Intimate Partner Violence: trauma cycle impacts society | Sunday Observer

Intimate Partner Violence: trauma cycle impacts society

 “A family is a place where minds come in contact with one another.” - Lord Buddha

As the age old saying goes, home is where your heart is. Another goes on to say that the difference between a house and a home is the love, comfort, acceptance, support and appreciation that a home provides, and a house does not. Home is a place where every man, woman, and child has the right to live in, free of violence and abuse; a place where one feels completely safe. However, what if that is the place where you experience the very opposite – trauma and abuse? For some, that would be something unimaginable. However, for others it is the daily reality of life. In this small island nation, where people live under the precepts of many accepted religions, violence and abuse happens in 60% of households according to research statistics. Domestic violence is a silent woe in whose clutches more than half the society is trapped in today. Unless and until the community opens its eyes and mind to the truths of the violence which happens in the confines of the very place where people should feel safe, the country would be drawn into a vicious cycle of trauma and abuse.

Domestic Violence, as the very words suggest is violence perpetrated in the domestic sphere or where a person calls home. While there are a few definitions, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, No. 34 of 2005, defines it as “violence that occurs within the home or outside between individuals in a close relationship”. While the term ‘Domestic Violence’ could include violence between spouses, parents and children, siblings, the extended family, relatives by marriage and/or individuals in familiar relationships to one another, this article focuses on violence between spouses or cohabiting partners also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

While many think of Intimate Partner Violence as physical, which most of the time is visible, it could also be in “unseen forms, which could do more harm to a person than physical violence,” says Erin Lloyd, a visiting Trauma and Abuse Specialist who was recently in Sri Lanka. “It is a pattern of forceful control by one partner in an intimate relationship which could be physical, sexual or emotional. It could be from male to female or female to male. Or even same sex partners.”

“One of the main things in IPV is control. It is neither anger nor alcohol, and never the cultural norms. The whole goal of the perpetrator is to get complete control of the person whom he or she victimizes and get their desires achieved through the person,” explains Erin. The reasons for these myths are the reluctance of the perpetrator, victim and even the society to identify it as ‘abuse.’ The perpetrator wants an excuse while the victim wants to believe it is not the fault of the partner due to the emotional weight attached to the realization. People avoid it because avoidance is an easier response.

Emotional control

“Sometimes, victims find it hard to identify the abuse, because there is no physical violence. However, many are emotionally and verbally assaulted. What matters most is not the actual act but the result.” Sometimes, the actual physical or sexual abuse may only be at the beginning and may not be present afterwards. Nevertheless, it is used to establish the control. Once abuse has been established in the relationship just a look or the tone of voice from the perpetrator is enough to sustain emotional control on the victim. Another confounder is the sugary sweet behaviour of the perpetrator right after the assault. There is a drastic change in the behaviour of a perpetrator after a major abusive assault for many reasons. He or she fears being ‘found out’ and losing the victim. There is some guilt as well. Another reason is to lure the victim towards a continuous relationship.

“IPV is a cycle, and globally it is the same” clarifies Erin. Researchers place the worst act of violence or abuse at its beginning. Next is the manipulative phase. The calm, quiet and the best behaviour of the perpetrator at this stage is welcomed by the victimized partner. However, this will soon end and the ‘back to normal’ phase begins. This part of the cycle could draw on for a long period. It is also the most difficult for the victim as he or she is walking on the edge not knowing when to expect assault.

The perpetrator again starts exacting control over the victim starting with small acts. Verbal abuse, financial control, restrictions in relationships, minor physical abuse and the like would prevail, increasing in intensity and sometimes frequency as time goes by culminating in another violent outburst. After that, the person again becomes calm, quiet and in his or her best behaviour and the cycle continues.

“IPV is greatly under-reported,” comments Erin. The last time she was in Sri Lanka for a considerable time during 2013/14, 61 percent (25 out of 41) of her clients had been seeking help for IPV issues. Confusion created through ‘best behaviour’ periods, victim’s emotional and/or financial dependence, cultural norms which look down on separation, divorce and single parents, are some main factors behind the ‘under reporting’ of the very crime that has the ability to pull apart a whole society.

Financial needs

“One of the worst parts of IPV is the effect on children. It traumatizes them. Childhood trauma makes a person less resistant to other trauma unless she or he works it through. When children grow up in a family with domestic violence a majority either become victims or perpetrators themselves. So, if it is not addressed properly, IPV could become a generational cycle, one generation transferring their behaviour to another; going on in a repetitive cycle.”

However, in Erin’s opinion, where healing is concerned breaking the abusive cycle, Sri Lanka has a lot of hope in community. The precedence is the Indian Ocean tsunami. “People do have a desire to help. Their automatic reaction is to help and protect.

How did people overcome the effects of the tsunami? It is the communal work and community support. They rallied around, validated their grief and loss, provided avenues to vent their emotions and helped them with material, financial needs.

The community was a safe place for people traumatized by the tsunami and helped them in the process of healing. It is the same with IPV, opines Erin. “Community support plays a major role in healing. It needs to be a safe place for those suffering from the trauma and abuse of IPV. In Sri Lanka, the laws are getting better and that is encouraging. However, if people don’t feel safe they keep silent. They may not even report abuse if they are not heard. The Police and the community leaders have a major role to play here.”

“The beautiful thing about Sri Lanka is how the family systems work. The name itself gives a lot of whom you belong to, your family. Sri Lankans care so much about the family.

To me it is strength. It is something that cannot be seen in my country, USA. If the family works in the way it is supposed to work, it is the safest place for anyone. In case of domestic violence, if the extended family rallies around to support and restore both parties – the victim and the perpetrator without condemning either, and figure out a way to break the cycle of abuse that would work best. The strength is in figuring out the way to fight the battle to stop the cycle of abuse.”

What are the ways to stop IPV? “The answer is multifaceted, though awareness is the key. Breaking the silence is crucial for the victimized party because unless one opens up, he or she cannot get help. It helps to remember that they are not at fault. However, both parties have to become aware of what abuse is. We need to work with both, victims and perpetrators. For a social change to happen we have to work on both sides.” Self worth and awareness of the pitfalls before getting married prevents individuals from getting abused, opines Erin. “When you know your real self-worth you are less likely to take abuse.

Romantic partner

The earlier the people are taught self-worth, the earlier they resist the cycle of abuse. Early childhood is a good time to start creating self-worth in an individual. Pre-marital counselling is a good approach. It helps re-train one’s expectations of marriage. Awareness of the abusive tendencies would help one to stop the relationship at an early stage, without getting into marriage.” Although relationship control is seen as common to some extent during dating, “excessive relationship control and isolation,” during courtship is a sure sign that one’s romantic partner may have abusive tendencies.

Attached to InterHealth Worldwide Organization, Erin Lloyd holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Denver, USA, and has experience working with trauma and abuse victims as well as perpetrators from all Continents. Her client profile includes people from USA, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Singapore, Middle East, India and Sri Lanka. For the past five years, she has been working intensively with trauma and abuse victims. 

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