Domestic violence – The Myths and the Facts, and how you can get help Expert Advice with Dr. Lihini Wijeyaratne

Dr. Lihini Wijeyaratne MBChB, BSc

1 in 3 women experiences physical or sexual violence, or both, perpetrated by someone they know.

Domestic violence is typically described as a pattern of abusive and controlling behavior that can take many forms among intimate, family, or informal care relationships.

Typically, women are predominantly the victims of domestic violence, although men can also be affected.

Domestic violence can occur regardless of sexual orientation. Domestic violence is a crime, and in extreme cases can result in death. 

Cases of domestic violence have risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, as families are forced to spend more time together, with increasing misuse of alcohol and other drugs, as well as spikes in mental illness and unemployment.

However, there remain plenty of misunderstandings regarding what domestic violence really is, and what can be done about it. 

In this article, we will focus on violence between a husband and wife.

However, the same concepts will apply to other abusive relationships e.g. between parents and children, elders, and carers. 

Myth: Domestic violence means that my husband is physically abusive towards me (e.g. beating me)

Fact: there are different forms of abuse.

The terms of domestic violence and abuse are powerful. We often conjure up images similar to what we may see in the media of what domestic violence must be- being beaten by an enraged and drunk husband.

This certainly is domestic violence. However, it can present in many other forms- the key is control and coercion. 

Physical abuse– this can range from being shoved or pinched with malicious intent, to being pushed down the stairs or physically beaten. 

Sexual abuse– being forced to have sex without consent (also known as rape), without contraception against your will, or being angry and make you feel guilty about refusing sex. This is regardless of whether you are married or not. You can be married and still be sexually abused or raped.  

Verbal abuse– being spoken to in a derogatory or aggressive manner, and being made to feel humiliated.

Financial abuse– being financially controlled by not having to be able to control access over your money without permission, resulting in a reduced ability to live independently. 

Social abuse– not being allowed to leave the house or meet people without permission. 

Ultimately, what domestic violence or abuse really is, is a form of control that results in you becoming increasingly dependent on the person who is controlling you. And control can start off being so subtle that you may not even see it. 

Myth: It is easy to tell what kind of people can be abusive 

Fact: Sometimes it can be, but it’s not always that easy.

Plenty of people who are abusive towards their partners at home lead what we consider to be successful lives.

It is often thought that people from ‘stable families’ are safe bets – although it is more likely that adults who were abused or witnessed abuse as children are more likely to be abusive themselves, there is no guarantee that this works the other way around.

Relationships are not always abusive from the start.

What appears to be simply over-attention can develop over time to become a toxic and controlling power dynamic. 

So what are the warning signs? Here are some common situations:

  • Not wanting you to see your friends/family anymore 
  • Requiring you to seek permission to see friends/family
  • Checking your phone – reading your messages/emails 
  • Constantly checking your whereabouts or tracking you on your phone 
  • Getting excessively angry if you do not reply to messages quickly or picking up the phone for them 
  • Taking over the finances so that any money you may need is pre-approved by them 
  • Constantly making you feel small and worthless, not being happy for your successes 
  • Misusing alcohol or other drugs and then becoming angry and losing their temper with you

All these examples need to be taken in the correct context, i.e. with an intent to control.

We all get emotional now and then, and behave in ways that we are not proud of.

It is important to acknowledge when this happens, apologize, and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

This is different from abuse. 

Myth: Domestic violence is a problem that affects poor people.

Fact: Domestic violence can occur in any home.

whether you are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, working, or staying at home.

It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity, religion, social status, or economic class is.

Myth: It’s ok if it only happened once.

Fact: Certain types of behaviour are unacceptable, even if they do not occur regularly.

It is particularly important that you are able to make clear and discuss these events when they occur so that they do not become a pattern.

You may need the help of a counselor to have these discussions. 

Myth: Violence is normal when someone is stressed or angry. 

Fact: Stress, anger, or being intoxicated are not excuses for violent behaviour.

They do not have to go together. 

Myth: Domestic violence is my fault. Some people deserve it. 

Fact: Victims of domestic violence cannot and should not be blamed.

No one ever deserves to be treated in a disrespectful manner, regardless of what you look like, how you dress, whether you were drinking alcohol at the time, or if you have made a mistake.

Problems exist in many relationships but using violence to resolve them is never acceptable.

Victims of violence often believe they are to blame because they are told this repeatedly by the perpetrator.

Victims should not be held accountable for the offender’s actions.

Myth: People who stay in abusive relationships deserve to be abused. Otherwise, they would leave. 

Fact: There are plenty of people in abusive relationships who find it very difficult to leave.

Abusive relationships are complex, and victims often love their partner very much despite how they are treated.

It takes a huge amount of strength and courage to leave such a relationship. 

It also requires that they recognize the abuse, and understand it is not their fault and do not deserve it. 

Common reasons why victims stay in relationships are often out of fear, embarrassment or shame, low self-esteem, love, belief that abuse on some level is normal, cultural and religious reasons, lack of money or resources to leave, dependence on the abuser, and a belief that things will change.

Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse because abuse is about power and control.

When a victim leaves, they are taking control and threatening the abusive partner’s power, which could cause the abusive partner to retaliate in very destructive ways.

Myth: I can’t leave my abusive partner for the sake of my children

Fact: Children are at high risk of being abused in homes where domestic violence occurs.

They often grow up in fearful environments and witness unhealthy relationships and abuse.

The effects of this type of childhood carry on into adult life, where they find it difficult to form healthy relationships of their own and are more likely to emulate the types of behaviours they grew up with. 

If you are in a situation of domestic violence and there are children in the house, it is even more important that you seek help for the sake of your children. 

Myth: I know someone who is a victim of domestic violence. But it’s none of my business.  

Fact: Domestic violence is everyone’s business.

Given that 1 in 3 of us will experience abuse, it’s essential that we support each other.

This means looking for the signs in your friends, family, and colleagues. It means being brave enough to ask whether everything is ok at home, and offering support.

It can be hard to know what to do.

You, like most people, could be reluctant to intrude or discuss something so intimate.

Ultimately, a victim of domestic violence needs to recognize what is happening, realize they do not deserve it, and make the decision about whether to leave the relationship or not.

However, you can still provide emotional support.

If there are children at risk, it is your responsibility to report this to the authorities. 

Domestic violence is not just a family problem. 

It’s a crime with serious consequences for your friend, their children, and the entire community.

It takes a lot of time, planning, help, and courage to escape domestic violence.

It’s important for the victim to know that help is available from people who know and care about the situation.

The more that we all are aware of domestic violence and take responsibility as a society to not tolerate it, the happier and healthier we will all be. 

How do I leave a situation of domestic violence?

Leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous and should ideally be planned. 

If you are considering leaving a situation of domestic violence, try to plan ahead.

  • Speak to support services (see below) and trusted friends or family. 
  • Make sure you have a place to stay. 
  • Prepare a bag with what you need to take, especially legal documents and money. You might have to leave this at a trusted person’s house. 
  • Consider whether the police need to be informed. 
  • You may have to leave your phone behind if it can be used to track you. 
  • Ideally, you would have evidence of what you have been going through, e.g. medical records, pictures of injuries, as supporting evidence for when you seek legal advice. It is important to start collecting this information from when you first recognize you are in an abusive relationship, as you may not have enough time when you decide to leave.   

You do not need to tell the perpetrator in advance that you are leaving or why. Do not leave a note or message them.

It is best to plan to leave when they are out of the house and have your transport already arranged. 

If you are not yet ready to leave, prepare a bag of essentials in case you need to leave urgently.

If you are ever worried about your safety, your children, or others, contact the police. 

Support services available in Sri Lanka include:

Ministry of Women and Child Affairs hotlines 1929 & 1938 – Women helpline

The Salvation Army Sri Lanka provides shelter women and children affected by family violence. They provide short term shelter. Call 112324660

Community Concern Society The Community Concern Society runs a shelter for abused women called Heavena. Call 112 721 812

Family Planning Association provides counseling for women and children facing domestic violence. Call 112 555 455

Home for Human Rights – provides advocacy on behalf of women who are abused. Call 112 577962

Ma-Sevana – Sarvodaya is a place for young mothers who have been victims of sexual abuse, rape, and incest. It provides residential care and protection. Call 011 2 655577. 

Women in Need (Hotline 077 5676 555, 25 Tickell Rd, Colombo 8, [email protected], https://www.winsl.net/) and 

Sumithrayo (+94 112 682 535, 60/7 Horton Pl, Colombo 7, [email protected], https://srilankasumithrayo.lk/)

 

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