Monday, April 02, 2007

He injures, she endures

THE child was just another dreamer who wanted to wring the nightmares that reeled off right in their home into something less repugnant. He would hear his mother sob, howl out in pain, break into some more sobbing as the husband had his way with her. Feeling afraid and helpless, the child would go back to sleep and pretend it was all a bad dream.

That dreamer grew up haunted by bad dreams about his mother’s sexual torture. He turned into a brutal rapist perpetrating multiple assaults, recounts maverick criminologist Dr. Lonnie H. Athens who journeyed into the depths of criminal minds and found out what it takes for any person to turn into a monster.

The same nightmares descend upon women throughout the world in their waking hours. The warmth of hell engulfs womankind in the comfort and safety of their homes. Or in more placid terms, women have to bear and rear children plus untold amounts of homespun brutality.

Indeed, a man’s home is his castle—torture chambers are aplenty.

"I suffered for a long time and swallowed all my pain. That’s why I am constantly visiting doctors and using medicines. No one should do this," groans a woman interviewed in Serbia and Montenegro.

"The beating was getting more and more severe… In the beginning it was confined to the house. Gradually, he stopped caring. He slapped me in front of others and continued to threaten me… Every time he beat me it was as if he was trying to test my endurance, to see how much I could take," confesses a 27 year-old university graduate from Thailand.

"My husband slaps me, has sex with me against my will and I have to conform. Before being interviewed I didn’t really think about this. I thought this is only natural. This is the way a husband behaves," confides a woman from Bangladesh.

The voices cry a collective anguish in a World Health Organization Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence. Specially trained teams gathered data from over 24,000 women from 15 sites in 10 countries representing diverse cultural settings. As notions about violence differ between individuals and communities, the WHO Study stuck to conservative definitions of violence.

Old-fashioned violence hews along these lines in which an ex or current partner had:
Slapped her; or thrown something at her that could hurt her;
Pushed or shoved her;
Hit her with a fist or something else that could hurt;
Kicked, dragged or beaten her up;
Choked or burnt her on purpose;
Threatened her with or actually used a gun, knife or any weapon.
Conservative sexual violence manifest in these actions:
Being physically forced to have sexual intercourse against her will;
Having sexual intercourse because she fears for what her partner might do;
Forced to do a sexual act she found degrading or humiliating.

The WHO Study also pointed to acts of emotional abuse that can be more devastating than physical violence:
Being insulted or made to feel bad about oneself;
Being humiliated or belittled in front of others;
Being intimidated or scared on purpose, say, the partner yells and smashes things;
Being threatened with harm directly or indirectly in the form of a threat to hurt someone she cared about.

"Emotional abuse is worse. You can become insane when you are constantly humiliated and told that you are worthless, that you are nothing," rues a respondent from Serbia and Montenegro.

The Study implicitly warns damsels-to-be-distressed about the telling behavioral warts of certain princes charming that are likely to turn into toads. The type seethes with heinous jealousy, is overly possessive, acts like a puppeteer toying with a marionette on strings, and he:

keeps her from seeing friends;
restricts contact with her family of birth;
insists on knowing where she is at all times;
ignores or treats her indifferently;
gets angry if she speaks with other men;
often accuses her of infidelity;
controls her access to health care.


Women themselves point to reasons that cause men to go heavy-handed on their partners. The most common justifications or excuses for inflicting violence? "Not completing housework adequately, refusing to have sex, disobeying her husband, and infidelity," according to the WHO Study. Interestingly, the same worn-out reasons turn up daily in Philippine tabloids that often parade reportage on domestic violence and wife-beating incidents as "human interest" stories.

She shouldn’t thwart the partner’s advances although she doesn’t feel like it. Or the husband is drunk and stinks like a dumpsite, or she is sick. From 10% to 20% of women in provincial sites of Bangladesh, Peru, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Samoa believe that they have no right at all to refuse to have sex under any of those circumstances—she should always be willing, able and available.

By using conservative definition to measure domestic violence, results of the Study are, as WHO cautions, "more likely to underestimate than overestimate the prevalence of violence." But it would be less than sufficient to infer that domestic violence is dangerous to women’s health.

Study findings show that physically abused women are more likely to report poor or very poor health than women who had never gone through such partner-inflicted injury.

The WHO Study also pinpoints other telltale signs of trauma: "Ever-abused women were also more likely to have had problems with walking and carrying out daily activities, pain, memory loss, dizziness and dizziness."

Women victims also betray emotional distress through symptoms such as crying easily, inability to enjoy life, fatigue, and thoughts of suicide, according to the Study.

"Women who had experienced severe physical violence were more likely to seek support from an agency or authority. The most frequently given reasons for seeking help were related to the severity of the violence (e.g. she could not endure any more or she was badly injured), its impact on her children, or encouragement from friends and family to seek help," the Study cited.

And some fight back, particularly Thais: "Only in Thailand did more than 15% of ever-physically abused women report of initiating violence against their partner more than twice in their lifetime."

Some choose to leave their tormentors—and often return to the scene of the crime continually perpetrated on them as they could not leave the children or "for the sake of the family." Other reasons for going back: she loved him, he asked her to come back, she forgave him, she thought he would change, the family said she should return. The horrors unfold anew.

Based on its findings, the WHO Study drew up a 15-point list of recommendations for governments, policymakers, development planners, institutions, and similar entities to carry out:

Promote gender equality and women’s human rights;
Establish, implement and monitor multi-sectoral action plans to address violence against women;
Enlist social, political, religious, and other leaders in speaking out against violence against women;
Enhance capacity and establish systems for data collection to monitor violence against women, and the attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate it;
Develop, implement, and evaluate programs aimed at primary prevention of intimate-partner violence and sexual violence;
Prioritize the prevention of child sexual abuse;
Integrate responses to violence against women in existing programs for the prevention of HIV-AIDS and for the promotion of adolescent health;
Make physical environments safer for women;
Make schools safe for girls;
Develop a comprehensive health sector response to the various impacts of violence against women;
Use reproductive health services as entry points for identifying and supporting women in abusive relationships, and for delivering referral or support services;
Strengthen formal and informal support systems for women living with violence;
Sensitize legal and justice systems to the particular needs of women victims of violence;
Support research on the causes, consequences, and costs of violence against women and on effective prevention measures; and
Increase support to programs to reduce and respond to violence against women.

The WHO Study demonstrates violence against women is "widespread and deeply ingrained and has serious impacts on women’s health and well-being. Its continued existence is morally indefensible; its cost to individuals, to health systems, and to society in general is enormous. Yet no other major problem of public health has-- until relatively recently—been so widely ignored and so little understood."

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