Domestic Violence a Growing Concern
|by Leo Olivero
Last Sunday 25 November the world celebrated the ‘United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’ also known as the White Ribbon Day. On Sunday, men everywhere were urged to show solidarity towards women victims of domestic violence.
Gibraltar is very much susceptible to this social phenomenon. Local figures now prove this!
Intimate Terrorism is Not Love!
Generally in life, one expects the home be a safe haven, this is not the reality for most victims of domestic violence who live in the kind of fear and terror that inspire the internationally descriptive term “Intimate Terrorism”. The nearest and dearest are expected to offer emotional security and support, not always the case it seems, because relatives prove in these scenarios to be the greatest enemy.
This is Not the Love One Expects in a Life Relationship!
Every one has a right to live free of fear and be treated with respect. In cases of domestic violence, one party wants to control and exert power over the other and will do whatever it takes to maintain this position.
Abuse, psychological manipulation and mental torment, financial control and violence are amongst the various tactics used to control and instill fear and helplessness in the victim. Unfortunately, when woman find the courage to leave the abusive and unhealthy relationship, she is not only faced with difficulties such as meeting numerous basic needs, but she also potentially puts herself in further danger as her perpetrator will do whatever it takes to ensure that she does not leave or if she has actually left to return to him.
A Disturbing Picture of Violence On The Rock!
Every day many women and some men no doubt wake up to another day of fear and abuse. This year between February and September a total of 60 reports and growing of domestic violence have been reported to the RGP. These reports have affected 85 people, of which 67 were female and 18 males. A total of 7 people were arrested with 4 charged to appear in court. All in just over 6 months
One thing I am certain, like other problematic and concerning social issues affecting the community, the above figures released only ‘touches the tip of this social matter’
For a community the size of ours these figures paint a ‘shocking picture’ when you think that ‘domestic violence is serious and socially destructive’ it ruins lives, breaks up families and erodes society, it really has a lasting impact. It is also criminal act, which has been with us for countless years.
Yet you have to say, it is only in the last 15 or 20 years, that domestic violence has really, been taken seriously as a criminal justice issue. Before that, the vast majority of cases were brushed under the carpet as a domestic problem, with a then local mentality of ‘sort it out yourself mentality approach’. I know I have personally been involved with many of these cases in the past, in my previous life in fact as a police officer.
There are many on the Rock who ‘live in silence and constant fear’ of those they love, dreading the next humiliating experience that will continue to erode their self-esteem, their confidence, their well-being, their peace of mind, their family, their individuality, their very self. These people feel helpless and afraid of making their loved one angry because they know the consequences. Even after the last domestic violation by their partner, they were promised it wouldn’t happen again.
Domestic Violence Under Reported!
Domestic violence in many cases also take the form of social abuse. There are those who are not allowed to go out on their own - whose partner monitors their every move - who are accused of cheating without any basis - who are not allowed to wear certain clothes or make-up - who are not allowed to choose their friends or to invite them over to their home - who are even cut off from their family. I’ve seen most of them over the years!
Violence in this regard may also be spiritual, where religion is used as a form of control such as when a person is not allowed to practice her/his faith or when someone is subjected to abuse or pain in the name of religion. I’ve also witnessed such cases.
Others are abused financially, forced to be dependent on their partner; are not allowed to earn their own money; are forced to do things against their will for money; have their possessions sold or gambled without their permission and do not have any control over money matters. None of this should be confused with love.
Many suffer in silence, others seek help! However, I have no doubt that domestic violence is frequently under-reported due to its stigma, fear or lack of trust in support and legal structures, or because of the small community syndrome.
In April last year, the Council of Europe adopted a new convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. This Convention was the first legally binding instrument in the world creating a comprehensive legal framework to prevent violence, to protect victims and to end with the impunity of perpetrators. It defines and criminalises various forms of violence against women (including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking, physical and psychological violence and sexual violence). It also anticipates the establishment of an international group of independent experts to monitor its implementation at national level.
Domestic violence by men against women, whether physical or psychological, is one of the gravest violations of human rights: the right to life and to physical and psychological integrity. Its consequences are devastating, resulting in mental as well as physical and psychological problems. I would go as to say it is present at most levels of society.
Domestic violence is also a criminal act in all forms of intimate relationships and not just in marriage. It is not a sickness although its incidence can be increased and aggravated as a result of ‘abuse of drugs and alcohol intake and a number of mental health conditions’ It affects not only the victims themselves but also other family members, especially children.
A Lot More Can and Should be Done!
Another important point is the awareness of children as indirect victims of domestic violence, which is still limited. Although notable, there have been a number of cases/reports this year of violence by women against men; the highest rates still reveal that the perpetrators are men.
A successful integrated approach requires adequate and professional training in different areas such as in the health services: other professionals in the hospital emergency department, primary care, in particular the general practitioner, pregnancy and childbirth services, including gynaecologists, midwives and nurses, who are often in a position to detect early signs of violence.
Of note, positives-steps were recently taken by the RGP with the opening of a new dedicated unit to handle these important cases. Although training for members of the police force should be ongoing. According to my own information, there is also a need to increase the number of professionals in social services having specialised and focused training when dealing with women victims, children, elderly victims or relatives.
Domestic violence is a direct attack on the woman /men’s dignity and a violation of basic human rights. It is not just a private family problem to be kept behind closed doors, but a public issue that gives rise to many other societal problems.
Impact on Society!
It also leaves a very significant impact on various sectors and believe it or not, it has repercussions on Gibraltar’s financial resources, in terms of expenditure in relation to ‘health, housing, education, employment and social services amongst others’. It also breeds violence and crime.
In my experience domestic violence is not normally the isolated incident, it is usually the culmination of a complex pattern of abuse perpetrated for years before the public, or sometimes anyone, becomes aware of it.
Some men still believe that women are their property and that they have a right to control lives - even if it means in extreme cases taking that life. Domestic violence is not a crime of passion. It is the choice of one more powerful person to exert his power over a more vulnerable one.
Unfortunately, it is also a way of life for many women. Local statistics now clearly reflect this. In cases I have come across in the past, it is change that a woman really desires. Unless the situation has gone too far ‘It is the attitude, abuse and violence that the victim cannot live with and not the individual’
As intimated earlier, children also suffer either directly or because of the traumatic experience of witnessing their parents hurting each other or one parent hurting the other parent, often repeatedly.