As she opens the door for the maid in the morning, she notices the woman has a new bruise and a blackened eye. She makes her warm compresses and gives her a painkiller. The maid returns the gesture by steeping two hot cups of tea. They drink the tea together in silence. No questions are asked. The maid had also not questioned the bruises on the face of her employer two weeks back, knowing well they were not possible from a fall (as she was told).
This is one of the many stories I heard last year while working on the Purple Ribbon Campaign, which addresses the widespread problem of domestic violence. The fact is that domestic violence is present in all sections of society and in every place on the map. It is a taboo and a stigma everywhere, even in the most developed nations. Hush it up. Sweep it under the rug. Cover up the scars and pretend nothing ever happened. This is how domestic violence is often dealt with everywhere.
Hush it up. Sweep it under the rug. Cover up the scars and pretend nothing ever happened. This is how domestic violence is often dealt with...
There would be a whole paradigm shift if we stopped covering it up and rather acknowledged openly the prevalence of domestic violence; it would give the victim the strength to open up and the abuser a sense of accountability or at least fear. By putting it under the rug, we empower the abuser and shame the victim.
Therefore, listening to (and telling) these stories is the first baby step, but an important one.
No one is born an abuser or becomes one overnight. There are always early signs that are left ignored. They are labelled as anger issues or bad behavioural phases; slowly, they become integral to the person's behavioural repertoire. Fundamentally, these behaviours reflect a tendency to control and the desire to exert power on another person.
A friend told me, "I have seen my brother misbehave with my mother all my life. He would yell at her, demand that she do things in a certain way and just be disrespectful towards her since he was very young. He did it to me as well. He would rough me up and I would be numb from the pain and hurt. I protested. But my parents did not say much to him. My mother chose to ignore his behaviour, saying he had a bad temper and he would get over it. He eventually did the same things to his wife, the scale became more violent... until she walked out one day."
Raise Them Equally
The numbers on domestic violence are skewed as it relates to gender. Men get abused too. But the numbers are disproportionately higher for women; there cannot be an argument about that.
We teach girls to be tolerant, even of misbehaviour and mistreatment, while boys are raised with a belief in the superiority of their gender...
Our upbringing and what we witness during our childhood plays a big hand in our treatment of others. If only all kids were raised to become kind, compassionate and to treat everyone as equals. But instead, we teach girls to be tolerant, even of misbehaviour and mistreatment, while boys are raised with a belief in the superiority of their gender, their capabilities and their worth.
A survivor explained, "You may think people raise kids differently in educated households, but that is not always true. My parents were doctors; they were equal in terms of their accomplishments in life and mutual respect for each other. Yet, they treated me differently than my brothers. It starts with small things at first. I was assigned chores in the house. They never lifted a finger. It may seem like a small thing but the results of it started reflecting in our mannerisms. I got used to being oppressed and that is why I became an easy victim for my partner."
Not Just Physical Scars
It's Friday night. A young couple meets up with another in a crowded suburban restaurant. As they chat over food and drinks, the conversation steers towards the usual husband and wife banter. The atmosphere suddenly changes at the table.
One of the guys tells his wife to shut up. She says it is all being said in fun. He bangs on the table and tells her to shut up again. This time she requests him to lower his voice, embarrassed by the presence of their friends (and her colleagues too). He bangs on the table again, his voice many decibels higher. He almost raises his hand to her, and threatens to leave the restaurant without her. She swallows the insult and does not say another word in response. The friends exit in silence too, worrying about the aftermath of what happened at the restaurant. No one speaks up, there or later or at any point of time.
The biggest myth of all is that domestic violence just involves physically hurting someone. Verbal abuse can leave scars that are just as deep or deeper.
Many of us have been privy to such situations and many of us have walked away. We've done so even though we know in our hearts that any form of abuse is unacceptable. Yet, there remain myths about emotional abuse. The biggest myth of all is that domestic violence just involves physically hurting someone. Verbal abuse can leave scars that are just as deep or deeper. Many victims do not have a single scratch or a bruise but there is constant humiliation and mistreatment that almost becomes a part of their everyday life.
Stand Up For Your Kids
It is extremely difficult to break free from an abusive relationship and no one should ever be judged for not being able to do so. It is even more difficult when kids are involved. However, if there is an opportunity to help someone out, you must remind them; it is important to step away for the sake of their kids.
Kids who witness domestic violence -- mild, average, day-to-day or severe, it does not matter -- get affected. Children are silent observers and the soak things like a sponge. They learn that mistreating someone is easy to get away with or even justified. They learn to give in to mistreatment and not fight against it. They either turn out to be bullies/abusers or get bullied and become victims in later life.
Yes, kids from broken homes have a difficult childhood. But it's a far worse childhood for kids who come from homes with domestic violence.
There is a mindset that by staying on in the marriage, regardless of how abusive it has become, we are helping our kids. Yes, kids from broken homes have a difficult childhood. But it's a far worse childhood for kids who come from homes with domestic violence.
You Have Support
She wakes up in the morning with a swollen arm. She covers it under a full-sleeve shirt before making her way in the kitchen. Her mother-in-law notices her working in the kitchen with one hand, barely using the other. She tells her to get it x-rayed and not to make a big deal of it. "Such things happen. You should learn not to argue with him." She runs back to her room and cries while keeping the faucet in the bathroom running.
This is sadly the story of many households -- a lack of support for the victim. By trying to rationalize why the victim was abused, we are trivializing the matter and showing support for the crime.
Let's change the narrative. "You deserved it" is lame and shameful.
This is the message we need to give instead: "You have support. We have got your back. You do NOT need to endure this anymore."
If this is the message given to young women by their families, many lives would be saved. If this is the message parents give to their daughters without asking them to "adjust", many lives would be saved. If this is the message we could give to a friend or a neighbour or a relative, they would have the courage to break free from the shackles of abuse, humiliation and agony.
SUPPORT is the keyword. Do not close doors on a victim. Listen, without judging. Support, without hushing.
The Purple Ribbon Campaign for 2016 is a few months away. But the work needed to build awareness, to share stories and make them heard, needs to happen every single day, until the day domestic violence comes to an end.