Spouse Abuse: The Hidden Demon
Dr. Vetso Koza
[dropcap]S[/dropcap] [dropcap][/dropcap]pouse abuse or sometimes understood in broader term as Domestic Violence is a hidden demon that is destroying many marriages and homes. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2) Report in the year 2000, Nagaland recorded 10.3 percent of wives who were abused by their husbands. The NFHS-3 Survey Report in 2007 was 15.4 percent against the National record of 37.2 percent of spouse violence. Thus, in a span of 7 years it showed an increase of about 5 percent. This is bound to rise due to increase of socio-economic stress on the people and the search for personal identity. Even with this crucial need, we are rather reluctant to intervene in the problem because we often assume spousal abuse as marital problem and therefore a private matter. Spouse abuse is more than a marital problem. It is a behavioural crisis. Abuse is a systematic progression of event and mismanagement of one’s behaviour that becomes coercive. Spouse abuse happens with intention – the intention to dominate the intimate partner whether the abuser is consciously aware of this or not. It is an expression to assert one’s authority which the abuser is seemingly losing due to mismanagement of behaviour. Spouse abuse leaves its marks, though not every abuse is physically apparent. In most cases abuse comes subtly. Perhaps, many couples – even the victims – would not be aware that it is happening until it reaches a certain stage when it has become unbearable. People who abuse their intimate partners, in most cases, are those who respond poorly to stressful situations. They cannot handle problems. Further, in the case of a man abuser his greatest fear is that his woman will leave him; and it is this reason he intensifies abuse. Spouse Abusers generally have dual personalities. Leonore Walker describes them as both, “Charming and cruel, selfish and generous, extraordinarily possessive and extremely jealous….” They are outwardly aggressive but inwardly timid.
Abuse is a learned behaviour. Therefore, toxic parents can influence this abusive behaviour to their children as well. Children, who are often described as the ‘forgotten victims’ of Domestic Abuse, are affected not only by directly witnessing abuse but also by living in an abusive environment. Besides, the evil of spousal abuse is given the foothold to operate its atrocious deed because of various myths that surround the problem. Few of these myths can be mentioned:
i. House is the safest refuge: The conservative understanding that house is the safest refuge and danger occurs when one steps outside has blocked the minds of many people from seeing the vulnerability existing within the four walls of a home.The irony is not, that there is abuse in the home but that spousal abuse is found even in Christian homes. When spousal abuse happens in Christian homes, it is more difficult to detect because of the religious canopy that covers it.
ii. Abusers don’t need help: Many abusers think they have no behavioural problem and they don’t need the help of others. They have a, “I’m-not-too-good-but-I’m-okay” attitude. This is a defence mechanism to hide their weakness. This is a defence mechanism they develop to hide their weakness. The truth is, behind every abusive partner is a vulnerable person who is longing for healing.
iii. Change the victim’s behaviour and everything will be alright: Studies have shown that blaming the victim for the perpetrator’s abusive action is one of the most common excuses. This is more so in cases where the wife is the victim; a mindset influenced by patriarchal culture. Under such circumstances, the families and the community would blame the wife as “poor housekeeper,” and would advise the wife to be more submissive to the will of the husband. Thus, rather than addressing the source of abuse, victims are expected to change their behaviour in order to stop the perpetrators from abusing them.
iv. Alcohol is the main cause of spouse abuse: There may be a high co-relation between alcoholism and spouse abuse, and both can become compounding agent to each other. However, people who are not under the influence of alcohol still abuse their partners. Christy Telch and Carol Lindquist, in 1984 did a study on100 people to test the correlation between alcohol and spousal abuse (Alsdruf and Alsdruf, Battered into Submission). The result is, contrary to the common myth, alcohol does not seem to trigger more serious incidents. Alcohol in most cases is used as an agent for abuse excuse.
There is also a preconception that it is men who abuse their wives, and that women are always the victims. This fallacy has for a long time taken the bulk of attention in the form of research and intervention program for women. It is only in the recent time that studies have recognized men can also be victims of spouse abuse. The Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, in February 2003 reported that in the United States men account for approximately 15% of the victims of reported intimate partner violence. Systematic data in Nagaland cannot be established at present mainly due to social stigma. But it will not be surprising if some Naga men are also victims of their partner’s abuse. For instance, in the course of this research, a man, feeling embarrassed, voluntarily approached and confided to this writer how his wife used to abuse him, and how he dreads coming home from his workplace. Studies indicate that the abuse tactics and devices used by women abusers are also similar to their men counterpart. Women and children as victims need legal protection from domestic violence. It is against this backdrop that the Government of India has introduced, “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.” However, the umbrella of this legal rights and justice must be extended to those men victims of domestic abuse as well.
Combating spousal abuse must go beyond government policies. It needs coordinated community campaign for two main reasons. Firstly, to create awareness that spouse abuse is not a private matter affecting only the family members, but has direct consequences on the community and the generations to come. Secondly, the silence of the community towards spouse abuse is a subtle form of additional abuse to the victims. We indirectly propagate abuse due to our silence. This is because abusers would usually draw energy and self-justification from the silence of the people. Therefore, coordinated community campaign perhaps is the best way to fight the stigma attached to abuse which will enable many people, both abusers and victims to openly come forward and receive external help.
(This write-up is an extract of the D. Min. Thesis Titled, “Spousal Abuse and Pastoral Care: A Restorative Frame-work for Behavioural Change of Abusive Husbands in the Naga Context of Kohima,” submitted to the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, SAIACS, Bangalore, India on March 2014).