Domestic abuse is a grave threat to society because it can be linked directly to all of these lifelong illnesses and even some crimes. Domestic violence against women is defined by the United Nations’ Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women as “physical, social, and/or psychological violence within the family, the community, and/or any violence that is condoned by the state” (Morgaine 2007). Domestic violence is not a new issue. It is present in every culture around the world and can be traced back through human existence.
What is new is how this issue is being dealt with in society and by the government. The World Health Organization found in studies conducted in the late 1990s that one of every three women worldwide have been a victim of violence by a partner in an intimate relationship at some point in their lifetime (Nayak et al. 2003). This number is astounding. With violence and abuse toward women almost commonplace in intimate relationships, the question begs to be asked: What is being done to stop it? Since the 1970s, many laws have been amended or created to include more variables of abuse.
Victims do not have to seek divorce or separation before they are granted help. Laws requiring an arrest if a claim of domestic abuse is made and police are called out to the scene have been passed and put into effect. Other laws and programs have been put into place in favor of the victim. They were created to help victims seek out help. In 1994, and in a reauthorization in 2000, the United States passed the Violence against Women Act. This act prompted a response by the legislature, resulting in “amended definitions, and expanded civil and criminal court remedies (Scott and Kunselman 2007).
Social changes, such as the Civil Rights movement and women’s rights activists finally speaking out against domestic violence made the issue a concern of public health as well as an issue of basic human rights. The federal and state governments stepped in to try to curb domestic violence and provided various resources for victims in need. Shelters, hotlines and crisis centers emerged as safe havens for battered women (Rajan and McCloskey 2007). Finally, these women had some place to turn to for help. Despite these laws, however, violence against women is still a very big problem in the United States.
Decree and relief from the violence are completely different things, unfortunately. Even though laws were put into place, law enforcement could only do so much. Often times, because of the laws, police were forced to arrest victims as well as the perpetrators because they had not witnessed the event. In other situations, the male was simply told to leave and regain composure before returning to the home, with no consequences enforced (Rajan and McCloskey 2007). These situations did not protect the victims, in fact, it left them quite vulnerable.
In 1976, Pennsylvania passed the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act. This act provided protective orders to all victims of intimate partner violence within the state of Pennsylvania. This began several years of reforms and new legal protections under the law (Rajan and McCloskey 2007). The system is not a safe fail, though. There has been a decrease in domestic violence in the last twenty years, but many abusers go unpunished. Without consequences, abusers and victims continue in the cycle of repeat abuse.
In a study conducted in 2000, there showed to be approximately 908,000 victimizations against women each year between 1992 and 1999. From the study it was learned that 91% of the women surveyed had been victims of repeat abuse, that is five or more incidences within a six month period (Rand and Saltzman 2003). It really is no wonder then that battered and abused women suffer from mental and social disorders as a direct result from their ordeals. Abuse has severe and lifelong consequences even after the abuse stops.
Negative, physical health problems in addition to death and physical injury, have been reported as follows: autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, gastrointestinal problems, heart disease, obesity, pulmonary problems, , severe headaches and/or migraines, sexually transmitted diseases, sleep disorders, somatic syndromes and an overall higher dependence on healthcare services. The psychological health problems related to intimate partner violence are depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It has also been found that 51% of women who attempted suicide had a history of intimate partner violence (Renner and Markward 2009). Studies and research have shown a decline in intimate partner violence since the late 1980s and early 1990s (Morgaine 2007). In spite of this, a decline does not mean that the damage to these women in society has not already been done. These battered women are often left broken or as shadows of their former selves. Many suffer from the aforementioned physical and psychological disorders and cannot reacclimatize with society because of these conditions.
Survivors may still be trying to come to terms with the damage years later and carry those physical and emotional scars with them for the rest of their lives. They may seek help, whether through professional counseling or legal prosecution of their abusers. The system has set up many resources and made them readily available, but mostly, victims of domestic abuse feel they are on their own. Many factors play a role in why a lot of abuse goes unreported and if and/or when a victim leaves an abusive relationship. Some victims fear further violence and loss of resources and shelter.
This may lead a victim to stay in the relationship longer or even return to the abusive relationship (Brandi and Dawson 2011). Being forced to face the shame of being a victim and feelings of guilt also prevent women from reporting what was done to them. For some women, finding the strength to leave is the most important thing in the world to them. Once out of the situation, it is easier to forget and move on then face the exposure of a legal trial. It is this mentality of guilt, shame and fear felt by these victimized women that society does not understand.
One study showed different preconceived ideas about what causes domestic violence and even what women do to deserve the abuse. Those ideas that ranked over . 50 in the survey included the ideas that 1) nagging lead to violence in the home, 2) women deserve to be beaten, 3) battered women’s actions cause their husbands to beat them, 4) a man is justified to beat his wife if she is unfaithful and 5) if women are obedient and take care of their husbands they would never get beaten (Nayak et al. 2003). Given these results, it is easy to see why victims feel so alone.
A large portion of society blames the woman or believes that the violence could have been prevented in some way. A common question from non-battered women in society is “why didn’t she just leave? ”. The answer to this, though not proven, is not that difficult to understand. A woman, who is being physically abused, is usually being emotionally abused and manipulated as well. A real threat of death may keep women from leaving. Resources may have been taken away from these women: money, cars, even jobs. They are usually isolated from the people that care about them.
The abusers are their husbands, boyfriends, and significant others, oftentimes the only person left to love them. The abusive relationship is all they know. Domestic violence poses a grave threat to society because it can lead to further crime. Battered women may feel so trapped that there is no other way out than homicide. The homicide rate within intimate partner violence has dropped significantly in the last twenty five years due to increased public awareness and new policies, but it still exists (Dugan, Nagin, and Rosenfield 2003).
Retaliation or feelings of being trapped lead some battered women to commit crimes they never would have before. Ironically, the resources that have been put into place to protect women from violence have actually played a crucial role in reducing the number of intimate partner homicides at the hands of victims. Studies have shown that regardless of whether there are resources available or not to help battered women, men’s violent tendencies stayed the same. This may seem to be a benefit to society, since homicide is being prevented, but it also shines light on something else. The laws that have been put into place need to be revised.
Women are still unsafe and policy needs to be dramatically altered to deal with that (Dugan, Nagin, and Rosenfield 2003). If the government and society worked harder to accept domestic violence as not just a problem, but as a violation of human rights, as it is directly stated in the fourteenth amendment, these women might stand a chance. If nothing changes, one out of every three women will continue to be at risk of developing serious health problems, continuing to be exposed to violence, and getting so lost in the shuffle of the legal system that they take the law into their own hands.