Domestic violence: How to spot the red flags and support victims
Creating safe spaces for those in need
“It’s completely possible that a couple is completely in love, and they give each other little hits and stuff and they completely understand. They are still in love.” That was Arjun Reddy actor Vijay Deverakonda romanticising the domestic violence portrayed in his film (and its Hindi adaptation, Kabir Singh)
On the other end of the spectrum is director Anubhav Sinha, and his upcoming movie, Thappad. In it, Taapsee Pannu plays the protagonist who files for divorce on the grounds of being slapped once by her seemingly loving husband.
The trailer shows how the actor fights her battle single-handedly as people around her, including her mother, convince her that it’s just one slap, and ask her to move on.
Cinema, in this case, accurately mirrors society. Breakthrough India, an NGO that works to stop violence against women across the country, states “1 in 3 women in India lives with domestic violence.”
According to data published by National Family Health Ministry, 31 per cent of married women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their spouses.
The most common type of spousal violence is physical violence (27 percent), followed by emotional violence (13 percent).
Psychologist Prachi Vaish, who has worked with Breakthrough says “I have witnessed domestic violence while growing up. My mother was beaten up,” she says.
According to Vaish, victims often fail to recognise the signs of abuse and can be clueless about the recourse. Outsiders and friends don’t know how to address the issue, and might end up preaching to the victims to get out of the relationship.
It requires emotional intelligence and a defined understanding of the problem to actually make a difference.
Vaish, who extensively works with victims, highlights the red flags and dissects forms of intimate partner violence that are far more complicated and nuanced than they appear.
What constitutes domestic violence
Physical abuse is the most easily recognisable form of domestic violence. This often arises from deep lying anger issues.
The abuser tries to rationalise his actions by guilt-tripping the partner. “Look what you made me do. You provoked me to act this way,” are the generic reasons they’ll cite.
The psychological or emotional abuse occurs through isolation. The culprit subtly alienates the victim from their social circle; makes them entirely dependent on him or her.
This is always about control. The abuser feels if they don’t control their partner, they will lose them.
Often they will monitor their partner’s finances and prevent them from being independent. These behaviours come under the purview of emotional cruelty.
“One of my clients was dating a guy who got angry if she went out with her friends. Things got worse when he slapped her one day. She was shaken,” says Vaish. “But she justified his behaviour by saying that she made him angry. Victims don’t realise when the abuse happens, and our society normalises violence against women.”
She asserts that men get abused too, and cases of fake dowry threats and physical violence are fairly common.
Psychological violence includes emotional cruelty as well as withholding of sex.
All forms of abuse come under our judiciary’s umbrella of domestic violence, and a person can file for divorce if they experience even one of the forms.
- Love bombing: The abuser will bombard the partner with love 24/7, especially in the initial days of their relationship. There will be grand gestures, and they will want to spend all the time with their partner. They will claim that they can’t live without them. They do this to make their partner their property and alienate them from everybody else in your life.
- A patterned past: The abuser will have a history of multiple short-term relationships. They will not divulge details of their break-up, but claim that their former partners didn’t understand them.
- Double-facedness: Their thoughts and actions will change depending on the surroundings. They may put up a chivalrous, sensitive demeanour in public, but make nasty and problematic comments in private. They can go from being charming to ruthless in an instant.
- Controlling behaviour: They won’t state that they want their partner to change, but will subtly push their partner towards it. They will have an opinion on how their partner dresses, and even how they conduct themselves in public. It starts small, but ends up changing your identity.
Supporting victims of domestic abuse
Often, friends and colleagues can recognise the red flags before the victim. But it’s a complicated process, and interfering in a relationship can be interpreted as crossing boundaries, sometimes at the cost of your friendship.
“A lot of victims decide to stay in a bad relationship for financial reasons. Some don’t have any other place to go to. Every case is different. As a third person, the best you can do is be patient,” says Vaish.
Listen, don’t tell: Stop asking them why aren’t they leaving. Instead, give them hope, a safe place to turn to should they need someone in their corner. Talk about concrete examples you may be aware of so they know they aren’t the first or only people to face this.
Supporting is a long-term commitment: Stand by them. Be patient. Let them confide in you and understand that they will take their time to make a decision. Most importantly, don’t give up on them after listening to them for a month or so.
Where do you begin:
DVH India (Domestic Violence Helpline) Legal Advisory: The organisation is led by a team of legal professionals with expertise in the Domestic Violence Act. Contact: 9423827818
Breakthrough: A women’s rights organisation that fights for the rights of the fairer gender and tries to change how they are treated in our society. Contact: 4166610106
Majlis: It is a pluralistic organisation encompassing cultural and legal practices to defend women’s rights. Contact: 022-26662394