By Amber Thomas
United States: She screams, “No!” as her boyfriend lights the match to set the car on fire with her beloved dog inside. There is nothing she can do. She is trapped. If she fights back or attempts to save her beloved pet he will surely throw her into the fire. This time it was because she left him, for the fifth time. She asks herself why she has returned time and time again and the answer is always the same, “I love him.” But why does love have to hurt?
Vietnam: “I knew he would be boiling with anger when he came home as he has before. Like the last time I came with the cut on my face. This time, he accused me of lingering too long in the market. He was so hot that he threw the scalding water on me from the thermos,” this is what she tells the nurse and the authorities. They reply saying, “You should know not to talk back to him and you must cool him off and make peace in the home again. Make sure that when he comes home everything is harmonious and this will not keep happening,” was the response and solution given to her. After dressing her wounds they send her home, back to her husband and children. She must endure. She must return, but is there an end to the violence in sight?
Globally an average of 30% of women have experienced violence in a relationship. By individual country those figures can jump to 54% in Vietnam and 67.9% in Peru. The cost of these abuses including legal fees, medical support and time missed from work can amass to 83 billion dollars in the Britain and 8.3 billion dollars in the United States alone. When comparing these numbers to GDP, domestic violence accounts for 24.9% of GDP in El Salvador alone. These effects are not only felt monetarily through out the country but at the family level as well. In a study conducted in the US, a child that comes from a home with domestic violence can be stunted in growth and development. This leads to the statement, “If not for you, then do it for your kids,” in regards to leaving the volatile situation. However, it is not as simple as just leaving. On average it takes the abused seven times of physically leaving before they leave for good. However, how is a single mother suppose to support her children now that she has left her one-income family home and even more what happens to the abuser? Do they go into another relationship and become violent again? How can we break this never-ending cycle?
There are some trends seen with treatment for domestic violence. Most of them come down to education and empowerment. It can start with the women–educating them about domestic violence and empowering them to leave and find their own subsistence and educating the children so that they themselves do not become part of the cycle. But what if we took it a step further? Instead of just punishing the abusers and “throwing the to them wolves,” why not rehabilitate them, finding out what the root of the problem is to be able to combat it. One organization in Peru is doing just that. They have created small groups and offer individual counseling for those who are violent in their homes. In the groups they combat the idea that men are superior to women and teach them ways in which to handle their anger. Often the cultural idea is that women can be molded and taught how to act by men through force as seen in Vietnam. The root does not solely lie within the violent actions itself, but within the cultural norms.
What we must do to combat domestic violence on a large scale is not simply empower women, but we must rehabilitate the men and combat the social views that put women below men in a ranking system. This includes defining what domestic violence is and applying it cross-culturally. The United Nations defines domestic violence as, “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including treats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” We must not only focus on the key players of domestic violence, but we must also educate the public because the more people talk about it and know what it is, the easier it will be recognized. We must adopt a new idea about domestic violence in that there is “No pity, no shame, and no silence.” Considering the cost in income and, more important, human suffering, we cannot afford not to act!
Amber Thomas is a senior anthropology major pursuing a minor in Hispanic Studies at East Carolina University.