As per the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2020, domestic violence is any physical, psychological, sexual, or economic abuse that occurs within the domestic unit or family, including but not limited to physical assault, battery, criminal force, sexual abuse, harassment, wrongful confinement, and destruction of property. Domestic violence under Federal and provincial laws is deemed as a crime and is punishable by up to 5 years and a minimum of 6 months of imprisonment.

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In this article, we will be discussing different forms of domestic violence, causes of domestic violence, and ways of helping survivors of domestic violence.

Note: The common perception is that the perpetrators of violence are only women and girls. The victim can be any vulnerable person* tied in a domestic relationship with the perpetrator like children, siblings, uncle, aunt, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, etc. Hence, anyone can be affected by domestic violence, including women, men, girls, boys, or transgender persons. The laws in Pakistan provide equal protection to anyone affected by domestic violence and the Government of Pakistan has taken various initiatives to help people affected by domestic violence including helplines, crisis centers, and amendments in various national laws.

"Vulnerable person" means a person who is vulnerable due to old age, mental illness, physical, learning, psychosocial, or other disability, or for other special reason.

Forms of Domestic Violence

To help the survivors of domestic violence, it is important to understand that domestic violence is not always physical, it has different forms. Federal and provincial laws in Pakistan concerning domestic violence in Pakistan define different forms of domestic violence as physical abuse; emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse; sexual abuse; and economic abuse.

i. Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any act of aggression that causes bodily harm, pain, or damage to the person on receiving end. Physically assaulting someone or administrating them substances like any form of drugs that can impair their physical and mental health is also considered physical abuse. Forceful confinement of a person to a certain boundary can also be considered physical abuse. There are some forms of physical abuse which can also be categorized as emotional or psychological abuse as well as sexual abuse like forced marriages.

ii. Emotional, Psychological, and Verbal Abuse

Emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse and can evolve into physical assault. Under the federal and provincial laws, it is punishable. This form of domestic violence includes but is not limited to, verbal harassment, bullying, humiliation, threatening, and belittling behavior. Actions like character assassination of a partner, obsessive behavior, invasion of privacy, etc.

iii. Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any conduct or behavior that sexually abuses, violates, humiliates, or degrades a family member.

iv. Economic Abuse

Economic abuse, as per the law, is intentionally depriving a family member of economic and financial resources. Or putting restrictions on them to access those resources. For example, depriving your family member of money, forcing them to give up their share in the property or giving it to you, restricting a family member from getting a job etc. Using a family member’s credentials without their knowledge or consent to open a bank account, get credit cards or loans on their name, or conducting any other financial activity in their name is also seen as economic abuse.

Causes of Domestic Violence

The reasons and cause of domestic violence are complex and varies as per context but the most important thing to remember is that it is never the fault of the victim.

Some causes of domestic violence are:

  • Societal and cultural factors that justify domestic violence as acceptable.
  • Childhood trauma such as child abuse can increase likelihood of one becoming an abuser. Stress also contributes to it.
  • Substance abuse like alcohol or drug abuse can become a cause of abuse as it impairs judgement of a person.
  • Personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder or empathy deficit disorder.

Signs of Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse usually starts with verbal and psychological abuse and eventually escalates to physical abuse. It should also be borne in mind that abuse is not always visible and the person facing abuse may not come forward to ask for help or talk about it, which makes it important to watch out for signs of abuse.

i. Physical Signs

Physical signs of domestic abuse can look like:

  • Bruises, cuts, red or purple marks on body or other kind of physical injuries (the victim may give inconsistent explanations for them).
  • Difficulty walking or sitting.
  • Having very little or no money and not being allowed to have access to a bank account or other financial means.

ii. Emotional and Psychological Signs

Emotional and psychological signs of domestic abuse may look like.

  • Change in behavior like showing signs of agitation, irritability, or anxiety.
  • Being fearful or apprehensive or jumpy.
  • Low self-esteem, being apologetic or feeling guilty or ashamed.
  • Being reserved or withdrawn.
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family.
  • Withdrawing from daily activities or cancelling plans/meetings/appointments.
  • Being excessively private about their personal life.
  • Change in sleeping or eating patterns.
  • Drug or substance abuse.

How to Help People Affected by Domestic Abuse?

It is extremely important to remember that victims of domestic abuse go through a range of emotions and feeling. They are usually too afraid or ashamed to ask for help. And in many situations, they might not ask for help in hope that things would get better.

Some victims might overreact or get agitated if you try to talk to them about it or offer help. Their reaction should not be taken personally instead you should be patient with them and assure them that you will be there for them if they need support.

Following are some ways you can help a victim of domestic violence:

i. Believe the victim

It is important to assure the victim of your support.

  • Be open when listening to them.
  • Make them feel heard and assure them that you believe them. Do not assume that the victim is reporting falsely.
  • Assure them their feelings (confusion, fear, anger, or love) are valid.
  • Do not be disruptive, actively listen and offer advice or solutions once the victim sought them.
  • Remind them that it is not their fault and that there is no justification for violence.

ii. Do not shame the victim, offer unconditional help

Victims of domestic violence go through a lot of confusing emotions and fears. Many victims choose to stay in the situation because they either fear for their or their children’s future, they are financially dependent on the abuser, they lack support from their immediate family, they love their partner and believe they would change, they have been manipulated to think that they are at fault, or they are blackmailed by their abuser.

  • Never shame the victim for choosing to stay. Just explain to them how staying in the situation might put them in danger and you are there to help them.
  • It is also important that you do not offer help that you cannot follow through.
  • Do not push a victim to take a specific action or do anything on their behalf that can potentially put their life in danger including confronting their abuser.

iii. Do not refer to their abuse publicly

It is hard for domestic abuse victims to open up about their situation, and it is very likely they are not comfortable talking about it in front of people. If they have confided in you, do not talk, or discuss or refer to it in front of people, whether the victim is present or not. If you see signs of abuse, it is best to talk to them and offer support in private. Publicly doing it might make them feel humiliated and agitate them.

iv.  Offer specific support and help them find resources

If the victim is willing to take a specific action, for example, getting counseling that can help them understand their situation in a better manner so they can decide on specific course of action they want to/can take. Or if they want report to authorities or leave their house. Then find ways in which you can help and support them. Gather resources like phone numbers for helplines which can provide counseling to the victims, safe shelter homes or addresses of places where they can take refuge, information on seeking legal aid etc. Make sure that the resources you are sharing are functional and safe. And you are not further endangering the life of the victim.

v. Help them come up with a safety plan

In case of serious violence, come up with a safety plan that the victim might want to follow if they want to leave,

Safety plan might include:

  • Address and contact information of place they can seek shelter.
  • A prepared and believable excuse to leave.
  • A second mobile phone or device through which they can communicate with friends or family in case their phone is taken away by their abuser.
  • An escape bag with essentials like cash, change of clothes, their ID card etc. That they can use in crisis.

Make sure that the plan is foolproof and practical. Go through the plan with the victim and help them visualize it.

Get Help

If you know someone who is facing domestic violence or anyone around you is facing violence, you can get help - get free legal advice and find resources like shelter homes – through Ministry of Human Rights Helpline 1099. Or you can download Helpline 1099 app from Google Play Store and get help through the app. Or reach out to Ministry of Human Rights through WhatsApp.

Ask Bolo

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