By: Izzah Alwi, SOLS Health Intern
Imagine a scenario where your loved one was physically violent and emotionally manipulated you.
To Erin, this was not just a scenario in her mind; this was the reality of her married life when her husband became abusive a few years into their marriage. “I never knew that this would happen… He would slam my head against the wall, pull my hair and choke me.” Erin was also burnt with cigarettes, threatened with a machete and beaten with sticks and pipes. Furthermore, her children have witnessed Erin being abused by their father, which harmed Erin psychologically as she wished for her children to grow up in a happy family. Her husband also called Erin a “prostitute” and that she could only “fetch RM20 on the street”. Additionally, Erin’s children were also abused as when they complained about their hunger, their father would pick them up and throw the child on the bed.
Let’s take a look at another relationship: Lydia and Ben. Unlike Erin’s, the red flags in this relationship appeared early. It was a year and a half into their relationship when Ben turned physical during arguments and used hurtful words. “I remember he used words to tear me down. He would weaponise my insecurities against me, like, ‘You’re lucky you even have someone who loves you’”. Ben knew of Lydia’s father abandoning her family when she was young, and used this trauma against her. Lydia also fell victim to Ben’s gaslighting, a form of emotional manipulation and abuse; whenever Ben displayed abusive behaviours, the next day, he would pretend as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. He also did not show any signs of remorse. Lydia noted that Ben was very loving and these abusive instances would take place unexpectedly, making her question whether it even happened.
Pregnant wives are not exempt from abuse within the household. In an interview on domestic violence, Ikin confessed to having two miscarriages in her early years of marriage from her husband’s beatings. “My family-in-law knew of what happened, but they dismissed my trauma by saying it was not the right time for us to have a child yet.” Ikin expressed being extra careful during her third pregnancy to prevent another miscarriage from happening, but the beatings persisted. Her child was born prematurely as a result. Nonetheless she was grateful that her child survived this time.
Yet, what exactly is domestic violence and why is it so harmful?
Domestic violence is a pattern of violence, abuse, or intimidation used to control or maintain power over a partner who is or has been in an intimate relationship. It is not limited to physical, psychological and sexual abuse, as it can include economic abuse, online, and offline stalking.
However, the impact of abuse is not only detrimental to the mother; it also harms children who are either abused along with their mothers or they witness the abuse enacted upon their mother. Research concludes that children who are exposed to domestic violence are 15 times more likely to be physically abused and neglected than children in a non-abusive household. Evidence also suggests that growing up in an abusive home can jeopardize the developmental progress and personal ability of children, which negatively affects their adulthood as they may perpetuate this cycle of violence.
Domestic violence may be a troubling problem to many families, but should Malaysia be concerned?
According to the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) the number of domestic violence cases reported in Malaysia reached its peak in 2016, with 5,796 new cases compared to 5,014 in 2015. This number of new reported cases decreased in the following years, although it is still at an alarming rate of 5,513 cases in 2017 and 5,421 cases in 2018, with Selangor and Johor having the highest number of cases. In 2017, most domestic violence survivors and perpetrators were between the age 26 to 35.
A study also reported that in a sample of 2,640 women respondents, 8% of women in Malaysia have experienced at least one form of violence in their household, such as physical, psychological and sexual violence. From 2015 to 2016, 93% of women who came to WAO reported psychological abuse.
Under the MCO in May, calls to the WAO Hotline increased by 3.4 times as a result of domestic abuse victims being stuck at home with their perpetrators. Due to this surge in demand for NGO counselling services, services like the WAO Hotline are oversubscribed and struggled to increase their capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had brought this hidden household crisis to the spotlight.
How do these services help victims of domestic abuse?
Access to these services can help women escape abusive situations. Research shows that integrated NGO and community care empower women and make it more likely for them to leave their abusers. These services provide a neutral ground to seek help, especially when the victim finds that their own families or the police are unable to acknowledge domestic abuse due to their lack of knowledge and expertise surrounding it.
Oftentimes, survivors approached the police for help, but no police action was taken. In 2016, 41% of women filed a police report before coming to the WAO, whereby ation was only taken after the intervention of a social worker. Social workers and mental health practitioners are important for survivors to access help beyond the psychological aspect, such as their assessments of domestic violence being used as evidence in legal matters. Access to therapy and counseling is not only a means for psychological recovery; they can also empower survivors.
As an effort to make therapy more accessible, SOLS Health is funding therapy sessions and support programmes to aid victims through their recovery process with our BRAVE programme (Building Resilience, Acceptance, Valiance, and Empowerment). BRAVE is a forward-looking programme that enables families who have been victims of domestic violence to receive mental health services for processing their trauma accordingly. At the end of the day, the BRAVE programme seeks to help victims to confidently look towards the future.
8% of women in Malaysia have experienced at least one form of violence in their household
Calls to the WAO Hotline increased by 3.4 times during the MCO period as a result of domestic abuse victims being stuck at home with their perpetrators
As an effort to make therapy more accessible, SOLS Health is funding therapy sessions and support programs to aid victims in their recovery process through the BRAVE program
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