When the phenomenon of domestic violence comes to the minds of many the obvious kaleidoscope of images start to rush through our minds
By Tariro Senderayi
Blue-black swollen eyes, battered faces, bloody noses, broken bones and not so latent injuries come to mind. Some would even visualise a burley strong man on top of a scared woman with clenched fists threatening to batter her. Some would further envision an ambulance taking a victim away to the hospital for urgent medical attention and a docket being opened at the nearest police station.
Well, there is need for an enlightened understanding that domestic violence goes much deeper than the physical to the point that upon reading this article, some of you will have more questions than answers. Furthermore, you will realise that you could have been a witness, or a victim or yet a perpetrator of it in your own backyard.
The definition of domestic violence touches on so many aspects that most of us take for granted on a daily basis. A concept people need to grasp is that domestic violence is cross cutting because it disregards ones’ gender, class or economic status.
By definition in section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act, domestic violence is any intentional unlawful act, omission or behaviour which results in death or the direct infliction of physical, sexual or mental injury to any complainant by a respondent. There are diverse issues that are touched on by this definition of domestic violence and I will pick and explain on the ones that we encounter on a day to day basis.
Firstly, the physical aspect of domestic violence is the most obvious and comes as no surprise. When one decides to subject their spouse with a burst of fury and outrage that results in any physical injuries ranging from a black eye to broken bones it is a form of domestic violence.
Emotional and verbal abuse entails one being subjected to a barrage of demeaning words, insults and name calling that diminishes his or her self-esteem and is a form of domestic violence. Time and again this form of violence takes place but we have become so accustomed to its occurrence that we have accepted it as the new normal yet it is a form of abuse in the home. How many times have spouses called each other names when faced with a challenge? One example that hit home with me was a story of a particular woman. She stays in Hwange and is recently divorced. She told me that the reason her marriage took a turn was because they had been trying for children for so long without any success. The husband then resorted to calling her all sorts of vile names because of their predicament. She said the will to live deserted her and she even felt he was justified and she was to blame when he sought solace in the arms of other women. All that was left for her was to have the B word written on her forehead for the world to see it. She indeed was a victim.
One interesting aspect of domestic violence is the one falling under economic abuse. This one will surely raise your eyebrows because it is happening a lot. When as a spouse you deliberately refuse to support your wife and children yet you have the means to do so, you have become a perpetrator. Economic abuse is rampant nowadays as men prefer to lavishly spoil their “small houses” whilst in the matrimonial home there is rarely food and children are being sent away because school fees are not being paid. This form of abuse falls square under domestic violence.
One common misconception that occurs is that most people see women as the only victims of domestic violence yet it is not the case. Of late cases are rising whereby men are coming forward and claiming that they have become victims. These cases no matter how uncommon have gone on the rise. In the past domestic violence was associated with women as victims but the tables have turned. Most men do not report such cases for fear that their manhood will be questioned and they will surely be the brunt of all bad jokes. They still want to walk out there with their dignity intact and be viewed as the man of the home who is in full control of the reigns.
Intimidation, harassment and stalking are other forms of domestic violence that are happening. They too are offences that are punishable by law. In addition breaking into your ex-spouses’ residence when you no longer share the same home and causing malicious damage to their property or unreasonably disposing of their household property that they have an interest in is a form of domestic violence.
Falling under the umbrella of domestic violence are a number of cultural and customary practises that discriminate against or degrade women. These include forced virginity testing, pledging of girls and women for the purposes of appeasing spirits, forced marriages and child marriages, forced wife inheritance and sexual intercourse between fathers-in-law and newly married daughters-in-law.
This having been said, domestic violence is not so easy to report because of the connection the victim may have with the perpetrator. And in most cases when the victim is a woman she will choose not to report the matter in a bid to hold the family together and for fear that the husband could leave her to support and take care of the children alone. In the event that he is arrested and he is the breadwinner, she will weigh her options and choose not to report for fear of shouldering the burden of the children alone. She would rather suffer in silence as long as there is food on the table and the children are going to school. Furthermore, for fear of being labelled a disobedient wife and one who has deliberately shamed the family by hanging the dirty linen at the police station.
Domestic violence still is the largest threat to human development and a gross violation to human rights. Let us be more aware of our actions as spouses in the matrimonial home and intimate relationships because anyone can be a victim or a perpetrator of domestic violence.