Among the disturbing facts which have come to light is that domestic violence frequently takes place in the presence of young children. Children play an important role in the whole scenario - the aggressor frequently uses them as a means of psychological blackmail, telling the victim that she would lose her children in a court battle.
Getting help and support for domestic violence
On the other hand it is the children who -in the end- give the victim the strength to act. When she decides that something needs to be done. Until that point they think that it is just a problem between their husband and themselves but once the children are threatened they usually take some kind of action. Another thing is that many adults think that if a child does not actually witness these incidents then everything is fine, but that is not true. Children are very perceptive and such an environment could affect them very badly.
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When they grow up they may behave like the aggressor or the victim because that's what they were exposed to in their childhood. So who are the aggressors in our midst? Mrs Zejdova says there are many misconceptions about both the aggressors and the victims:.
People think that the offender must be a terrible man with indecent behavior at first sight. They expect to be able to recognize whether a man is capable of this or not. But nothing could be further from the truth. It could be anyone. They come from all social spheres. There is no typical offender. And the same goes for the victim. People usually think that the victims are weak, dependent women but that's not true. It may, and does, happen to women with a university degree. It touches us all. For many years the attitude in this country has been to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the problem - due to a widespread belief that domestic violence is something that should be resolved in the family - but now the authorities and NGOs have joined forces to fight the problem together.
Last week the interior ministry, a number of parliament deputies and NGO representatives formed an alliance against domestic violence. In practice this means that they will be working closely together to train police officers, produce a new legislation to protect victims and provide an effective support network. Mrs Zejdova says that Czech law makers and the police need not look far for good ideas. Neighbouring Austria is said to have an excellent safety mechanism which it would not be difficult - or expensive - to emulate.
When the police arrives they decide whether the matter is serious and if they find it so then the offender is told that he must leave the flat and he is not allowed to return for a fortnight. This gives the victim time to decide what she wants to do. If - IF - the police comes to investigate the incident then the officers usually say "calm down and solve your problems -we don't want to interfere " and they leave.
That is the most common response.
They think that they are just hysterical women who are over-reacting. Another thing is that these are very unpopular cases at the police station. Domestic violence is committed in the family and it is usually just one person's word against the another's. So there's a problem with evidence, and assembling that is hard work. So the police don't want to have to deal with these cases and they usually don't treat the victims with much respect. There is also, obviously, fear, which is not included in the formal definition.
The next-most-common forms of intimate violence are uttering threats way down at 9 per cent and criminal harassment, or stalking at 7 per cent. The majority of men use their hands, rather than a weapon. Maybe assault feels more personal that way? Ontario has the lowest rate of family violence; Saskatchewan has the highest, after Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Domestic abuse seems to have been declining for decades. From to , the rate at which women were murdered by their intimate partners — a rate that is almost always reported, and indisputable — dropped 48 per cent.
The most commonly reported motives for killing a spouse are still jealousy, frustration, and despair, in that order. That decline has evened out in the past decade, and has been flat for the past few years. The rate of intimate-partner homicide against women actually rose 19 per cent between and More than 80, Canadian women are still abused every year, judging by police statistics alone, and we're not doing enough to stop it.
But those are numbers. Let me tell you about a woman I'll call Laura, a woman I met last fall. She was 20 when she met her husband. Again, this is her account; contacting him to corroborate it runs the risk of endangering her. She was on vacation in Prince Edward Island. He was 20 years older than she was, a schoolteacher, "a dream come true.
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He was secretive about money, wouldn't even let her get the groceries. That kept her in the house. He seemed almost paranoically insecure, but at first she figured she could change him: Then — like clockwork — came the name-calling and the mocking "telling me I was a piece of garbage" , the complaints about her cooking and her housework, the spitting in her face and the punching. He controlled what she ate almost always tuna fish. One night, he threw her out of the house down some stairs into a snowbank.
She repeatedly went to shelters, tried to leave half a dozen times, but by then he'd moved the family to Northern Ontario, where he hunted, and had a gun, and that was terrifying too. And then psychologically, he's been calling you names so much, you begin to wonder, 'Maybe he's right. Maybe I deserve this. Maybe if I'd done one more thing. One night, he left bruises on her stomach — he liked to punch her there, of all the tender places — so she went to the hospital.
She begged the nurses not to call the police, because if her husband were arrested and lost his job, how was she going to support the family? He even mocked her crying: He called her Zipper because of the sound her sniffling made. Any relationship, where you're having arguments and getting angry, that's normal. But when a person can't control their anger, when people are being called names on a daily basis, where they're being hurt on a daily basis, when there's sexual violence, it's not normal.
The worst of it was her fear. Because you never know how he's going to behave, whether you're going to sleep properly that night, whether your kids are going to be safe. Because it never stops. It never goes away. Last year, a decade after leaving him, was the first year she didn't feel afraid every single day.
If you ask her today why she thinks her husband hit her, she says, "I would believe he has some kind of anger-management problem, No. Because he was a drinker. Whether he has mental-health issues is questionable too, because what would cause someone to do that? And he may have grown up in an abusive situation that was happening in his own home. But, she says, why he hit her is beside the point: It doesn't matter what the cause is or what his issues are because it's very damaging to the kids and the spouse, and the pain lasts forever.
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There are no symbols involved. It's always him she's running from. Or let me tell you about Attiya Khan. At 16, she fell in love with a young man of They met before a concert, but the concert was cancelled, and they spent the day together. She fell for him on the spot, for his sense of humour and the way he looked. Two months later, they moved in together. Two weeks after that, he pushed her across the room. Soon he was beating her every day.
She's well dressed, articulate, friendly, enthusiastic. The violence got worse, and worse still. Gradually, by hitting her, he isolated her: She stopped seeing her friends, stopped talking to others in the hallway at school, stopped going to school because she had bruises, or because he wouldn't let her. Over the course of their two years together, he wasn't abusive to anyone else, but she was terrified he was going to kill her; and though she thought he might, she couldn't conceive of leaving him, the only person who loved her.
It was that kind of darkness. She believed she deserved the beatings, "because it happened a lot, and because a lot of people didn't intervene. My self-worth was non-existent. So that when he said things to cut me down" — that she was terrible, ugly, useless — "I believed him. His words were more painful than his blows. This is the cave of sex and love and intimacy, after all, where our secret selves live: There is no logic there.
It all stayed with her. Nearly 15 years later, when she became pregnant by another man, and learned she was carrying a boy, her first thought was: Unlike many women who are profoundly abused, both physically and sexually, by a man who claims he loves them, Ms. Khan managed to fight her way clear of her abuser, but that would take time, as we shall see.
She finds it slightly offensive to be asked her opinion of why her partner hit her: The question smells of blaming the victim. But she did once ask him why he was violent to her. He was also scared that if I left, he'd be completely alone. This is somewhere near the heart of the abuse dilemma: Try to solve that. But I think we also have this myth that intimate partners are supposed to have these beautiful, faithful relationships, that there are these beautiful, romantic spaces.
As if the causes of domestic abuse weren't thorny enough, our understanding of it has been clouded by inherited prejudices, sexual politics and academic infighting. Advocates organized battered-women's shelters, which became the first valuable source of information about intimate-partner abuse. The data were then used to lobby for the long-overdue criminalization of sexual and domestic abuse and later, sexual harassment, stalking, and other related crimes. That led, over the ensuing two decades, to the automatic laying of charges in domestic-abuse complaints, stricter jail sentences, the use of separation and restraining orders, forfeiture of parental rights, and other now-standard tools of criminal justice.
The data gathered at the shelters, however, was often challenged by sociologists who studied larger, less intensively urban populations. They questioned just how widespread domestic violence was, how violent it was, and who was committing it. The bitter arguments that emerged — about who is to blame for how much violence; and whether the justice system should favour punishment over rehabilitation, and which one best serves the abused — rage to this day. They are disputes with enormous implications for the safety of women, the custody and health of children, and what we do with men who abuse.
Michael Johnson, a now-famous and now-emeritus sociologist at Pennsylvania State University, was one of the first researchers to figure out why the battered-women's movement as it was then called and those sociologists were coming up with such different results. In the early s, he began to identify different strains of what he called "intimate terrorism. The three main ones were: Not only were all abusers not alike, Prof. Johnson discovered; they needed to be treated in different ways.
The worst offenders, he says, are the perpetrators of coercive controlling violence, who fall into two groups. The first are "basically anti-social intimate terrorists, sociopaths that are violent to their partners," Prof. And they do whatever they need to do to get whatever they want.
The other group comprises the "emotionally dependent intimate terrorist. These are men who are so insecure and desperate to hang onto their partner that they become violently controlling, to try to hang onto the relationship. The anti-socials are harder to get to. These are the men — and they're almost always men — who commit the most severe physical and emotional assaults on both women and children, who do so repetitively, whose violence escalates over time, who minimize and deny their abuses, who resort to confinement as well as battery, who are most likely to send their partners to shelters and leave them with lasting psychological damage.
Their relationships constitute between 2 and, at most, 4 per cent of couples. A far more common type of intimate-partner violence, Prof. Johnson discovered, is situational couple violence — fighting that escalates from an argument, but that isn't obsessed with control. Roughly one in eight American couples experience it in a given year. In poorer communities, where money is a steady stressor, the number is one in five. A third of Canadian couples experience some domestic violence over the course of their lifetimes, most of it situational couple violence. In about 40 per cent of those couples, at least according to some studies, such violence occurs only once.
About 20 per cent of situational couple violence — again according to some studies — ends up in court. And it can still escalate to homicide. Female victims of serious spousal violence are twice as likely as men to be injured, and seven times more likely to fear for their lives. The younger the couple, the more likely a situational clash is to happen.
A study at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that one in four newlywed husbands and one in three newlywed wives were physically aggressive, which in turn was a predictor of future marital strife. Situational couple violence is also the most "gender symmetric. About as many women as men escalate to violence," Prof. Johnson says, though he quickly adds that the impact of the violence is not symmetrical: A punch from a pound woman is rarely as severe as punch from a pound man.
Gender symmetry does not extend to coercive controlling violence: There, men are almost always the culprits. Fortunately, situational couple violence is situational, and often fixable: Some forms of couples therapy have lowered rates of such violence in up to 90 per cent of cases. In other words, the roots of domestic violence are complicated. So that's not the only explanation. You've got to ask, 'Why are some men going to the extremes of that tradition, to violence and other control tactics, to terrorize their partners? In George's family, they call it "having a fit" — blind bouts of rage, name-calling, breaking things.
George watched his father have fits all his life. Growing up in rural Southwestern Ontario, in a family of nine children, in a party-ridden house overseen by alcoholic, drug-addicted parents, the fits were a way of clearing space. His father wasn't always physically abusive: His screaming and yelling was pretty much daily.
You were always walking on eggshells that he might just explode, eh? You'd say or do something wrong, and he'd say, 'I'll cut off your fuckin' head and shit down your throat,' you know? We are sitting in a public library, chatting. It is 9 in the morning. George's name isn't really George. He's 57, short, stocky, bald. George's dad could turn on you in a flick, the way George would come to do. The fits lasted only half an hour, but he remembered them forever, the way kids remember things.
His father once threw a chair across the room while everyone was watching TV; no one could remember why. And it stuck in the wall. The legs of it, eh? One of us was going up to remove it, and Mum said, 'No, leave it there. As a constant reminder. George's mother had borne 10 children in 10 years one of them not his father's , and was addicted to painkillers. When a family friend burnt George's arms with his cigar, "my mum was right there watching the guy do it.
And it wasn't so much that he did it. The traumatic part for me was, my mum's not doing anything about it. Some days, George's father and mother would say, "We're just going to the grocery store," and would return four days later, blotto. I remember we had nothing to eat, so we'd just go pick dandelion greens, cook 'em up, stuff like that. She didn't leave a note.
As we're talking, she is dying in a hospice. George has flown 2, kilometres from Nova Scotia to say goodbye to her. Somehow she still draws him. Does it come as a surprise that George has been married 37 years? Or that for a lot of that time he has been unwilling to let his wife out of his psychological grip? He met her when she was 17 and he was He started yelling at her, losing his temper and having fits, the first year they were married.
He didn't hit her or the kids although he acknowledges there were disciplinary spankings but he punched walls and broke his hands. He would force her to pay attention. I just kicked it right off the stand. That's why she says she has no nice things any more. Because I broke 'em all. Just as he turned 45, George's sister discovered she had been sexually abused by an acquaintance, which in turn jogged George to remember that he had been, too.
A few years later, he was throttled by a co-worker. The combination of events dropped him into what he is certain was a bout of post-traumatic stress disorder: He became depressed, lost his temper incessantly, was suicidal. I'm gonna need professional help. He answered an ad for a mood-disorder study, was prescribed an anti-depressant, and is now seeing a therapist who specializes in domestic violence. He and his wife go to couples therapy. He has three tantrums a year, down from three a week.
He had a fit recently when he asked his wife to direct him while he backed up their vacation motor home, and she directed him not onto a set of concrete blocks, but up to the axles in mud. Now, when he feels a fit coming on, he divides his brain into two parts. One, the instinctual, frightened, fighting part, he calls Lizard Brain. The other, the rational, noble, controlled part, is Sir Galahad. I'm not making this up. Sir Galahad then tells Lizard Brain to back off. This works, most of the time. George can now assess his own behaviour from a distance. He is a better husband, but still not an ideal one.
Demanding that he should be is where the public conversation about domestic violence risks becoming toxic and oppressive — not just for those directly involved in abusive relationships but for anyone who wants to talk about abuse more honestly. The library is filling up with retirees who spend much of their days in the mall next door. I don't need their opinion. George stopped losing his temper when he understood that his wife's real or imagined disapproval was not the end of his world, when he freed himself from his own expectation of being the perfectly obeyed, and therefore perfect, husband.
You could say George has resisted patriarchal values, or that he has been a good candidate for therapy, or both. But George would never say any of that. What George says is, "We're one of the great loves of history. We're like Romeo and Juliet, like Cleopatra and Antony, you know? Jane Donovan is the year-old clinical supervisor at New Start Counselling in Dartmouth, where George and his wife have been for couples therapy.
Ninety per cent of the clients who walk into the clinic every year are men, half on court-mandated visits. All of them are angry about something. Donovan tells me late one afternoon in her office overlooking Halifax Harbour. It's not their sense of injustice that's wrong; it's how they respond that's wrong. And the patriarchy plays into that. Think of the messages men get starting when they're seven years old on the playground. It's a learned behaviour. But just because you have been abused doesn't mean you're going to be abusive. And it doesn't excuse it, either. Her sessions tend to follow a pattern.
Abuse is defined — the definition can include shouting. She asks the client to cop to what he's done. He accuses his partner of pushing his buttons. Donovan rhetorically asks the client what the woman needs to do to stop provoking the attacks. He has plenty of suggestions.
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Then she turns the tables: And what would you need to do in turn, sir? Can he admit the damage he has done, face his shame? She asks the man to build an alternative self, the man he could respect. All of this takes between 15 and 40 weeks. She sees many clients improve their behaviour. Not pushing as much? Therapy for abusers is often dismissed as pandering to abusers. But being able to talk about and treat abuse as a human failing, rather than as the spawn of the Prince of Darkness, has important consequences. Some research in the United States suggests that as many as 70 per cent of couples in which one of the partners has been charged with domestic violence end up staying together.
In many states, a woman who doesn't leave her abuser can have her children taken away. But that's a serious unintended consequence. If [the research] is true, then we're using a system that's premised on separating people, and not on providing them with the necessary tools to repair their relationships. My contention is that, between the state and the woman, I want the woman to make that determination. Joe and Maria are not their real names; they met on Plenty of Fish, the online dating site, a year ago December. He was 30, she was They texted for two weeks.
By February, they were living together with Maria's two girls on a military base in let's say Northern Ontario. It might have been a little precipitate, but these things happen. Early on, Maria noticed Joe was stricter than she was: That was when he started shouting. Joe had always had a temper — bullied as an immigrant, he'd become a fighter — but his behaviour quickly degenerated. He didn't hit Maria or her children, but he drank and threw things and kicked shoes left in a doorway, and put holes in walls.