Abuse of women must not go unpunished

By: Buena Bernal

Worldwide, one in three women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Thirty-eight percent of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner. [1]

These numbers reflect not necessarily the actual incidence of violence against women but the number of reported incidents, which means victims need to be empowered to be more courageous in reporting abuse.

According to the World Health Organization, unequal gender norms including attitudes accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women make men more likely to perpetrate violence against their female partners which can lead these women to depression, post-traumatic stress and other anxiety disorders, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.

Maria (alias) is a survivor of intimate partner violence, after her live-in partner repeatedly shoved a knife to her face. She was thrown out of their shared apartment with only her undergarments, begging for help.

No one in their building dared help her. People even shut their doors, as her partner shouted over and over that he was going to kill her.

When a knife is shoved at your face one too many times by the person you love, the world becomes confusing. The forces of good become evil, and love as you perceive it to be is no longer safe. When the person you love does that to you, in that moment, you feel like nothing is ever secure anymore.

A common theme in intimate partner violence is the narcissist-empath dynamic, where one partner feeds off the selflessness of the other.

Each time the abusive partner drains you, you let out little squeals of help. He projects to others around him that you’re crazy and that he is the stable one. But he is standing on your broken back, leaning on shoulders made fragile by him.

Domestic abuse victims often find themselves burdened even more by the psychological warfare launched by their partners.

Lawyer Mary Antoniette Calimag, who investigates cases of violence against women and children (VAWC) for the Philippine government, explains that violence directed towards women-spouses is often cyclical. [2]

Calimag believes a husband who has abused his wife for the first time often adapts to a pattern of violence in the home, which is why even first-time offenders must be prosecuted.

Women may be stuck in abusive relationships if their partners are left unpunished.

She said a number of domestic violence victims withdraw their allegations against their partner, after filing an initial complaint. In the end, it is always the choice of the woman that must be respected.

One of agent Calimag’s most memorable cases involved an allegedly abused pregnant woman, who came to her office while having contractions. Visibly suffering from pain, the woman was told to go home in the meantime.

Unknown to them, the woman was also the subject of a criminal complaint for qualified theft filed by his abusive live-in partner. The woman suddenly found herself the one faced with prosecution.

Advocate-lawyer June Ambrosio, who has handled and secured legal victories in high-profile VAWC cases in the past, explains the need for continuity of care to make sure victims are coping with trauma even after perpetrators have been charged. [3]

In jurisdictions with VAWC legislation, acts of violence against women and children are considered a public crime. Ideally by law, those who report such incidents must be accorded immunity from suit in relation to their reporting.

“You have every right to step in. If you’re just a neighbor, but you saw the act of abuse, you can come in and report,” explained Ambrosio.

“Before, when it comes to domestic violence, people relegate it to mere marital dispute. Now, that’s no longer the case,” she added.

In the case of Maria (alias), she was already begging one of their neighbors for help in calling authorities during that episode when her knife-wielding partner exhibited violence towards her.

“It’s hard to get involved in things like that,” her neighbor told her in the vernacular, as he shut his door.

The numbers are alarming. Forty-two percent of women who experience intimate partner violence report an injury as a consequence of this violence. Women who experienced intimate partner violence were 16% more likely to suffer a miscarriage and 41% more likely to have a pre-term birth. They were almost twice as likely to experience depression and problem drinking.

Ensuring accurate statistics is also a challenge, as not all incidents are reported. Women need to be better empowered to report cases of abuse as well as leave abusive and cyclical relationships.

Less than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort in majority of countries with available data, according to UN Women. This, despite records showing that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against women are current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends. (END)



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