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Intimate terror shows no gender bias

Of the many mindless acts of terrorism in the world, the one least talked about is ‘intimate terrorism’, which is the post-modernist term for domestic violence. Sanchita Sharma writes.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2011 12:24 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Of the many mindless acts of terrorism in the world, the one least talked about is ‘intimate terrorism’, which is the post-modernist term for domestic violence. But there’s a twist in this saga of commonplace abuse. Although the chunk of reported domestic violence is still committed by men, a growing body of research from around the world shows that it’s not just the men who are doing the battering.

Women are hitting back, literally, and bruising their partners not just physically but also mentally.

Men abused by their women partners suffer from severe psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts, shows the first-ever global study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by the American Psychological Association. Considering PTSD was so far the legacy of concentration camps, battle frontlines and natural disasters of tsunami magnitude, the kind of stress generated just living with someone you’re terrified of quite boggles the mind.

Minor acts of violent and psychological abuse during arguments — also called “common couple violence” — in which both partners lash out at each other are usually not reported by either.

Intimate terrorism can take the form of abuse that is physically violent or mentally stressful. Women are more likely to torture their partners psychologically than physically, but the fallout of both forms of abuse is the same. Mentally-abused men are just as likely to suffer from PTSD as women facing physical violence.

And the abuse rates among same-sex couples are similar to those of heterosexual couples.

A survey of 1,300 people between 18 and 90 years by researchers from St John’s University in New York showed that hostility in men and women is almost the same, but socio-cultural factors make them experience and express it differently. Men scored higher on physical aggression and impulsive behaviour triggered by anger.

Women, on the other hand, displayed more passive-aggressive behaviours such as verbal abuse, sulking or being resentful.

Abuse can also take the form of controlling behaviours, such as suspicion of infidelity, needing to know where the partner is at all the time, jealousy of friends of the opposite sex, hostility to same-sex friends, resentment of closeness to family or not trusting the other with money.

The trouble, say experts, is that there is little published data on violence against men as they are less likely to report serious injuries caused by a woman beating them up, with psychological or less violent abuse going unreported altogether. Also, the police tend to take reports against men more seriously, with most cops less likely to arrest women accused of violence than men.

In India, abused men face more derision than sympathy. And the government does not even pretend the problem exists. The National Family Health Survey (2005-06) — the third in the series of India’s most comprehensive report card on health — that surveyed women on domestic violence for the first time, showed that more than one in three (37.2%) women had been beaten up by their partners, with violence being higher in villages (40.2%) as compared to cities (30.4%).

Men and unmarried women were included in the survey for the first time, yet only the women were asked about domestic violence, not men.

Abuse generally feeds on hostility but hitting out just escalates aggression, while doing nothing to resolve the situation. One way to do so is expressing angry feelings in an assertive, as opposed to aggressive, way as leaving them unexpressed causes passive-aggressive behaviour (getting back by controlling people instead of confronting them head-on). The other option is to walk out before you go over the edge.

No relationship is worth losing your head over.