21 Lessons in 21 Days
We announce the publication of our new research report: Twenty-One Lessons: Preventing Domestic Violence In The Caribbean (http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/30898/). This qualitative study was carried out by our team of Caribbean experts and explored the problem from the perspectives of women in especially vulnerable/marginalised circumstances and also included the views of men and youth.
Coming soon are our micro films (#Ni3films); acted by members of the public, these films depict the research findings in visual form. One of the most profound of all our findings is the way in which resilience and strength can sit side by side absolute despair and suicidal feelings. This is the focus of our first film and shows us that brutality and trauma does not trump the hope that things can and will be different.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, please get involved in making this difference. The research report contains 21 crucial lessons about how to do this. Starting February 16th, for each of the twenty-one days leading up to International Women’s Day (March 8th) we have been highlighting one of the research lessons – you can read about this here or on our Facebook page @noneinthree.
Lesson Twenty-One: Male-Centred Interventions
Men offered constructive suggestions for interventions that could make a difference. In a social and cultural context in which men are not encouraged to express their fears and emotions, it was surprising that counselling was most commonly cited. Among the range of counselling options discussed, men to men approaches were considered to be the most helpful. Other interventions centred on strengthening parenting, community and education-based programmes and building strategies for self-regulation and resilience. Central to these strategies was the engagement of men and youth as change agents within their own communities.
- Men-to-men, father-son and youth-to-youth approaches alongside professional counselling and perpetrator treatment programmes represent the most positive of opportunities for changing men’s attitudes and behaviours. However these should be available not only on conviction of domestic violence but also as an early intervention preventive measure. There is therefore need for widespread government investment (possibly in partnership with the corporate sector) in training civil society, youth, education and faith-based organisations in the development, implementation and evaluation of such interventions and making these widely available across communities
Lesson Twenty: Understanding Men’s Concerns
Some of the older men in the study expressed the belief that women’s advancement (economic, educational and emancipatory) undermined their position as men. This speaks to the primacy of patriarchal values and suggests a view that the dominance of the male cannot be sustained if women are empowered, are independent and are competing with men on an equal basis. Linked to this, men believed that the increasing financial hardship many men are facing and the cultural expectation that males should be able to provide for their families was a source of frustration which contributes to domestic violence.
- Many men we engaged with believe that terms such as gender-based violence and gender equality are concerned only with women and that men who suffer economic and other forms of disadvantage have no spokespersons to protect their rights. It is clear that there is a growing number of men and youth who hold on to the idea of male dominance for status and self-esteem purposes. This group of men are at risk of becoming disengaged from the processes of social change. There is need therefore for governments and civil society organisations to start a new public dialogue to address their concerns while simultaneously enlisting them as agents of change
Lesson Nineteen: Linking Domestic Violence, Family Violence And Violence Against Children
A common thread across all male participants was the belief that women contribute to domestic violence in particular ways: child-rearing, relationship conflict, infidelity and perceived provocation. For example it was remarked that the physical punishment and verbal abuse meted out by mothers to children might be a boy’s first exposure to violence and that these experiences combined with societal expectations about the role and behaviour of men contributed to the extent of violence in society
- Women are identified in this, and other studies, as having a role in the perpetuation of violence in families. This is not only because they may be abusive to their male partners but as primary caregivers, they are often the ones inflicting physical punishment (and physical abuse) to children and in this way pass down messages about the acceptability of violence. Because violence against women is such a serious problem, child abuse is often regarded as a detraction from the problem. There is urgent need for governments to face the unpalatable truths about the links between all forms of violence in the home and to provide parenting and education programmes that can help mothers and fathers rear children without the use of violence
Lesson Eighteen: Changing Dominant Perceptions Of What It Means To Be A Man
Men used the term ‘culture’ to describe the sets of expectations and behaviours that were inculcated in them as males as they grew up. Boys were told “be tough don’t cry” and “you must be able to defend yourself”. Being tough and aggressive and repressing emotions were seen as cultural markers of masculinity. Yet men also described having the need to express their feelings but the options for doing so were very limited since the cultural messages that regard this as inappropriate were not only transmitted through families but were also reinforced by peers.
- Changing dominant perceptions of what it means to be a man in Caribbean societies to perspectives that embrace nurturing, empathic and equality principles can only be achieved by men. There is a role for all men, regardless of their role or status in society in taking up the mantle and leading by example in this regard
- There is also need for education programmes – from early years through to higher education which challenge the notion of the tough, aggressive male
- Parenting programmes are primarily concerned with child-rearing methods however they should also include content which encourages the raising of boys to be boys, not to be ‘not girls’
Lesson Seventeen: Women Commit Abuse Too
Our findings suggest that women are possibly as affected as men by the socialisation processes and gender-role expectations in families in which violence is common. They are likely to be impacted not only in learning how to be victims, but also in learning how to be perpetrators of violence (particularly to children) and as the bearers, together with males, from one generation to another of values and behaviours that promote adversarial relations. However, it must always be recognised that even where adversarial relationships exist and where women perpetrate violence too, this is not a gender-neutral issue - women are far more likely than men to be seriously injured, maimed or killed by their partners than the other way around and are subject to violence in ways that men are not.
- There is need to recognise and provide support to male victims of domestic violence; this requires recognition that women can be violent too, but the forms of violence they inflict are often different to those perpetrated by males. While males are not likely to be maimed, injured or killed as a consequence of domestic violence against them (these are real risks for women), they should be encouraged to report abuse and have a right to be taken seriously
- All organisations and professionals working to prevent domestic violence must understand that if women have difficulty reporting domestic violence, there are social barriers that can make it even more difficult for men. Violence against men is often minimised or trivialised by professionals while peer pressure and patriarchal values dictate that no man should allow himself to be subject to abuse at the hands of a woman. The implicit message in these responses actually encourages male violence and is part of the problem in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and attitudes. Civil society organisations should provide spaces for men and youth to talk about abuse against them in ways that affirm positive ‘maleness’ and which do not link being a victim with implicit messages of emasculation
- There is need for men-to-men support programmes that address violence against men recognising that there are differences from violence against females. For example, the prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated by women against men is understood to be very low in the Caribbean, however the opposite is not true. Furthermore, men have access to greater levels of economic power and are therefore not at risk of economic forms of abuse to the same extent as women
Lesson Sixteen: Perceptions Of Domestic Violence
Regarding the perspectives of males: almost all men identified physical abuse and to a lesser extent psychological abuse as the sole identifiers of domestic violence. They did not regard sexual abuse or economic forms of control as domestic violence. This perhaps provides insights into the extent to which sexual entitlement is considered by some to be a right to be claimed as masculine identities are formed. Further if specific family roles and rules of behaviour within a family indicate that the man is head of the household and should control the finances, then it is unsurprising that economic abuse would go unrecognised.
- This finding raises crucial questions about the way values about male sexual entitlement and female sexual availability are transmitted throughout society, the commoditisation of sex and the lack of penalties for the violation of sexual rights
- Criminal justice systems need to be tightened in terms of the efficacy, fairness and timely execution of laws relating to sexual violence however there is also need for rehabilitative educational programmes and restorative justice approaches (for crimes that are appropriate). This is because punishment without education is unlikely to change the attitudes and behaviours that contribute to harmful sexual behaviour
- Alongside effective criminal justice systems, much more is needed by way of education, public awareness and prevention programmes. Schools and parents have an important role to play in teaching children about healthy sexual development, child sexual abuse and sexual rights yet strategies such as these are unlikely to be effective if societies give implicit sanction to the notion of sexual conquest as a feature of being male and sexual submissiveness as a feature of being female. These processes seem to be affirmed through sub-cultures and peer pressure/expectations
- Peer-to-peer interventions that tackle sexual rights and sex expectations for both males and females, adults and children are needed. Though faith-based organisations, community and youth organisations could lead such interventions, churches need to ensure that the content of such programmes are not be conflated with moral messages about sexual abstinence. This is a different issue and would not lead to the changes in attitudes about sexual entitlement that are needed
Lesson Fifteen: Involving Survivors In The Design Of Interventions
In respect of help-seeking behaviours, in almost all cases, reliance upon professional help was negligible. However, it is worthy of note that most respondents in Grenada named their agency as their primary go-to location, and in Barbados, most named their church community. Women provided evidence of resilience and exceptional courage. There was a wealth of advice offered by the women in this study to women living in situations of violence. It was at once compassionate and non-judgmental, and at the same time crystal clear about needing to walk away from abusive relationships, as a matter of life or death. Additionally, many women were very assertive about developing their own self-agency, about education around the issues, and also about social confidence.
- Learning from agencies and churches that already have effective programmes in place in order to develop models of best practice that can be more widely replicated is a cost effective use of resources that utilises local expertise and strengths
- Survivors of domestic violence are active in women’s organisations and in services for battered women. Other organisations and churches should invite survivors to meet with relevant committees to design and develop interventions that are most likely to be helpful to women fleeing violence
Lesson Fourteen: Little Confidence In Professionals
In both Barbados and Grenada, there are significant strides being made in the response of the police to domestic violence. In the Ni3 research, however, some women did not believe that involving the police was a good strategy and thought that that this could make their situation worse. Negative responses to help from government agencies was not only confined to the police. Disabled women reported challenges in accessing support, there were major concerns about breaches in confidentiality by professionals and the criminal justice and social service systems were decried as ineffective. For women who had been sexually abused as children, the lack of justice then was a major reason for their inability to believe that they could expect justice as victims of domestic violence.
- The police service has a great deal of work to do if it is to engender the trust of victims. While training of police officers has improved regarding domestic violence and there are stronger, procedures, policies and laws in place, there is need for a greater police public relations role in challenging negative male attitudes
- There is need for more collaborative, interagency work involving the police, social workers, social services and health professionals to explore proactive strategies for prevention and to improve responses to violence in the home. This may require legislation which requires government agencies to work together, shared protocols, shared resources and inter-professional training
- There is need for more training concerning confidentiality and direct and serious penalties for when it is breached
- Dealing with domestic violence requires clear policy, protocols and procedures that are widely understood by the professionals who implement them and who in turn can be held accountable for systemic failings in protecting women from violence and accessing justice
Lesson Thirteen: Positive Fathering Experiences; A Critical Need Of Children
The findings provide insights into the nature of communities as protective agents and the important role that families can play in helping women escape violence. While sometimes acting as supportive and nurturing spaces of refuge and strength, we also heard that some communities protect habits and behaviours that are harmful. This was true of families too. Many of the women in the study described the response of family members to their abuse as one of denial, victim blame and rejection. Mothers were most frequently mentioned; however, the absence of mention of fathers may be accounted for by the fact that there is a high prevalence of single-headed female households in both Grenada and Barbados and the fathers may simply not have been a part of the wider family network.
- Faith-based and civil society organisations have a particularly valuable role to play in creating healthy communities and families and can do much through community-based interventions
- It must be recognised however, that communities that suffer from high levels of poverty, crime, violence, poor housing and with reduced access to economic opportunities require government investment to repair the fracturing of relationships that such environments generate. Communities and families exposed to persistent poverty and violence will have eroded capacity for recognising domestic violence and taking action to stop it
- Passive, absent or disengaged fathers represent a lost resource for children and families especially in terms of child protection and support. Beginning with child birth, through early years, health checks and education there is need for comprehensive coordinated programmes that encourage positive fathering in the lives of children
Lesson Twelve: Teaching Men To Be Men And Women To Be Acquiescent
The need for men to exercise control was also a key finding in the research with male participants. Men described this as being part of the culture of being a man which created social expectations about how, as males, they should behave. Combined with high levels of exposure to violence within families and communities, this was one of the key ways by which violent behaviours were learnt and became normalised.
- It is absolutely vital that boys, youth and men are exposed to versions of masculinity that do not subscribe to violence, domination and submission of females. It is equally essential that men take a stand against the propagation of negative views about women
- Women and girls are also influenced by these same gender socialisation processes; indeed for gender stereotypes to persist, the acquiescence of all players is needed and approaches that engage the whole of society in conversations, programmes and interventions geared to changing attitudes is needed
- What is needed is nothing short of a re-education/re-socialisation process that is initiated by governments in collaboration with education institutions, community, civil society and faith-based organisations and sustained over decades
Lesson Eleven: Emotional Dysregulation, Substance Abuse And Desensitization To Aggression
Contributing factors to violence include the perpetrator’s inability to control or manage his emotions, his need to exercise control over his partner, jealousy and drug and alcohol misuse. However, these were interconnected in that drug and alcohol misuse fuelled jealousy, jealousy increased emotional insecurity, and the inability to regulate emotions led to the need to assert even more repressive controls.
- Learning to regulate one’s emotions is a function of emotional intelligence that can be affected by early childhood experiences of neglect and trauma and/or poor attachment relationships. Treatment programmes for perpetrators and those in need of anger management support should expand their focus from cognitive behavioural approaches to include methods that help people to address the impact of unresolved early childhood problems
- There is strong evidence from this and other research (e.g. Le Franc et al 2008), that adversarial relations is a common element of the dynamics of family life and intimate partner relationships. These types of interactions can de-sensitise people to the ways in which aggression becomes patterned as normal and are also a noted feature of domestic violence. Developing conflict resolution and mediation skills is increasingly available in Caribbean contexts for dealing with civil court matters however, these methods of communication should also be incorporated into parenting programmes, relationship counselling and family support interventions
- Alcohol misuse (and to a lesser extent, drug misuse) contribute to domestic violence because they increase emotional insecurities, undermine self-regulation and act as a dis-inhibitor of behaviours. Drug and alcohol misuse are correlated with a range of other very serious social and health problems and governments should develop comprehensive public health strategies that engage with civil society organisations and churches to develop education and support programmes to reduce alcohol consumption. Serious consideration should be given to adopting similar methods to the reduction of tobacco use which combine public health education, interventions to support cessation of smoking, legislation and policy and most importantly, have garnered public support
- Programmes for perpetrators of violence should include access to alcohol and drug use reduction services
Lesson Ten: Women Stay Because They Cannot Leave
Women were trapped in violent relationships by factors that mirrored the characteristics of abuse: psychological terrorising, fear and force, and threats of recrimination. Economic factors emerged as a key reason for not being able to get out of the abusive relationship. Most of the women in the study had little economic security and did not feel they would be able to provide for themselves and their families if they left the abusive home. Hidden homelessness (the lack of a stable home or risk of potential homelessness should a woman leave an abusive partner) was another reason for staying. Disabled women and women living with HIV were particularly impacted by economic dependency. Some women who had escaped were subject to stalking, threats of being killed and in one case a woman was raped by her ex-partner in retaliation for leaving him.
- A combined approach to policy on domestic violence, policy on poverty reduction and policy on gender equality is necessary to address women’s economic dependency as a factor that traps women in violent relationships
- Civil society organisations, education institutions and churches all have a role to play in providing education programmes which aim to challenge cultural/gender stereotypes that promote expectations (from both men and women) that the man, as the provider is dominant and the female is subservient, in favour of gender roles that are more equal
- There is a need for the police to work with other government and civil society organisations to develop strategies for keeping women safe after they have left a violent partner. Where violence has been long-standing, it may not come to an end because of a conviction or court order. In the small communities of the Caribbean, this therefore means that extra vigilance and support is needed
Lesson Nine: Increasing Sensitivity, Empathy And Understanding
The effects of violence on both women and children were as described in other studies with the most marked outcomes being the onset of emotional hopelessness, fatigue, and depression and for children, the impact of witnessing the brutalising of their mothers. Over time, it was evident that some women began to comply with the systems of control they lived within by modifying their behaviour, slowly giving up control in order to survive and avoid further victimisation. This was particularly the case for disabled women whose personal autonomy was deliberately reduced. This made it all the more difficult for women to escape violent relationships.
- There is need for training aimed at increasing sensitivity, empathy and understanding of domestic violence victims among professionals. This is especially the case in respect of the reasons why women stay. Chronic abuse generates multiple barriers to escaping violence; professionals need to appreciate that effective support should include a range of short, medium and long term interventions that can help women with immediate problems and also over time
- Therapeutic and empowerment-based interventions need to address the ways in which victims become so worn down they can end up complying with the controlling behaviours of perpetrators. Complicity can be a coping or survival mechanism however it contributes to intergenerational violence since it teaches children that one has to put up with violence
Lesson Eight: Women In Same Sex Relationships: Structural And Sociocultural Factors
Among the women in this study who were lesbians, which included some participants from privileged circumstances, we had the opportunity to see how they manage the vulnerabilities that come with being within a same-sex relationship in a wider context in which homosexuality is considered unacceptable and unlawful. Though several of these women experienced abuse in their relationships and issues of power and control came to the surface, they were not exposed to the types of male violence that heterosexual women in the study were subjected to. By and large, they were not trapped by a lack of economic independence and they did not have children who needed their protection and support. However, state-sanctioned emotional abuse in the form of discrimination, inequalities in the laws of protection, being rejected by church, community and family and the risk of stranger violence impacted them in significant ways and reduced their opportunities to access support when facing intimate partner violence.
- The exclusion of people in same-sex relationships from domestic violence legislation, though discriminatory of itself in respect of individuals, sends a message at the macro level that violence against lesbians (and gay men for that matter) is not a matter to be taken seriously. This fuels homophobic attacks and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Governments must ensure not only that all people are treated equally under the law but that the law is actually designed to protect all people from violence equally
- Organisations that provide services for battered women should consider reaching out to the lesbian and transgender community to explore ways of working collaboratively to ensure a more inclusive approach. The women in same-sex relationships in this study had fewer places to turn to for help than other women as they were often shunned by family, community and church and civil society organisations therefore have a crucial role in providing support
Lesson Seven: Women Living With Hiv: Gendered And Structural Forms Of Violence
Women living with HIV were not only victims of their partners’ violence, they were victims of the violence of stigma and discrimination at the societal and structural level that affects many persons living with HIV. However, that they experienced particular forms of harm based on the intersection of these factors within the context of gender and male domination was clear. This compounded the domestic violence they faced in their intimate partner relationships in specific ways and increased their vulnerability to ongoing abuse. Some women explained that they often chose to put up with battering, rather than face the upheaval of finding a new mate, having to disclose their HIV status and risk rejection again. Having people know about one’s status was one of the major fears expressed by women living with HIV. Some perpetrators used the woman’s HIV status as a psychological weapon with which to harm her, threatening disclosure or actually disclosing to friends and encouraging ridicule and fuelling feelings of shame.
- Health professionals providing services to women living with HIV are uniquely placed to identify issues of domestic violence. This is because the woman does not have to fear that reporting abuse in this environment may lead to disclosure of HIV status (since this is already known). The importance of this cannot be overestimated since threatening to disclose status is used as a weapon to control and intimidate women by some perpetrators of violence. HIV screening, counselling and treatment services should therefore routinely provide opportunities for women living with HIV to report domestic violence and should also ensure effective referral systems so that they can access appropriate services
- As Allen highlights however, greater collaboration between sectors ‘should ensure that referral does not cause additional trauma, and that confidentiality is upheld’ (2011, p. 54). Breaching confidentiality about DV places women in considerable danger and breaching confidentiality about HIV status compounds the problems women face in multiple ways. The biggest fear HIV positive women may face in telling someone about the violence they experience and the impact this has on managing HIV is the fear of how this information might be used. For some, this will echo the threat of disclosure their partner holds over them. The misuse of information in working with victims of domestic violence is so serious that we consider this a form of institutional abuse. These issues should be addressed through joint-training, joint protocols and procedures and effective management. When breaches occur, there is also need for effective penalties levied against those responsible
- Staff working with persons living with HIV should be trained to identify the ways in which HIV can be both a consequence of sexual violence and also a contributing factor to physical violence and economic abuse so that they can signpost women towards the right services
- Anti-stigma HIV-AIDS public education programmes should address the ways in which stigma functions as a powerful silencer of victims and actually helps to hide the behaviours of perpetrators of domestic violence
Lesson Six: Women With Disabilities: Intersecting Factors
Intersection of physical and sexual abuse among women with disabilities was a recurrent theme. Although women from all groups reported accounts of sexual violence, negative attitudes to their impairment left women with disabilities with a reduced sense of self and their partners with an increased sense that sex was theirs for the taking. Where physical mobility was an issue, this made it easier for the perpetrator to use his physical strength to overpower the women physically and force them into non-consensual sex. With reduced opportunities for earning an independent income, economic dependency was compounded for some women with disabilities by physical dependency related to their care needs and emotional dependency that had grown out of long-term abuse.
- Policy on domestic violence needs to pay specific attention to the needs of women who may be especially vulnerable or marginalized, such as women with disabilities. Generic policy is unlikely to address the particular ways in which disabled women are made vulnerable
- Economic and poverty reduction policies need also to consider the ways in which poverty reduces women’s choices for escaping violence
- Specialised training is needed for those working with disabled people to be able to identify indicators of abuse at an early stage and to understand the multiplying effects of disablism and violence
- Court procedures should ensure that specific attention is paid to the needs of disabled women - providing befrienders, mobility access, non-legal advocates and sign language interpreters (as appropriate) for women pursuing domestic violence cases through the courts
- Discrimination and disablism can lead to low self-worth which in turn can affect a person’s ability to take action when boundaries have been crossed, for example when personal care leads to the violation of the personal. Strengthening wellbeing, positive self-regard and enhancing resilience are key to empowering victims in this situation. They are also important ingredients in prevention and should be built into education programmes from early childhood onwards. This is especially important for disabled children who have increased risk themselves of being abused
Lesson Five: Pregnancy Does Not Stop Abuse
In respect of pregnant women, the message from the research is clear: pregnancy does not stop abuse, neither does having a young baby. We found evidence that in some cases domestic violence increased during pregnancy and only in one case did it lessen. Several women reported that violence was directed at their abdomen or genital area to inflict damage not only on the woman but also on the child she was carrying. Some perpetrators aimed away from the woman’s stomach when beating her, but did not stop. Once domestic violence existed in a relationship, the general finding was that it did not cease during pregnancy and in some relationships seems to have been the catalyst for an escalation of violence. This posed high risks to maternal outcomes and to the unborn child, including premature birth, miscarriage, serious injury, abnormalities and death.
- Health professionals should be trained and equipped with the tools to effectively identify signs of abuse and to know what action to take to help prevent harm to the woman and the unborn baby
- Pregnant women should be routinely screened for domestic violence during ante-natal and other health checks. Screening should occur at the first prenatal visit, at least once per trimester and at the postpartum check-up. Where this intervention has been introduced, there is strong evidence that it is a cost-effective way of identifying abuse and signposting women to available help and support
- Domestic violence during pregnancy is a major threat not only to the life and wellbeing of the woman, but also to her child. There is a need for health and child care services to examine how they might work together to provide protection before the child is born and also during infancy since these are periods of increased risk for children born into violent homes
- Pregnant women may find it more difficult than other women to leave a violent relationship for both physical and emotional reasons. Leaving the father of the baby one is carrying is exceptionally hard especially if the woman and her family have invested emotionally in the idea of family life and if the woman does not have independent economic means. Social services need to be cognizant of these challenges in designing interventions
Lesson Four: The Cyclical Nature Of Relationship Violence
This continuum of abuse experiences is not only a problem for individual women, it also reflects the cyclical nature of relationship violence from generation to generation. Many women who have faced abuse in adult relationships have come from families in which violence was prevalent. Survivors recalled, as children, witnessing their mothers being beaten and in some cases described being beaten or raped in front of their own children.
- In assessing the impact of violence against women, there is need to also consider the impact on ‘secondary’ victims, i.e. the effects of violence on those who witness it, especially children and young people
- Girls who grow up in violent homes are more likely to become victims of domestic violence in later life, while boys who witness their fathers and other males perpetrating violence against their mothers have an increased risk of becoming perpetrators. Prevention programmes based in schools which address the attitudes that contribute to the development of these behaviours should be a fundamental part of a government’s strategy to tackling the problem
- Governments should also consider ‘joined-up’ policy and programming which address domestic violence in the context of structural violence, community violence and family violence. As Allen (2011) argues, what is needed is a ‘long process of social and economic reform accompanied by participatory education … to develop social relationships between men and women based on mutuality and respect’, (pg. 53)
Lesson Three: Socialisation Into And The Normalisation Of Violence
There was strong evidence that continuous oppression and violence are very difficult to exit. Chronic exposure to abuse raises questions about the effects of long-term socialisation into victimhood, just as the long-term socialisation into the normalisation of violence among perpetrators is the centre of much debate.
- By the time a report is made to the police or the situation brought to the attention of a person in authority, women are likely to have exhausted all other options for dealing with the problem and the violence may have escalated to a dangerous level. Professionals must recognise that their response at this point is crucial and all cases of domestic violence brought to their attention should be considered as urgent until and unless this is proven not to be the case. Reports made to the police should be followed by periodic visits to the woman where there is a strong likelihood of ongoing risk
- There is a clear need for stronger multi-agency working and strategies that help women escape violence and over the longer term, support women in addressing the ways in which abuse has eroded agency and self-esteem
- Given the prevalence of family and community violence, early childhood and primary school curricula should include a focus on children’s mental health and wellbeing which addresses the internalisation of exposure to violence and negative gender attitudes
Lesson Two: A Continuum Of Abuse Experiences Over The Lifespan
Women subjected to domestic violence in adulthood are likely to have been subjected to abuse as children, especially child sexual abuse – a continuum of abuse experiences over the lifespan. Women linked being sexually, physically and emotionally abused when they were children with the violence they were subjected to as adults. They wondered whether these later experiences of domestic violence had been in part ‘scripted’ because of the lack of support and recognition of their needs as children which had eroded self-esteem and influenced the relationship choices they made.
- Therapeutic and empowerment-based approaches for women should provide opportunities to address early childhood experiences of abuse
- Interventions targeted to children subject to abuse should recognise the importance of these experiences for future behaviours and relationship choices and build resilience-enhancing capacity into their programmes
Lesson One: Experiencing Multiple Forms Of Abusive Behaviours
Women are rarely subject to one form of abuse alone. Most of the women in this study were subject to multiple kinds of abusive behaviours, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes sequentially, sometimes planned and sometimes spontaneous. Women were not able to predict what form the next attack upon them would take. Abuse was neither one thing nor different categories of things; women told us that abuse was whatever the perpetrator determined it would be in a specific time and context and dependent upon what weapons he could access. For some women the weapons used against them were characteristics of their own identity or circumstance. For example, the belly of a pregnant woman selected by a perpetrator as an area of particular vulnerability to inflict maximum harm, or shutting down forms of communication for a blind woman in order to increase her social isolation.
- There is need to increase education and public awareness programmes that explain the multiple forms of domestic abuse and the links between these
- Professionals need to be trained to identify potential indicators of domestic violence and to be supported by managers in being proactive in intervening
- Therapeutic, escape and support interventions for victims need to take account of the continuum and multiplicity of forms of abuse