Socio-Legal Mechanisms to Combat the Emerging Challenges of Domestic Violence
Written by Zeb Burk
Second Year, BLS LL.B, Government Law College, Mumbai
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.
Domestic violence has been a global issue for decades spanning across various cultures and societies. Simply put, it is the display of aggression and violent behaviour within the home, typically involving the abuse of a spouse or partner. It involves acts of torture which incapacitate the victim physically and cause tremendous mental agony. Abusers generally engage in acts of domestic violence to establish control over their victim because of low self-esteem, jealousy or other inferiorities. While victims of domestic violence include both men and women, primarily women suffer the most. Reports suggest that at least 5 million women, aged 18 years and above face domestic violence annually.  The rise of domestic violence in India and around the world has put forth a dire need to tackle this social evil at the earliest.
Domestic violence is an alarming issue that society has been facing for several years. Researchers have expounded various theories to explain the root of this problem. The biological theory suggests that violent behaviour can be attributed to genetics and the effect of childhood trauma on brain development. According to some researchers, domestic violence is rooted in individual psychopathology or dysfunctional personalities, shaped by early childhood experiences that lead to an inability to regulate emotions and develop trust in others. Heise and Ellsberg suggest that domestic violence is inculcated through exposure to behaviour that is modelled, rewarded, and supported by cultures when women do not follow traditional gender roles or norms. Predominantly, it is the childhood phase where the brain picks up violent tendencies which are reflected in the latter stages of life.
In the 21st Century, the challenges of domestic violence vary to some extent when compared to the age-old obstacles. Traditionally, women were given a powerless position in society due to the extreme patriarchy prevalent then. Although this situation prevails even today in many parts of the world, the social and political emancipation of women has put many women at an equal pedestal with men, especially in urbanized regions. However, in this new era, victims of domestic violence still face some extremely challenging situations, the most recent being the impact of COVID-19. According to the WHO, Europe has seen a 60% rise in domestic violence cases during the elongated lockdown.
● Psychological impact and related issues
Conventionally, victims of domestic violence were never able to voice their concerns due to their inferior status in society. There existed a fear of violating societal norms if one went against one’s own family. Their battered and bruised appearances were the obvious consequences of domestic abuse. However, victims were usually silenced by their abusers and hence the mental ramifications of domestic violence were lesser-known.
However, today with extensive research undertaken by psychologists attached to various organisations, the reality has come to light. Victims are left psychologically devastated due to the agony they face at the hands of their perpetrators. An increasing number of women are going into depression and are facing post-traumatic stress disorder, the severity of which varies. Many women turn to drug and alcohol abuse to deal with the trauma. Research shows that about 90% of women with substance abuse had experienced physical or sexual violence. In extreme cases, women have been resorting to suicide. In the UK alone, every day almost 30 women attempt suicide as a result of experiencing domestic abuse. In rural areas, many incidents go unreported and thus the overall numbers remain unusually high.
● The disintegration of families
Domestic Violence leads to an irretrievable breakdown of family bonds. In today’s age, many victims of physical and sexual abuse have started standing up for themselves. Though they may not be able to physically overpower their abusers, they are gathering the courage to escape from the clutches of their abusers. However, victims who aren’t financially independent fear to leave their houses. According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so.
The violence at home has a devastating effect on the family, particularly on children. Relationships turn bitter and meaningless among members. The violence witnessed by children makes them aggressive and unresponsive to love exhibited by friends and well-wishers. According to a UNICEF Report, as many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home.
Victims of domestic violence aren’t able to nurture and mentor their children and the toxic environment hampers their social development. Shockingly, in many cases, children either leave their houses at an early age or they themselves tend to become abusers in the future. According to a study in the 80s, high levels of conflict and aggression has been a common factor in the families of repetitive runaways, as well as a lack of commitment and mutual support. Domestic violence is slowly eroding the very arrangement of families.
● The social stigma surrounding domestic violence
Most victims of domestic abuse suffer in silence while putting up a brave countenance for the outside world. The ‘fear’ of how society will react is the primary reason why victims hesitate to speak up. Some victims feel ashamed of having chosen to stay in such abusive relationships. They fear that society may not be able to comprehend their dilemma. Many a time, they choose to stay mum for the sake of their children.
Sometimes, the victim is criticized for returning to the house of her perpetrator due to financial reasons or otherwise. According to a study aiming to examine attitudes toward domestic violence victims and perpetrators, more people blamed a victim who returned to her abuser, as compared with a victim about whom they had no such information. In some societies, the victim is held responsible for her shortcomings while the perpetrators are glorified.
Most of the time, victims of domestic violence who have spoken up are treated differently in society. However, treating the victim differently, in a misguided attempt to be helpful, can have a particularly negative impact in the workplace. People might actually be trying to help the victim recover, but conversely, it leads to a victim losing self-esteem and confidence.
The emerging challenges of domestic violence require new age water-tight mechanisms to deal with this growing concern. The law, as well as the society, are to play an integral role in limiting this horrendous act.
The United Nations Conventions  broadly provide a framework to deal with domestic violence. However, the legal mechanisms for fighting this social evil are not universal. In India, the first legal provision relating to violence against women was the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 which wasn’t an effective law. Thereafter, Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) was introduced to penalise perpetrators who committed any sort of cruelty towards their wives.
However, this provision wasn’t able to provide justice to victims of domestic violence. In Waghmare v. State of Maharashtra , a woman committed suicide due to severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and his family, for a dowry demand. Her petition under Section 498A was disregarded by the court. The lacunae in these existing laws led to the passing of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005. The Act has enabled female victims of domestic violence to seek injunctions and protective orders against such acts. It also lists criminal provisions for imprisonment and fines, when there is a breach of civil order.
However, the pertinent question here is how effectively the law is being implemented? Police failures to effectively investigate cases of domestic violence has led to perpetrators going scot-free. Moreover, India lacks mandatory reporting mechanisms by hospitals when women visit with suspicious injuries. Furthermore, there exists manifold corruption at all levels in the system. Cases against powerful and influential people tend to get suppressed under political pressure. In many cases, the victim’s claims aren’t taken seriously and instead, she is shamed by the society for her ‘frivolous accusations’. The victim and her family go through tremendous stress and agony for years before the court hands out a verdict punishing the abusers. During the proceedings, on several occasions, the victim is threatened, compelling her to take back her charges. Such instances instil fear among other victims due to which they hesitate to take legal recourse.
Thus, though there exist legal provisions, their effective implementation is the need of the hour. Perpetrators need to fear the consequences of their actions. Law enforcement agencies need to work tenaciously without giving in, to any political pressure. They need to be given a certain level of autonomy and protection to enable them in leaving no stone unturned. The complex bureaucracy needs to give way to emerging principles that will enable quick dispensation of justice. Swift and effective punishment to the perpetrators will be a deterrent to others committing this monstrous act.
The effective implementation of the law has a lot to do with sensitization. Awareness has to be created in society by highlighting the ill-effects of domestic abuse. Children need to be educated from an early age about the consequences of this practice. The gravity of this issue needs to reach the ears of every human being.
Moreover, domestic violence cases are reported after the commission of the act. However, with the advent of technology, a distress call feature could be added to all mobile phones, thus preventing the act itself. It could enable immediate police intervention at the click of a button. Ultimately, it is extremely important that victims of domestic violence are heard in order to prevent them from being re-victimised. Society needs to support the plight of these hapless victims.
In recent years, a number of organisations have come up in India to fight for the cause of these victims. Their aim is to rescue victims of domestic violence as well as to provide all the necessary financial and legal assistance. Action Aid India is one such non-governmental organisation (NGO) which has been working tirelessly by providing counselling, medical help as well as social rehabilitation to victims. 
There have been a number of campaigns around the world to create awareness and to effectively put an end to violence against women. "I Love. I Don't Hit", "I Love. I React", “Stop Rape” were some campaigns that gained immense support from all over the world. Social media is also contributing positively by helping women speak out fearlessly. The bottom line is that society plays a crucial role in rooting out evils such as domestic violence. People have to stand up together against any injustice in society. After all, domestic violence cannot be a stumbling block in the path of growth and development.
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