Some time back, the news and social media was flooded with an appalling video of a man beating his wife, who confronted him about his affair. His response? – That it is a personal matter, not a crime. This is just one incident amongst many where women are being subjected to abuse in their own homes. This situation has worsened due to the pandemic – cases have increased sharply as many people are trapped at home with their abuser, with no escape. Various countries have reported a massive spike in instances of domestic abuse, prompting the UN to describe it as a “shadow pandemic” alongside COVID-19.
Domestic violence has been an acute issue, not only in India but globally – it occurs irrespective of socio-economic status, culture, or social class. Further, it happens not just with women but even elderly or children. Its continued existence and serious impact, begs the question – Why is someone abusive towards their own family member?
- Need for power and control
Abusive relationships are more likely to occur when one person feels the need to dominate the other and be in control. Hence, when they feel threatened or not in charge, they tend to become abusive. Their attitude is usually of “If something is not right in my house, then I have to set them (the partner, child, or parent) straight”.
- Personal factors
Difficulties in regulating emotions, managing anger, developing trust, or in building healthy relationships are some factors that may cause a person to become abusive. Feelings of insecurity or fear of abandonment may add to it.
- Learned experiences
In many cases, domestic violence is learned through exposure – the perpetrator themself may have faced or witnessed it while growing up. Seeing a family member act abusively, they tend to imitate the same is their own relationships. The person might come to believe that it is the only way to resolve issues and maintain control. And if their being abusive gets them what they want, it further strengthens their behaviour.
Stereotyping of characters in films, objectification of women, glorification of violence and coercion, sexism, misogyny portrayed in the media also contribute to learning of such behaviours.
- Social factors
Social factors play an important role in shaping a person’s attitudes and beliefs. The traditional gender stereotypes consider dominance and aggression as “appropriate masculine behaviour” and view men as being “naturally superior” to women. Women too have been conditioned to accept male authority without resistance. Some people also believe that abuse would be justified under some circumstances; such as if the abuser is drunk or the victim does something “unacceptable”.
Even today there is a taboo around domestic violence. Victims who talk about it are often ostracized or blamed for “provoking” the abuser. There is a belief that domestic violence is a “private household matter” that shouldn’t be shared with outsiders. Breaking this taboo is necessary to empower and safeguard victims.
If a person already has abusive tendencies, they may be triggered by alcohol or drugs, major life changes or stressful events like job loss, loss of a loved one, illnesses, etc. But these reasons don’t excuse their actions – many people face similar situations without becoming abusive.
- Lack of consequences
Because many instances of domestic violence are not reported, abusers often go scot-free.
Often in an abusive relationship, the victims feel a sense of helplessness or resign to their fate. Lack of social/family support or financial dependence makes it difficult for them to leave. Without fear of retaliation and having the privacy of their homes gives the abuser confidence because there are no consequences for their actions.
No cause justifies domestic violence nor is it an excuse. They simply allow us to better understand why the perpetrator believes his behaviour to be justified. Keep in mind – Domestic abuse is a choice. The abuser must be held accountable and change their behaviour, rather than allow them to blame their actions on something else.