Domestic violence and abuse is not someone else's problem. It affects the very fabric of our society in a very real and negative way. In 2004, the government published the first national research on the economic costs of domestic violence and the estimated cost to London services alone is £435 million per year.* And it is no secret that dysfunctional and unstable family environments are one of the factors in rising youth crime. At Aanchal we believe that we have a moral duty not to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. In Asian communities the problem is exacerbated by the traditional and unsupportive attitudes that still prevail.
Helping a woman to leave an abusive relationship is a long and difficult road. How do you help break the chain of domestic abuse?
*This figure includes the cost to the Criminal Justice Service, healthcare services, Social Services, housing and refuge services as well as civil legal costs. (Mayor of London's Office, The Second Domestic Violence Strategy, November 2005)
Why do women stay in abusive relationships?
It is estimated that up to a quarter of women experience domestic abuse in their lives at some stage. Among black and ethnic minorities, like Asian communities, this figure is often much higher. The norms and values of the patriarchal family system in Asian communities make it a taboo for a woman to leave her husband. Then there is her economic dependence on her husband, especially if she has come from abroad in an arranged marriage and cannot speak English. Such a woman may be socially isolated with only her husband and his family for company. She relies completely on them for contact with the outside world. She has no way of supporting herself and her children outside the confines of her restricted marriage. She learns to become passive, powerless and accepts her abuse as a way of life and sometimes even blames the violence on herself with thoughts such as "she must be a better wife / daughter-in-law, she provoked the abuse".
Effects of domestic abuse on the victim
As one would expect, domestic abuse affects the victim in a profound way. As a result of their isolation and sense of helplessness, women in these relationships have low self-esteem and lack confidence. This ultimately has an effect on their mental health and we see many women with depression and eating disorders or women who self harm and are substance abusers. Neglect of self and children is also common. (Although others become extremely overprotective as a result.)
Effects of domestic abuse on children
Similarly domestic violence and abuse has a hugely detrimental effect on the children. Sometimes children are neglected (and even malnourished). Children in abusive relationships all experience feelings of fear, loneliness, insecurity and low self-esteem. This loss of childhood may lead to a whole host of behavioural problems: they may be aggressive and bullying or they may be reserved and withdrawn. They may find it difficult to sleep and underachieve at school. Or they become over-achievers with an obsessive need to please. Some children take on the role of carer, trying to be the parent to their vulnerable mother. All these pressures lead to problems in later life such relationship issues, substance abuse and even criminality.
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