Violence and Abuse
Violence and abuse against women and girls is not a single issue but covers a range of behaviors and traditions, all of which negatively impact all aspects of woman’s safety and security. Anyone can be a victim, no matter their economic status, culture, or religion. The identity of the perpetrators also takes on many forms, ranging from intimate partners to parents, community leaders, and strangers.
The consequences of abuse can be catastrophic, threatening not just a woman’s physical and mental health, but also that of their children. On a broader scale, the repercussions of this harm for society are immense due to the demands it places on public resources and the victims’ ability to fully participate economically.
Different forms of abuse
According to the UK government, domestic abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional harm.
There are a number of different criminal offences with which abusers can be charged, but the multiple difficulties and challenges involved in bringing a case prevent many offenders ever being brought to justice.
How common is Domestic Abuse in the UK?
Domestic abuse is shockingly common. It is estimated that one in four women in the UK will suffer abuse at some point in her life (Office for National Statistics (2016), with this harm also affecting her family, community and wider society as a whole.
Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. – UK National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG)
Emotional and Verbal abuse is challenging to recognise because there are often no physical signs; however, it’s effects are severe and can cause life long damage to your mental wellness. Emotional abuse is consistent actions and behaviors intended to manipulate someone else psychologically. (Think to make someone feel shame or guilt over and over and over again.)
The underlying goal in emotional abuse is to control the victim by discrediting, isolating, and silencing.
Because emotional abuse can be hard to pinpoint, it is important to look for patterns of behaviors that could indicate abuse.
Criticism. Unrelenting criticism of what you say or do with a specific intention to display power.
Shame and blame. Sometimes emotional abuse manifests as incessant blaming and shaming for anything and everything. And, this goes two ways. Abusers may deflect blame or their responsibility for any hurtful actions, leaving the survivor feeling like they are the one at fault.
Threats. Threatening in emotionally abusive relationships often happens two ways: threatening physical harm and threatening you to do something you do not want to do.
Control. Emotional abusers may control your finances in an attempt to force you to stay in an abusive relationship.
Child marriage, or early marriage, is any marriage where at least one of the parties is under 18 years of age. Forced marriages are marriages in which one and/or both parties have not personally expressed their full and free consent to the union. A child marriage is considered to be a form of forced marriage, given that one and/or both parties have not expressed full, free and informed consent. – United Nations
According to UNICEF, Worldwide, more than 650 million women alive today were married as children. Every year at least 12 million girls are married before they reach the age of 18. This is 28 girls every minute. One in every five girls is married, or in union, before reaching age 18. In the least developed countries, that number doubles – 40 per cent of girls are married before age 18, and 12 per cent of girls are married before age 15. The practice is particularly widespread in conflict-affected countries and humanitarian settings.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. In many settings, health care providers perform FGM due to the erroneous belief that the procedure is safer when medicalized1. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
Sex-selective abortions are when the parents of the unborn child, wants a boy, for cultural or other reasons, leading to the abortion of the fetus.
The preference for male children is part of the general inequality of women in some cultures. This is largely economic and due to reasons like these:
- Earning power: Men are usually the main income-earners, either because they are more employable or earn higher wages for the same work, or because they are able to do more agricultural work in subsistence economies. Since male babies have a greater income potential, they are less likely to be killed.
- Potential pensions: In many societies, parents depend on their children to look after them in old age. But in many of these cultures a girl leaves her parental family and joins her husband’s family when she marries. The result is that parents with sons gain extra resources for their old age, when their sons marry, while parents with daughters lose their ‘potential pensions’ when they marry and move away. This gives parents a strong reason to prefer male children. Some parents (particularly poor ones) who can’t afford to support a large family, will kill female babies. Girls are considered a drain on family resources during their childhood without bringing economic benefits later on.
- Dowry: Some girl babies are killed so that the family doesn’t have to pay a dowry when they get married. In Indian society it is tradition for the parents of the bride to give a dowry to the groom and his family. The dowry consists of large amounts of money and valuable goods. For families with several daughters this can be a serious financial burden. (BBC, 2014)
A recent study has found sex-selective abortion has caused the premature death of over 23 million females. The majority of these “missing” girls are in China and India.
According to the MET Police, Honour based violence is a violent crime or incident which may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family or community.
It is often linked to family members or acquaintances who mistakenly believe someone has brought shame to their family or community by doing something that is not in keeping with the traditional beliefs of their culture. For example, honour based violence might be committed against people who:
- become involved with a boyfriend or girlfriend from a different culture or religion
- want to get out of an arranged marriage
- want to get out of a forced marriage
- wear clothes or take part in activities that might not be considered traditional within a particular culture
Women and girls are the most common victims of honour based violence however it can also affect men and boys. Crimes of ‘honour’ do not always include violence. Crimes committed in the name of ‘honour’ might include:
- domestic abuse
- threats of violence
- sexual or psychological abuse
- forced marriage
- being held against your will or taken somewhere you don’t want to go
A forced marriage is one that is carried out without the consent of both people. This is very different to an arranged marriage, which both people will have agreed to. There is no religion that says it is right to force you into a marriage and you are not betraying your faith by refusing such a marriage.
Human trafficking involves recruitment, harbouring or transporting people into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion and forced to work against their will.
In other words, trafficking is a process of enslaving people, coercing them into a situation with no way out, and exploiting them.
People can be trafficked for many different forms of exploitation such as forced prostitution, forced labour, forced begging, forced criminality, domestic servitude, forced marriage, and forced organ removal. – Anti Slavery.org
Physical abuse is the most visible form of domestic abuse. It includes such behaviour as slapping, burning, beating, kicking, biting, stabbing and can lead to permanant injuries and sometimes death. The perpetrator’s aim is to intimidate and cause fear. Two women per week on average are killed by a partner or former partner. Perpetrators of physical abuse may be extremely remorseful after the attacks; they may be tearful and apologetic. Alternatively they may insist that the victim started or caused the violence. They may argue that they had not intended to be physically abusive but that they ‘lost it’. They may blame it on drink or drugs. These conflicting justifications often leave the victim extremely confused and aim to enable the perpetrator to maintain control over the victim. Whatever happens, it is NEVER the fault of the victim, and the excuses will NEVER excuse violent behaviour in the home. – Living Without Abuse
Sexual violence during wartime is often committed in public and by several attackers. It includes gang rape and attacks with objects and weapons, which are inserted in the victims’ vagina or anus. Conflict-related sexual violence takes different forms, such as sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and sexual torture. – Mukwege Foundation
According to Citizens Advice, Sexual Harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
- violates your dignity
- makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
- creates a hostile or offensive environment
You don’t need to have previously objected to someone’s behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.
What’s the effect or intention behind the behaviour?
Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The law says it’s sexual harassment if the behaviour is either meant to, or has the effect of:
- violating your dignity, or
- creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment
If you’re being harassed at work
Sexual harassment can include:
sexual comments or jokes
physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching and various forms of sexual assault
displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
sending emails with a sexual content
Spiritual abuse is not limited to a certain religion or denomination. Any person, of any belief system, is capable of perpetrating spiritual abuse, just as anyone can be the victim of it. Signs of spiritual abuse between intimate partners include when an abusive partner:
- ridicules or insults the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs
- prevents the other partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
- uses their partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate or shame them
- forces the children to be raised in a faith that the other partner has not agreed to
- uses religious texts or beliefs to minimize or rationalize abusive behaviors
Spiritual abuse is no less harmful or difficult to endure than any other kind of abuse, as a person’s spiritual life is deeply personal. However, it can be very difficult to identify, as many victims may not recognize they are being abused. In addition, the abusive partner may claim that any challenge to the abuse is an assault on their own religious freedom. Regardless of either partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs, abuse of any kind is never acceptable or justified.
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