Why Domestic Violence Is Such A Well-Kept Secret 

The domestic violence cases that come to light or are reported is just the tip of the iceberg. Why do so many women stay silent?

This is a true story. The name of the woman has been changed to protect privacy.

Shruti’s life was a living hell. Physical and emotional abuse meted out by her husband and his family were not only affecting her but her two young children as well.

One day the toxic home atmosphere forced her to take a drastic decision. She got into a train with her children and fled to another city. She knew nobody in that city. She had very little money with her. After struggling for many years, she made a new life for herself and her children. Today, she is working and supporting her children. She is divorced, and though she did not get adequate monetary compensation to raise her children, she says it doesn’t matter. She is free!

Alarming statistics

Not many women who suffer domestic violence are able to break free. Shockingly, in India, research indicates that 87% of women who suffer domestic violence do not report it!

According to a 2023 study published in PLoS One, it is estimated that in India, 32% of women who have been married have reported experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional violence from their husbands. The most common type of domestic violence is physical (28%), followed by emotional (14%), and sexual (6%). Considering that so many cases go unreported, this is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

In India, domestic violence against women includes physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse, as well as economic exploitation. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, defines domestic violence as any act that causes bodily pain or endangers the victim’s life, limb, health, or development. A debatable point is that marital rape is illegal only if the victim is under 15 years.

Inherent cause

The inherent cause of domestic violence is patriarchy. But trigger issues can be many, including alcoholism or drug abuse, mental instability of the perpetrator, the abusive partner having an affair, desire for a male child, dowry harassment, anger issues, and poverty leading to frustration and violence.

The more comprehensive term used these days is Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). The PLoS One study says IPV leads to poor health, injuries, malnutrition, pregnancy complications (3.1% of pregnant women reportedly go through domestic violence), and risks of sexually transmitted infections. On the mental health front, it causes emotional stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and sleep disorders.

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now

Why the silence?

Why do women who are subjected to IPV stay silent? Why don’t they leave toxic relationships? Dr Urmi Nanda Biswas, social psychologist and academician who has a special interest in gender studies, explains the major reasons for the silence. “Dependence proneness is one factor. The more dependent a woman, the more likely she is to tolerate violence from her abusive partner. Another reason why married women put up with domestic violence is the lack of support from families and the community if they try to break up their marriage and seek divorce,” says Dr Urmi.

The third reason is related to sexism, which can be benevolent or hostile. In the case of ‘benevolent’ sexism, women are made out to be paragons of tolerance and resilience. So, women who keep quiet in the face of violence are glorified. This is probably more common in rural areas among less educated women, she says.

‘Hostile’ sexism

“When it comes to educated working professionals, they are victims of ‘hostile’ sexism. If something goes wrong in the marriage of a successful woman, it is the woman who is blamed.  She is castigated for being ambitious and career minded and as a result ill-equipped to manage her marriage and home,” explains Dr Urmi.

So, it’s a loss-loss situation for women. Either they are expected to tolerate violence with stoicism for the sake of their children or families, or they are shamed into silence by being made to feel like failures, she says.

A fourth factor which is prevalent in dating violence cases is relationship addiction among youngsters. Dating violence has three components – psychological abuse (swearing, jealousy), physical abuse (slapping, pushing) and sexual abuse (unwanted touching or kissing).

“Women would rather stay in an abusive relationship than be without a partner. That’s because if they don’t have a boyfriend they face low self-esteem issues. Many girls go into deep depression after a break-up,” says Dr Urmi.

The fear factor

Prita Jha is the director of the Peace and Equality Cell (PEC) in Ahmedabad, which works on issues of gender-based violence. “There are many layers to the complex issue of why women do not leave abusive relationships. Fear is major factor. Women who are about to leave an abusive relationship are in the greatest danger of violence and even death, she says. True. Around 38-50% of all homicides of women are committed by their partners during acts of violence.

Financial dependence on the partner is a significant practical factor, especially if there are children to be raised, says Prita. Social stigma attached to divorce is a second deterrent. Thirdly, changing the status quo and building a new life is not easy for all women, she adds.

Approaching the police and taking legal recourse is easier these days. In fact, you don’t have to go to a police station, you can file a case in a civil court under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, she explains. It is not very expensive though it may time to get justice. “I have not seen women stay in long-term relationships where they face violence because they are intimidated by legal processes,” she says.

Image source: YouTube/ a still from Darlings

Liked this post?

Join the 100000 women at Women's Web who get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads - you can also start sharing your own ideas and experiences with thousands of other women here!


About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

33 Posts | 23,284 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

All Categories