One of the most serious and prevalent forms of violence is that of domestic violence - which is most commonly perpetrated by men against former or current intimate partners. However, it is important to note that domestic violence is not solely committed against women, men are likely to suffer too. The Council of Europe (CoE) recognises the notion that violence may also be perpetrated by women and that it is also an occurrence in same-sex relationships. Moreover, the phenomenon exists in all CoE member states and occurs in all strata of society.
The definition of violence, on its own, is that of exerting power and control over another individual. Domestic violence, on the other hand, incorporates abusive as well as coercive behaviour. Nevertheless, the categories of domestic violence are not only comprised of physical occurrences, but also those psychologically or sexually abusive. More often than not, domestic violence follows a pattern of intimidating and threatening behaviour. Such alarming behaviour is enforced by establishing control over another person’s life through isolation, manipulation, or by placing limits on personal choices and freedoms.
Unfortunately, it is of no surprise that domestic violence often leads to serious health issues; physically, mentally and emotionally. Although the physical repercussions are often what society associates domestic violence with, there is more to it than meets the eye. The victim would have been living in an environment of fear and distress and may have also experienced a loss of self-confidence, which may lead to an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. In some cases, the physical factors of the offence would be non-existent. The psychological abuse is its own entity, oftentimes subtle, and most of the time the victim would be unaware that they’re being manipulated.
Domestic violence, therefore, needs to be understood in a wider social context. The perpetrators believe, by a self-granted right, that the exertion of violence is a means of exercising dominance and control. In Europe, data dictates that most cases of domestic violence are committed against women. Subsequently, this has been established as a pattern of gender-based violence. The CoE, in its Recommendation Rec (2002) 5 of the Committee of Ministers, to member states on the protection of women against violence, gives the following definition of violence against women;
‘[…] the term ‘violence against women’ is to be understood as any act of gender-based violence, which results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. This includes, but is not limited to, the following: a. violence occurring in the family or domestic unit, including, inter alia, physical and mental aggression, emotional and psychological abuse, rape and sexual abuse, incest, rape between spouses, regular or occasional partners and cohabitants, crimes committed in the name of honour, female genital and sexual mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, such as forced marriages.’
In addition, the CoE Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, in its preamble provides us with historical and ethical values of the phenomenon. In one of its opening clauses, the Convention touches upon the notion that ‘violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men’ which have in turn led to ‘domination over, and discrimination against, women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women’.
In 2014, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that one in three women across the continent report having experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse since their adolescence. The country with the highest reported cases is that of Denmark with 52%, while the country with the lowest rate is that of Poland, with 19%. Malta’s ranking is towards the bottom of the pack, with a surprising 22%. What’s more shocking is that in 2016, in an EU-wide survey, more than a quarter of respondents believed that non-consensual sex can be justifiable.The European Commission announced that 2017 was to be a year of action on violence against women. In May, the European Union took a welcome step towards fulfilling the promise, when member states agreed to sign the Istanbul Convention - a treaty aimed at combating violence against women and domestic violence. However, despite the hefty legal instruments at hand, protection measures vary widely across the EU.
Moreover, and as aforementioned, domestic violence is not reserved solely as an offence towards the female gender; it also affects males. The problem, however, is that most men choose not to speak up against domestic violence. Therefore, an injustice which is silent is very hard to track and record. More awareness towards domestic violence against men needs to be raised.
Most international instruments and domestic texts alike define domestic violence in broad terms. The CoE followed suite and, chose a definition which incorporates all forms of gender-based violence, regardless of where and by whom it is perpetrated.
It is not always easy to talk about a traumatic experience. It is not always easy to leave or move on. However, there is always a silver-lining in a seemingly dreary, grey cloud – the issues are constantly raised in parliament and there are strict laws to protect victims of human rights violations and other injustices.
This article was written in support of Kunsill Studenti Universitarji (KSU)’s Initiative for the Love Doesn’t Hurt Campaign.