her by the throat, slammed her against the wall and attempted to rape her” (Faiola and Herrero para. 4). The surge in violence is associated with mandatory isolation and economic hardships related to the crisis initiated by the global pandemic.
Domestic violence is an issue as grand in scale as it is in impact. Millions of men and women are stuck in a cycle of mental, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Historically, the problem of intimate partner abuse was disregarded as something normal and even necessary. Despite that, modern society aims to prevent and efficiently respond to the issue utilizing both non-governmental agencies and legal regulations. The COVID-19 pandemic has made many individuals around the world more vulnerable to domestic abuse, which is why it is crucial to continue to raise public awareness and take legal action to stop violence.
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