What is domestic violence?

Socio-economic changes, fuelled by financial crises, can worsen abuse within families.

    A growing number of global campaigns have tried to raise awareness of domestic violence [EPA]

    In recent years, there has been an increase in calls made to hotlines and visits to shelters by people who say they are victims of domestic abuse. Police precincts from Angola to Japan and the US have all reported that domestic violence-related crimes are up significantly.

    International rights groups say the rise in domestic violence has been proportional to the increase in economic and financial crises. 

    What is domestic violence?

    Domestic violence is generally defined as a pattern of coercive behaviours used by an individual to assault another in the home.

    While international law does not provide a conventional definition, Unicef defines domestic abuse as: "violence perpetrated by intimate partners and other family members, and manifested through … physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse."

    Women are most commonly the victims of domestic abuse.

    How does one identify domestic abuse?
    The UN points out several forms of physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse which constitute domestic violence. Physical abuse can entail - and is not limited to - beating, slapping, stabbing, choking, and kicking, as well as threats to one's physical well-being with a weapon.

    Sexual abuse signifies all attempts and acts to coerce sex via physical force and intimidation.

    This includes forced sex with others as well as marital rape. Psychological abuse is any and all behaviour which intends to intimidate through verbal aggression, humiliation, verbal threats, and isolation.

    Economic abuse can take several forms including denial of financial support as well as access to basic necessities like food and water. 

    What are some factors that contribute to it?

    Several factors contribute to domestic violence across the world. Socio-economic change, traditional conceptions of gender roles, family institutions, as well as legal cultures can all exacerbate the issue of domestic violence.

    In both developing and developed countries, the cyclical relationship between economic troubles and domestic violence is visible.
    According to the UN, studies across Latin America, Africa and Asia have shown that some elements of globalisation, including unemployment, income inequality, and poverty often times coincide with a rise in domestic violence against women.

    In countries where women's access to economic opportunity is discouraged or limited, it is harder to escape a household of abuse.

    Even in regions where this access is increasing, a rise in women's economic independence in conjunction with the changes of globalisation can also lead to greater resentment and violence, as men feel displaced from both the workforce and their role of authority in the home.
    The recent global economic crisis has led to a rise in domestic violence against women in the US, with shelters reporting an increase in request for services.

    In 2009, the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation found 73 per cent of those reporting an increase in requests attributed the rise in abuse to financial issues. 

    What resources are available for abuse victims?

    The Global Network of Women's Shelters is a coalition of organisations which has taken the lead in creating an international forum about how to address, prevent, and end domestic violence throughout the world.

    In addition to establishing an international network of agencies committed to fighting domestic violence, the group promotes awareness and data collection.  

    The Global Network singles out the role of men as being critical to stopping and preventing domestic abuse.

    They say members of the victim's society must abandon misconceptions that domestic abuse is a private matter to be dealt with behind closed doors; it is a social issue with repercussions for the community-at-large.

    The Global Network says society should focus on mobilising resources to support the victim in her attempts to address the matter, whether this means carrying out an intervention, providing a safe space in a shelter, or informing her of legal options to resolve the problem.

    Government and law enforcement are the two key players in protecting the rights of the victims, as well as bringing justice to bear when these rights are not respected. Criminalising domestic violence is the primary step to deterring the abuse.

    The UN Development Fund for Women (Unifem), is another international organisation dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.

    In support of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's global campaign "UNiTE to End Violence against Women," Unifem launched the "Say No" project in November 2009, which calls on the global community to do its part in fighting the pandemic.

    Through social mobilisation, "Say No" encourages governments, individuals and civil society partners to serve as advocates for the issue and to make it a top priority in countries across the world.

    For more information on domestic violence, prevention and online resources:

    Global Network of Women's Shelters

    UNiTE, Secretary General's Campaign to End Violence Against Women

    Say No - UNiTE to End Violence against Women and Girls

    UN Development Fund for Women, Unifem

    Unicef Innocent Digest: Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls (2000)

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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