I started this morning by reading a BBC story on a woman in Iran named Maryam (name has been changed obviously) who has been running a podcast for sufferers of domestic violence. She encourages women to become Shehrezade of One Thousand and One Nights and tell their own stories. The article enunciates the tradition of silence in Iran that has turned Domestic abuse into an Endemic. Linked to this article was the story of a vlogger from China who has stirred up the Domestic Violence debate in her country by sharing a video of her boyfriend dragging her out of the lift by her feet. The BBC in this article called it an Epidemic. Every time one clicks on one of these articles more suggested reads come up from other countries. Yet each instance is explained with localised words like Endemic and Epidemic.
The phenomenon meanwhile is of Pandemic proportions, no country is without its instances and each has fatalities to claim. Despite the much-discussed detrimental impact of Covid-19 lockdown on domestic abuse victims we are still missing an entire facet of this Pandemic. A Pandemic in its own right, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) has been around for much longer than Covid and is equally devastating. Reflecting upon this I got to thinking about the themes that emerge when IPV is written or talked about:
Localisation and Cultural Association
Every time a story of abuse is written or talked about the narrator feels obligated to provide an insight into the culture the abuser and the victim belonged to. Wonder why? Why do we feel it necessary to explain how people of such and such place see domestic abuse? Why did the BBC article feel the need to explain that in Iran it is hidden owing to the belief “a woman enters a man’s house in a white dress and only leaves in a white shroud” that women will endure abuse behind closed doors?
Perhaps it’s a way for the narrator to assuage the awful feeling in their gut whilst speaking of the unspeakable. Perhaps because we don’t know where to begin to effect change so whilst we figure that out we attempt to explain it away.
Not just a Marital Issue
For years abuse has predominantly been attributed to heterosexual marital relationships. When we did hear instances of it occurring in unmarried couples, homosexual couples, teenagers etc it was immediately put down to poor lifestyle choices occasioning so much victim shaming that people suffering these circumstances rarely ever spoke up. Mercifully at least in western societies abuse regardless of marriage is being recognised. There is an effort to understand that IPV can be perpetrated by any gender, any age group and in any relationship.
The acknowledgement however is lacking in action. Active work is required in societies that frown upon dating to look beyond the circumstance and focus on the crime. To dismantle the shame, to move focus away from why the victim was intimately involved with the perpetrator, any form of why needs to be done away with. The only why that matters is why did the perpetrator think they have the right to violate the dignity of someone they are intimately associated with. The only why that matters is why did those suffering these indignities ask for help when they did and not sooner.
US NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) statistics claim that 20 people are victims of IPV in the US every minute and IPV hotlines nationwide receive 20,000 phone calls a day. NCADV statistics account for physical abuse, economic abuse, psychological abuse and stalking. What of unreported numbers? The ones who pick up the phone but never make the call, the ones who hide the scars, try to put their mind to other things and to carry on regardless.
We need only look at cultural practices and microaggressions to estimate how big the unreported numbers might be. The average reported cases in the US are 33% against women and 20% in men. Whether the numbers may be higher or lower elsewhere the point remains unreported numbers are the biggest threat to advancement. Unreported numbers cause a number of blind spots in public health. There remains no way to estimate potential crimes, mental health and child welfare issues. The terror of speaking up, the culture of shame, the tradition of silence all contribute to a problem plaguing a large population of this world getting swept under the carpet every day.
In conclusion, the discussion of the unknowns of the IPV Pandemic is critical because there are no survivors. There are present day and latter-day sufferers. Even after escaping the situation, the traumas may or may not lessen but irreversible damage is done on the self-esteem, confidence and the ability to speak up. It takes years of therapy and self-work to gradually accomplish the recovery. The idea of these musings was not to offer a solution but to highlight the hidden facet of this momentous issue. It is imperative that the unknown dimension is explored thoroughly and methods to identify the damage are identified before the solutions. There is immense strength in Knowledge which empowers effective change.